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3DFusion - 3D glasses-free LCD 42” panelAs introduced on my previous installments on the subject, 3DFusion demoed a 42” auto-stereoscopic 3DTV panel (AS-3DTV) at CES 2011 that to my eyes was the best of its kind at the show and the best of what I have seen so far in glasses-free 3D panels, including Sony’s and Toshiba’s prototypes of the same technology demoed at CES 2011, and including other screens shown at the 2010 Display Taiwan Show I attended in Taipei a few months ago.

This article describes how this company managed to create this product, and the product is not only a 3DTV. The next article covers how the product actually works.

The Perceived Difference

The primary reason 3DFusion’s panel stands out of the crowd is due to the company’s ability to implement a smart software engine that softens and often makes imperceptible the image breaks between viewing zones, typically noticed as a weakness of other auto-stereoscopic displays when the viewer changes position or moves the head.

3D Viewing ZonesYou may have witnessed the demos from Sony, Toshiba and the others in the recent months, shown with 2 or 3 pairs of feet marked on the floor for the viewers to stand on exactly those positions, and better not move or the 3D is gone.

With 3DFusion I was free to walk in front of the panel side-to-side, as with any other regular TV panel, without drastically loosing the 3D effect.

As mentioned, this is a common issue seen on many auto-stereoscopic prototypes, the 3D viewing effect is easily disrupted and the 2D viewing between 3D viewing zones is not clear either. This is one of the main reasons the auto-stereoscopic technology is usually criticized by many that have only seen early generation or poorly made prototypes.

So the press uses their expert crystal ball that knows it all, and estimates for the technology to take 10 years to reach the market, perhaps betting on the Mayas to be correct so no one would be around anymore to say they were wrong about AS-3DTV. But recently several sources said 7, and 5, and 3 years. About now?

The 42” LCD demoed by 3DFusion had a lenticular screen under a glass layer that protected its delicate surface. A proprietary process in manufacturing attaches the lens for 3D viewing zones to the lenticular screen. Their panel showed at CES 2011 and easily surpassed the quality demoed by Sony and Toshiba prototypes on the same technology.

Sony’s AS-3DTV panels were demoed as a company statement of future technology and direction. No specs other than total panel resolution were disclosed, no indication of possible number of viewers other than assuming the number from the feet marked at the floor, no estimated resolution per view-zone/eye was disclosed either, no time-line, no estimated price, in other words it could have been a prototype of a UFO that may never fly in the real world.

Toshiba demoed their AS-3DTVs as a technology statement as well, the company said the sets would be improved when commercially available soon, by the end of the year they said at CES 2011, although others thought that most likely would be in 2012 (if one can believe the PR of these companies), but as with Sony, details and specs were not provided other than panel size and resolution.

However, the quality of their image and viewing experience made me conclude that although some major companies have made positive progress on this technology year to year, I would not want to have any of the sets demoed by Toshiba or Sony using floor space at my home even if they were free and available tomorrow.

How the 3DFusion product started?

The concept was originally developed by Royal Philips. Philips worked on it for about 9 years and invested approximately half billion dollars, however, the Philips’ auto-stereoscopic project suffered from ghosting, double image and sweet spot issues.

In 2009, around the beginning of the economic meltdown, about 17 incubators were closed and Philips decided to shut down their TV manufacturing plants for 3DTVs for the consumer market. At the end, the effort resulted in an incomplete package design suffering from the same eye strain issues as other auto-stereoscopic 3DTVs.

According to 3DFusion, the Philips technology was first made available to Dimenco, a company made of a group of former Philips 3DSolutions employees who after Philips shut down the incubators were transferred from their other Philips assignments and formed a 3D company to promote the Philips 3D technology under a Philips consulting agreement.

Philips supported them and they were hired to manage inquires regarding Philips 3D. Led by Martin Tobias, they have forged a solid 3D business obtaining a license from Philips for a range of 3D IP.

3DFusion added “As 3DFusion has licensed the most extensive IP package from Philips and filed our own IP, as the "icing on the cake", we consider them as a sister company.  They are doing a good job developing hardware and we are in negotiations with them for a strategic partnership to develop new products.”

Another factor for the decision of shutting down the project was that Philips did not have an appropriate distribution channel for those products. 3DFusion took over the effort and built upon it, inventing the 3DFMax image optimization technology. Because the original Philips product had a lot of image shifting the 3DFMax required considerable software work to smooth those transitions.

Unlike other TV companies that are involved in the TV business for decades for similar endeavors, 3DFusion developed their 3D solution after working on the 3DTV glasses-free design for only 3 years, one should not be surprised, 3DFusion’s president Stephen Blumenthal, the father of 3DFMax, has been a stereoscopic 3D video microscopy consultant for 30 years.

After filing their own exclusive 3D auto-stereoscopic intellectual property (IP), building over the Philips design which was turned over to 3DFusion in 2007, the company entered into a 9-month licensing negotiation, and in May 2010 3DFusion obtained world-wide rights to all Philips 3DTV IP.

This technology package, coupled with 3DFusion’s know how, trade secrets, and patent pending IP, provided the 3DFMax foundation for their exclusive auto-stereoscopic “picture perfect” (as Stephen calls it), adjustable depth 3DTV solution.

The Whole R&D department: Two guys from NY

While many other TV manufacturers have a large number of staff with decades of TV background in Ilya Sorokin (right), CEO, Stephen K. Blumenthal (center), President, Mark Hooper (left), Chief Scientist, and Alex Braurman  (not in the picture), VP of Business Developmenttheir R&D departments, 3DFusion counts with just Ilya Sorokin and Stephen Blumenthal, the only ones responsible of the post Philips developments. Stephen comes from a TV electronics video tech industry for over 30 years, and Ilya, the CEO, brought strong business finance background to the company.

As mentioned, Stephen has 3D auto-stereoscopic video background, pioneering with Leica Microsystems of Buffalo, NY two major breakthroughs in the advancement of 3D stereoscopic video microscopy.

One was a “picture perfect” 3D video stereo microscope. The other was a 3D optical mechanical shutter device which converted a mono path, 1200x compound optical microscope into a 3D stereoscopic, dual path, 1,200x video microscope, advancing stereoscopic imaging from 250x to 1,200x for viewing live optical specimens, a development credited by Leica as being of historical significance.

In the words of Stephen, “My nuts and bolts background provided me with the right skill sets to be able to address and solve the Philips 3D auto-stereoscopic problems. Coupled with Ilya’s unique knowledge base, the two of us did it without a major R&D team. It took two guys from NY to show how to fix Philips’ auto-stereoscopic 3DTV technology”.

Ilya and I started the company, and as the founders we are delighted at the fruits of our labor, and believe that this technology’s platform will stimulate a technical transformation in a large number of industries. There is the potential for the results of these advancements to impact every major video imaging application”.

“3DFusion is looking to create master licensing agreements with strategic partners in some of the market verticals for which our 3DFMax 3DTV system is ready for distribution”.

How the technology works? Stay tuned for the next article.

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, June 6, 2011 7:34 AM

About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.