Addressing consumer trepidation, vendors look to glasses-free 3-D TV technology

With 2010 sales of new 3-D TV sets disappointing at best, manufacturers are actively working to improve the situation before consumers lose interest. Sony and Toshiba have separately announced that they are developing HD 3-D TV sets that do not require any special glasses for 3-D content viewing. Reports said Toshiba’s first models are due before Christmas, while Sony’s glasses-free TVs are targeted for release early next year.

As many have come to understand, the need for glasses has been a major obstacle for home 3-D viewing. Some viewers refuse to wear the glasses, while others don’t like having to each wear a pair of expensive glasses that only work with a single brand of TV set.

“Seeing 3-D without glasses is more convenient,” said Yoshihisa Ishida, a Sony senior vice president. “We have developed a 3-D TV without glasses, but cannot comment further. We must take account of pricing before we can think about when to start offering them.”

Toshiba issued essentially the same official response. “We are developing 3-D TVs without the need for glasses, but cannot comment further as we have yet to decide when to commercialize such a product, concrete specifications or any other details,” said a Toshiba spokesperson.

However, according to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbu, Toshiba’s innovation is in developing an imaging system that emits rays of light at different angles, making it possible for viewers to recreate a 3-D image in their brains without glasses. The technology, according to the newspaper, doesn’t strain the eyes, and the 3-D effect can be seen from different angles.

Today’s 3-D TVs emit separate images for the left and the right eye to enable the brain to build a 3-D image. The glasses act as a filter, allowing a converged image to be viewed by either the left or right eye.

The newspaper said Toshiba will unveil three models of the new glasses-free TVs, which will cost several thousand dollars, before Christmas.

The challenge that Toshiba, Sony and other manufacturers interested in offering glasses-free 3-D sets now face is how to create a display that will project the images to several viewers watching from multiple angles. At this point, according to, a consumer electronics website, the images produced from prototypes don’t come close to matching up to the quality that 3-D glasses allow.

It is also an open question whether the absence of glasses will spur 3-D sales. The market has struggled through slow sales from the start and shows no signs of picking up any time soon. Panasonic, perhaps the most aggressive vendor for 3-D technology in the home, recently acknowledged that it won't meet its sales target of selling 1 million 3-D sets in the United States by March 31, 2011.

Experts say the economy is the primary blame, and recent price reductions by Samsung Electronics have led to reduced profit margins for all vendors.