Big Picture Big Sound

James Cameron Backs Passive 3D TV, Glasses-Free 3DTV

By Rachel Cericola

Everyone at Big Picture Big Sound has been thrilled to see 3D TV prices come down this year while quality continues to improve. We're guessing that we are not alone. However, just when you thought it was safe to buy a 3D TV, James Cameron says there may be a reason to wait.

The self-proclaimed king of the world was out in Las Vegas this week, telling audiences at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show that he believes high quality glasses-free 3D TVs may be as few as five years out.  And in the meanwhile, he believes passive glasses 3D TV solutions will win out over active 3D glasses solutions due to convenience and lower glasses costs.

"I believe that [passive 3D sets] will become widely adopted," Cameron told the crowd (via Sports Video Group). "The next threshold beyond that, which is two to three years or as much as four to five years out, is high-quality, full HD-resolution large screens that have multiple viewing angles that don't have glasses at all. That is the point where the curve will go ballistic. Broadcasters need to be ready for that."

"That's my own personal prediction," he continued. "A lot of people would say I've just drunk my own Kool-Aid, but everything we've predicted about 3D so far has come true and, for the most part, ahead of schedule."

James Cameron and Vince Pace opened the 2011 NAB Show. [Photo courtesy of the National Association of Broadcasters.]

Cameron certainly has a point about both technologies. Two of the biggest complaints about current 3D TV sets have been the feeling of the glasses and the cost of the glasses. Passive would eliminate one of those things, allowing viewers to even use the same 3D glasses that are given out at the local Cineplex. [editor's note: Um... aren't you supposed to return those after the movie?] Cameron described his vision of bowls full of cheap passive 3D glasses, with plenty for everyone to enjoy, rather than a few very expensive active glasses that need to be charged and treated carefully.

Naturally, glasses-free 3D has been generating a lot of buzz, not only on the prototype 3D TVs shown at CES this year, but on a smaller scale, with the  launch of the Nintendo 3DS.  But we have yet to see even a prototype glasses-free 3D TV model that can get 3D viewing to look good from multiple angles, or with any detail approaching the active 3D sets.

Cameron's prognostication doesn't exactly bode well for the millions of early adopters, casual TV shoppers, and manufacturers that have already sunk time, money and bragging rights into high-end full HD active 3D technology. However, don't start packing up a return and/or frothing at the mouth just yet.

To date, neither passive nor active 3D TV sets have exactly set the world on fire. Both formats have received their own share of criticism. (See our piece, "3D TV: Passive 3D vs. Active 3D: The Format War of 2011?") Active sets use the more expensive glasses but maintain full high definition resolution to both eyes, thereby creating a high quality detailed 3D image.  Passive sets use cheaper glasses, but cut the resolution in half, losing picture detail.  Passive 3D TVs also currently have a more restricted vertical viewing range.  Either technology has its advantages and disadvantages, but either can be bought and enjoyed today, without waiting for this as yet unknown glasses-free future.

Currently, VIZIO and LG are the main backers of passive 3D TV, while Sony, Samsung and Panasonic are soldiering forward with active 3D TVs.  Toshiba seems to be hedging its bets offering both passive and active models, while also promising the delivery of glasses-free 3D TVs within the next 12 months (we'll believe it when we see it). How many format wars does one CE industry need?

However the technology shakes out, Cameron certainly plans to make 3D a priority. While at NAB, the director announced formation of the Cameron-Pace Group (CPG), a joint venture with cinematographer Vince Pace. The group plans to be active in every aspect of 3D production from movies, TV and live events, to cameras and creative services.  So if this 3D thing does eventually catch on, Cameron will be well positioned to cash in.

Pace and Cameron announced a new partnership, the Cameron-Pace Group. [Photo courtesy of the National Association of Broadcasters.]

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