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Sony and others looking to standardize active 3D glasses

Jordan Mallory

Like it or not, the world's biggest technology companies are convinced that active 3D (the kind that uses powered, liquid crystal glasses) is the next big thing; so much so that they're willing to put all of their techno-eggs into the same business-basket in order to prevent cross-manufacturer incompatibility killing the cause.

One of the few universal truths of the technology world is that the key to a burgeoning format's success is unification and compatibility. Proprietary technologies breed platform fragmentation, and when products aren't compatible with each other, people don't use them, and the format dies. Take USB, for example: USB is successful as a standard because everyone uses the same connectors and licenses the same underlying technologies. You can take a USB keyboard made by one manufacturer and plug it into a motherboard built by another, and it works. The same cannot be said, however, for the majority of 3D glasses in the world, and that's a big problem for a lot of big companies.

Contemporary active shutter glasses work on the same basic technological principles as the SegaScope Master System glasses of yore: each lens contains a layer of liquid crystal, which darkens when voltage is applied. A 3D display interfaces with the glasses via some form of wireless transmission protocol in order to sync the glasses' alternating "shutters" with the display's refresh rate. The end result is that each eye is exclusively shown one slightly different version of the same image, resulting in the illusion of depth.

The problem then, isn't with the technology itself, but rather with the interface between the glasses and the display. A pair of active glasses made by Samsung may interface via IR, whereas a pair of Sony specs may use RF, which means our glasses will only work with our friend's TV if they're the same brand. With a technology this new, that kind of exclusivity impedes its ability to proliferate, which spells trouble for both the tech's longevity and the company's bottom line.

In order to keep this from happening, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and XPAND 3D have joined forces to create the "Full HD 3D Glasses Initiative," a consolidated business effort aimed at creating a universal standard for active shutter glasses. Product development is slated to begin this September, with standardized glasses arriving on store shelves in 2012. Part of the standard will also include backwards compatibility with televisions made in 2011, meaning you won't have to replace your entire set just to use glasses built under the new standard.

It's important to note that a universal standard does not automatically equal universal use, and that other manufacturers will still have to be convinced that licensing the standard is a better idea than building their own technology. For now, only time will tell if the initiative's efforts will prove fruitful.

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