Sony, Sharp Hope 3D Mobile Displays Finally Catch On

Last Updated Apr 2, 2010 2:44 PM EDT

Just a week ago I wrote about how 3D smartphones would soon hit the market. Guess we didn't have long to wait, as both Sony (SNE) and Sharp (6753.T) have announced new glasses-free mobile 3D displays.

It's not as if 3D displays are new. Panasonic (6752.T) and Samsung (005930.KS) have 3D televisions already shipping, with Sony getting its 3D TV into the market in June. The potential market acceptance hurdle most of these face is the need to wear special glasses. That might work in a theater, but it's hard enough keeping track of the remote at home. How many consumers will don dork-specs in the living room?

There have even been mobile 3D screens before, but they flopped. Bad image quality, bulkiness, dim screens, and a lack of 3D content doomed them as they reached consumers. The new displays are supposed to be lighter and with improved images. Sharp's display, at least, works whether the user has it pointed upright or tipped over, a screen orientation that often happens with smartphone users. Because the Japanese display market has been in the doldrums, manufacturers need ways to stimulate interest and demand.

However, there are still drawbacks. For example, 3D image technology requires users to have their eyes within a certain angle of the screen and a specific distance away so the effect works. Sony's new display is only 3-inches in size and you have to hold it a foot from your nose. In addition, the images aren't necessarily what you're used to:

The 3-D animation on the handheld screen looked like a miniature version of the 3-D animation we are used to seeing on larger TV screens, though images were less convincing than those seen in a darkened cinema. Photos on the touch screen were less clear and even a bit blurry from certain angles, though Sharp said its latest technology does away with such "ghosting" effects.
However, remember that we are in the nascent days of 3D mobile displays and all the 3D technology is bound to improve. Just look at the demonstration that Sony gave last fall of a prototype 3D display that users could view from any angle and that didn't require glasses:

3D image: Flickr user jimf0390, CC 2.0.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.