9 April, 2010—Last Friday, Sharp Corp. took the wraps off a 3-D display technology that doesn't require special glasses but produces an image as bright as what you'd see on a standard LCD screen. Sharp says it will begin mass-producing small displays, suitable for mobile devices, in the next six months and predicted that it wouldn't be long before the technology replaces standard mobile displays.
Sharp's bet on 3-D comes hard on the blue 3-D heels of Avatar, the highest-grossing movie ever, and in the wake of the March launch of 3-D TVs from Japan's Panasonic and South Korea's Samsung. Sony says it will ship its 3-D LCD TVs in June, just in time for the World Cup soccer tournament, which ESPN will use to kick off the industry's first 3-D television network.
Sharp has been here before: In 2002, it introduced the first generation of spectacles-free 3-D displays, a launch that was followed by decidedly one-dimensional sales. Those displays were too dim, too thick, and too rigid; the image could not be rotated from portrait to landscape mode. Besides, there was little 3-D content then for people to watch.
"We knew that if we could overcome these challenges, we could be successful," said Yoshisuke Hasegawa, executive manager in charge of Sharp's LCD operations, at the unveiling of its new display on 2 April.
The live demonstrations of the new panels show that the company has made significant strides, judging by the 2-D–like brightness and resolution of both the still images and video animation provided by Sharp. The specifications also underscore the improvements. The older 3-D display targeting cellphones measured 2.4 inches (6.1 centimeters) with a screen resolution of 240 by 320 pixels, a brightness in 2-D mode of 250 candelas per square meter, and a contrast of 100:1. The new display measures 3.4 inches (8.6 cm), sports a resolution of 480 by 854 pixels, and has twice the brightness (500 cd/m2) and 10 times the contrast ratio (1000:1). It comes with an optional touch screen that lets you rotate the image, although Sharp did not demonstrate this feature.
Two advances account for most of the improvement. First, Sharp improved the "parallax barrier," an overlay of alternating transmissive and nontransmissive columns aligned with columns of LCD pixels to separate the two paths that light takes to the viewer's right and left eyes. Sharp's trick is to make the barrier electronically switchable through the addition of polarizing optics that can rotate the light, in effect switching the display from 2-D to 3-D, or vice versa. The technology was used in Sharp's first-generation 3-D displays, but the company has refined it, reducing ghosting and cross talk between the left eye and right eye images.