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The War of 3D: Active Glasses vs. Passive Glasses

With the massive arrival of 3D TVs to stores, the electronics industry is faced with yet another format war: passive or active 3D glasses?

The first TVs were accompanied only with the so-called active-shutter (active glasses), which are battery powered and automatically make the selection of images for each eye. Because the initial sales were not very encouraging (only 1.3 million sets, according to official data), less than a year later came the TVs with passive glasses without battery and whose selection is made entirely of signals from sensors located within the TV.


Some studies at that time ¬†have indicated that the low sales of 3D TVs were due to a kind of rejection of the public: most consumers would not accept overpay for glasses. The models used in the new TVs, which use a technology called FPR (Film Patterned Retarder), are cheaper – and have been pointed out by some manufacturers as the “salvation” of stereoscopic revolution.

According to them, this technology solves most problems identified by consumers: price, discomfort with the use glasses (liabilities are lighter), interference between the signals that are separate for each eye (technically called crosstalk) and even the question of design. Being cheaper, passive glasses can be produced in various colors and styles, most likely to please users.

But some experts continue to say that the glasses of the active type are more efficient in terms of brightness and resolution, which is crucial for the effect of immersion three-dimensional, the RPF technology would only have the cost and comfort advantage. Last December, the company Vizio has launched in the US a LCD 3D TV of 65″, the first that used passive glasses. Sales were excellent, drawing the attention of the whole industry.

The odd thing is that the Vizio positioned its device in the range of $3,500, that is, as high-end. In turn, LG, by placing in the market its Cinema 3D TVs series, of RPF technology in April, has placed them as “entry models”, while offering devices with active glasses at higher prices. “We think the passive LCDs offer a closer experience to the cinema movies”, said James Fishler, vice president of marketing for the Korean company. “But we’ll keep the active in line, because they are more exciting and certainly bring a different experience.”

While Toshiba has announced a similar strategy (TVs with active glasses will be more expensive), Samsung has a third way: their upcoming 3D TVs using polarized passive glasses, as the RPF, but contain active processors on the panel, according to the manufacturer to preserve the levels of brightness and resolution. Paul Gagnon,¬†DisplaySearch0s research director, specializing in the display market, called these devices “active retarders,” claiming that utilize a second LCD panel to turn the polarization. “It seems the best of both worlds, but without the same resolution”, says Gagnon.

The biggest problem of FPR technology, he says, is it cuts the image resolution by half. “The standard Samsung’s hybrid might even be considered a high performance, but surely there will be a lot of controversy”. For now, both Sony and Samsung continue betting officially in active technology – the Korean company executives have said they managed to convince his colleagues of the Japanese rival at least “consider” the possibility of adopting the hybrid FPR standard.

In fact, it comes down to the question of production costs. Voltolina Guido, director of Xpand, a company that provides active type of glasses for various manufacturers, finds it ironic that LG is betting so hard in the passive format that will not work with plasma TVs – while it is the current¬† leader manufacturer of plasma. “Having high-speed image processing, the plasma is already, by nature, compatible with active glasses, and without additional cost,” says Voltolina. “It’s always important to analyze the impact on the 2D image because that’s the way it is written most of the available content. And at this point, the active TVs are infinitely more efficient.”

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