Everything You Need to Know About 3D TV
3D for the home is coming at you fast. Are you ready for it?
January 05, 2010 by Grant Clauser

It wasn’t so many years ago that early adopters delighted in the enveloping experience of surround sound. The room-filling patter of rain or the whooshing of bullets over the shoulder gave movie viewers goosebumps. Now imagine involuntarily ducking those bullets or sticking out a tongue to catch snowflakes. Recent digital 3D theater-goers know that 3D is not just another dimension in video, it’s a whole new way of telling a story or sharing an experience. And it will soon be available in your home.

Yes, just like those images on the screen, 3D TV is coming at you fast. This year you won’t be able to look sideways at an electronics store without seeing a message proclaiming the benefits of 3D, as most major TV makers are gearing up for a big 3D push in 2010.

So why now? “It’s a combination of things,” explains Chris Chinnook, president of technology for analyst company Insight Media and board member of the 3D@Home consortium, a nonprofit group tasked with getting 3D into your living room as fast as possible. Chinnook refers to a maturing of the technology and the success of 3D in commercial theaters. Movie studios want to see that success duplicated in their home video sales, while TV manufacturers want to lure customers with the latest products. “There’s a tremendous push from the consumer electronics industry that says this is the next big thing,” says Chinook.

Coming Soon in 3D
Most of the major TVs makers are closely guarding their 3D TV plans, but some recent announcements provide a tantalizing glimpse into our 3D future.
Sony announced in September its intention to offer 3D Bravia TVs in 2010. The new LCD TVs, which use an active-shutter glasses system, will be accompanied by 3D Blu-ray players, Vaio PCs and the PS3 system to “provide a multitude of ways in which 3D content ... can be enjoyed in the home.”

Mitsubishi, on the other hand, continues to put its 3D money into DLP rear projection sets. Mitsubishi 3D TVs, available in sizes from 60 to 82 inches, use active-shutter glasses and a separate signal emitter box to sync the glasses with the screen at a rate of 60 times per second for each eye.

Panasonic drew lots of admiring eyeballs during an October 2009 Japanese trade show when it demonstrated active-shutter lens 3D on a
103-inch plasma TV. Executive vice president Bob Perry says to expect 3D-capable plasma TVs and Blu-ray players from Panasonic in 2010. Perry noted that Panasonic’s first 3D displays will be plasmas, because the company believes that technology is superior for the fast frame rate that 1080p 3D requires.
Hitachi, Sharp, JVC and Toshiba have also demonstrated prototype 3D TVs for the home, though none of them would give any hints of when U.S. dealers would start propping them up on showroom floors.

3D Home Theater
For full-bore home theaters, consider a front projector. Recently, Digital Projection International (DPI) unveiled a turnkey 3D system consisting of its Titan 3D 1080p DLP projector, a 3D-capable Windows-based media server with Blu-ray drive, active-shutter glasses, an IR emitter to control the glasses and preloaded content. The media server, called the Dimension by Mechdyne, can be used for 3D gaming or other 3D content.

Those seeking something more affordable may turn to Optoma’s entry-level HD66 720p 3D projector that the company’s Jon Grodem calls a good start for gamers who want a very large screen experience for less money.

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

Those Darned Glasses
While several technologies are in the works to produce 3D images without the need for glasses, for now you’ll need four eyes to enjoy 3D. The type of lens—and the cost of the glasses—depends on the type of 3D technology employed.

Middle-age folks are most familiar with those red and blue cardboard glasses from the days of cheesy 3D. They are used for anaglyph stereoscopic systems, in which an image made from two color layers, usually red and blue, slightly offset each other. When viewed through the two-color filter of the glasses, a 3-D effect is rendered, though poorly. The good news: Anaglyph glasses are available in a variety of stylish designs. Price: 30 cents and up

Newer theater systems use polarized glasses to merge two images through polarizing filters. This system doesn’t destroy the movie’s colors the way an anaglyph system does. If the shades you wore during a 3D showing at your local cinema had a RealD logo on it, chances are you were watching a polarized film through a DLP projector. The shades use passive lenses that don’t require the expensive circuitry of active glasses. JVC is one of the few manufacturers of consumer-oriented 3D displays that takes the polarized approach, allowing consumers to skimp on otherwise costly specs. Price: 30 cents and up for cardboard; $4 and up for chic plastic (shown); $100 and up for designer lenses from Gucci and others

Most consumer-oriented TV displays will require pricey active-shutter glasses with LCD lenses. That’s because the displays alternate images sequentially at a rate of at least 60Hz. The TV or set-top box sends a signal to the battery-powered glasses that open and close the lenses in sync with the on-screen image, creating the 3D effect. This system has the potential of offering the highest resolution without picture degradation, but the battery-powered glasses aren’t cheap.
You’ll need active glasses that match your new TV. Given the proprietary nature of some of the 3D implementations, you’ll probably need to buy your eyewear from the same maker as your TV. Price: $100 and up

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