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The big buzz at CES 2011 was about the auto-stereoscopic 3DTV demonstrations that seemed to be everywhere. Toshiba, Sony, and LG all had demo screens available that worked without glasses. Some are designed for single viewers, which is okay. Some were designed for multiple viewers, which I don’t think will work in the typical American living room. I have decided to diagram the problem.

A no-glasses 3DTV sends out images for the left and right eyes. This set has three

In this schematic, the HDTV at the bottom is viewed from across the room. (We’re looking down from the ceiling in the room. The red sectors are for the right eye image, and the green sectors are for the left eye image. If your head is not in one of the three “sweet spots” you will not see a 3D image. In many cases, you’ll see a jumbled image that you cannot resolve into a coherent image.

A no-glasses 3DTV sends out images for the left and right eyes. This set has three

Here’s a real-world view of what this means. The man in the photo is seated in one of the sweet spots, and will see the 3D effect without glasses. The woman, on the other hand is not in a sweet spot. She may see just a 2D image — just the left eye’s image — or if she moves just a little to her left, her right eye will get the left image and her left eye will get the right image, and she will not see a watchable image.

This is what I call the “cuddle factor”, and I do not believe that Americans would rather rearrange the furniture to sit in precise locations in order to see 3DTV, just to avoid having to wear glasses. I think that they will prefer the glasses (provided that they are inexpensive and work well).

And this leads me to the larger point. I think that the television manufacturers are making a dreadful mistake by making these public “technology demonstrations.” There once was a company named Osborne that made one of the first portable computers. It announced that it was going to ship a second generation model, and everyone stopped buying the first model. The production date slipped, Kaypro and Compaq came to market with better models, and Osborne never recovered. I believe that something similar is happening with no-glasses 3DTVs. I’ve heard from lots of consumers that they do not want to wear 3D glasses of any sort. “They’re showing no-glasses 3DTVs; I’m just going to wait until they have that working.” I’ve heard this repeatedly.

I believe that by demonstrating no-glasses 3DTVs, the manufacturers are actually inhibiting the sales of the existing models, while consumers wait for a no-glasses solution that will either be unacceptable or unaffordable (or both!) If you’re waiting for a competitive no-glasses 3DTV for your living room, I believe that you’ve got a long wait ahead of you.

Posted by Alfred Poor, January 14, 2011 5:00 AM

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About Alfred Poor

Alfred Poor is a well-known display industry expert, who writes the daily HDTV Almanac. He wrote for PC Magazine for more than 20 years, and now is focusing on the home entertainment and home networking markets.