Let me preface this by saying: I’m a jaded tech writer. Sadly there aren’t many things that genuinely impress me these days, and that definitely includes current 3D technology. I'm telling you all of this so you'll know how deadly serious I am when I say the following line: this no-name 3D technology has blown me away. It's the 3D that the big players should have given us years ago. No glasses; no flicker; no blurriness; no fixed focal planes forcing your eyes to focus here or there (that’s what causes headaches); just a convincing illusion of 3D without the hassle.
I’ve just seen the first glasses-free 3DTV that’s better than any glasses-free 3D technology currently being shown-off. No, scratch that; it blows even glass-equipped 3D out of the water, let alone glasses-less. It’s unlike anything else on the market or that we’ve seen even in the prototype stage. It’s not lenticular lens technology; in fact it uses a technology that people didn’t think was possible. I can’t tell you exactly what it uses unfortunately because, understandably, it’s a closely-guarded secret.
It uses something along the lines of the light field science employed by the amazing focus-later Lytro camera, but even that comparison is doing it a disservice. It’s codenamed 3DX -- presumably because it’s like 3D, but extra. You get the picture.
It's not been cooked up by one of the Korean giants, or even one of the Japanese titans -- in fact, you’ll never have heard of the company or people behind it. The two men, who I'm not allowed to name, call themselves Luma, and the TV itself is the Lumabox. It took between 20 to 30 prototypes to perfect, but having originally come up with the idea on British soil, 12 to 18 months later it’s ready for primetime.
I got to see one that was just 12.5-inches, but it was more than convincing. Screen size isn’t an issue according to Luma, who replied in the positive when we asked if they could make one billboard-sized. Each screen does have a sweet spot, but it’s quite large and has viewing angles that are relatively wide for 3D viewing -- it’s designed with three people sitting on a sofa side-by-side in mind. You could even still see the 3D effect lying down and with one eye closed -- the effect was diminished slightly of course, but it was definitely still in 3D. For the UK market we’ll likely get a 32-inch version, with bigger 50 to 55-inch versions for the larger-homed among us, but frankly whatever size you want it in, Luma claims they can do it:
“There comes a point where if you’re going to look through a window, then it might as well be worth looking through. So this might be the excuse for someone to jump a fraction larger than they normally would do.”
Before you ask, they're also looking at the other end of the scale, with tablets or 3D phones such as LG's Optimus 3D being sized up too.
Luma is a company forged out of decades of visual effects experience. In fact, with a few exceptions here and there, I’m told that if you’ve watched a movie with visual effects in it, it’ll apparently have Luma’s founding pairs’ hands or technology in it somewhere. The Lumabox was birthed through an utter despair with current 3D technology (we know the feeling well), and a hatred of the phrase “you can’t do that”.
Manufacturers are always showing off technology that will never make it to market in 10 years' time, let alone five -- but Luma's confident that once it gets a factory primed, they'll be launching their assault on the market with immediate effect.
The good news is it’s not going to cost the Earth either, with Lumabox's founders telling us “there’s no point in designing something if no one can afford to buy it”. Talking to the two chaps behind the set, they said it’ll definitely be “less than a normal premium glasses-equipped 3D Samsung TV," confirming that they'll be bringing it up to the shoulders of current glasses-equipped 3DTVs, and not the ludicrous sums we've seen demanded for glasses-free sets.
The first raft of planned TVs are based around LCD technology, but Luma’s also got an organic display-based system in the works that emits its own light, but isn’t OLED – it’s something new, they tantalisingly told us.
Luma’s game isn’t just about making your home 3D experience better; the pair are also aiming to make 3D better as a whole. The filmmakers that create 3D content struggle along with current 3D display technology, which I understand normally takes the form of passive glasses tech because it’s more “cinema-like”. By throwing a Lumabox on the end of a camera, the duo reckon it’ll be much easier to see the mistakes you’re making when shooting the thing in the first place. They believe that it’ll make 3D films better, because it’ll allow the director to see what works and what doesn’t, in a much more comprehensive way. They'll be able to see the 3D information the cameras actually capture, not what’s spat out at you with the fixed planes of current 3D tech.
3D screens will live or die on the content that’s shoved their way, so Luma’s spent a lot of time making sure the Lumabox will work well with any and all stereoscopic sources. The pair showed me a showreel taken straight from YouTube’s 3D section; so it was low bit-rate, low resolution, yet still incredibly impressive. Of course there’s a better way to get the 3D information for the new display technology using conventional 3D cameras, but Luma’s aware that that’s not going to happen for a while. Till then, it’s got the electronic box of tricks to make any kind of 3D content look superb. Like Apple, they don’t want you to worry about how it works, or what will work, just that it does and without a fight – just an HDMI connection, seemingly.
The UK apparently has more 3D content available than anywhere else, mainly thanks to the likes of Sky. So if anywhere is ripe for a new 3D technology to dispel the crap you’re used to, then this is the place to do it. Unfortunately it suffers from the same problem as any display-based product – you have to see it to believe it, and we’ve all heard that before. I could've shot all manner of photos and video to try and demonstrate just why I'm so genuinely enthused about the Lumabox, but it's one of those cases where you won't take my word for it until you see it yourself.
Saying that though, Luma’s keen for Giz UK readers to see it, so we’ll be sure to get them along to our next reader meet-up, if at all possible, so you can see if for yourself. Then you’ll know I’m not a blathering idiot spouting nonsense. Till then, just take my word for it. Don’t buy a new TV until you’ve seen this.