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CES 2013: Day 2 Round-up as we see glasses free 3D, again.

Just when you thought 3D in the home was dead, is it going to make a comeback?

by Steve Withers Jan 11, 2013


  • At last year’s CES I wrote an article about the absence of 3D on the manufacturers’ stands, especially when compared its almost ubiquitous nature at 2011’s show.
    For some reason the article has recently gained a new lease of life, with Forum members debating whether or not 3D is dead as a format. That was never the intention of my original article, obviously 3D is still around, especially at the cinema, and there are plenty of 3D Blu-rays being released but clearly 3D has failed to reach mass market acceptance as a domestic format. This relative failure in the eyes of the manufacturers resulted in the format’s relegation to just another feature last year, which was actually the main point of the article.

    One of the reasons for 3D’s lack of mass market acceptance as a domestic format is the need to wear glasses, people are prepared to do it in the cinema but are far less happy about donning a pair of googles in the comfort of their own home. LG’s decision to largely go it alone in their use of Passive 3D was based on a belief that people would find the cheaper and simpler glasses easier to accept and wouldn’t be concerned by the loss of resolution. That decision has been vindicated over the last two years with consumer feedback being very positive for passive 3D and even major active proponents such as Panasonic now using passive on all their 3D LED LCD TVs.

    The consumer’s dislike of wearing glasses has led to a number of manufacturers to try and develop autostereoscopic or glasses-free 3D, with Toshiba even launching the ZL2 last year. The problem with glasses-free 3D is that is uses a lenticular filter to achieve the effect and only has a limited number of viewing angles. If you move your head too far in either to the left or the right, the 3D effect is lost. Toshiba used a 4K panel to deliver the glasses-free ZL2 because it allowed them to retain a high enough resolution for the 3D. However the reality was that the 3D effect on the ZL2 wasn’t particularly good and the viewing angles were very limited. The use of a 4K panel, which couldn’t even be used to watch 4K content, made the ZL2 very expensive and given the poor quality of the 3D, purchasers were somewhat disappointed. In fact Toshiba were somewhat guilty of rushing the product to market and thus putting people off the idea of glasses-free 3D and it’s no surprise that they aren’t mentioning the technology this year. Last year I even said that the idea of high quality glasses-free 3D was still a long way off and could possibly take years.

    However, today I had a demo of a new glasses-free 3D prototype from Philips that might make me eat my words. For the first time I experienced a glasses-free 3D TV that delivered a genuinely impressive 3D image with a large number of viewing angles. Much like Toshiba, Philips are using a 4K panel in order to deliver the 3D at high definition resolution but they have far more viewing angles with up to 100 available. As a result of this, the 3D effect was far more tolerant of me moving my head and the resulting 3D had a very real sense of depth. I was assured that the lenticular filter wouldn’t affect the accuracy or brightness of the 2D image and I did switch between 3D and 2D and there didn’t appear to be any impact on the 2D picture. Philips have added a small reflective panel at the bottom of the TV and if you can see one line on the panel then your are in the correct position but if you see two lines then you need to move your head slightly. You will also be able to set the viewing distance in the setup menu in order to ensure the glasses-free 3D is performing optimally.

    Danny Tack from TP Vision/Philips

    We were able to watch a number of different 3D clips and certainly with CG animation like Ice Age: Age of the Dinosaurs the 3D looked very good with excellent depth and dimensionality. There were some minor artefacts and the panel appeared to struggle with fast movement on occasion but overall I actually thought that, unlike previous glasses-free 3D TVs, I could watch an entire film on this new TV. I also watched a scene from Final Destination 5 which was shot in native 3D and whilst the 3D effect was still very apparent there were times when it looked a little strange. So whilst it works very well with CG animation, I do feel the technology isn’t quite there for live action 3D but there’s no question it has made great strides in the last year. In a similar fashion to the earlier Toshiba ZL2, whilst it uses a 4K panel, the Philips TV can’t accept a native 4K signal. The reason for this is that in order for the panel to show 4K content, the lenticular filter would need to be moved. Whilst this is technically feasible, it would add to the cost of the TV and Philips want to keep the cost down when it is eventually released. So it would seem that a genuinely effective glasses-free 3D TV is much closer than I ever thought possible and whilst it isn’t initially going to be cheap, there is a chance that 3D in the home might get a new lease of life without the need for glasses.
    Is 4K the future of TV?
    So after 3D in 2011 and OLED in 2012, what’s the big story at CES this year? Well it can be summed up easily enough, it’s 4K or, as it’s recently been rechristened, Ultra High Definition. All of the major manufacturers have 4K panels on display and in the case of Sony and LG, they already have some models for sale. We recently reviewed LG’s 84” 4K monster here and AVForums members got a chance to see Sony’s version at an event back in November. Toshiba also have an 84” 4K TV on the way and all three manufacturers are planning to release 55 and 65 inch models this year as well. The main driving force behind 4K at the moment, at least in terms of panel production, is LG and both Sony and Toshiba are clearly using the Korean manufacturer’s panels in their own Ultra HD offerings. It isn’t just the similar panel sizes that give the game away but the fact that they all use passive 3D that reveals LG’s fingerprints.

