CES 2011: Toshiba's Glasses-Free 3D

By  |  Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 10:56 pm

When it comes to 3D, I’m pretty much a worst-case scenario. I bristle at the fact that I’m expected to wear ill-fitting glasses over my regular glasses. I’ve sampled multiple 3D technologies and found all of them wanting. It all seems like a lot of expense and effort for very little benefit.

But I am sort of intrigued by 3D that doesn’t require glasses. And at a pre-CES party tonight here in Las Vegas, Toshiba was showing a l56-inch flat-screen TV and a laptop which do 3D, no funny goggles required. The two devices use lenticular displays, just like the little picture of Pinocchio I owned when I was three. (Lenticular video screens are also nothing new, though all the ones I’ve seen until now have been blurry and unappealing.)

What Toshiba was conducting was a technology demo–it’s not claiming it’s come up with anything that’s ready for prime time, and it hasn’t announced any products. Which is good, because the tech needs more work: You have to be very precise about the angle at which you look at the screen. Even if you get that right, the imagery has issues. The pictures I saw looked grainy. and the 3D effect came and went. (Toshiba only seemed to be using video-game clips in its demos, which I took as a tacit acknowledgment that you don’t want to watch a movie on one of these screen just yet.

But you know what? I’ve seen 3D that required glasses that was worse than what Toshiba showed, and the very best 3D TVs and notebooks I’ve seen haven’t been that much better. Until now, I’ve always assumed that good no-glasses 3D was an impossible dream; for now, at least, I’m choosing to believe that Toshiba might get this technology to the point where there’s no point in bothering with technologies that make you don spectacles. And hey, I’m in no rush–I wonder how good this stuff could get by, say, 2015?

[NOTE: One of the problems with writing about 3D is there’s no way to show what you’re talking about. So I didn’t even try to take photos of Toshiba’s devices tonight. I swiped the image above from Toshiba’s Web site–it depicts a standard glasses-required Toshiba 3D TV. Companies that sell 3D TVs have the same problem we writers do, and almost always end up depicting fantasy scenes with stuff flying out of the screen that look nothing like real 3D TVs. I feel like they all need disclaimers: “Warning–it’s nowhere near this good!”]

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