[CEATEC 2010] Toshiba has caught CEATEC by storm, creating a continuous 2-hr wait line around its booth with attendees lining-up to see one thing: the GL1 series of glasses-less 3D televisions. Three models were on display: 12″, 20″ (products) and 56″ (prototype). Toshiba has dropped the bomb on competitors like Sony, LG or Samsung by announcing that 3D without glasses was “here”, or at least around the corner, and my friends, this is a big deal in the industry. Why? For one, because very few people want to wear those funky active-shutter 3D glasses, and even fewer would actually want to buy them for $150 each.
Reality on the ground
The reality is that glasses-less 3D shown by the Toshiba GL1 series looks better than anything of that kind before it, but doesn’t yet have the image quality than its glasses-enabled competitors have. It’s not much of a 2D TV either. That said, Toshiba clearly shows that it is possible and that the technology has steadily improved since it appeared years ago (yup that’s not “new” for say). Right now, the glasses-less TV has a pixel density that is at a point where it is “very decent”, even if right now, we would not rush to buy one (Toshiba plans to sell 1000 units per month, which is indeed very low – but seems realistic). The point is that the future of 3D TVs is glasses-less and that’s a huge bummer for TV companies that have invested countless amount of money in more traditional 3D TVs (and marketing) over the past few year.
Interestingly, the image is not as garbled as it would be with traditional 3D TV
Of course, you have to take into account that Toshiba has little to lose by announcing the GL1. It has a seemingly small market share and won’t suffer too much (if at all) from any 3D TV sales drop while people wait for the next-generation technology. Toshiba’s Regza line of 3D TV looks stunning, but have been priced to *not* sell. We’re not even mentioning the huge box that comes with the otherwise flat TV if you get the version with a Cell processor. It is logical to think that Toshiba could be trying to stall the sales of their competitors with this announcement (just before the Holiday season). And that could very well be true because the paradigm with TVs is that once you buy one, you keep it for a very long time. Right now, Samsung, LG and Sony are the main beneficiaries from the massive TV upgrade cycle. Toshiba wants to make sure that customers wait until the company has a great product on the shelves.
What’s needed to really make it work?
Toshiba’s technology is based on an array of small lenses that project 9 images in different directions — for every pixel. Because of this complex apparatus, Toshiba’s GL1 cannot match the highest resolution available on standard TVs. On the 12″ and 20″ TV, the image looks OK, but on the 56″ prototype, the lower effective resolution is noticeable. The good news is that this will probably be solved by continued miniaturization on basic components and manufacturing improvements.
The more difficult challenge comes from the fact that the lenticular technology used in the GL1 assumed that the viewer is positioned right in front of the TV. Someone walking by from the side would have a harder time seeing a decent image. This seems like a fundamental issue, but hey, once upon a time, LCD displays had crappy view angles too, so let’s give it a chance.
Regardless of the motives, Toshiba has sent a clear signal and from what we can tell, the public is on their side. People want glasses-less 3D TV, so whoever can deliver will reap the benefits. TV manufacturers have taken notice, so we bet that CES plans are being chanced right now. The GL1 TVs should be available for sale (somewhere) in December.
This video shows the line at the Toshiba booth at CEATEC. The show has just opened