XpanD Believes Active 3D Glasses Will Rule

With the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) officially over, the hard work of turning the 3D hype at the show into reality begins. Consumer displays will soon be hitting store shelves, and distributors like DirecTV and networks like ESPN and Discovery will deliver 3D content to homes by June. For consumers and even industry professionals interested in making the leap to the next dimension, there is confusion over such issues as LCD or plasma, active or passive glasses. If XpanD, RealD, and Dolby have their way, though, active glasses will soon be declared the standard for 3D home viewing.

“Passive 3D is dead [in the home market] because the TV sets are much more expensive,” says Ami Dror, chief strategy officer for XpanD. “With active glasses, 100% of the 3D costs are in the glasses.”

XpanD is the biggest player in the active-glasses market, with a 95% global market share. XpanD active-shutter glasses use a specialized fast-switching liquid-crystal cell, called the “pi-cell,” as a shutter to alternately block each eye. The glasses are synched with the TV set’s 3D playback, offering fast switching, optimal extinction ratios (the time it takes for the shutter to block the eye), and a wide viewing field.

“The use of pi-cell technology means our glasses have better brightness and color accuracy,” says Dror. The advantage of competing technology STN is better contrast ratios.

Active glasses are attractive to 3D-set manufacturers because nearly 100% of the cost of making the set 3D-capable is in the glasses. Lower manufacturing costs mean that the sets will be priced more attractively to consumers. In fact, LG Electronics does not plan to ship any glasses with its sets; Panasonic will ship with only one pair; Sony sets will ship with two pairs.

Consumers will instead pick up their own glasses in their favorite color or size. “The most important part of glasses is the human factor,” says Dror. “They have to fit and be comfortable.”

XpanD is aware of concerns over comfort and wearability in a living-room environment, and it is looking to address those needs with the X103 active-shutter glasses. The X103 glasses are designed to work with 3D-ready LCD laptop and desktop monitors and LCD, DLP, and plasma televisions. Virtually anything capable of playing 3D-encoded content at 120 frames per second will be compatible with the X103 glasses. The company’s X102 glasses are compatible with DLP 3D sets.

“You’ll see everything on the market from $50 glasses to titanium frames for heavy game players or designers that will cost $250 but will be much lighter and more durable,” says Dror. XpanD expects to manufacture 8 million glasses for both the cinema and home market in 2010.

Viewer happiness, however, will not depend on whether the glasses fit properly or are lightweight. Instead, it will come down to the viewing experience, and Dror believes that Internet delivery of 3D content could be an important part of the 3D experience. Why? Because delivering a 3D signal to TV sets without doubling the bandwidth means that the resolution is halved since half the signal delivers the left-eye image and the other half delivers the right-eye image.

“But with a broadband pipe, you could deliver a 720p image to both eyes instead of a 720i/30-fps image,” says Dror. “And consumers now will be disappointed with 720i because they are expecting the same quality experience they saw in Avatar.”