Toshiba to launch smaller, glass-free 3-D TV sets in Japan

Toshiba said it would be the first on the market with a TV set that displays 3-D images without requiring viewers to use special glasses; however, the 3-D TV models, due to their small screen sizes and Americans' preference for sets of 50in and larger, will become available to Japanese consumers first.

Today, 3-D glasses are required to watch 3-D programming on TVs sold throughout the world by Samsung, Panasonic and Sony, as well as those currently offered by Toshiba; however, the Toshiba announcement means a technical breakthrough has occurred that might soon end that. The need for 3-D glasses has proven to be a detriment to 3-D set sales in the United States.

Toshiba said its new TVs, which will go on sale in Japan in December, use an LCD shutter and a lens placed on top of a traditional LCD screen. Moving the shutter and magnifying with a lens projects 3-D visuals to the viewer. The set uses cell-chip technology to display information from nine images created in real time from a single frame.

The Toshiba sets will initially come in 20in and 12in models and cost roughly $2880 and $1440, respectively. They include built-in circuitry to convert standard 2-D images into 3-D.

At the CEATEC electronics fair in Chiba, Japan (a Tokyo suburb), Masaaki Oosumi, president of Toshiba Visual Products, said his company currently has no plans to sell the new generation of TVs overseas. “A dream TV is now a reality,” Oosumi told The New York Times. "It's obviously more natural to watch TV without glasses. That is the natural technological progression.”

The Times said a 20in model shown to reporters displayed crisp images in 3-D. Shots included a close-up of a pink flower and a school of blue and yellow fish. Viewing the screen from a side angle, however, the image seemed to soften. Toshiba said the TVs work best when viewed from within a 40-degree zone of center.

Toshiba also showed a prototype 56in version of the autostereoscopic 3-D TV product line. Producing models in bigger sizes would be crucial in marketing the TVs in the American and European markets, he said. In the meantime, the company will continue to sell larger-model 3-D TVs that require active-shutter glasses in the United States.