Which Technology Will Dominate The 3D TV Market?

[B]It has been more than seven months since Samsung released their first 3D LCD TV. Samsung forecasted they would sell more than 2 million 3D TVs in 2010. Sony and Panasonic have similar ambitions. So far most tier-one brands have adopted frame sequential (120 Hz or 240 Hz) as the main 3D TV technology, but polarizer filter (or retarder) 3D is also mature. AUO and LGD are extolling the strength of polarizer filter 3D (LGD also ships frame sequential 3D). LG Electronics (a large shareholder of LGD) has shipped 15,000 polarizer filter type 3D TVs to UK-based Sky in 2010. AUO has delivered 3D TV panels since Q3’10; mainstream sizes from 32” to 65” will be ready in Q1’11. In addition to discussions about 1080p FHD resolution support and the weight of the glasses, people wonder which technology will dominate the market in the coming year.

Frame Sequential vs. Retarder

According to the DisplaySearch 3D Display Technology and Market Forecast Report , frame sequential with active shutter glasses will take 98% market share of the 3D TV application in 2010. It is rare to find polarizer filter 3D in the market; only Hyundai (with Japan BS11) and LGE (project based, not retail) ever shipped. AUO released their 65” 3D polarizer filter panel in China this September, and Changhong and TCL will apparently adopt this 65” 3D panel to make high-end 3D TVs. If polarizer filter 3D is becoming available, will it grab considerable market share from frame sequential 3D in 2011? Our answer: It’s possible but not likely.

A detailed comparison of the pros and cons of these two technologies can be found in the 3D Display Technology and Market Forecast Report . Basically, polarizer filter requires lighter and simpler glasses, but frame sequential with active shutter glasses can deliver 1080p, which is the goal for Blu-ray 3D. Polarizer filter panel makers boast that it has less crosstalk and better brightness than frame sequential with active shutter glasses. However, consumer experience depends on technology as well as content. Optimized 3D content is ideal, but much content—especially content converted directly from 2D—is not ideal. Blu-ray 3D standards were published in December 2009; more time is needed to shoot more native 3D movies to be converted later. Also, retail pricing is a vital factor for consumers.

TV brands always expect new features to sell at a premium, but this depends on consumer recognition, acceptance and budget. According to the NPD Snapshot Report: 3D Television, the average that consumers budget for the 3D feature is only $87.20. This is an acceptable premium for consumers, but a long way from the actual market scenario right now. For example, the price gap between the Samsung C6 (120 Hz and 2D) and C7 (240 Hz and 3D) series is about $500. 2010 is the first year for 3D LCD TV, so we expect there will be more affordable models in 2011. No matter if the TVs are frame sequential or polarizer filter, the point is whether these technologies can satisfy consumer expectations and make 3D TVs mainstream instead of a high-end or branding feature.

BOM Cost Analysis

Frame sequential uses frame rate conversion to deliver 3D frames. Originally for 2D, frame rate conversion inserts additional frames, which are processed with ME/MC (motion estimation and compensation) algorithm to improve motion fluency. Compared to 60 Hz, 120 Hz inserts one more frame and 240 Hz adds three more frames. In 3D architecture, left and right frames are separately processed by two ME/MC chips and two T-CON ICs (each one is 120 Hz). To reduce crosstalk, each ME/MC (120 Hz) inserts one black frame so that there are actually only 60 left or right frames in a second. 240 Hz frame rate conversion is enabled for both 2D and 3D mode, but ME/MC only improves motion fluency in 2D. The apparent advantage of frame sequential 3D is the flat cost adder. Frame sequential has nothing to do with panel size; it is an electronic solution to match 120/240 Hz compatible TV panels. The same solution can be applied to different sizes with the same cost including ME/MC, T-CON, SoC and emitter for signal synchronization.

Polarizer filter does not need frame rate conversion and ME/MC chips; 60 Hz is adequate unless it is required to improve the 2D mode’s picture quality with ME/MC for higher end models. The cost of the polarizer filter varies with panel size. The goal is to give left and right frames different polarization, whether it is linear or circular. Retarder glass or film is used for this purpose. As the panel size increases, the retarder glass/film has to be enlarged accordingly. Liquid adhesive or OCA is applied for full lamination between the retarder glass/film and the LCD panel’s upper polarizer. The lamination is complicated because it requires overlying retarder and LCD panel pixel-by-pixel to make sure interleaved L/R fames are processed with the correct polarization. Therefore, the cost adders including retarder, adhesive and yield rate differ by panel size. This is a key point for these two 3D TV technologies.

In the figure below, we estimate 3D TV’s cost adders. Frame sequential 240 Hz 3D bundled with one pair of active shutter glasses is estimated to add $70-80 compared to 60 Hz 2D. This cost adder is flat for increasing panel size. The cost adders for polarizer filter rapidly increase the cost for 65” because of the larger panel area and poorer yield rate compensation. There is an intersection at 42”. Polarizer filter is more cost competitive when the TV size is below 42” in spite of being only 60 Hz. Frame sequential is more cost competitive when the TV size is above 42”.

The estimates raise some interesting questions:

If 1080p support is not absolutely critical for 3D TV to succeed with consumers, 32” could be a good start for polarizer filter because it makes 3D TV more affordable. However, larger sizes are probably more suitable for 3D content shown to consumers.

At 42”, both technologies have similar cost adders. Is polarizer filter (and the lighter glasses) attractive enough to appeal to consumers in spite of 1080i resolution and no MEMC enhancement for 2D mode?

For 55” or 65”, how can the lower cost adders for polarizer filter compete with frame sequential in the near future? Lowering cost depends on yield rate and volume. Although active shutter glass is not comfortable, frame sequential is more likely to cost down and shrink the retail price gap soon for 3D TVs.

It does not look promising for polarizer filter 3D, but we think it is too early to judge the future of these two technologies. The lack of attractive and available 3D content is probably more important. If TV brands supporting polarizer filter technology can offer good content and user experience, 1080p may not be an issue and the lighter glasses will make consumers feel more comfortable and willing to purchase 3D TVs.

Brands supporting frame sequential understand the technology’s weaknesses (crosstalk can be improved but the heavy glasses would be difficult). The reason to select this technology is to combine frame rate conversion with 3D to further lower cost and push 3D from a branding feature in 2010 to mainstream in 2011. We expect frame sequential will dominate in 2011 but polarizer filter will take some share, too. More 3D broadcasting and affordable glasses will appeal to consumers who hate a heavy burden on their heads. In the long run, however, both technologies will be replaced by auto-stereoscopic 3D.[/B]

Link: http://www.displaysearch.com

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