Whatever happened to 3D TV and wireless power?

3D TV wireless power
Image by AnatolyM | Bigstockphoto

The hype over 3D TV and wireless power is long gone, but both are still attracting funding. Here’s where we are and who’s doing what.

3D TV without glasses: the great debate

Ever since the TV makers’ disastrous attempt to get us all watching 3D TV at home, 3D outside of the cinema has been plagued by the question of whether it is a solution looking for a problem.

The notion of wearing 3D glasses at home is well and truly over, meaning that if it is going to work, it will require a technology that does not require glasses. Ten years ago, there were only two companies developing for this space, but now there are many more. This has ignited a debate, as there are two possible technology choices to be made.

To get this to work without glasses, one needs to create viewing zones where one group of pixels goes to one eye, and another group goes to the other eye creating the stereopsis effect which tricks the brain into seeing in 3D.

One approach is to create many such zones so the effect can be seen from many angles, while the other is to create one zone but use eye tracking to find out where the viewer is looking and direct the pixels in that direction.

The problem with many zones is that it is a massive pixel hog, meaning that the picture that is sent to each zone is lower resolution. However, it does mean that for a TV, many viewers can see the 3D effect all at once. And with an 8K panel, there are plenty of pixels to go around.

Possible use cases for 3D TV

In my experience, using eye tracking the user gets a more pronounced and superior 3D effect. However, it also means that only one user can use the device at any one time. Hence, I suspect that for use cases where only one user views the device, eye tracking is superior but where there are likely to be multiple viewers, the multiple-zone approach will work better as long as there are enough pixels to support it.

This is a great use case for an 8K TV where the user at a nine-foot viewing distance (US average) will not be able to tell the difference between a 4K image and an 8K image. 8K has 4x the pixels of 4K meaning that one can create 4 viewing zones at 4K each, which is probably enough for almost all use cases.

However, for smartphones and tablets where almost all the time, there is one viewer, eye tracking is probably better. However, it does add to the build cost, as one has to add the eye tracking technology on top of the 3D components themselves.

In the eye-tracking space, I am aware of two players – Leia and Dimenco – while in the non-eye-tracking space, there is StreamTV Networks / SeeCubic and PSHolix. Market adoption has yet to be proved, but there is plenty of speculative interest, as Leia was able to raise $125 million from Aon’s venture arm In November 2022. I would estimate that was done at a valuation of $500 million, which is a big number for a company with no real revenue.

I suspect that the non-eye trackers will do better in TV, while the eye-trackers will see adoption in smartphones and tablets. The demonstrations are generally excellent, so it now comes down to execution as always.

Wireless power – finally to market?

Wireless power continues to chug along with its biggest challenge now being getting to market and convincing consumers that transmitting energy over the air is safe.

This use case has been impacted by wireless harvesting, which harvests tiny amounts of power from Wi-Fi. But this has very limited use cases and doesn’t work if the device is completely dead.

There are a number of different solutions available, and each appears to be better suited to a different use case.

The use case of remote charging of smartphones is now obsolete as battery life and user behaviour of charging every night has meant that there is no demand for it.

This leaves smart home for consumer and sensing for enterprise as the best use cases. This will relieve smart home devices of the power constraint that has limited their ability to add functionality in order to preserve battery life. It also means that installation is much easier, as one does not have to put wires everywhere in order to power the sensors if one does not want to use batteries.

Initial deployments this year

I still view Ossia as the leader in this space where the technology is ready for deployment with regulatory approvals in over 50 countries. It should see some initial deployments in 2023.

Behind Ossia is Powercast which specialises in short-range (such as charging devices on a desk) and has had devices in the market for quite a long time.

Back of the pack is Wi-Charge which uses infrared to transmit power and has the advantage of being able to transfer quite a lot of power but seems to still be quite far from getting to market.

I have been a long believer in this technology, which for a long time has been long on promises and short delivery. My sources indicate that Ossia has recently been able to raise a lot of money at a good valuation, so there are obviously some out there who believe that finally, the time is right for this technology.

We shall see.

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