Alternate-Frame Sequencing 3D Gains Headway in China

Heightened demand for Google TV is boosting development in auxiliary sectors. Autostereoscopic displays, meanwhile, are increasingly being adopted in portable electronics.

The success of Avatar has reawakened the dormant 3D industry in China. Now, suppliers are developing everything from old-fashioned anaglyphic glasses to the more advanced alternate-frame sequencing TVs and portable autostereoscopic devices.

Just this year, many of the country’s major TV manufacturers have launched or are in the process of releasing alternate-frame sequencing 3D models. These include TCL, Skyworth, Changhong, THTF, Konka and Haier. Midrange manufacturers are following the trend, albeit incorporating lower technology. Makena Electronic (Shenzhen) Co. Ltd, for instance, is offering under 46in LCD TVs employing polarized 3D. At about $1,800 each, the units are priced 50 percent less than alternate-frame sequencing versions.

Presently, the panels used on alternate-frame sequencing 3D TVs come mainly from LG Display, Samsung and Sharp. The growing demand for 3D TVs, however, is encouraging more suppliers to start manufacturing related parts and components. Projections from iSuppli and DisplaySearch peg global shipments of 3D TVs to reach 4.2 million and 2.5 million in 2010, respectively. The latter also anticipates output to hit 27 million by 2013.

In the past quarter alone, companies such as AUO, Chimei Innolux and Chunghwa began releasing their own series of 3D panels. This, in turn, is expected to push panel costs down at least 5 percent by year-end.

China manufacturers are also seeing progression in the autostereoscopic 3D line. Shenzhen Inlife-Handnet Co. Ltd currently offers 7-inch digital photo frames that incorporate the technology. These are priced at $280 per piece. The company is also set to release 3D digital cameras at $350 each and professional versions with an optical image stabilizer at $600. 3D vidicons and portable digital TVs are in the R&D stage as well.

To date, Sharp and AUO are the ones providing autostereoscopic 3D panels. The former supplies 3D camera modules as well. In addition to incorporating these components, Shenzhen Inlife-Handnet employs Zoran’s IC solutions.

Four types of 3D

China’s 3D industry started toward the end of the 1990s. Back then, products consisted only of anaglyphic 3D glasses that were priced no more than $2 per pair. By 2006, polarized 3D glasses began penetrating the export market, albeit at very low volumes.

There are currently four major 3D technologies. Anaglyphic is the oldest, simplest and lowest cost. Polarization is adopted widely in the movie industry and boasts a better viewing experience than with anaglyphic. Alternate-frame sequencing is currently the mainstream solution for home electronics, with both international and domestic TV and projector makers focusing on the technology. This is also adopted on peripheral devices such as game consoles and monitors.

These three technologies require the use of passive red-cyan, passive polarized and active shutter lenses for anaglyphic, polarization and alternate-frame sequencing, respectively. There are an estimated 15 suppliers of polarized 3D glasses. Alternate-frame sequencing glasses are also available, but at a pricey $120 per pair.

Autostereoscopic 3D is currently the most advanced form of technology as glasses are not required. It is also very costly. A 46-inch LCD TV with autostereoscopic display is priced at about $28,000 each for retail. In contrast, models that utilize other types of 3D technology are between $1,800 and $3,000 per unit. Apart from cost concerns, the optimum viewing angle for autostereoscopic displays is limited to about 120 degrees. As such, the technology is adopted primarily for mini and portable devices, including mobile phones and TVs, and digital cameras.

At present, 3D TVs have LED backlights, IPS hard panels and refresh rates exceeding 120Hz. The display can switched from 3D to regular 2D modes via special ICs such as Panasonic’s Cell chip or Altera’s FPGA. For these reasons, 3D models are significantly more expensive than mainstream flat-screen TVs and priced roughly 20 to 30 percent higher than LED TVs with IPS panels. Quotes generally include two or three pairs of glasses.