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Sony takes another stab at glasses-free 3D TV

The company's concept 3D TVs at CES 2012 ditch the glasses, but are they just an evolution of a gimmick?

Sony's 24-inch, glasses-free 3D TV. Christopher MacManus/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Are you interested in 3D, but hate the glasses? For a second year in a row, Sony is showing off glasses-free 3D TVs at CES.

There are two displays here: a 24-inch LCD capable of 1080p and a 46-inch LCD with up to 4K resolution. Adjacent literature was at least truthful in admitting that the autostereoscopic 3D setup is showing at a "HD equivalent" quality. This is because the parallax barrier, which causes the 3D effect, effectively halves the resolution to ensure each eye is receiving separate images.

My observations of the 24-inch glasses-free 3D TV was rather disappointing. Even when standing in the most optimal spot (directly in the middle), the 3D effect lacked that sense of dimension that makes 3D worth watching. Impressive small-screen 3D TVs are a rarity, as many of those devices lack the overall size necessary for a truly immersive experience. A prototype Vaio L all-in-one PC nearby with a lenticular 3D display was much more convincing at creating a sense of dimension at such a size range.

The 46-inch screen proved that the tech works, but there are still some important things to consider. Christopher MacManus/CNET

The 46-inch 3D display is an improvement, perhaps mostly due to the viewing area being nearly double the size of the other screen. There was a better sense of dimension, especially in fast-moving sequences. A trailer for the animated flick "The Pirates! Band of Misfit" was more enjoyable in 3D compared with 2D.

Most importantly, both of Sony's glasses-free 3D TVs did have one critical element that makes it all worth it: almost zero crosstalk. However, 3D still comes off as a gimmick: if you are not watching from the central 45-degree viewing area, the 3D effect is simply not as prominent.

There are also price considerations. Sony's sets will likely be astronomical when and if they ever launch. And any sort of issues with 3D quality will be a deal breaker for most buyers, who will understandably wait for the technology to mature.

Of course, if you cannot wait for Sony's products, then take a look at Toshiba's upcoming glasses-free 3DTV, which due out sometime in the first quarter of this year.