Cheap 3DTV for the masses?

Is the 3DTV you just spent your savings on already a first-gen dinosaur? A few big brands at the CES seem to think so with several attempting to usher-in a new era of thoroughly affordable passive 3DTVs that use the same cheap glasses as 3D cinemas.

Several manufacturers, including LG and Toshiba, have revealed such intentions despite costly active shutters fixed as the dominant technology in the 3DTV market since its inception 12 months ago. Active 3D uses powered glasses to sync with the TV, something that enables a Full HD image to be flashed to each eye with every frame of the screen alternating with one for the left and then for the right. With 3D cinema-style passive glasses that isn't the case; the lenses are already polarised - much like a pair of sunglasses - and don’t need to be charged-up, but only send half a Full HD image to each eye with every frame of the video footage containing information for left and right at the same time.

Until now, LG has made the only consumer-friendly passive 3DTV, the 47LD950. At a shade under £2,000, it’s been a high-end set but, in 2011, there’ll be a big push on its LW5700 and LW7700 ranges of passive 3DTVs, which it has collected under the self-explanatory moniker Cinema 3D - so called because passive 3D is most usually the type found in movie theatres. Both of these TV ranges use LED backlighting and there’s even another, the LW450U, waiting in LG’s locker as well.

Panel maker company LG Displays used a separate press tour and conference and even suggested that it could drop active shutter 3DTVs from its line-up altogether and replace them with what it calls film patterned retarder (FPR) 3DTVs.

“Whereas first generation shutter glass technology introduced us to the possibility of 3D TV, next generation FPR makes 3D practical for mainstream use”, said LG Display CEO Kwon Young Soo.

“FPR will effectively allow manufacturers to create an incredible quality 3D TV experience that is healthy, convenient and affordable - all factors hindering the popularity of first generation 3D products.”

However, it's clear that isn’t the case, at least, not yet; on LG’s huge booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center were three brand new series of high-end 3DTVs that use active shutter technology - the PZ960 plasmas, and LW770T and LW9500 Full LED Nano sets. Crucially, a 32-inch Cinema 3D set will be available. Active shutter tech will start at the 42-inch screen size.

“In consumer research 88 percent told us they preferred the passive 3D experience”, George Mead, home entertainment consumer & product marketing manager at LG Electronics, told Pocket-Lint.

“Cinema 3D will be our main focus, but we will still offer active shutter sets, too. All will go on sale in the UK towards the end of March, and though prices aren’t yet available, Cinema 3D will come with a significant discount - and plenty of pairs of 3D glasses”.

Philips, which LG Displays confirmed would be a customer for its FPR panels, were not at the CES, but other confirmed clients - for North America, at least - are Vizio and Toshiba. The former, which indicated to us that it intends to phase-out its active shutter models, is showing 65-inch and 71-inch (the 71-inch in 21:9 “Cinemawide” letterbox shape) passive 3DTVs at the CES that are already on sale.

Although it refused to criticise active shutter tech, Toshiba used CES 2011 to launch a three-pronged approach to 3D. For as well as demoing some glasses-free 3DTVs for later this year, we gained access to the roped-off part of its booth to inspect its 42-, 47- and 55-inch TL515 polarised 3DTVs. A spokesperson for Toshiba told us:

“We’re the only brand to offer all three types of 3DTV - we’ll have active, passive and glasses-free. It’s all about choice. It’s a bit like DLP TVs; about eight per cent of people see a rainbow effect. If you don’t like active shutter 3D then you don’t have to switch to another brand”.

Samsung, Sharp and Panasonic have stuck solely with active shutter, though Sony’s booth at CES contained various glasses-free 3D gadgets including the Bloggie and a 24-inch OLED display. As always, of course, in the consumer electronics market, it’ll be the sales figures that decide which flavour of 3D ultimately triumphs.

What are your thoughts on 3D in your home? Are the glasses holding you back or is it just the price?