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Philips teases glasses-free 3D TV prototype

Philips gave us an early sneak peek at its prototype glasses free 3D TV technology behind closed doors at CES today

Philips and its TV development partner TP vision don’t have a particularly big presence in the US, but that didn’t stop the pair from bringing their latest and greatest creations to a hotel suite here at CES in Las Vegas. We were invited behind closed doors for a sneak preview of what to expect from the company in 2013, but more importantly to see the progress being made on glasses free 3D.

Previously a hot topic at CES, 3D TVs haven’t been a major talking point this year. The focus has mostly been on ultra-high definition 4K and OLED sets, but Philips is confident this is because customers don’t enjoy wearing glasses to watch video at home. Previous glasses free sets lacked definition and forced you to sit in a very narrow area to appreciate the picture. Philips thinks it’s well on the way to solving this with its latest prototype, which uses a 60in 4K panel and a lenticular layer to created 3D images without the need to don a pair of googles.

Stood from three meters away in the small demo room Philips had set up, we were instantly treated to a series of 3D film trailers, which looked startlingly bright and colourful without a pair of 3D glasses. Naturally photos can’t do the system justice, but suffice to say the effects are far more impressive than any other glasses-free 3D system we’ve seen to date. By using a 4K panel, the end result is a 1080p image that’s much sharper than the lower resolution system produced by Toshiba last year.

Philips glasses free TV

Viewers use the small transparent panel in the bottom centre of the screen to find the perfect viewing position – if you can see two blue lines, you need to move over until only one is visible. It’s very simple and effective, so you instantly know if you’re sat in the wrong place. There are around 9-12 ideal viewing angles with which to see a 3D picture, but the effect is currently viewable anywhere up to 60 degrees either side of perpendicular. We had to move our head at least a foot in either direction before the effects became distorted, which should make the system ideal for the living room.

The system isn’t perfect – Philips is using its own proprietary depth-sensing algorithms to create the 3D effects, and we noticed one or two places where the depth effects were obvious layers, rather than the gradual fade in and out we’ve seen on other systems. There’s currently no motion processing built into the prototype, and we also spotted several blurred edges and out of focus areas that would normally have been in focus. However, it’s still very much a work in progress, and compared to its previous iteration (we saw the set at IFA in Berlin last year, but were embargoed and unable to talk about it) all the 3D processing is being done on the set itself, rather than pre-calculated using a computer.

Philips glasses free TV

Perhaps the major drawback to the technology in its current state is the level of perceived depth – it currently creates a 30cm in, 30cm out appearance of depth. Compared to the one meter appearance seen on many traditional 3D sets, the effects are nowhere near as pronounced.

Philips glasses free TV

It’s difficult to say whether Philips will bring glasses free 3D to market in its current iteration. As the set uses fixed lenses for its lenticular display, rather than switching ones, it is hard-wired to produce a 1080p image, despite being built around a 4K panel. It will cost roughly the same as a native 4K TV, and if the company opted to use switched lenses the price would be significantly higher.

We are in agreement that 3D in the home won’t be properly take off until there’s no need to wear glasses, and Philips is the company that seems closest to that goal. We’ll be following the set with great interest, and hope to bring you more details before the summer.

Also on display during the meeting were some exciting new TVs which will debut much sooner than the glasses-free 3D system. We aren’t allowed to talk about them in much detail until they are officially announced, but we were impressed with the line-up and will be paying close attention in the run up to IFA in August.

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