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A Glimpse of Glasses-Free 3-D

MasterImage 3D shows off its glasses-free 3-D technology on a Qualcomm tablet.

I wear glasses, so I hate putting another pair on over my specs to watch a 3-D flick. The idea of glasses-free 3-D technology is somewhat more appealing, but I’ve seen a few different iterations of it over the years and it always falls flat.

So I was curious but skeptical when MasterImage 3D, whose 3-D offerings include digital 3-D projectors for movie theaters, asked me to check out its take on it. It has built its technology into an Android-running Qualcomm tablet that it first showed off at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, and it hopes to include the technology in smart phones starting late this year and tablets early next year.

Matt Liszt, MasterImage’s vice president of marketing, predicts it will add $10 to $15 to the cost of a smart phone, and about $30 to the cost of a tablet.

Generally, a parallax barrier—which has a number of slits in it—is placed in front of an LCD to create a glasses-free 3-D effect. To produce its version of the effect, MasterImage uses what it calls a cell-matrix parallax display, which uses groups of cells to form the barrier. The company says its method prevents blurred images and yields brighter colors. It also means you can watch in landscape or portrait mode.

I was shown a few short clips, including a snowboarding film trailer and the trailer for the Martin Scorsese film “Hugo.” The harsh lighting in my office made it difficult to watch (I kept seeing my reflection on the tablet’s screen), but once we turned off the light I got a better idea of what MasterImage is trying to accomplish.

The snowboarding clip gave me the best experience, with flying powder and sweeping mountainscapes rendered in crisp 3-D. Snowboarders and trees did seem to pop out of the screen. It was pretty cool.

Unfortunately, the colors didn’t always seem as bright or rich as they could be, and I felt I had to really focus on the screen and hold it straight in front of me to prevent any image blurring (and nausea). I worried this would also make it hard to watch with a friend.

I’m still not convinced most consumers will want the feature on their smart phones or tablets, especially if it means paying more for the device, but perhaps a more polished version of MasterImage’s technology will make a more vivid case for it.

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