Will glasses-free 3D TV ever work?
We’ve now seen many iterations of glasses-free 3D TVs at various shows from all sorts of respected big-name AV brands. But one consistent feature has unified them, namely that they’ve all been more or less pants.
So much so that for possibly the first time in our many years working in the AV world, we honestly have our doubts that this technology will be cracked. At least in any satisfactory way.
To be fair, most of the brands who’ve dared to show their glasses-free 3D efforts to date have been quick to declare that it will be 5-10 years before the technology is ready to come to market. Only Toshiba – in a move which frankly looks more foolhardy than brave right now – has actually gone ahead and launched a glasses-free 3D TV. And from what we’ve seen of this TV (full review soon), its glasses-free 3D tech isn’t really up to scratch if you want your 3D viewing to actually have much quality to it.
What’s troubling is just how numerous and extreme the problems are with glasses-free 3D technology at the moment. For a start, many of the sets we’ve seen have really lacked the sense of depth you generally see with normal glasses-on 3D TVs.
Glasses-free 3D has also lacked clarity and resolution, partly due to the available screen resolution having to be shared between different viewpoints and the core separate left and right eye outputs, and partly due to some consistent problems with motion blur.
Then there’s the small matter of the glasses-free ‘sweetspot’. For if you’re not sat in the right place – or one of a set number of ‘right places’ – the picture becomes an unwatchable mess of ghosting, with no 3D effect at all. And even if you ARE sat in a designated sweet spot, if you happen to move your head position more than a few inches, you have your viewing disrupted by an obvious and unsightly seam in the picture, accompanied by lots of ghosting and blurring.
Toshiba has actually had a pretty game stab at getting round the sweetspot situation with the 55ZL2, using a clever combination of an in-built camera and heavy-duty processing to support nine different viewing ‘perspectives’ from up to five different viewing positions in your room. But still the results are far from perfect unless you keep your head very still.
Most troubling of all, though, is the fact that on all the glasses-free 3D TVs we’ve seen so far including the finished 55ZL2, the physical structure of the various filters that have to be placed over the screen have all been blatantly visible in the 3D picture. This ‘visible lens structure’ usually takes the form of either horizontal lines or wavy line interference. And yes, it is every bit as distracting as it sounds.
If you look hard enough, there are signs of hope for glasses-free 3D technology. Every brand around is positive that it will happen eventually. The sort of face-tracking technology used on the 55ZL2 has the potential to at least reduce the ‘sweet spot’ problem. And there’s no doubt that the finished 55ZL2 from what we’ve seen so far has improved considerably from the version we saw just at the CES in January.
But the fact remains that never before in all our years of writing about AV have we seen manufacturers showing the press and public a new TV technology that’s looked anywhere near as unimpressive – or at least, unready – as glasses-free 3D. This makes us wonder how much better the big AV brands think glasses-free 3D is actually going to get if they believe what they’ve already got is good enough to show.
The main thing we’re struggling to see past, though, is that for glasses-free 3D to work – using current approaches, at any rate – something has to be physically placed across the front of the screen. And wherever this happens, as we’ve already seen to a lesser degree with the polarizing filters used on big passive 3D screens, there’s enormous potential for the structure of the thing on the screen to stand between you and your immersion in what you’re watching.
So while we’ll be more than happy to be proved wrong at some (probably distant) point down the line, right now we’re left feeling that just because so many punters want glasses-free 3D doesn’t mean it’s going to happen in any affordable or really enjoyable way.