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3DTV Experts: Active-Shutter Glasses Here to Stay

10 Sep, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey

The 3DTV world was abuzz this spring when LG Electronics debuted the first 3DTV in the world that uses passive glasses, as opposed to the active-shutter glasses that have been commonplace thus far.

But LG’s passive-glasses 3DTVs are only in the European and Asian markets for now, with LG sticking by active-shutter technology for its LCD and plasma 3DTVs in the United States. Vizio this summer said it will have the first passive-glasses 3DTV for the American market in 2011, but hasn’t revealed the price tag.

“Both active and passive deliver a fabulous 3D experience,” said LG spokesman John Taylor. “The biggest difference is $130 [for a pair of] active and $2 [for] passive glasses. Basically, the 3D content, Blu-ray, satellite, etc., works the same on both.”

Active-shutter glasses, such as those used for sets from Panasonic and Samsung, can cost more than $100, but show 3D content in full 1080p resolution, by rapidly alternating left- and right-eye images. Passive glasses, such as those used in theaters, are polarized, and show 3D images to both eyes simultaneously. Far cheaper than active-shutter glasses, passive glasses don’t need to be charged, but can’t show 3D content in 1080p.

Businesses and the hospitality industry may find some uses for 3DTVs using passive glasses, LG said, but the technology won’t hit in a big way for the home any time soon. And quality isn’t the biggest concern.

The reason consumer electronics companies are mostly sticking by active-shutter technology for now is simple, according to Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and director of research for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA): It’s cheaper. By a mile.

“We don’t see [passive glasses] developing any time soon,” he said. “Passive [3DTVs] tend to be more expensive than active sets, nearly twice as expensive, and that will hinder home adoption.”

While the glasses for a passive-technology 3DTV are significantly cheaper, it’s the polarized screen of the 3DTV itself that would hike up the price at retail.

DuBravac said that public 3DTVs, such as those at bars, may eventually be of the passive variety, since relying on a dozen sets of active shutter glasses could prove difficult. But “for the near term, and the long term, active shutter will be the play for the home.” He said look as far out as 2015 for passive glasses to become a mainstay for 3DTV.

Jennifer Michelson, co-founder of Gunnar Optiks, a San Diego-based company that produces passive 3D glasses used for 3D video games, hopes the 3DTV industry latches on to passive glasses a lot sooner than that. Her company’s polarized 3D glasses look and feel like regular sunglasses, a likely advantage over the sometimes odd-looking and unwieldy active-shutter glasses.

Best of all, her company’s 3D glasses, which retail for $99, don’t have to be charged.

“There’s no ghosting, no shadowing and no eyestrain, which you find sometimes with [active shutter],” she said, adding that her company is aiming to make glasses compatible with theatrical 3D films, such as those using RealD or Imax technology.

Michelson said aesthetics are important to consumers, and that “quite a few” 3DTV manufacturers eventually will follow the example of the 3D theatrical world, “and bring passive mainstream.”

“I just think for consumers it’s very confusing,” she said. “What ends up winning out will be based on consumer demand, and I think that’s going to tend toward passive. To ask consumers to constantly wear active-shutter glasses is a lot to ask.

“It’s not too far in the future.”

One issue yet to be resolved is broadcast 3D standards. While the Blu-ray Disc Association has approved standards that call for 3D Blu-ray content to be displayed using both active-shutter and polarized glasses, no such standards exist yet for the broadcast of 3D content. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, CEA and the 3D@home Consortium are among the groups looking into standards for 3D broadcasts, and how those broadcasts would work with various glasses.

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