Shower panic

The two-faced TV

I live in a televisually strange household. My wife watches TV; I play video games. This basically requires that we be in different rooms while we’re pursuing our respective leisure, because it would be too physically difficult — to say nothing of psychically alarming — to have two TVs in the same room.

You can thus imagine my delight to discover that Sharp has just announced a new TV screen that can display two different images at once, depending on what angle you view it from. As a story in The Weekend Australian notes:

The screen has been designed so that the two angles are well within the bounds of normal viewing behaviour. At about 90cm from the screen, two people sitting just 30cm apart would see different pictures. And in each case, the image would occupy the full screen.

That would make a big difference to video games, since if two people were playing they could both see the full screen, rather than have to put up with the present arrangement of splitting it in half.

I can just imagine the cognitive disconnect if you had one person watching Sophie’s Choice on the same TV as someone else is watching Dodgeball: One viewer quietly weeps while the other one laughs uproariously. One could scarcely ask for a more unintentionally ironic symbol of the microsegmented media universe — and our five-blind-men-and-the-elephant world of pop culture, where everyone insists their show is the most important thing on TV. (It’s even better if you imagine a household where one person watches Fox News while another screens Fahrenheit 9/11.) Neil Postman spins in his grave.

Nonetheless, of course I’m going to buy one of these things. As a gamer, it actually allows for a very cool multiplayer experience: You could play deathmatch Halo with a friend, each of you getting a full-screen experience, and neither being able to cheat by spying the action in the other person’s screen. If they put this technology in laptops, wily executives could use it to dupe shoulder-surfers by displaying fake business memos in the alternate-angle view.

It also makes me wonder how sitcom writers would cope if these TVs became omnipresent. They’d lose one of their most tired and nauseating devices: The squabble between spouses over what to watch, read as Yet More Immutable Proof Of How Alien Women And Men Really Are.

Sharp’s own press release is online here.

(Thanks to Nancy for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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