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Welcome to the Future: 3D TV Without Glasses

When you splurge to see the 3D version of a film in theaters — maybe even IMAX — part of the experience is picking up a pair of glasses that are yours for a few hours and dropping them off as you walk out. Perhaps as a child you even imagined taking a pair home, so you could watch TV in 3D all the time — but of course that wouldn’t work. 3D TVs only became a consumer reality in the last few years, and Consumer Reports began reviewing the sets in 2011.

Now, 3D televisions are making their way onto the market but haven’t been picked up by consumers the same way flat screen and HD TVs did in the past. The problem might just be those pesky glasses.

How 3D Works
Our eyes see two overlapping images, which is why we perceive the real world in 3D. It’s an attempt to mimic this multiple image view that scientists tackle when creating a 3D display for entertainment purposes.

When you look at a 3D display without glasses, the image appears blurry because you’re seeing two images — one for your left eye and the other for your right eye. The glasses use filtered lenses to ensure each eye sees the right image. This works through either polarized lensesor lenses with a red and green, or red and blue, filter.

3D offers a more immersive experience than a regular two-dimensional view, and, while bringing that to your living room is certainly a worthwhile endeavor, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Slow Adoption of Home 3D TV
Once a selling point of televisions — the next big thing — 3D soon was downgraded to merely a feature of newer sets. In fact, this year, Vizio cut the feature out of its new line because consumers weren’t using it.

One issue might be that there is not enough 3D content, such as TV shows or live broadcast events, to warrant investing in a set, and, to add to the problem, content providers aren’t likely to invest in creating 3D content if few people buy TV sets for it.

But most agree that the bigger barrier is the glasses. When lounging on a couch in your own home, it turns out that people don’t want the extra step – or cost – of putting on special glasses. Afterall, what’s the point of having a 3D TV if every time you invite friends over to watch something you have to make sure you own enough glasses for everyone?

New Technology for 3D TV Without the Glasses
Vizio demoed a 3D TV at CES in 2013 that could be viewed from nine sweet spots around the room, and if someone wasn’t in a sweet spot, they would just see a 2D image. This method relies on a lenticular display, which displays two version of the same image that your brain can patch together.

Technology improvements could increase the number of sweet spots to allow for a larger group of viewers to watch. In fact, Sharp also demoed a version with 28 sweet spots.

A version that would work from any viewing angle is being pursued by Stream TV Networks. It uses a conversion algorithm to turn a 2D video into a 3D display and allows users to control the level of 3D, which is an attractive option as some users report eye strain related to 3D viewing.

These early prototypes, and the amount of research going into 3D displays, suggests the market will most likely see some exciting new TVs in the near future.