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Glasses-Free Concerns

The booths containing the screens were all completely blacked out, for a start, making us wonder if the glasses-less 3D screens struggle with brightness. Even more noteworthy, though, was the way Toshiba was trying to control the numbers of people standing in front of each screen.

Basically it clearly didn't want more than one or two people around a screen at any one time. And the reasons for this became readily apparent as we stood there watching the demo unfold. For while it was, thankfully, possible to watch the screens from a wider angle than we've seen with previous glasses-free prototypes, you have to sit/stand extremely still, otherwise you see the notorious 'seams' of distortion and poor focus that have always plagued glasses-free 3D screens. This hardly feels conducive to a normal home living room viewing situation.

Toshiba's glasses-free 56-incher, viewed under controlled conditions

It was also impossible to ignore the fact that Toshiba was using a show-reel of the Final Fantasy video game to demo its screens, doubtless because games are a little easier on the screen and processing technology than video footage. Even with the game footage, though, it was impossible to ignore that the 3D effect seemed limited in terms of depth versus the effects seen on other types of 3D screens. There was some pretty evident blurring at times too, even when you managed to position yourself so that your viewing wasn't troubled by one of the seams we mentioned earlier.

This blurring increased considerably, moreover, with the one screen of video footage (a 3D fish tank) Toshiba had on show.

To be fair, despite everything we've just said, Toshiba's glasses-free 3D screens weren't an unmitigated disaster. Colours looked decent, brightness levels were better than we'd expected, and sometimes, when standing in the sweetest possible spot, the 3D pictures did look just about convincing.

Sony sticks with active 3D tech

Overall, though, it was impossible to ignore the feeling that glasses-free technology really isn't quite ready to bring to market yet - especially as it seems likely that Toshiba's debut sets will sell for a pretty hefty price when they appear.

Obviously, to be fair, Toshiba has a few months of development left to prove us wrong. But it's certainly got a lot of work to do in that time.

While it was Toshiba and LG that hogged all the 3D headlines at this year's CES, though, active 3D tech remained the dominant 3D force, with Samsung, Panasonic, Sharp and Sony all only offering active solutions for the foreseeable future. What’s more, each of these brands had some impressive samples on show to back up their confidence in their preferred format.

That said, it’s hard not to feel a touch of sympathy for the active 3D boys. For by muddying the 3D waters so comprehensively, LG and Toshiba's main achievement at the CES may simply have been to put an already sceptical public off buying a 3D TV of any sort for even longer.

On the upside, the arrival of an unexpected 3D format war has joined with some huge leaps in the 'smart TV' world to officially make 2011 interesting again...

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