After following the slow burning birth of active shutter 3D TVs over the past two years, we could be about to witness its protracted death.
More brands than we had expected appeared to embrace the far cheaper passive 3D technology at last week's CES in Las Vegas.
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In perhaps the biggest story at CES for the AV world, LG announced that it intends to capture 70 percent share of the global 3D TV LCD market in 2011 (that's at least 15 million) with its new Cinema 3D (so called because it's a similar tech to that used in your local 3D cinema or Sky 3D pub) collection of 'passive' or polarised 3D TVs.
It has not quite abandoned active shutter as a technology, but the big push is certainly going to be on passive.
It's basically down to the development of a new film - LG calls it film patterned retarder (FPR) - which makes passive 3D TVs cheaper to produce.
"This is important because while the cost of an active solution is mainly in the glasses, it doesn't scale with screen size and can be made an option," Bob Raikes, managing eEditor of Display Monitor and managing director at analyst firm Meko, told Techradar.
"The cost of a polarising solution has to be applied to every set with the film - it can't be an option - and the cost increases as the screen size gets bigger." That's crucial since early adopters that buy 3D TVs tend to buy bigger-than-average sets.
Passive vs active shutter
LG cited expensive, uncomfortable glasses, visible flicker and possible health issues as reasons why passive is better than active shutter, but it's not the only company making the switch.
US mega brand Vizio claims that its Theater 3D 65-inch (already on sale at US retail giant CostCo for US$3,499) and Cinemawide 71-inch 21:9 aspect passive 3D TVs generate clearer, flicker-free pictures that offer visibly higher brightness than 'conventional' 3D TVs.
A spokesperson for Vizio told us: "The glasses are much cheaper so ideal if you want to get glasses for all of the family, they're lighter and there are no reflections. We actually have both types of 3D TV available and on sale now, though we're concentrating on our Theater 3D screens."
VIZIO: US brand is also jumping on the polarised 3D TV bandwagon
The inference is that active shutter glasses are bad for the eyes. "The issues are mainly of comfort rather than safety," says Raikes. "With shutter glasses, especially with a small screen, the user may be aware of flickering, not on the screen itself, but on the area around the screen."
Raikes tells us that polarising 3D TVs have been popular in professional applications where people may be using them for many hours, though that's largely down to the weight of active shutter glasses, and the fact that they need recharging.
Philips and Toshiba
Although LG Displays hinted that Philips would follow suit in Europe, the Dutch brand told TechRadar that it would "develop all possible ways of presenting 3D to the consumer, whether that is active, passive or glasses-free."
Meanwhile, Toshiba is definitely making the change - in the US, at least. There was no word on price, but consider the facts: Toshiba's TL515 Series uses a pared-down direct LED lighting system and a 100Hz panel, while its ULC10 Cinema Series of active shutter 3D TVs have vastly more LED arrays behind a 400Hz panel and, of course, send a Full HD image to each eye.
Eschewing the industry terminology, Toshiba prefers to use the language 'natural' versus 'dynamic' 3D; its press materials indicate that 'natural' 3D is 'affordable', 'ideal for longer viewing periods' and '3D gaming', while 'dynamic' is for 'the videophile that cannot compromise on picture quality in 2D or 3D'.
TOSHIBA: Toshiba's TL515 line-up of LED-backlit TVs will use polarised 3D tech, though the brand will also sell active shutter 3D TVs
Reviving passive - or natural - 3D technology is clearly an attempt to make 3D TVs much cheaper, but it comes at the cost of Full HD resolution. A problem?
"The perceived resolution is often similar because your brain adds it up," says Bill Foster at analysts Futuresource Consulting. "Maybe we'll see a move towards polarised sets and dual-function 3D glasses that could be used as sunglasses, at home and at a drive-in movie."
Indeed, LG Display's presentation to journalists at CES involved many designs of 'fashion' 3D glasses, with a spokesperson pointing out that they could screen out UV light so could also be used as sunglasses.
"I have long believed that the whole question of TV and display quality is about 'artistic intent' - in an ideal world, the consumer would see exactly what the creator thought they would," says Raikes. "Any change in resolution/colour/3D effect etc. is bad news, in my opinion."
That problem can go away with the introduction of high resolution 4k2k displays, says Raikes, who tells us that different forms of the polarising concept are being worked on elsewhere.
Not willing to dilute the 3D message, neither Sony, Samsung, Sharp nor Panasonic showed any passive 3D TVs at the CES, though Samsung's newly designed, lightweight active shutter 3D glasses constitute a tacit admission of one of the technology's major flaws.
Its prescription-ready SSG-3700CR glasses put all of the electronics in the tips of the wings and put the lenses sit closer to eyes, meaning fewer reflections from behind, and a more convincing wraparound 3D effect.
ACTIVE SHUTTER: Samsung is committed to Active Shutter tech, and showed-off these lightweight, prescription-ready 3D glasses at the CES
As always, the market will decide, but expect to see some brands dump active shutter tech as soon as they can as they seek economies of scale. In our opinion, this is a good development; the extra dollop of confusion for us all to wade through is hardly welcome, but ultimately it should mean that 3D TVs will become cheaper in the form of polarised TVs.
For those who'd much rather Sky 3D in standard definition than spend liberally to watch flickery cartoons on 3D Blu-ray through uncomfortable specs, the birth of affordable polarised 3D TVS is welcome.
Much will depend on the price of the 'new' passive 3D TVs - destined to hit these shores in March or April - but active shutter 3D plasma TVs, we suspect, will remain a high-end option that will creep into home cinema set-ups as genuinely engaging 3D content becomes available.