Glasses-Free 3D TV Returns to See If Anyone Cares Yet

3d tv

3D television without the need for clunky glasses is back — kind of. We were told it would be the next big thing a few years ago, but few of us today make a habit of flocking to the house in the neighborhood that has a 3D TV for movie or football night. Now glasses-free 3D could get a second chance, led by something called Ultra-D from Philadelphia-based StreamTV Networks.

Another ‘breakout year’ promised

Ultra-D televisions and monitors were on display at CES 2016 in Las Vegas in January, where the technology’s proclaimed ability to convert any regular 2D content into glasses-free 3D was demonstrated. Although past generations of glasses-free 3D struggled because of a lack of content, Ultra-D allows for anything, from cable to gaming consoles to DVDs, to be connected and converted to 3D viewable by anyone without glasses or extra equipment.

“This will be the breakout year for glasses-free,” StreamTV Networks CEO Mathu Rajan told Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff at CES.

Of course, this is a refrain we’ve heard before.

At CES 2012, Toshiba announced it was ready to push glasses-free 3D into the market, but shortly thereafter analysts like Sascha Segan were already declaring the technology to be a flop and our attention soon shifted to curved screens, 4K and even 8K.

Part of the problem that earlier generation of glasses-free 3D displays faced was the fact that they didn’t really address the obvious limitations of 3D that requires glasses, which is that everyone watching it needs to be wearing those special polarized glasses that make each eye see slightly different images and create the illusion of depth.

Those early Toshiba glasses-free displays usually required that you be sitting in a certain “sweet spot” to get the proper 3D effect. That means it’s still difficult for a group of people to watch a display and all get the effect; in fact, it’s arguably harder to share the 3D experience on one of those screens. This is because of how glasses-free 3D works — rather than use glasses to alter what each eye sees, glasses-free systems typically use what’s called a parallax barrier to block bits of light from reaching each eye, creating the same depth effect. In other words, it’s all about angles; if you aren’t looking at the screen from the right angle in the “sweet spot,” you won’t get the desired effect.

But the newest generation of glasses-free displays seem to have solved this problem.

Early reports are good

“When looking at the TV, I was able to move around in front of it without losing the 3D effect,” Mashable’s Ulanoff wrote of the Ultra-D displays at CES 2016. “It’s not as immersive as, say, what you’ll see at the movies while wearing a pair of polarized glasses, but it was still pretty impressive.”

We could soon see the technology on all sorts of screens if it takes hold. Qualcomm, maker of the chipsets that power a wide array of smartphones worldwide, conducted a case study (paid for by StreamTV Networks) using a smartphone processor (the Snapdragon 800) to power the Ultra-D conversion process inside a 3D TV.

“The result is the ultimate in TV viewing for customers,” the study concluded. “A simplified, built-in 3D-without-glasses conversion and playback system with improved image quality, wider viewing angle, and enjoyable viewing experience.”

But will it even matter?

But is this time really different for 3D TV? Does the technology even matter when consumers have yet to express a widespread desire for 3D viewing at home?

The firm Mordor Intelligence put out a 10-year outlook for glasses-free 3D in September, arguing that “Seeing things in 3D is the most natural way to perceive and process information. So, making a television, which can project images in 3D, has the potential to create a revolution.”

Mordor notes that the technology remains under-developed, but also points out that big names like Samsung, Philips, LG and Toshiba are among those invested in the market.

“With increasing amount of video content being watched on small screens, providing glasses-free 3D display on mobiles and tablets, which is much easier (than large and expensive 4K or 8K displays), is an opportunity that shouldn’t be overlooked.”

We will see what the future holds. Whether we see it in 3D, well… that remains to be seen.