By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 10:30 am
When I heard that sports eyewear maker Oakley was going to start making 3D glasses, I thought to myself “That’s nice–I’ll bet they’re sticking generic 3D lenses in a set of stylish frames.” Wrong! The company’s new 3D Gascans are mostly about the quality of the optics. The company came up with its own technology for making high-quality 3D, curved lenses–the cheapo glasses you use at movies have really flat lenses. And in a demo Oakley showed to me, its lenses were capable of showing far crisper images than others.
Oakley’s lenses are for passive 3D system, including most movie-theater 3D. Most of the first wave of 3D HDTVs, as well as many 3D PC display and laptops, use active 3D–the kind with battery-powered glasses that flutter LCDs in each lens on and off. Oakley’s glasses won’t work with these devices. But when I spoke about the 3D Gascans with Oakley CEO Colin Baden, he told me that he thinks passive-3D–which involves a fancier TV but simpler glasses such as the Gascans–will dominate over the long run.
The 3D Gascans are $120, a price I’d be willing to contemplate paying if it made most of the 3D in my life look a lot better–I may be really skeptical about the whole idea of 3D, but if I’m going to look at it I want it to be as good as possible. And I’m willing to consider the possibility that 3D isn’t inherently awful so much as hobbled by cheap optics.
But these Oakleys aren’t designed for people who wear spectacles anyhow, such as me: The extreme curve of the design means you can’t even sort of slip them over another pair of eyewear. (I did hold them up in front of my face and peered through them at a clip from How to Train Your Dragon–from what I could see, it looked good, considering it was 3D.)
So how about prescription 3D? Baden told me that it’s going to require more work to make a lens that’s both prescription and 3D-capable, but now that Oakley has designed these first lenses, it’s going to tackle the project.
Baden also said that Oakley doesn’t have any plans to make other 3D styles beyond the Gascans (also available in a Tron special edition). But the optics might eventually show up in glasses sold under other brands, (The company is owned by Italian eyewear behemoth Luxottica, which also owns Ray-Ban, Revo, LensCrafters, Pearle, and Sunglass Hut, and makes glasses that bear a bevy of well-known licensed names.)