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While big brand TV companies fight it out in the 3D display market, another battle is emerging for control of the 3D glasses market, which consumers must wear to see the full three-dimensional effects of a 3D display screen.

At this stage four companies control the 3D glasses market. Among them is RealD, which made millions of viewing glasses for the movie Avatar. Another major manufacturer is Dolby, the company behind a lot of the sound development for home theatre kits. Its glasses cost around $35 each.

RealD’s glasses use polarised lenses and cost about 65 cents each. MasterImage 3D uses a similar technology to RealD and cost about the same.

According to 3D vendors at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, the new generation of glasses are only “marginally more advanced” than the paper glasses worn to view Bwana Devil, regarded as the first of the commercial 3D movies in the 1950s.

At the top end of the 3D glasses market are models made by XpanD. Powered by a battery, they open and shut so each eye sees the appropriate frame of the movie.

Each company claims its glasses and projection-system technology is better, because glasses using one technology are useless in a theatre using a different digital projection system than what the glasses are designed for.

James Cameron, the director of Avatar, has endorsed RealD’s glasses, which work on 5000 screens worldwide; however, he was photographed at the premiere of Avatar in Japan wearing XpanD glasses, which work on 2000 screens worldwide.

The battle over what glasses patrons wear is a big deal because TV vendors are convinced that 3D is set to take off in homes and this will lead to millions of sales for 3D Glasses.

The Dolby and XpanD glasses are designed to go into a dishwasher after each use, with both companies recommending that theatre owners clean them after each use.

Dolby and XpanD glasses can also contain built-in anti-theft tags that can be activated by exit-door sensors.

XpanD is also offering theatre owners disposable wipes that it can distribute to customers along with their tickets to assure them the glasses are germ-free.

RealD, whose cheap throwaway glasses were perceived as a liability because of hygiene concerns, is encouraging consumers to ship back the used glasses to the company. Some theatres in Australia are offering a $1 discount on the next movie ticket if the glasses are returned to the cinema owner.

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