Last week several members of our tech team packed their bags and headed to Berlin for IFA 2011. Among the throngs of new products, new glasses-free 3D TVs showed a glimpse of what the future might look like.
Truth be told, this wasn’t a classic IFA. Europe’s most important technology show (it competes with CeBIT in Hannover for the “largest” tag) has always been a far cry from the glitz, glamour and impact of CES in Las Vegas – the jewel in the tech show crown.
However, IFA can normally be relied upon to create some talking points, and in the absence of earth-shaking new products, the quiet progress of glasses-free 3D TV caught my eye.
3D without the glasses
While there were many examples of glasses-free 3D, including PC monitors and laptops, the TVs from Philips and Toshiba were the most interesting. Although Philips’ offering was just a prototype, Toshiba surprised everyone in announcing plans to release a glasses-free TV, the ZL2, before the year is out.
No one in the industry, least of all Toshiba, expects the 55-inch ZL2 to be a hit. Its £8,000 price tag is something of a barrier, and the demand for 3D entertainment is still nascent at best, as we can tell from the comments you’ve made on previous 3D TV Conversations.
Still, Toshiba’s demo of the ZL2 is a great shot in the arm for a company not known for being at the bleeding edge of TVs, and evidence that glasses-free 3D is more than just a pipe dream.
Comfortable, bright and colourful
The thing that struck me most with the Toshiba ZL2 was how comfortable it was to watch. As Rich explains in his video on Which? Tech Daily, even glasses-free 3D can feel tiring on the eyes. The Toshiba, however, never felt at all uncomfortable no matter how long I watched.
It was also a perfect tonic to the murky darkness of 3D with glasses. This has always been my number one complaint with 3D, which in comparison to 2D high-definition films lacked the sparkle that makes a Full HD film something a little bit special.
Not ready for prime time
That said, the ZL2 is far from the finished article. The screen filter that allows the 3D effect to function was visible in a slight chequered pattern on the screen.
Moreover, while the 3D effect was evident, it lacked the depth and dynamism of 3D with glasses. In other words, it’s a compromise – to make the 3D comfortable and viewable by more than one or two people at a time, Toshiba has toned down the effect.
What it has shown, however, is that glasses-free 3D can work on a big TV scale. We’re probably three or four years away from this technology being affordable, and even then it might remain an enthusiast’s pursuit. But if, like me, wearing 3D glasses is a massive turn off, there’s reason for some cheer.