Contour’s New Battery Niche: 3D TV Glasses

Contour Energy Systems has launched an opportunistic attack on a niche consumer market right in time for Christmas. On Monday, the Caltech battery spinout formerly known as CFX Battery announced a line of disposable coin cell batteries specifically engineered to make 3-D TV glasses last longer than competitors.

About 3 million 3-D TV sets are expected to sell in this holiday season, and that should double next year, says Ernie Petrus, Contour’s vice president of consumer marketing. As we note in our GigaOM Pro report on 3-D TV (subscription required), glasses will be an integral part of the 3-D TV viewing experience for some time to come, and some 80 percent of the active kind that need power to work use simple, disposable batteries.

Contour’s 3D glasses batteries will be sold at Fry’s Electronics and Amazon (s amzn), among other venues over the holidays. It’s an opportunistic move for Contour because it lies outside Contour’s specialized carbon and fluorine-based chemistry — the 3-D glasses batteries are lithium-based — and because they’re not being made at Contour’s Azusa, Calif. factory, but rather by an unnamed Chinese manufacturer.

Still, it may represent the kind of niche application targeting that battery startups may have to tackle to differentiate themselves from the Energizers (s enr) and Duracells (s pg) of the world.

Petrus knows that competition well, having worked for 28 years with Energizer. To capture as many customers as possible with as few products as they can make, big battery manufacturers build general-purpose batteries, he said — pretty good for most applications, but stellar in none.

Contour, on the other hand, has built a battery specifically for 3-D TV glasses, which tend to suck up lots of power for hours at a time. Internal testing shows they’ll outlast standard coin cell competitors, such as Energizer, by about 60 percent, Petrus said. That’s about two full movies more life per battery, he said. Contour will provide the batteries in blister-wrap six-packs both in stores and online. “We don’t want to be in the battery section — we want to be an accessory to 3-D TV,” he said.

Petrus wouldn’t say if this would be the last of Contour’s moves into batteries outside its namesake technology, which is a patented mix of carbon and fluorine in a secret ration (CFx) for super-efficient cathodes. At the same time, the company is producing CFx batteries for long-lasting niches like tire pressure monitoring systems, LED lighting products, smart meters, RFID cards and medical implants. Eventually, Contour plans to scale up to consumer electronics and even automotive scale, while also making the shift to rechargeable batteries.

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Image Courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.