The State of 3-D in Home Theater
Manufacturers are making 3-D ready HDTVs, but you'll still need a media center or PC to watch or play anything in 3-D.
3-D in Home Theater
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September 08, 2008 by Marshal Rosenthal

Those wondering when they can watch 3-D at home might be surprised to know that it’s been around for many years. But because the technology wasn’t sophisticated enough, the experience lent itself only to the “hard core” 3-D viewer. Still, the popularity of 3-D movies has renewed the interest for home viewing, especially since there are HDTV displays that can now handle the task efficiently.

The main limitation continues to be the need for a computer in order to watch 3-D content. This does make the process more involved, since the viewer has to manually choose the content on the PC and then run specialized software when it’s time to watch (in the case of games, it’s a software “driver” designed to work with the game). The video outputs from the PC’s graphic card go into a 3-D compatible display, which is working in conjunction with a pair of LCD shutter glasses and an infrared emitter. The glasses basically “open” and “close” each lens under the control of the infrared emitter, which is syncing to the image being displayed. As a result, the eye is fooled into thinking there’s a sense of depth to what is being seen.

The Past
There have been two factors restricting the use of 3-D at home that couldn’t be dealt with until the death of the CRT television. Since 3-D is created by presenting a slightly different image to each eye at fast speeds, the typical 60Hz CRT TV couldn’t mask the “flicking” without including eye fatigue and headaches. The other barrier was the size of the screen at home; as bigger screens needed to be available since they more easily show the 3-D effect. But through large, 3-D compatible HDTVs, both of these problems have been eliminated. These displays run at 120 Hz and when put into 3-D mode, images are displayed at speeds that remove any flicker (as an example, all of Samsung’s 3-D Ready HDTVs, both the 2007 and 2008 model rear-projection sets, and the 2008-model Series 4 Plasma sets, run at 120Hz).

The Present
Use of 3-D in the home theater is also being accelerated, thanks to companies such as Mitsubishi (their Home Theater Series TVs, 2008 models and forward are all 3-D ready and come in sizes from 60 to a whopping 73-inches). They announced in June their relationship with Aspen Media Products and NVIDIA to leverage the power of 3-D (through a home theater PC, graphics processing units (GPUs) and 3-D-compatible displays). Dave Naranjo, Director of Product Development for Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America points out that this system, combined with one of their displays and sophisticated eyewear, allows for 3-D playback of standard off-the-shelf PC games and 3-D movies. “Over 65 million end users have GeForce GPUs that work with a Mitsubishi Home Theater TV to play their games in full 3-D,” he says, adding that no special game patches are needed, just NVIDIA’s driver, which automatically allows over 350+ games to play on a 3-D Ready Mitsubishi Home Theater TV. The platform is scalable and the expectation is that it can be used with other 3-D content, such as movies, in the future.

Apsen Media Products, meanwhile, provides custom Media Center computers, which gives the user the benefit of managed media (music, photos, videos, etc.) as it brings the 3-D capability into the home. “Once you have the AMP (Aspen Media Products) Media center in your home, you just need LCD shutter glasses and a 3-D ready display,” says John Oliver, Aspen’s Chief Executive Officer. 

But for many, 3-D really means movies. “There currently are some DVDs that have content specifically mastered in 3-D, and thus can provide a more realistic 3-D experience than, say, a 2-D image or video rendered into 3-D via the PC’s software,” says Dan Schinasi, Senior Manager of HDTV Product Planning, Samsung Electronics America. He points out that as the number of movie producers, game developers, and software designers continue to expand the multimedia experiences for consumers both in theaters and especially at home, the possibilities can only keep growing.

The Future
At the end of the day, agreeing to standards could help drive 3-D for the home theater forward. Brian Markwalter, Vice President, Technology & Standards, Consumer Electronics Association, heads the 3-D Discovery Group, which will be meeting in October. “The purpose of investigating the need for 3-D video standards is to determine if the market for in-home usage can be improved by the existence of one or more standards,” he says. “To facilitate the market, it is best to have 3-D video content usable on as many types of 3-D capable displays as possible. Doing so ensures the best payback for the investment in 3-D content creation.”

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