3D TV Guide
3D Comes Home: A Guide to 3D TV
by Michael Brennan | April 10, 2011
3D is everywhere you look these days. Movie theaters, televisions, video games, camcorders and even cell phones are implementing the technology. The 3D resurgence is largely due to the success of 3D movies such as Up, Avatar and several other blockbusters that have people donning the plastic glasses in theaters. Last year, 3D televisions immerged onto the scene and while the technology is still in its infancy, there are already multiple options available to consumers.
When 3D televisions came to market last year there was only one technology available. Panasonic released the first 3D television, the VT25, a plasma television that was reviewed by many as the best TV of 2010 not only in terms of 3D quality but 2D as well. Soon after, many manufactures followed in Panasonics footsteps and released sets with 3D technology. Sony, Samsung, LG, Toshiba, Sharp and Vizio all jumped on the 3D bandwagon. One thing every display had in common was that they all used the same active-shutter technology.
Active Shutter 3D
The first 3D televisions that were released all used active-shutter glasses. These high-tech rechargeable glasses contain a liquid crystal layer on each lens that is capable of becoming completely dark. The television sends sequential frames of video to alternating eyes and the glasses sync to the image. When the right eye is receiving the image, the shutter of the left eye goes dark and vice versa. This happens very rapidly (typically 120 times each second) so that it is unnoticeable to the viewer. The benefit of active shutter is that with content such as 3D Blu-Ray, full 1080p images are alternately sent to each eye. However, one downside to this tech is that it can create what is referred to as “ghosting” or “crosstalk”. This occurs when two images, one intended for the right eye and one for the left, are briefly visible at the same time. The result is a ghostly double outline around onscreen objects. The amount of crosstalk tends to vary depending on the content. Some viewers also claim to notice a flicker that is caused by the lenses flashing on and off. Another negative aspect of active shutter is that the glasses tend to block some of the light produced by the TV which can result in a dimmer picture than what you see with 2D. The prices of the glasses have also generated a lot of negativity towards 3D. Since the majority of the technology is implemented into the glasses and not the television, companies are charging $100-$150 dollars a pair and most sets don’t come with any glasses. However, Samsung just announced that they are lowering the cost of their glasses to $50 and including two pairs with every one of their 3D TVs (source).
It will be interesting to see if other companies follow suit.
Recommended Active 3D TVs:
- Samsung UN55D8000: 55 Inch 3D LED Smart TV with Ultra Slim Bezel
- LG 55LW9500: 55 Inch Nano Full LED 3D TV 2011 with 480Hz TruMotion
- LG 60PZ950: 60 Inch 3D Plasma Smart-TV 2011 THX 3D Certified Display
Plasma vs. LCD
Although all of the early models use active shutter technology, both plasma and LED backlit LCD panels are available. All of the 3D LCD TVs released are LED backlit and companies such as Samsung, Sony, Sharp, LG, Toshiba and Vizio offer these sets. Samsung and LG also produce 3D plasmas and while Panasonic originally only made plasmas with 3D, they now offer both plasma and LED backlit LCD sets.
Samsung UND8000 LED Edge-lit LCD 3D TV
The consensus seems to be that plasmas produce a higher quality 3D image than LCD. In addition to plasmas having an overall better picture quality, their ability to handle motion superior to LCD is beneficial in reducing crosstalk. One benefit of LCD 3D is the fact that they are able to produce a brighter image which helps overcome the dimming effect of the glasses. It should be noted that in a dark environment the dimming isn’t a problem but if the TV is in an environment with a lot of ambient light than an LCD may be the better choice. Additionally all 3D LCD sets are at least 120Hz to allow for a full 60 frames of video to be sent to each eye every second.
LG 60PZ950 3D Plasma TV
Less than a year after the first active shutter 3D TV was released, a new technology immerged. Passive 3D is the industry’s answer to all of the people who asked, “Why can’t we just use the cheap glasses that you get when you go to a 3D movie at the theater?” The glasses used with passive 3D TVs are very similar to the ones used at theaters. In contrast to active glasses, they are very light weight and do not require batteries or charging. The reason being is that the TV is responsible for producing the 3D effect rather than the glasses. Passive glasses can be bought for less than $10 dollars a pair and most of the sets are coming with four pairs. All passive 3D sets that have been released are LED lit LCDs and use what is called FPR technology or “Film Pattern Retarder”. This is a thin film place over the LCD screen which creates a separate image for the left and right eyes. It achieves this by using alternate polarization for each line of vertical resolution. So 540 lines are sent to the right eye and 540 lines are sent to the left. The lenses of the glasses use opposite circular polarization so that each eye receives the correct lines of linear resolution.
