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CES: 3-D Still Alive

Manufacturers continue to push devices capable of recording and displaying three-dimensional images.
January 6, 2011

At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 3-D TV was being billed as the biggest thing since flatscreen television. This year, with 2-D television still overwhelmingly dominant, many of the largest consumer electronics firms were defensive about their 3-D strategies, pointing out that it took time for other technologies such as LED TVs and Blu-Ray to gather significant momentum too. Yet, there are good reasons for why those ultimately successful technologies were a little slow out of the gate. LED TVs launched into a crowded display marketplace where it provided an incremental change in picture quality, and Blu-Ray’s early days were spent in a format battle with HD-DVD, with consumers reluctant to upgrade to new players until the dust settled.

Nobody has yet abandoned 3-D, instead rolling out the functionality to more models and product lines. And there has been growth in the number of 3-D enabled televisions sold, with Panasonic quoting a forecast that 32 percent of televisions worldwide would be 3-D enabled by 2014. But there’s no good estimates for how many people are using the functionality to actually watch 3-D content: the capability typically comes built-in to the higher-end sets which people may be purchasing anyway simply for a bigger picture, or for the new TV feature that really does seem to be gaining momentum, the ability to access video on demand from the Internet.

Undaunted, Panasonic and Sony are probably the most aggressive manufacturers in pushing ahead with 3-D. Both companies are working to get more 3-D movies produced, opening centers in Hollywood where filmmakers can come to get technical guidance and assistance. They are also working to get consumers producing 3-D too, with a range of handheld still and video cameras that can capture 3-D images.

Sony also demonstrated some prototypes with autostereoscopic displays intended to eliminate what is probably the biggest issue with 3-D TV: the need to wear glasses. The prototypes included a portable Blu-Ray player and two large screen televisions. The results are impressive, but clearly not yet ready for prime time: viewing angles are still a little too restricted and the image can ripple disconcertingly if you shift your head while watching. In the meantime, smaller autostereoscopic displays are being built in the consumer cameras as view screens where the small viewing angle isn’t a issue because typically only one person at a time is looking at the screen and can adjust it easily to their comfort.