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Makers of 3-D Glasses Focus on RFID

Dolby and Xpand are each releasing 3-D glasses with RFID tags that companies can use to track production and shipment, and also to help cinemas track inventory, sanitization and usage.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 01, 2011As three-dimensional movies have gained in popularity at the box office, two major audio, imaging and voice technology companies have developed the latest in 3-D glasses for theaters. To help the theaters track those glasses as they are used, sanitized and reused, both companies are incorporating passive RFID tags into their products. Dolby Laboratories has announced its Next Generation 3-D glasses, while Xpand3D plans to release its Infinity and Infinity Deluxe models by the end of this month. Both companies report that their new products are designed to offer better viewing quality compared with previous models, as well as the disposable 3-D glasses often used by the film industry. Consequently, the new models are more costly, and are intended for reuse. That means cinemas must retrieve glasses from viewers at the end of each movie, take them to a sanitizing station and then return them to a particular theater within the cinema in which 3-D movies are being played.

RFID could help address some inventory-tracking issues regarding the movement of glasses from a theater to a sterilization area and back to the theater for reuse, but it could also solve other problems, says Ami Dor, Xpand's chief strategy officer. The company's 3-D glasses come in three styles, ranging in price from $35 to $75. The RFID tag is embedded in the frame at the time of manufacture. The typical lifespan of the glasses ranges from hundreds of views to as many as 1,000, Dor says, and among the benefits an RFID system could provide a large cinema is the ability to track how often each pair has been used.

Each pair of Dolby 3-D glasses is fitted with an EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay.

Large theater chains with multiple locations across the United States or around the world could utilize data from the RFID tag reads to track the inventory of glasses, create cost analysis based on the number of times glasses are used, and track the amount of viewers at each movie by employing a fixed RFID portal at a theater's door to capture the ID numbers of glasses carried inside by patrons. While ticket purchases can track how many viewers actually bought specific tickets, the number of viewers who see the movies is often different than those who purchased tickets (some may opt to see another movie once inside the facility, while others may sneak into the cinema without purchasing a ticket). With RFID tags on the glasses used by viewers, a record can be maintained regarding the exact number of people watching a particular movie, and that data can be provided to the movie production company as well. The RFID solution could also function as a security system, with an RFID portal at an exit to read a tag and issue an alert if a person were to walk out with a pair of glasses.

None of these solutions are yet in place, according to Xpand and Dolby, and no theaters have begun developing the necessary infrastructure to make it work. Cinemas would need to identify whether they would use handheld or fixed reader portals, as well as which vendor would provide that hardware, and also purchase a software program to manage data from those reads. However, Dor says, many cinemas have expressed an interest in using the RFID data. Xpand has tested the technology's ability to track the use of glasses in its own theaters throughout Europe over the past few weeks, he adds, noting that the firm hopes to use the system to track its own inventory as it is manufactured and sent through the supply chain to customers. He declines, however, to provide details, and says the company is not yet using the technology.

As for Dolby, the firm is embedding a passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tag in the nylon frame of each pair of its next-generation 3-D glasses, and has been using the technology for its own benefit as well. By reading the tags at its manufacturing site in China, Dolby can manage data about its own inventory as glasses are assembled and shipped. What's more, by capturing the unique ID of each pair produced, and by then storing that information, the firm has a record of when each pair was manufactured and shipped, as well as if it was returned for repair.

"We have gained substantial benefit [from the RFID system]," says Pascal Sijen, Dolby Laboratories' senior product manager for cinema. "These benefits mostly relate to being able to track individual glasses or batches of glasses, in order to validate robustness and maintain quality."

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