Last year at CES Toshiba had a single glasses-free 3D TV on display and anyone who wanted to wait in the ridiculous line could take a peek. This year they upped the ante with a whole wall of glasses-free 3D TVs. The sets use a facial tracking system to keep the viewing angle situated for up to 3 people at once. Unfortunately, after all of their hard work very few people were impressed, including all of us.
Sony also had some glasses-free TVs on display, but just like Toshiba's offering they were less than appealing. At this point we had all but given up on finding the killer glasses-free 3D displays we had been hoping for. Then we stumbled upon the Stream TV Networks booth and our jaws proceeded to hit the floor.
Using their own proprietary technology, dubbed Ultra-D, Stream TV Networks showed us that not only are glasses-free 3D TVs very possible to pull off at a reasonable cost, but we won't have to worry about viewing angles or state-of-the-art “Ultra HD” displays. In fact while speaking with reps for Ultra-D they told me that they have been pulling 3D 720p HD quality out of standard 1080p TVs -- something the big guys like Sony and Toshiba still can't seem to figure out.
So great, glasses-free 3D is possible, but what about the eyestrain we've all grown to despise? Well, it would appear that Ultra-D has a solution for this too in the form of on-the-fly adjustments that can alter the intensity of the 3D image -- think Nintendo 3DS with way more options. The 3D image can be recessed to give it that “looking through a window” feel and can also be shifted more toward the front to give it the cheesy pop-out effect we're used to. Basically, it gives the user tools to adjust the 3D to best suit their eyes, making it something more and more people could possible find enjoyable.
I spent a good chunk of time looking at all Stream TV Networks had to offer and I must admit I really believe they have this whole 3D thing figured out. Everything from a football game (which was up-converted from 2D using the company's software) to Call of Duty: Black Ops looked amazing. Obviously, there are still some kinks to work out and the job of bringing this into mainstream television sets, but the company is already working with manufacturers and they plan on getting something to market later this year.
It sounds great, but I'm sure you're all wondering how Ultra-D actually works so I'll do my best to break it down. Most glasses-free 3D devices we've seen use a “parallax barrier” to pull off the 3D effect. This option uses two images and associates one to the right eye and a separate image to the left eye. However, to see the effect correctly you have to look directly at the screen, any movement to the right or left will leave you seeing only one of the intended images. It works well on single-user products like the Nintendo 3DS and smartphones like the HTC Evo 3D, but it just isn't practical for TV sets that will obviously have more then one person watching them at once.
Stream TV's Ultra-D on the other hand uses a microlens that covers the standard display and, with the aid of their proprietary software and firmware, shows viewers up to 9 images, each with a slightly different angle on the scene. This way each eye will see 4 images, for example, and as you move around, to different viewing angles, you see a slightly different image that retains the 3D effect.
The system isn't perfect and the biggest downside is that we're delivered an image that simply isn't as sharp as other 3D displays. However, as we mentioned earlier, the displays Stream TV is currently using are only 1080p and not the “Ultra HD” 4k resolution displays companies like Sony and Toshiba are using for their glasses-free 3D sets.
At this point its just a matter of time before Stream TV strikes a deal with one of the major players and, from what we saw at CES 2012, I can say without hesitation that Ultra-D technology is winning the glasses-free 3D battle, hands-down.
For more information on Stream TV Networks and Ultra-D technology head over to their website and do some more reading.