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Oct 7, 2008

You cannot own 3D cell phone: Reasons

The Japanese telecom operator KDDI unveiled recently a research prototype of a 3D cell phone screen. It's cool technology, but you won't see it on your phone for, well, probably ever.

KDDI's tech works by displaying two images, each visible at a narrow angle and each aimed at one of your two eyeballs when you hold the phone just so. One advantage of KDDI's system is that it could show both videos and still images in 3D, and also show 2D images by simply showing the same image at both angles.

3D is and always has been the ultimate fad technology. In the 1950's people jammed into theaters across America, joyfully donning paper 3D glasses and enjoyed novelty 3D movies. Everybody thought it was the future of cinema. The fad faded, however, and the movie industry moved on. In the following decades, toys, cards, games, newspapers and magazines and other products used 3D for one-off, attention-grabbing gimmicks, but never for serious, constant use.

When I started out in the journalism business, we even published one of our newspapers with pictures in color 3D -- every issue came with a set of 3D glasses.

The reason 3D has never "taken off" is the same reason you'll never own a 3D cell phone: There's always a compromise in image quality with 3D, and the trade-off is never worth it.

Everything from those old movies to my newspaper's "special issue" to KDDI's cell phone display technology create the illusion of 3D at the expense of image clarity and fidelity.

By the time KDDI's 3D display tech can be squeezed into an actual phone, cell phone displays will be so high-res that few will be willing to give that up for the dubious advantage of 3D.

Besides, 3D is only interesting for a very narrow range of applications -- such as gaming. The superior way to implement 3D gaming on a cell phone is to use a high-quality 2D screen on the actual phone, but add 3D goggles that are worn while playing games. That's cheaper, higher quality and doesn't compromise the quality of the phone screen.

So check out the pictures of KDDI's 3D cell phone technology. Because that's the closest you'll ever get to 3D on a phone.
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