3D Glasses Standard: Too Little Too Late?

Yesterday, Panasonic and Xpand, makers of mostly commercial active-shutter 3D glasses, announced a standard synchronization protocol for this type of eyewear called M-3DI. The new standard is intended to improve compatibility between 3D TVs and home projectors, computers, and digital cinema, a problem that has plagued the current 3D marketplace since its inception over a year ago.

M-3DI uses infrared (IR) signaling to facilitate bidirectional communication between the glasses and display, though radio-frequency (RF) is being considered for a future version. The glasses detect the make and model of the display and operate accordingly, and users can adjust parameters such as transition time and dark interval—the time during which both lenses are closed—to address issues such as ghosting and brightness. These adjustments are made using a computer or an app on a handheld device.

Other companies have signed on to support M-3DI, including Mitsubishi, Seiko Epson, SIM2, ViewSonic, and Funai, which distributes Philips TVs in the US. Conspicuously absent from this list are the likes of Samsung, Sony, Sharp, LG, and Vizio, though LG and Vizio seem to be pinning their 3D hopes on the passive-polarized approach, which makes active-shutter glasses irrelevant.

According to Xpand, licensing will begin next month, and the fee will be "a few cents per unit," which shouldn't add anything to the price of a finished product. The stated goals are to make the 3D experience simpler for the consumer, accelerate the adoption of 3D in the home and commercial cinema, and promote the superior quality of active-shutter 3D. Among the scenarios mentioned in the press release is being able to use a single pair of glasses with different brands of TVs and in commercial Xpand-based 3D theaters, of which the company claims there are some 3500 worldwide—but few of them are in the US, so this isn't such a big deal here.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) recently began soliciting proposals for a 3D active-glasses standard, and M-3DI is certain to be among them. But is this too little too late? And even if the CEA develops a standard—be it based on M-3DI or something else—will all manufacturers adopt it? I have my doubts. If the industry was shortsighted enough to launch 3D without such a standard in the first place, it's not likely to embrace it now.