This diagram shows how the passive technology works:
|In addition to the benefit of the cheaper glasses, proponents of the tech claim that it produces a flicker free viewing experience with virtually no crosstalk. Wider viewing angles are also being touted as an advantage. One thing companies aren’t advertising is the fact that the passive tech inherently halves the full HD resolution since each eye only receives a 1920 X 540 image. On the other hand, active shutter sets send a full 1920 X 1080 image to each eye. This example is only for 3D Blu-Ray content, the resolution drops even lower with 3D television programming and video games.
Earlier this year Vizio released the first passive 3D TV, the XVT3D650SV. Initial reviews stated that while the set produces an effective 3D image, the lower resolution is noticeable and creates a softer image than active 3D along with “jaggies” around objects that should be smooth. The halved resolution also produced visible interlacing due to the separation of the lines. An in depth analysis of this set compared to an active shutter plasma can be found here. Interestingly, two of the advertised advantages of passive 3D proved to be false. The reviewers found that both crosstalk and viewing angles were worse on the passive set. One upside was that the passive glasses don’t block as much light so the image appears brighter. However, it was noted that this is only beneficial in an environment containing a significant amount of light.
Other companies such as LG and Toshiba are releasing passive 3D sets in 2011. While Vizio is calling their tech Theater 3D, LG is referring to it as Cinema 3D.
LG introduced 2 Infinia Series of Cinema 3D TVs in the CES 2011 event: LW5600 & LW6500.
Here you can see the LG 55LW5600 review.
LG Infinia LW6500 Passive 3D LED TV
When 3D TVs debuted last year, there was very little 3D content available. In fact, consumer’s only options were a few 3D Blu-Ray movies which in most cases were only available through TV bundle packages or with “starter kits” which contained a couple pairs of glasses and a movie. Manufacturers made exclusive deals for the distribution rights of certain titles. For instance, Samsung included Monsters vs. Aliens with their 3D bundles and TVs and Panasonic did the same with Avatar. To this day, these 3D Blu-rays still aren’t available for individual sale. As the year went on, addition Blu-ray titles trickled onto the market along with a fair amount of 3D video games. Additionally, the first 3D television programming immerged in the form of ESPN 3D, however, broadcasts were few and far between.
In 2011 more and more 3D content is becoming available. 3D Blu-ray titles are multiplying rapidly, 3D movies are now available on demand, more sporting events are being shot in 3D and several dedicated 3D TV stations are scheduled to go on air this year. Sony, Discovery and IMAX have teamed up to produce a 3D station called 3net. Panasonic is also producing a channel called N3D. Note that these stations are only available in the USA and are only offered by certain providers. For instance, 3net and N3D are only available through DirecTV while ESPN3D is offered by a number of companies. Also, a channel called Sky 3D is now available in the UK.
What Will You Need to Watch 3D?
In addition to a 3D television and glasses, a 3D Blu-ray player is required to watch 3D Blu-rays. The majority of older players will not play the 3D discs. The Playstation 3 also has the ability to play both 3D Blu-rays and several 3D videogames that have been released by Sony. Some newer audio components such as receivers and sound bars are including 3D pass through as well. To get 3D television content, you will need to inquire with your local provider and find out what the options are in your area.
The fact that the current technology requires viewers to wear glasses seems to be the main drawback for those who criticize 3D. A reoccurring claim on message boards, is that many are turned off by the glasses and are waiting for glasses free 3D. Glasses free 3D displays have been around for several years in prototype form. The two main problems that have hindered the tech are 3D quality and viewing location. The 3D can be quite effective when the viewer is in a “sweet spot” directly in front of the screen, but any deviation from that spot results in a degradation of quality. It works much better with smaller screens that only one person would be viewing at a time. This year, Nintendo released its 3DS handheld gaming system that incorporates a 3.5 inch glasses free 3D display. I spent a brief amount of time with one and while the 3D effect did work well, I had to be looking at it from just the right distance and angle. There isn’t much leeway for movement before the effect is lost and the picture becomes blurry. Several cell phones with similar displays are scheduled to release this year as well.
At CES 2011, companies were exhibiting large screen glasses free 3D TVs that had multiple viewing “sweet spots” which accommodated several viewers at once. Sony had a 46-inch screen on display and Toshiba had several screens, the largest being 65 inches. While the technology has improved significantly, people claimed that the displays don’t produce a consistent 3D picture of the same caliber as active shutter or passive 3D. Toshiba claims that the displays will come to market in the not to distance future, but due to high cost and quality issues, it could be years until large screen glasses free 3D sets become available.
Samsung and RealD have a new 3D technology in development that uses the passive glasses found in many theaters without sacrificing half of the pictures resolution. It is called RDZ and basically implements active shutter technology into the display itself. It works through the synchronized switching of the panel between left-eye and right-eye views while maintaining full HD 1080P resolution for each eye. There is no word yet on a potential release date.
Learn more about 3D Technologies at the Amazon’s 3D 101