Everything You Need to Know About 3D TV
3D for the home is coming at you fast. Are you ready for it?
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.
The Price of 3D TV
For the most part, manufacturers are mum on the pricing of their forthcoming 3D displays.
“3D Ready” or “3D Capable” sets from Mitsubishi and Samsung cost almost nothing more than their “regular” counterparts. Then again, they require external boxes to create the 3D experience. Even so, Mitsubishi’s David Naranjo says the inherent nature of DLP, which Mitsubishi uses for 3D displays, allows 3D to be added with “very little or no cost over our other TVs.”
Panasonic, too, declines to speculate on pricing, but Mayuki Kozuka, general manager of Panasonic’s Storage Devices Business Strategy Office, says, “We are targeting volume so it wouldn’t be that expensive,” likely somewhere between its lower-end and higher-end TV lines.
JVC appears to be the only company currently shipping a truly 3D television set, the 46-inch GD-463D10U flat-panel LCD. The MSRP on the model is $8,995 but currently it is marketed to commercial customers such as studios and medical institutions. Presumably, JVC’s consumer models will be less expensive. Don’t forget to include the price of glasses in your 3D TV calculations. Most consumer manufacturers require active glasses that start at about $100 each, while JVC uses a polarized system that works fine with cheap cardboard specs.
3D and Your Video Gear
Sadly, your existing Blu-ray player will not support 3D. New 3D-enabled players should, however, be backwards-compatible with 2D and older DVDs. Pioneer’s Andy Parsons, who is also the chairman of the promotion committee for the Blu-ray Disc Association, says the format should also allow full 1080p resolution per eye. Your new high-def player will also require the new HDMI 1.4 format.
And unless you’ve already purchased a 3D-capable TV (in most cases from Mitsubishi or Samsung), you’ll need a new TV with HDMI 1.4. Thankfully, you will likely be able to use your old HDMI cable, since HDMI 1.3 cables can support the bandwidth of the 3D format.
It’s All About the Content
So where is all the 3D content coming from? It’s mostly in the form of PC-based video games along with some downloadable video content. There are more than 400 3D games available, including popular titles Resident Evil 5, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty 4 and Guitar Hero 3. Computer graphics card maker Nvidia offers the 3D Vision package ($598) that includes a 3D-ready 22-inch Samsung LCD monitor, active LCD glasses, a signal emitter and drivers for a GeForce graphics card to turn a 2D system into 3D.
As for consoles, both Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 are moving toward 3D solutions. Sony announced in November 2009 that all PS3 consoles will be able to support stereoscopic 3D games through a software update, and that Sony will release games in conjunction with its 3D TV launch in 2010. Software titles have not been announced.
While gamers can get their 3D fix now, home theater enthusiasts will have to wait until later in 2010. The first widespread implementation of 3D in the home is going to come in the form of enhanced Blu-ray Discs. The Blu-ray Disc Association recently finalized the official Blu-ray 3D format. Just about every major manufacturer and movie studio is in on the 3D race, and several 3D Blu-ray players will be a sure thing in 2010.
Sports is also a target for 3D. The NBA has experimented by showing All-Star games in 3D theaters, and the NFL has taken some similar steps. ESPN has pulled off several commercial theater 3D events including the X-Games and college football. Live 3D broadcasts to the home are still a few years off, though. If you still enjoy 3D the old-fashioned way—in the movie theater—some 20 films are slated to debut in 2010.
So will 3D TV be cool? See for yourself. James Cameron’s $250 million Avatar offers just a hint of what we can expect in our living rooms in 2010 and beyond. 3D will not be all about shock value and flying space debris. The medium provides a third dimension for artists to expand their canvas.
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
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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