Pricey high-end glasses compete for luxury market

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One of the enduring complaints about 3D viewing is the “goofy glasses.”

Though that cliche is most often repeated by people thinking of the old cardboard anaglyph glasses of the 70s and 80s, many people find 3D glasses uncomfortable or distracting. They’re especially problematic for people who wear glasses anyway, and then have to put the 3D shades in front of their existing specs.

But now two companies are introducing high-end 3D glasses that promise to address those issues — or at least drive a stake through the “goofy glasses” meme once and for all.

Oakley, famous for its sports glasses, Monday announced a new line of 3D wraparound glasses with circular-polarized lenses, compatible with RealD and MasterImage in theaters. Announcement comes on the heels of an earlier unveiling of Oakley’s limited edition “Tron: Legacy” glasses, which are similar.

Company is boasting that its exclusive manufacturing process allows more wraparound than other glasses on the market, which reduces glare, and claims far superior optics compared with its competitors.

Oakley isn’t thinking yet about a mass market for these glasses. At $120 (or $150 for the “Tron” glasses), the Oakley specs are pricey. They aren’t sunglasses and so have no use except watching 3D. Oakley is working on making prescription lenses but hasn’t solved the manufacturing problems yet.

“Right now, because we’re entering a space where there are few hardware options, we see this market as early adopters and Oakley aficionados,” said Oakley CEO Colin Baden.

Oakley won’t have the fashion 3D glasses market to itself, either. Another high-end supplier, Marchon3D, has licensed 3D lens technology to Calvin Klein and Nautica for new lines of 3D glasses, with more licensees expected for next year. It will also market 3D glasses under its own M3D brand. Marchon too will offer circular polarized lenses, compatible with most 3D theaters in North America.

Marchon has a leg up on Oakley in one area: It will offer photochromic 3D glasses, which darken in sunlight and so can double as sunglasses, when their first lines roll out in December and January. Specs using Marchon’s lenses are expected to retail for $95-150, but M3D glasses will be in electronics stores. It expects to offer prescription 3D glasses early in 2011.

Both companies are thinking long term. Circular polarized glasses don’t work with the first wave of consumer 3D TVs or monitors, which use active shutter glasses. Today the few 3D TVs that use the circular polarized system are expensive pro gear. However several manufacturers are introducing passive-glasses TVs and laptops in 2011, so there’s be a nascent home market for these fashion glasses.

“In the long-term view,” said Baden, “I think there will be a premium space in this technology. Passive will be the leading technology for 3D until somebody finds a way to do it without glasses.”

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