    Of course the panel itself is only one factor and others such as the backlight and video processing are equally as important. Now that I’ve had a chance to see the all three manufacturers’ UHD TVs in action, they all look superb with 4K content, making me want one more than ever. The upscaling of 1080p content on the Toshiba UHD TVs looked very impressive and the design of the new 55 and 65 inch Sony UDH TVs are extremely attractive but all three manufacturers’ models were excellent offering a glimpse of a TV future that can’t come quick enough. Not to be outdone by their Korean rivals, Samsung has also launched an 85 inch 4K TV that they heavily hyped prior to CES. Whatever your feelings about Samsung’s ‘timeless gallery’ design, the images that the 4K panel is capable of are spectacular, making those that can afford any of these new UHD TVs spoilt for choice. Whilst the 84/85 inch 4K TVs are very expensive, the announcement of smaller 55 and 65 inch screens suggest that 4K will become more affordable in the near future.

    Sharp is also releasing two 4K TVs this, one of which is their 'standard' 4K TV and the other is the world's first THX certified 4K TV which includes ICC processing to help make upscaled 1080P content look as good as possible. The one manufacturer I haven’t mentioned yet is Panasonic and they, along with their development partner Sony, have demonstrated a prototype 55 inch 4K OLED. The two Japanese companies feel that both technologies are the future of TV and Panasonic in particular feels that rather than developing 4K and OLED separately, the two should be combined to create the ultimate expression of TV technology. I’ve seen both 4K OLED TVs in action and the images they can produce are nothing short of spectacular, combining the beauty of OLED with the staggering detail of 4K.

    Is 4K OLED the future of TV? Well a lot will depend on whether the two Japanese manufacturers can produce the 4K OLED panel in viable quantities, which is a big ask considering the troubles that LG and Samsung have had with production yields on their 1080P OLED. Panasonic at least feel comfortable that they can deliver sufficient panels to meet demand thanks to their new printing process. Sony may well be the key to 4K’s future because they are in the unique position of being involved in every aspect of 4K, from making 4K cameras like the F65 that was on display here at CES to producing 4K content through their studio and delivering it in the cinema with their commercial projectors and domestically via their 4K projectors and TVs. It's this ability to create content that could prove a key element in 4K's future and address the big problem that 4K currently faces - a lack of content.
    The elephant in the room.
    The key element in the future success of 4K is going to be developing a method of delivering native content in the home. I had hoped we might get an announcement at this year's CES of some form of physical delivery system for 4K but unfortunately the manufacturers have remained tight lipped on the subject. Prior to CES Sony had already announced that, in the US at least, they would give owners of their 84" 4K TV a hard drive player that would come pre-loaded with 10 4K movies for them to watch on their new and decidedly expensive TVs.

    At the show, Sony also announced a 4K download service for the US that will allow users to download 4K overnight. Of course one of the big problems with 4K is the huge file sizes, which might prove problematic for those with slow broadband. I have heard that one possible approach being suggested is for consumers to buy a movie in 4K a month before it's released and the file is then sent over in small packets during that month so that on the release date, the file is there to watch. The consumer will then be sent a software key to unlock the file, allowing them to watch the film. The only problem with this approach is that a lot of processing power is needed to combine the multiple packets, whilst ensuring that playback is smooth and effective.

    Another option is RED's Redray 4K Cinema Player, which also uses a combination of 4K content downloaded in conjunction with Odemax and content encoded on a USB Flash drive. RED are most famous for making digital cameras, including the 5K RED Epic which was used to shoot The Hobbit. Much like Sony, RED are involved in numerous aspects of 4K, from creation to delivery, which perfectly positions them to help deliver 4K where possible. They are even launching a 4K laser/LED hybrid projector to help people enjoy more content in the home. There are test broadcasts in 4K being conducted by Astra and Sky and it is being suggested that we might even see a 4K channel launched this year. There is even talk of using a future 4G or 5G network to deliver 4K content effectively

    The Blu-ray Association is certainly looking at 4K and working on a new codec, along with a disc structure that is large enough to hold the huge 4K files. Whilst there is nothing concrete at the moment, I still hold out hope that Blu-ray can be adapted to deliver high quality into the home. It would certainly be my preferred option, not only because I like to own the physical media but also because I can't put a satellite dish on my listed home and my broadband service is rather slow, thus excluding the other two options of download or satellite. Whatever the approach, the combination of existing and new content coupled with a consumer electronics industry desperate to regain some margin through a new technology, means that 4K is coming a lot faster than people think.

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