CES 2013: Glasses-free 3D TV at last?

In the deluge of press releases that we received before CES 2013, and apart from the obvious, obligatory press conferences that we were always going to report on – the Sony, Panasonic, LG and Samsungs of this world - there was one among all the battery chargers and iPod cases that managed to attract my eye.

Stream Technologies has launched a glasses-free 3D system under its Ultra D brand. Now, we’ve seen and heard about glasses-free 3D before, but this release seemed to be somewhat more adamant than ones preceding it. Worth a look at least, I thought.

And so it may well have proved. Apart from the obvious benefit – no uncomfortable glasses – a second big selling point of the technology is that it makes best use of Ultra HD screens, which have, at the moment, almost zero native content available to display.

The Ultra-D system uses an algorithm that boosts existing content to deliver heightened resolution to between 1080p and 2160p. According to the press release, it ‘uses the disparity between images to produce a higher resolution output than the source.’ Okay, I’m not sure quite what that means precisely, but Stream Technologies says that it isn’t simply upscaling the image.

The system is able to take content from pretty much any conventional source, so you could have images from your set-top box, Blu-ray player, console, YouTube or iTunes and have it converted into 3D without the need for glasses. (With the appropriate hardware, of course.) But the technology will work on any type of screen, it is claimed.

Stream Technologies has been working with companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Sony and HP, so rather than have its own branded products, it will supply the chips and hardware to manufacturers, in a similar business model to Intel.

So: does it work?

There was only a very short demonstration of the system in action at the press conference, but what we saw was really quite impressive. Footage from the BBC’s Olympics coverage was used, and a decent 3D image was provided from what was originally 2D 1080p source material. From that initial glimpse I thought it stood up to the performance of active 3D glasses pretty well. And you could move around the screen without losing the effect.

3D has endured a fairly lacklustre press recently, but glasses-free 3D is what people have been clamouring for. This might just be the technology to crack that particular nut.

We shall watch out for developments on a UK launch with interest.

Written by Jonathan Evans

Jonathan Evans
Editor, What Hi-Fi? magazine

Jonathan Evans is the editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine, and has been with the title for 17 years or so. He has been a journalist for getting on for three decades now, working on a variety of technology and motoring titles, including Stuff, Autocar and Jaguar. With his background in sub-editing and magazine production, he likes nothing more than a discussion on the finer points of grammar. And golf.