MasterImage 3D is thinking small for 3-D

While many studios and content providers have been focusing on large plasma TV and IMAX displays for showing the latest 3-D movies and other content, Younghoon Lee, founder, chairman and CEO of MasterImage 3D, is thinking small — really small — as in cell phone viewing on a 3in screen.

Since 2004 Lee has been working to develop his own manufacturing process that he says improves upon other techniques for producing auto-stereoscopic LCD screens; with the right amount of left-eye/right-eye alignment between the 3-D panel and the TFT LCD display to enable a single viewer to get the desired effect without using special 3-D glasses.

This single-user viewing experience is targeted at cell phones, electronic tablets and laptop computers — those which normally bring the focus to the center of the screen. Auto-stereoscopic technology is difficult to implement in larger screens because of the high cost and because viewers on the sides of the screen lose resolution.

“When we produce our products, the precision we achieve is much higher than what we see from other TFT displays,” Lee said. “Our competitors cannot achieve this precision, so they normally get lower yields of displays during production. Our techniques, developed after years of trials and error, allow for fewer than 2µ of precision.”

Lee said his company, based in Los Angeles, has sold more than 300,000 Hitachi Wooo cell phones, which display in both 3-D and 2-D, and portable media players with MasterImage 3D display screen technology in the Japanese market since the device shipped via a limited production run in 2009. And the production cost of MasterImage 3D panels is cheaper, so Lee’s company can offer phone manufacturers a very attractive price.

About 2.2in and around 20fps is the minimum screen size and fare rate for viewing 3-D comfortably, Lee said, and more specialized 3-D content for mobile use will have to be developed before 3-D cell phone viewing can be considered a success.

Although there are no technical issues barring it from displaying properly, merely scaling down “Avatar” for a cell phone will not have staying power with consumers, “considering (cell phones’) limited screen size and resolution.”

James Bower, president of MasterImage 3D, said he has been in discussion with several major North American carriers, which have expressed interest in bringing 3-D capability to the U.S. market by the end of this year. Realistically, Bower said, the U.S. market would begin to see devices with MasterImage 3D display technology sometime in 2011.

“We are certainly seeing a dramatic amount of interest from handset manufacturers, no question about it,” Bower said. “People are just starting to hear about us and the fact that great 3-D on a cell phone without glasses is possible. It’s only natural, with the huge demand for 3-D content in general, that we’ll soon start to see it appear on mobile devices. In fact, we firmly believe that the 3-D mobile phone market will outpace the 3-D TV market because of the nature of the cell phone industry, where consumers buy new phones much more often.”

The TFT displays with MasterImage 3D technology are currently manufactured in Korea, but the company will also deploy (rent) its 3-D display manufacturing equipment in cell phone makers’ plants as well to speed up the implementation process.

In addition to TVs and theaters, the company is also working on display technology for laptops and other devices like the Apple iPad that usually involve a single viewer. Lee is also experimenting with auto-stereoscopic technology for bigger screens (monitors and TVs screens), but he said it wouldn’t be available for several years.

“For theaters and 3-D TV in the home, glasses will be used for some time; there’s no way around that in a practical sense,” Lee said. “As with improvements in resolution and viewing angle, auto-stereoscopic manufacturing processes for large-screen displays will only get better with time, but right now it’s very difficult to produce them cost-effectively.”