3D Glasses: Can They Have Universal Appeal?

While 3D movies have been doing blockbuster business in theaters, for some potential viewers the idea of wearing (and buying) expensive, uncomfortable 3D glasses at home has all the appeal of Carrot Top/Pauly Shore double feature.

The 3D glasses you wear at home aren't the cheaper, lightweight passive glasses used by most movies theaters in the U.S. That technology, developed by RealD, polarizes light from a projector, clockwise for the right image, and counterclockwise for the left image; the glasses have circularly polarized lenses so each eye only sees its intended image. While the passive glasses are incredibly cheap, theaters need to be outfitted with a polarizing modulator and a silverized screen to maintain the polarization. While a few companies are experimenting with passive polarized TV - Vizio, for example, recently demonstrated one at a New York trade show and said it would start selling them early next year-they're generally more expensive to manufacture than the current sets, and there are questions about performance given the lower (1920 x 540 per eye) resolution.

Instead, the current crop of 3D TVs relies on active-shutter LCD glasses provided by the TV manufacturer. In addition to being pricey-about $150 or more per pair - and somewhat bulky, the glasses only work with the same-brand TV. But by the fall we should see the first "universal" 3D glasses that can work with most major-brand 3D TVs. Two companies, XpanD and Monster Cable, are leading the charge with 3D glasses they say will be out in September. While they aren't going to be much-or, in Monster's case, any - cheaper than current models, they will be lighter and a bit more stylish and, if the manufacturers' claims are to be believed, they will outperform current 3D glasses. If so, it's not hard to imagine the day when toting a pair of 3D glasses to a friend's house is as common as bringing a six-pack of beer.