Toshiba glasses-free 3-D TV sales miss expectations

Glasses-free 3-D TV sets have been touted as the industry's holy grail because consumers thus far have mostly rejected the expensive, heavy active-shutter glasses needed to view programming on most 3-D sets. However, Toshiba, the first manufacturer of 3-D-compatible TVs that don't require viewers to wear special glasses, sold fewer than half the sets it planned to in the initial month of sales.

Toshiba, which began offering the new glasses-free 3-D sets in late in December, sold only 500 of the 20in models and even fewer of the less expensive 12in sets, Masaaki Osumi, president of Toshiba's Visual Products Company, told Bloomberg News. The lackluster debut indicates that the company needs to offer larger sets to appeal to consumers, Osumi said.

Toshiba joined Samsung (opens in new tab) and Sony in noting that demand for 3-D sets has lagged behind expectations. The poor sales have dampened optimism that consumers will embrace the technology and help TV makers revive profits.

“What the numbers say to me is that if you offer bigger sets, you get a better, more positive reaction,” Osumi said in the interview.

Toshiba's engineering team, which displayed 56in and 65in prototypes at last month's CES in Las Vegas, is racing to overcome a “mountain” of technical problems to market large-screen models to consumers in the second half of the year, the Toshiba executive said.

3-D TVs from Samsung, Sony and Panasonic (opens in new tab) use active-shutter glasses that flicker between the left and right eyes to create the illusion of depth. Toshiba's glasses-free technology uses a sheet on the TV screen to angle pictures so each eye sees a different image. Engineers are having difficulty making the effect work on bigger screens, especially when viewed from the side, Osumi said.

“It's possible to do this on small screens, but when it gets bigger, you have to either give up on quality or go with glasses,” said Atul Goyal, a senior analyst at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Singapore. “Samsung and others, they don't want to push it because they know the technology is not ready.”

Glasses-free 3-D TVs will eventually go on sale in the United States, Europe and Japan. Toshiba aims to raise sales to 50,000 units a month after the launch of larger-screen models, Osumi said, declining to specify when the larger sets would be introduced or how much they would cost.

“There are a lot hurdles ahead,” Osumi said. “But make no mistake: We think we can sell these things.”