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Obstacles hold 3D technology back from its full potential

Column Has a bright future, though
Fri Dec 09 2011, 14:27
Chris Martin

Chris MartinIT'S HARD to hide from three-dimensional (3D) display technology, which is being pushed by display and film makers across the board. However, several problems have held it back from really taking off.

A 3D image is typically made up of two separate images, each intended for one of your two eyes. When both images are combined your brain is tricked into perceiving a 3D image. Although it's been around for more than 170 years, 3D technology has only recently found its way into mainstream consumer electronics.

3D Glasses

Mainstream TV, PC monitor, smartphone and games console makers have been jumping on the 3D bandwagon like nobody's business. HTC, Toshiba and LG are just a few of the device makers that have launched 3D display products.

Highly popular films like James Cameron's Avatar have helped spur the success of 3D, giving consumers a reason to buy a 3D TV. The format has lead to a wave of 3D film titles that have come thick and fast ever since, though granted, many of them lack the quality of Cameron's box office blockbuster.

Despite this tentative mass media start, the big problem holding back the adoption of 3D capable TVs and other displays is lack of knowledge. For starters, 80 per cent of people don't know that 2D to 3D conversion exists. Slightly more worryingly, 20 per cent think that a 3D TV or other display can only show 3D images and not 2D as well.

It is naivety like this that prevents people from buying into 3D technology. To add to the confusion there are several different types of 3D technology to choose from, which creates a minefield for potential buyers.

The manufacturers do have a hard job on their hands marketing to and educating the consumer about what is quite a complex technology. It's really down to the vendors to make sure that 3D technology works properly and market it compellingly. It shouldn't be completely up to consumers to work it out for themselves.

Price is an important factor too, and 3D TVs are a lot cheaper now than they were when they first came out. Initially devices like 3D TVs were expensive, so only enthusiasts were the ones splashing out. Now a quick search on the web reveals that a 40+in 3D TV costs less than £450.

But not everyone likes the 3D format. In fact, a quick poll around The INQUIRER office reveals that there are only a few people who actually like and enjoy using the technology.

Nintendo 3DS

High profile gadgets like the Nintendo 3DS games console have given 3D some bad press. The glasses free handheld console was launched earlier this year only to have customers returning it for a refund complaining of headaches and even vomiting.

However, the handheld 3DS console has sold over 10 million units worldwide and interest has recently picked up again with the launch of titles such as Zelda Ocarina of Time and Mario Kart 7. In fact, there are worries over stock shortages of the device this Christmas.

One of the most common reasons I've heard for a thumbs down on 3D is that it creates too much strain on the eyes and causes headaches. Also people don't seem to like having to wear 3D glasses to be able to see the effect. Glasses-free technology is available in many products such as the LG Optimus 3D smartphone but hasn't reached most larger devices yet. The heavy, expensive and battery powered glasses that come with active shutter devices do tend to put people off.

Passive 3D, which is used in the cinema, will be a much better choice for most people. The glasses are cheap, light and don't need batteries, so you can gather more people around the TV to watch a 3D film, for example.

Glasses-free will be the future of 3D technology, but it has its own problems to contend with, such as the specific viewing point required to see the image properly. Nevertheless, hope is in sight, with some big plans on the horizon from firms like Toshiba.

And if IHS Isupply is correct, 3D will start to take off in the next few years. The research firm predicts that global shipments of 3D TVs will hit more than 159 million units by 2015, accounting for 52 per cent of flat-panel shipments by then.

3D can offer some amazing results but has been plagued with various problems causing its growth to stumble. However, as time goes on, 3D should get better and better in both technology and content. Provided the display makers educate the consumer, and glasses-free technology is improved, one day the 3D format will no longer be viewed as a gimmick but an ordinary necessity. µ


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