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3D Without the Glasses

August 18, 2014 | Comments

3D movies can be traced back to the early 1900s, but they weren't popularized until the early days of television when Hollywood, worried about the new competition making its way into living rooms across America, began looking for ways to entice the public to theaters.

The result was a boom period in the 1950s of 3D and widescreen spectacles such as House of Wax, the first color 3D film, and The Robe, the first widescreen CinemaScope movie (both released in 1953 and now available on Blu-ray).

A key difference between the new formats was that in the case of 3D movies, you had to wear glasses to experience the added depth. No accessories were required for widescreen presentations, but the theater had to be equipped with a new extra-wide, curved screen.

In recent years, TV makers have made a big push to reignite interest in 3D movies, offering 3D-capable models at a variety of prices. But a lack of quality programming and the need to wear glasses have prevented 3D from catching on.

That's not to say that people don't like 3D - some do. But many find the glasses bothersome, not to mention expensive in the case of the bulky, battery-powered "active" glasses required for some 3D TVs. Even Francis Ford Coppola, the famous director, has referred to watching movies in 3D as "tiresome."

What if you could enjoy 3D movies at home without wearing glasses? Could be a game-changer, right? Past attempts at "glasses-free 3D" have been notable for their failure to produce a convincing image that remains consistent when the viewer moves "off axis" to one side or the other.

But surround-sound pioneer Dolby Labs and Philips, the Dutch company that played pioneering roles in developing the CD and DVD formats, have co-developed a format capable of creating a stable 3D presentation using a sophisticated processor/decoder that can be built into TVs, tablets, and mobile phones.

The way it works is metadata generated during movie production is encoded in consumer program material and used to generate "depth maps" that make 3D, or "autostereoscopic," viewing possible. The best part: No glasses are required. Even better, the amount of perceived depth can be adjusted.

At the 2014 CES, video experts were impressed by the quality of Dolby 3D demonstrations. Unlike previous attempts at glasses-free 3D, the Dolby system produced blur-free images that could be enjoyed over a wide sweet spot. While there are no guarantees, Dolby said TVs incorporating its glasses-free 3D technology could be on the market by the end of 2014.

To learn more about home entertainment features and options, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.