Oakley focuses on 3D future

Sunglasses maker sets its sights on the burgeoning 3D movie and TV industry with its first line of 3D glasses.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
4 min read

Oakley's first 3D lenses, the 3D Gascan, will sell for $120.
Oakley's first 3D lenses, the 3D Gascan, will sell for $120. James Martin/CNET

"Cool" is not the word you'd use to describe the look of people wearing 3D glasses.

The glasses are ill-fitting, made of cheap plastic, and usually pretty uncomfortable to wear. So naturally a glasses manufacturer whose hipness is its brand calling card is trying to change that.

Oakley is now announcing its first model of 3D glasses.

The first model is based on a current style of sunglasses Oakley already sells, called the Gascan. But in place of polarized sunglass lenses are lenses optimized for watching 3D content. These lenses have a technology inside them Oakley calls HDO-3D, which the company's optical scientists have developed over the last two years. The way the lenses have been constructed is an attempt to make watching 3D comfortable and minimize eye strain.

And not to mention, improve the style. Oakley CEO Colin Baden isn't shy about sharing his feelings about the 3G glasses you're handed at the theater today. "They make you look like an idiot," he said in an interview.

Few would probably disagree. One of Baden's biggest complaints about the current crop of 3D glasses? "They don't wrap," he said.

Oakley's signature look is that wraparound style, but Baden swears it's not just for looks.

"It's better for peripheral vision," according to Baden.

But there's a cost to looking cool and being comfortable in a dark 3D theater: the first pairs, with a choice of black or white, will sell for $120.

If your eyes bugged out of your head when you read that, you're not alone, but Baden insists the value is in all the places you can use them, and the "optically correct" lenses.

The pitch is that you can bring them with you to a 3D movie in a theater, or wear them to watch 3D at home, assuming you have a 3D-capable TV. You could also use them at home while playing a 3D game, as game consoles will soon allow. In other words, Baden's company is pitching a universal pair of 3D glasses. Or mostly universal, anyway.

There are several types of 3D technology utilized in theaters and by television manufacturers, and while the first models of 3D TVs used active shutter (battery powered) lenses (though this is starting to change), most movie theaters use passive polarization. Oakley's glasses are passive, and are made to be used at theaters that use RealD 3D technology, by far the most widely used in theaters. Most 3D TVs sold today come packaged with only two pairs of lenses.

Oakley's entree to the 3D world was initially spurred on by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood producer and one of the 3D industry's most outspoken proponents. He wanted Oakley to start branding 3D lenses. Baden says that they took a look at the potential for the industry and realized there was a lot of money to be made in the burgeoning 3D industry. Thanks to Avatar's $2.7 billion at the box office last year, there are more than 90 3D movies are expected to hit theaters this year, and the number of people buying 3D TVs and Blu-ray players are slowly inching higher, though in no way has 3D at home hit the mainstream yet.

The Foothill Ranch, Calif.-based company didn't immediately start making the lenses after the hard sell from Hollywood but took almost two years to develop its own spin on 3D lenses, which is debuting in the 3D Gascan model.

But that's not the only place its patented 3D lenses will be found. Baden views Oakley's future as "the center of the universe for all things 3D." That means that while you can buy an Oakley brand pair of 3D glasses, Oakley will also build them for third-party TV manufacturers to go with their TVs. He won't give names yet, but says they're in ongoing discussions.

While Oakleyisn't the first company to try to make universal 3D glasses, it certainly is the most well-known brand to make a serious play. And the brand name is a big part of that. What Baden envisions for his 3D line is the same model Oakley has for regular sunglasses. Sure, you can buy a $15 pair of shades, and that's probably fine for many people. But for those who want to spend extra on lenses that have brand cachet and were developed by an optics company, well you're probably willing to pay more.

"I fully expect we'll get early (technology) adopters, hardcore Oakley fanatics" at first, Baden said.

But while he's pitching these as a piece of technology, you won't find them at a Best Buy. Baden says, diplomatically, "The retail channel is not skilled at selling optics. It won't work."

So if you do decide to check these out, you'll find them starting Monday in the place you'd expect to find a pair of glasses: Sunglass Hut and Oakley Stores, as well as online retailer Zappos.