Monday, October 17, 2011

Glasses-Free 3D Smart Phones – A game changer

I am a gadget freak. I love experimenting with new gadgets and I get totally involved in the inner workings of some of these gadgets. Today, with all new technology gizmos around, it was hard for me to choose one, when I was asked to write a technical article. After scuffling around, I chose to talk about 3D technology, more focused on 3D Mobile technology. At first I was wondering, what is all that malarkey going around about 3D Smart Phones, but when I took a closer look at demo and actually held a 3D phone in my hand, I was intrigued with the way they work, especially without 3D glasses. At this point I am assuming that most of you already own a Smart Phone, or are planning to get one or at least know what they have to offer. Coming straight to the point, So, what is a 3D Smart Phone: A 3D smartphone is, as the term suggests, simply is a smartphone that’s capable of showing content in 3D.

But, the question is, do you really need one? At present, some of us think it’s a waste of money, but there are the others who think 3D Phones may be the next in-thing for smart phone users and could possible change the way we live. It depends, if you love movies, games, videos, photography, and YouTube a 3D smartphone will make life more entertaining and absorbing wherever you are. I personally think, it will have its own market, especially in gaming, photography, videography aspects.

3D phones are getting to be very popular among mobile techno-freaks today. Not only have a whole host of new 3D phones come into the market recently, but there are also an equally huge number of customers just waiting to get their hands on them, as and when they are released. So what exactly is this concept of 3D phones and how do 3D phones work?

3D technology has been around for many years. Only, we so far had 3D movies and then 3D HDTVs came by. But it is only now that 3D has made its foray into the mobile industry. Bringing this technology into a relatively small mobile device is indeed a challenge and the heights of innovation. One can easily watch 3D movies using special 3D glasses for the same. But it would seem silly to do the same with a mobile device. Hence, 3D phones have to have a 3D display without the need to use special glasses. This is what excited me the most about 3D technology on the Smart phones.

The Technology behind 3D Phones
Normally, when you are watching a 3D movie, the special dark glasses create a different image for each eye, thereby giving you the seeming effect of a live, 3D image. In actuality, the human brain mixes up these two different images and creates a composite, “breathing”, 3D image.
So how is one able to perceive 3D content without wearing these special glasses? Well, an interesting technology called the APB or Autostereoscopic Parallax Barrier is what gives a glasses-free 3D display. Here, a device (something like the 3D glasses) is kept in front of an LCD and this is what enables the user to get glasses-free 3D content. So, next, lets understand how does the “Parallax Barrier” work.

How does the ‘Parallax LCD’ Work:
So how does a parallax LCD work? Most people know that when you're watching a 3D movie and wearing those dorky glasses, a different image is being sent to each eye; your brain mashes these two images together to create a composite 3D image. But, what you may not know is that a 3D display incorporates an overlay that is placed in front of the LCD. This is called a parallax barrier and it polarizes the glasses giving the 3D effect. In other words, your eye is fooled into watching 3D. Interesting!!!

In other words, when you wear the glasses, each eye receives a different image, by way of blocking out light, hence the different color frames. Our eyes then put these images together to form a combined image – and one that appears to be 3D. The parallax barrier is a filter that goes over the screen to direct the different images to the correct eye, allowing us to then form that combined image and view the phone’s display in 3D.

There will come a time when users will be able to shift between 2D and 3D with a flip of a button. In fact, it is said that the Japanese electronics giant, Sharp, has been working on this technology for quite some time. But they employ it a little differently. They use a “switching LCD”, which can shift between 2D and 3D imaging, without using special glasses or goggles. When the switching feature is turned off, the TFT-LCD displays 2D imaging as normal, but when the parallax barrier is switched on, it controls the way light leaves the display, meaning different patterns of light reach the left and right eye thereby giving the 3D effect.

Note: A parallax barrier can only really work on a smaller screen, due to the intricacies involved. There is a specific position, or “sweet spot” that allows the eyes to create this 3D image. On a television screen, this is not really possible. However, for a small screen like a mobile phone or tablet, it is ideal.
Check these illustrations below to exactly depict what I mean.

