Toshiba will release glasses-free 3D TV in December

Toshiba plans to launch the world’s first commercially available 3D TV that doesn’t require glasses later this year, but admits the technology is still far away from becoming completely mainstream.

The company will release two models, a 12-inch one and a 20-inch one. They’ll sell for 120,000 yen ($1440) and 240,000 yen ($2880), respectably. Plans for a US launch were not immediately announced. Toshiba also noted this release was largely “technology-oriented” and not something it expects to hit a critical mass.

“It’s still not at a satisfactory level in terms of price or screen size. But if you take a long-term view of 3-D technology, the direction is ultimately toward glasses-free,” said Toshiba’s Masaaki Oosumi as quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

Toshiba is one of the few big consumer electronic companies that hasn’t really invested heavily in the current stereoscopic 3D TV market. Heavy hitters like Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic, however, have devoted countless resources to the technology and are unlikely to follow Toshiba’s glasses-free movement any time soon.

The concept of no-glasses 3D technology, which works by embedding thousands of tiny mirrors into the display to make it appear as though the images have real depth, is making a splash in other markets. For example, 3D digital cameras are beginning to use it in their LCD viewfinder screens, and digital photo frames can now display 3D images without the need for glasses. Additionally, Nintendo’s upcoming 3DS handheld system will bring the technology to the mainstream in the biggest way yet.

However, the technology becomes more unwieldy and lower quality as the display size becomes bigger. That’s why most companies aren’t yet ready to deploy it to full-size TVs. Toshiba, however, is taking a risk. It’s also unknown how much content will be available since this TV will use a different standard than current glasses-required 3D TVs.

This move could also essentially lead to a “format war” in the 3D arena, which would slow adoption of the technology across the board and create big problems for all manufacturers. But that’s the nature of consumer electronics.