Coming At You: Toshiba Will Offer Glasses-Free 3D TV

Couch potatoes unite. Toshiba (TOSBF) wants to rock your world.

Toshiba is reportedly developing three 3D TV models it hopes to launch by the end of the year, according to a report in Japan's Daily Yomuri. The goal is to sell the TVs for several hundred thousand yen. (100,000 yen is roughly $1190, at current exchange rates.) If successful, Toshiba will become the first electronics maker in the world to offer 3D TVs without glasses.

Toshiba's 3D TV sans glasses is expected to include a diminutive 21-inch screen. 3D TVs that work with glasses are larger, ranging from a 40-inch screen to a mega-monster 63-inch screen, according to the Yomiuri report.

The need to wear 3D glasses to watch 3D TV has been a sales barrier for the industry. The glasses are an inconvenience and fashion faux pas, but they're also costly, with the average pair of glasses running between $130 an $200. Even more than the inconvenience, the high price of the glasses has tempered sales, says Paul Gagnon, DisplaySearch's North America TV research director.

In general, the barriers to widespread adoption of glasses-free 3D TV fall into two categories. One is the high price of stereoscopic 3D display screens, which cost substantially more than regular 3D displays. No manufacturer wants to be left holding expensive inventory if 3D TV fall sales don't materialize.

The second issue involves the way users watch TV: Consumers must sit in specific locations to see the 3D images without 3D glasses, Gagnon says.

Toshiba hopes to get around the distorted vision issue by offering high-definition panels that make 3D images visible to naked eye, according to the Yomiuri report. Toshiba's 3D TV would also allow consumers to run existing 3D movies and shows on the device.

The market for 3D TVs that come with glasses is expected to grow rapidly over the next five years. Last month, DisplaySearch issued a forecast that 3D TVs would reach 3.4 million in shipments this year and soar another 37% by 2014. In the U.S., Panasonic (PC) and Samsung (SSNLF) were the only two flat panel TV makers to roll out 3D TVs during the first half of the year.

That's why Toshiba's effort is all the more interesting. Prior to news reports about Toshiba's new product, Gagnon said, he assumed it would take another five years before TV manufacturers unveiled glasses-free 3D TVs. But just like 3D itself, the future is coming right at us faster than expected.