Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Religious Wars: Shutter vs. Passive Glasses

At the Business Display Conference yesterday, we got to witness the growing competition between two technologies. It’s a familiar story: VHS vs. Betamax, Mac vs. PC, Blu-ray vs. HD DVD. But this time, there’s an interesting twist; some companies are backing both horses in this race.

The competition is between stereoscopic television technologies (3DTV). The early leader is the shutter glass (SG) solution. Left and right images are presented in rapid succession on the screen, and the lenses in the glasses block or transmit the light to the corresponding eyes of the viewer. The other approach uses a patterned retarder (PR) on the display itself so that half the image is polarized one way, while the other half is polarized the other. The result is that passive polarized glasses can separate the images for the viewer.

What we saw yesterday was how the two camps have managed to spin the “advantages” of their approach compared with the “disadvantages” of the competition. Unfortunately, some of this is getting a bit silly. For example, the SG camp likes to bang on the claim that their solution provides a full resolution image to each eye, while the PR approach only delivers half the pixels to each eye. This would be more impressive if it weren’t for the fact that many of the 3DTV encoding systems present both the left and right image in a single full resolution frame, which means that most of the content shown on SG displays will be at half resolution anyway.

The PR folks are not above using a bit of hyperbole themselves. They take every opportunity to rail about the heavy and expensive shutter glasses, and how they are a big barrier to consumer acceptance of 3DTV. This would be more effective if it weren’t for the fact that some of the newest shutter glasses are very sleek and lightweight. And Samsung is leading the way in lowering the price from as much as $200 to just $50 a pair. I know people who aren’t happy with their sunglasses if they don’t spend more than $50 on them, so this price probably is not a huge problem.

The danger in setting up false comparisons between different technologies is that you risk confusing and even annoying consumers. In the end, they will make their decision based on performance and price. Convoluted arguments about finer points that deliver some slight advantage will be a waste of resources. Keep in mind that a majority of U.S. consumers are very happy watching standard definition DVDs on their HDTVs, so don’t expect them to respond just because a given technology is “better."
--Alfred Poor, HDTV Almanac

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