December 23rd saw the latest shot fired in the newest technology battleground – 3D television – as Toshiba launched the Regla GL1, what it calls the world’s first television that allows viewers to see 3D images without needing to wear special glasses.
Current 3D-ready television sets, such as Panasonic’s Viera TC-P50VT200 or Samsung’s UN46C7000, all require special glasses with active shutter lenses to create the impression of a stereoscopic image – that is, a 3D image. Stereoscopy involves filming an image using two cameras that are separated by the same distance as a person’s eyes. During playback, frames from the two films are played in alternating order at a faster frame rate than usual (48 frames per second, rather than the usual 24 frames per second). A signal, usually over bluetooth or wifi, is sent to the glasses from the television or accompanying set-top box to tell it to darken one eye and then the other in sequence with the alternating images being shown on screen.
The drawback with this approach is obviously that to experience the 3D effect, each viwer must wear special glasses that are compatible with the television.
Glasses-free 3D television relies on a method known as autostereoscopy to create depth-filled images. But while the need to wear special glasses appears to have been eliminated, the new product from Toshiba suffers from other problems that may hamper its uptake by consumers. Firstly, the screen is small, measuring just 12 inches (although a 20 inch model is slated to appear on the market later in 2011), and to achieve the best experience requires viewers to be about 65cm away from the front of the set. The price tag is also high for something that consumers may regard as too small in screen size. Initial reactions from consumers in Tokyo, where the Toshiba Regla GL1 has jusy gone on sale, has been luke-warm. Philips, the Dutch electronics giant, has also been developing glasses-free 3D televisions for introduction in 2011, but the product development was cancelled after slow adaptation from 2D to 3D.