Toshiba to Sell 3-D TV That Requires No Glasses

Toshiba, the Japanese electronics maker, said Monday that it would be the first on the market with a TV that displays images in 3-D without requiring viewers to don dedicated glasses.

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The clunky and expensive glasses—which viewers must wear to watch 3-D movies at theaters and 3-D images on TVs currently on sale from the likes of Samsung, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba itself—have been one big obstacle to a wider adoption of 3-D technology.

Toshiba says its new 3-D liquid crystal display TVs, which will go on sale in Japan in December, use a high-definition screen backlit with LEDs, a special sheet placed on top of the screen and Toshiba’s Cell chip technology to display information from nine images created in real time from a single frame.

The TVs can convert standard 2-D images into 3-D, Masaaki Oosumi, president of Toshiba Visual Products, said at a product unveiling on the eve of an electronics trade show in Chiba, a Tokyo suburb. The TVs, which will initially come in 20-inch and 12-inch models, carry price tags of ¥240,000 and ¥120,000, or $2,880 and $1,440, respectively. He said Toshiba currently had no plans to sell the TVs overseas.

“A dream TV is now a reality,” Oosumi said. “It’s obviously more natural to watch TV without glasses. That is the natural technological progression.”

A 20-inch model shown to reporters displayed crisp images in 3-D: a close-up shot of a pink flower, a school of blue and yellow fish. Viewing the screen from a wide angle, however, the image seemed to blur: The school of fish looked like a blurry mass.

Making a TV that properly displays 3-D images even when viewed from wider angles has been another technological challenge facing TV makers. Toshiba says its 3-D TVs work best when viewed from within a 40-degree zone.

Toshiba also showed a prototype 56-inch version of the 3-D TV. Bringing out models in bigger sizes would be crucial in marketing the TVs in the U.S. and European markets, Oosumi said.

In the meantime, Toshiba will continue to sell larger-model 3-D TVs that require dedicated glasses. The company just released its first 3-D TV, complete with glasses, in August. All of Toshiba’s 3-D TVs can also display images in 2-D.

In current 3-D TV technology, images for each eye are displayed one after the other in rapid succession. Filters in the dedicated glasses flash on and off in sync with the TV, so that the right eye sees one image, then the left eye sees the next image.

Toshiba’s TVs get around that problem by drawing on the Cell imaging processor to display nine different images for each frame and placing a special sheet on the screen that angles each image to ensure that the right eye sees only images meant for the right eye, and the left eye sees only images meant for the left eye.

Toshiba and other TV makers hope that the emerging 3-D technology drives consumers to upgrade their TVs. They also hope that the new technology will enable them to place a price premium on TVs, helping to stem a precipitous drop in flat-panel TV prices in recent years.

While video game enthusiasts and other early technology adapters had been receptive to wearing glasses to view images in 3-D, analysts had said TV makers had to eliminate the glasses to appeal to a wider audience. The additional price of the glasses was another obstacle.

But with the technology still evolving, TV makers may have a tough time convincing consumers that they should buy the early models on the market.

Toshiba said it initially hoped to sell 1,000 units of the glasses-free 3-D TVs a month. Separately, the company has said it hopes that over half of its annual TV sales target of 15 million units would come from sales of the bigger TVs that require glasses.