The EyeFly 3D from Nanoveu is a screen protector for the iPhone 5 which features over 500,000 lenses to transform it into a glasses free 3D device. Is it any good?
Many industry folk have been baffled at the slow take-up of 3D viewing outside the cinemas and the "obvious solution" is often the same – "We need to ditch the glasses". So it is understandable that companies and R&D departments have believed that developing technology that can do just that will be highly successful. However, like a lot of new innovations (or re-marketing existing ones like lenticular), many were released too early. Toshiba launched the autostereoscopic Satellite P855 laptop and the world's first consumer glasses free 3D TV, which was so bad many wondered whether the 3D mode was even switched on.
The Nintendo 3DS was launched surrounded by Jonathan Ross endorsed hype and yet research soon proved that the majority of players were gaming in 2D after the novelty factor of playing Zelda in 3D had gone. The LG Optimus 3D and HTC EVO 3D were, although reasonably good, not game-changers and there hasn't been a major glasses free 3D phone released since. The Wikipad gaming tablet dropped its 3D functionality before launch, perhaps after seeing that 3D was not the killer app predicted by Nintendo and do you remember SpatialView and their 3DeeSlide? Although still live, their website has not been updated with content or updates since March 2012. The clunky product attached to your iPhone, changing it from a slick, beautiful desirable object to a cheap looking unbranded phone you would buy from Bid TV. I am not claiming this to be a sound piece of market research scientific but everyone I asked if they would want a device to convert their phone into a glasses free 3D device would say no. Did these companies investigate whether people would really want such a feature?
Despite all this apparent lack of interest, another company has launched an add-on product that allows people to watch 3D video and images without glasses. Nanovue claim that their EyeFly 3D device uses 500,000 lenses to transform an iPhone 5 into an autostereoscopic screen.
What does mark a huge advantage over the 3DeeSlide is that it is not a horribly ugly attachment. It is a thin transparent film that can become a permanent fixture as it doubles up as a fully functional screen protector. After cleaning the screen with the provided dust cloth, you need to open either the EyeFly 3D Image or Video app and bring up the alignment pattern. In a similar way to ‘pitching’ a lenticular lens, one needs to position the protector so the lines run vertically parallel to each other. Although fiddly, once the film is attached to the screen, your iPhone 5 is the same weight and looks the same as before. This is the same way the Pic3D worked.
The product was originally nano-engineered by the Temasek Polytechnic (TP) and A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering’s (IMRE) in Singapore. You can still use the touch functionality of the phone and it works both in portrait and landscape mode. However, it does appear to affect the resolution and clarity of the screen and when you are paying a lot of money for a bright HD display phone like the iPhone 5, this is a problem. To be fair, the Eyefly 3D website acknowledges this saying: "Utilising ultra-thin screen protector film with high optical transparency, standard 2D viewing experiences negligible pixelation. But the real payoff? Incredible 3D without the need for glasses".
Once I aligned the screen, I watched several of the YouTube 3D clips listed in the EyeFly 3D Video application. Whilst the resolution of the 3D video was impressive, me and several others found it virtually impossible to find a viewing spot and it was incredibly restrictive. Just like the Nintento 3DS, you could not relax and enjoy the video because you were constantly trying to keep the phone and your head still. I felt like I was balancing an egg on my head. I compared watching 'Legends of Flight' on both the EyeFly 3D enabled iPhone 5 and the LG Optimus 3D. Watching the trailer on the LG Optimus 3D was a more pleasuarble experience although it could not match the resolution of the Eye Fly 3D.
There is a depth slider which is best kept at a conservative level – anything higher results in an image even more impossible to view. What was also frustrating is that the videos from the EyeFly 3D Video app can only be transferred from a computer, rather than downloaded/streamed via 3G or WIFI like the YouTube 3D clips.
I don't own an iPhone so borrowed a colleagues. His reaction was the same as were several others in that they did not like the fact the screen was not as bright or clear with the protector on. Let's say, for arguments sake, the comparison of watching 3D to 2D content (with the restrictions of having to keep your head in the right position) are 99 to 1; why would you want an inferior looking screen for the majority of the time you are using your phone?
I was quite excited when I first heard about this. But again, it's a product that sounds better in theory than it is in reality. Surely glasses free 3D should only be released when there are no viewing restrictions and no detriment in picture quality? And even then, companies still need to ask whether it is a feature people want. Just because lots of people say "I think I would like 3D if I didn't have to wear the glasses", doesn't mean that glasses free 3D is commercially viable.
The screen technology impressive and Nanovue have managed to acheive a high resolution 3D effect but with too a restrictive viewing zone. People who intend to watch a lot of 3D content probably won't mind the slight degradation in the 2D picture quality but I hope Nanovue can create bespoke 3D content which does the screen protector justice. Fortunately, they will soon release a Unity based SDK so developers can create games for it and then perhaps it will become a more compelling product.
Worldwide shipping begins July 1st with versions for the iPad, Sony, HTC and LG handsets to follow.
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