Eyewear makers get into the 3-D game

3-D movies may be cool, but the glasses you get to watch them with are most certainly not.

The Buddy Holly-like spectacles are not only clunky, but some moviegoers complain that the reusable glasses cause eye strain and question just how thoroughly they have been sanitized.

Now high-end eyewear makers and fashion houses are offering relief — but it will cost you.

Since the release of "Avatar" a year ago, studios have been pushing to squeeze more movies into the three-dimension pipeline — more than 30 films are scheduled to be released in 3-D next year alone. Theater owners, who have profited handsomely from the higher ticket prices 3-D films command, have been scrambling to add enough 3-D screens to handle all the movies.

Eyewear manufacturers like Oakley and fashion houses such as Gucci are jumping onto the stereoscopic bandwagon. They are introducing lines of 3-D glasses starting at $95 and going up to $225 — or more than 100 times what most theater-handout models cost to make.

"The way we look at it, it's going to be a lifestyle accessory," said David Johnson, president of Marchon3D. "You've got your smart phone, you've got your iPad and now you have another piece of equipment. This is a specialty technology device."

Marchon3D, a division of Marchon Eyewear based in Melville, N.Y., has licensed its technology to Calvin Klein and Nautica for 3-D eyewear between $95 to $150. But the high-tech glasses, with a patented curved-lens design, are useful not just in theaters: They can be worn outdoors as regular sunglasses.

Apart from being more stylish, these premium glasses vastly improve the 3-D viewing experience, manufacturers claim, because they're lighter, more comfortable and employ advanced optics to filter out reflections and other distractions that can cause eye strain.

Beverly Hills, Calif.-based RealD, the leading supplier of 3-D equipment in U.S. theaters, has "certified" Marchon's glasses and is working with Marchon's parent company, the eyewear insurance giant VSP based in Rancho Cordova, Calif., to develop prescription 3-D glasses. By next year, consumers who are getting prescription lenses could opt for a 3-D version (at an extra cost, of course).

Marchon also plans to offer lower-cost 3-D glasses, in the $30 to $40 range, by spring. Australia-based Look3D next month will launch an online store where budget-minded consumers can buy designer 3-D glasses for as little as $30 ($15 for kids).

"With more than 30 movies coming out next year in 3-D, moviegoers will spend plenty of time wearing 3-D glasses, and we expect many will want them in a style, color and fit all their own," said RealD chief executive Michael Lewis. "Like sunglasses, we'll see a range of options at different price points, from designer 3-D glasses from brands like Calvin Klein to more budget-friendly glasses you can pick up at a local store or the movie theater when you buy popcorn."