However, to view 3D, we need to record in 3D, hence the need of a 3D camera, so lets get a gist of how a 3D Camera works.
How does a 3D camera work?
To create a 3D image, we take two 2D pictures of slightly different perspectives and put them together, as we have seen with the display explanation above. Like human eyes, 3D camera lenses need to be a distance apart so as to ensure that the camera gets the specific perspectives required to produce a 3D image. This isn’t the only way, though. For instance, some cameras use built-in software to get the different perspectives – something that requires the user to take multiple pictures, which are then put together to form the 3D image.
Few benefits of 3D-SmartPhones
So, now that we understand how 3D phones and cameras work, lets understand some benefits of a 3D SmartPhone.
1. 3D movies and games: Watching films and playing videogames in 3D is sure to be one of the biggest selling points of 3D smartphones. Details of how and where you’ll get 3D smartphone films from, and how much they’ll cost, are still being ironed out. It’s widely expected that online 3D download stores - similar to iTunes and Android Market - will soon emerge to service your every 3D whim.  These stores will also probably let you download 3D videogames directly onto your 3D smartphone. LG, for example, has already formed a partnership with several big-name game developers, including Gameloft, to create 3D versions of new and popular videogames. Epic have already launched 3D games such as the Infinity Blade 3D, for this future platform. It’s even rumored that a 3D Angry Birds videogame is in the works.
2. Shooting videos in 3D: 3D smartphones will also let you take your own 3D videos because they come with two lenses on the back - instead of the normal one - to mimic how your eyes see the world. Just imagine snapping videos of your friends at the beach or in a bar and then seeing them in glorious 3D on your smartphone’s screen. You’ll also be able to shoot 3D mini-movies on your 3D smartphone.
3. Sharing 3D content: In addition to the normal ways of sharing content between phones, such as Bluetooth, the LG Optimus 3D smartphone has an exclusive partnership with YouTube 3D - a special version of the website dedicated to 3D mini-movies, adverts and film trailers. This means any videos shot in 3D on your smartphone can then be easily uploaded onto YouTube 3D for friends and family to enjoy. However, they’ll need a 3D TV or other 3D-capable gadget to see your films in 3D. I am sure, HTC, LG, Samsung also have similar options.
Current Limitations/Issues with 3D Smart Phones
Every great technology comes with some caveats, only then there is a scope of improvement. At the moment of this writing, mobile 3D is still in its infancy and there are some limitation/issues as described below.
1. 3D Content: There is also a shortage of movies and other 3D content right now. This is because the way movies are shot is different, 3d movies require multiple cameras (min 2) from multiple angles, this means all recording hence forth will need to be done in “3D” style. This also means that all our current 2D recorded movies cannot be viewed in 3D, but all the new 3D recorded movies can be switched to 3D. 
2. Battery Consumption: Another problem is the battery consumption of 3D phones. At present, 3D phones are power hoggers and users will have to charge their phones 2 to 3 times a day to keep up to 3D. 
3. Eye Angle, position: 3D effect is strongly dependent on angle, distance. So the eye position with the 3D screen would need to be accurate.
4. Cost: 3D smartphones will remain a premium product for some time yet, just like the iPhone 4 and other top-end smartphones. 
However, all these above problems are expected to be set right in due course of time.
Now, the exciting part, lets take a look at some of the 3D SmartPhones and their carriers.

Phone Model ImagesCarrier
LG Optimus 3D
Samsung W960 Amoled 3D
LG Thrill 4G


If you need to know which 3D SmartPhone to choose, then goto: and do a compare to check out the latest and greatest features.
Some 3D Image views (Next generation UI):

View Video:
As of now and as far as my knowledge goes, only 3 major manufacturers are selling 3D phones on a global scale. They are the HTC EVO 3D and LG Optimus 3D, LG Thrill 4G and Samsung’s W960 Amoled 3D. It is anticipated that Apple may also soon have a 3D version of its iPhone and so will Motorola. 

Future growth of 3D
The 3D display technology and market forecast report published by DisplaySearch shows the total stereoscopic 3D display market is expected to grow from 0.7 million units and $902 million in revenues in 2008 to 196 million units and $22 billion in revenues in 2018, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 38% for revenues and 75% for units.

News: HTC smartphone sales beat estimates, but HTC EVO 3D has "real thunder":

In conclusion, 3D phones seem to be poised to become the future of mobile phones. Experts are already working round the clock to create better 3D technology and so, one can expect a veritable 3D phone boom in the coming couple of years. This article is prepared to the best of my knowledge and is subject to change.
Naveen Noel J | Sr. Solutions Architect | ZSL, Inc |

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