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A war of the third dimension

india Updated: May 07, 2011 17:00 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

There’s a new war out there. A format war, a feature war, a war for bragging rights, a war with a bounty chest worth billions of dollars. It’s a war being played out for your eyes and it’s a war that is being fought in a space and dimension that is pure illusion. It’s the third dimension war, or as we all like to call it – 3D. This is not about the 3D TVs and 3D movies that we’ve been debating about for the last year or two. And it’s not what you’ve been hearing and it’s not what you already know. This is an all new battle and it has very unlikely sparring adversaries. It’s a fascinating little tale and one that has all the elements of a great tech-war story written all over it.

The Land of 3D
The 3D display and technology market is a pretty strange place. At first it was heralded as the next big thing – James Cameron changed the rules of the game with Avatar and every display manufacturer jumped into the fray with million dollar 3D campaigns.

Within months you couldn’t buy a product that wasn’t 3D – games, projectors, laptops, TVs and movies! And yet, there was consumer resistance. People complained of unease; the content wasn’t there; the glasses were large and difficult to maintain; picture clarity took a hit; and overall, 3D did not set the market on fire. Yet, the industry stuck to its guns and carried the 3D campaign through.

Today, 3D is fast becoming a standard feature on all TVs and it’s almost impossible to buy a mid to high-end display without 3D. Plus, there is almost no price premium attached to it. Thus, 3D, by default, is something that you will get and use. And, by default, what 3D you get has become a critical buying criterion. Thus, this big, beautiful war.

First Salvo
This is an important time for all the consumer electronic giants. Consumers are less willing to buy new TVs as many already own new LCDs, plasmas and LEDs. Thus, anything that can give a company bragging rights and even a slight edge is a big deal from here on. And the first salvo came from an unlikely quarter. LG is taken to be a biggie in the display market, but in terms of market share, it trails Samsung. LG shook things up by declaring that current 3D standards were ‘a generation behind’. It launched a brand new technology called FPR (Film-Patterned Retarder for the techies) and said that the standards used by other companies (active shutter glass) were basically outdated. Just to get the basics right, let me explain what all this tech duelling was all about.

Instead of the glasses doing all the active shutter trickery so close to your eyes and face (and thus inducing headaches), LG put it all in the screen itself

FPR versus Active Shutter Glasses
3D display technology is basically nothing but visual trickery, a deception played on our eyes. Two images are shot at separate perspectives. Active 3D glasses then allow each eye to see only one of them and the brain is forced to combine them, thus creating the illusion of depth. Some problems that come up when you do this to your brain for too long are dizziness, headaches and eye-strain. LG said it had found the solution. Instead of the glasses doing all the active shutter trickery so close to your eyes and face, it went and put it all in the screen itself. Thus the glasses (yes, you still do need glasses) are only polarised, much lighter, less bulky, much cheaper (a few dollars), need no batteries and look better (in fact most look like your normal designer sunglasses). LG also claimed that it gave 100 per cent flicker-free pictures and a much wider viewing angle.

The Retaliation
That was it. The gauntlet was thrown down and the fire-storm broke. Samsung hit back immediately with a war of words, a campaign that involved a monkey (LG?) and basically rubbished it all by saying that their technology gave a better, more vivid picture, that it was a worldwide standard and that LG was ‘trying to break a rock with an egg’. Retaliation was swift: new campaigns were thrown out; James Cameron got involved and supported LG by saying it had the better technology; LG claimed Sony and HP were now looking to switch. It was an all-out slugfest.

And the winner is?
It’s an unusual battle – the two South Korean giants rarely, if ever, engage in public mudslinging. But this may well be the new face of things to come as both conglomerates are now driven by newly-appointed young leaders who are both striving to set the 3D industry standard.

And by the end of the year one of them will win. Of course it will be a temporary victory as a new battle will emerge soon: the battle to come out first with 3D – completely free of glasses!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.

Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni

- From HT Brunch, May 8

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