The Truth about 3DTV

Calvin Hsieh of Displaybank has written a great article, entitled “Which Technology Will Dominate the 3DTV Market?”. It’s been picked up all over the place — just search with Google — and one place you can find it is Widescreen Review. In the article, he tears down the different approaches to building a 3D-compatible flat screen television, and analyzes the different choices based on the bill of material costs for the different approaches. It’s a detailed and well-reasoned explanation that answers many of the questions that I get asked by friends, family, and neighbors. And best of all, he essentially agrees with what I’ve been saying for more than a year, so he must be smart!

Here’s my take in a nutshell. Current technology for autostere0scopic 3DTV — the one that doesn’t need glasses — cannot work in the living room for multiple viewers. We won’t have a workable solution at a competitive price for at least 10 years, so you’re going have to wear the goofy glasses. Get over it.

So which goofy glasses will win? It costs almost nothing to add 3D support to a panel capable of 120 Hz refresh rate if you simply present the left eye image and the right eye image in rapid succession. This preserves the full resolution of the image, but means that you need to wear active “shutter” glasses. One good feature of this approach is that the set does not have to cost more, putting the extra cost in the active glasses which the consumer can buy when he or she is ready to start using the 3D feature.

The other approach is to use passive glasses, much like the ones you use at the local cinema. To do this, you have to add a special polarizing layer to the front of the display panel, and it has to be precisely aligned so that it splits the image into left and right eye images. This cuts the resolution of the image in half. It also adds a significant amount to the materials and assembly costs, which makes the final set more expensive. The passive glasses may cost a lot less than active glasses, but that is offset by the initial set price. (And I won’t even mention the fact that this approach can greatly reduce off-axis viewing performance.)

Consumers are especially cost-sensitive these days, and I believe that any technology that inherently costs more than its competitors is a losing strategy. Consumers are much more willing to pay for optional accessories than pay a higher price for the television set. So for the near term, I expect that solutions that use active glasses will dominate for the next few years.

If you’re in the Philadelphia area and would like to hear me talk about 3DTV technologies, I’ll be speaking to the Philadelphia Area Computer Society (PACS) in Willow Grove on Saturday, December 18, at noon. The meeting is free and open to the public; complete details are available at