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Panasonic – Making the World Better in 3D

Last month, I mentioned that I finally made the decision to remove the Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player from my home theater setup. Rather than deal with any separation anxiety, I wanted to replace it with a new toy. Once I satisfied the WAF requirements, which were nothing backbreaking really (don’t tell her that!), I received approval to purchase. Soon, I will build my first HTPC, which might be a challenge because I haven’t built my own computer in a while. Before we get to that, however, I first bought and fooled around with a new Blu-ray 3D player: the Panasonic DMP-BDT310. The interesting thing about this model is that it has the ability to convert 2D content to 3D. But how well does it work?

I already owned a Panasonic BDT300, which I bought to go with my Panny VT25 3D plasma TV. That one’s now living comfortably in the bedroom with a non-3D display (a Toshiba Regza, in case you were wondering). It’s a good disc player, and I don’t have any complaints except that the lack of Wi-Fi connectivity did bug me on occasion. So, when I read Panasonic was releasing a newer model with internal Wi-Fi, I was excited. Yet I wasn’t quite sold until I read that Panasonic was also including 2D-to-3D conversion capabilities in the player. That really piqued my interest.

I had considered the OPPO BDP-93, which Josh already owns, for my next purchase. It’s an excellent, highly-regarded piece of machinery. The thought of purchasing that one at a later date still lingers in the back of my mind. The one thing that made me hesitant was the region code restriction (which of course is no longer an issue), even though I already own a region-free player. Ultimately, the decision to go with the BDT310 came down to that neat little 3D conversion feature. Can I really watch my existing movie library in 3D? How would converted 2D discs compare with native Blu-ray 3D discs?

Well, the results are in. While I’m not completely satisfied with the picture quality, I’m not completely disappointed either. It’s easy to figure out why expectations wouldn’t be met: Native 3D discs already have the layered encodes required for creating a three-dimensional image. Here, the player is expected to judge foreground from background objects and create another eye-view from the existing image. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a nifty feature, just nothing close to the effect that a native disc can provide. It really only adds more depth and dimension to the video, which is cool I suppose. Clearly, I got ahead of myself by getting excited for what amounts to a clever gimmick.

The remote comes with a designated 3D button that will turn the feature on and off, or adjust the effect to each user’s liking. This is one of the things I enjoyed fooling around with. In the 3D picture mode, you can select “Normal,” which is the unchangeable manufacture’s setting, or “Manual Settings,” which speaks for itself. The “Normal” setting, whatever that amounts to, is actually pretty good. But again, it only adds depth to existing images; it doesn’t actually transform them into real 3D. Of course, being the crazed hobbyist that I am, I want to set things manually.

So, in “Manual Settings,” I messed around with the “Distance” option, which is a way of setting depth and distance according to the comfort level of each user, while also reducing the amount of visible crosstalk. Since eyesight is different for everyone, this is a very handy way of adjusting what people can handle without getting dizzy. It ranges between -5 to +3. I found that the positive range doesn’t show much ghosting, but makes me feel cross-eyed and a bit dizzy. Far to the negative range exposes a great deal of annoying crosstalk. My comfort zone is -2. I have the least amount of issues on that setting.

The next option is Screen Type. Do you have a “Round” or “Flat” screen? I liked the Round selection because it gave me the best 3D effect. I have no idea how this works or how technicians came up with these names, but apparently I have a round screen. Even my wife commented on the improvement in “Round” versus “Flat.” Anyhow, after that, I can choose to add a border around the picture, select its thickness, and even apply a color: black, gray, green, blue or red. Why anyone would use this is beyond me. I definitely did not care for it.

With the player ready to go, I decided to try some live action flicks first. I went with ‘Tron: Legacy‘ and ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife‘ because they were originally filmed in 3D. Well, they looked good, but I felt rather foolish since the native 3D was already available and looked a heck of a lot better. Later, I tried ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army‘ since it’s a nice combination of colorful but dark photography. This is was an improvement, but even though it looked surprisingly great, I desired more pop. To satisfy that thirst, I watched ‘Cars‘, an even more colorful picture with a splendid natural 3D-like effect already in 2D. The results were great and even better than the previous movie. Afterwards, mostly just for shits and giggles, I threw in ‘Team America: World Police’ on DVD. This, too, looked good with a strong amount of depth and dimension. Yet it still lacked the quality we only see in genuine Blu-ray 3D discs.

Ultimately, the feature to convert 2D to 3D is a rather nice option to have. But sadly, it feels like a gimmick that doesn’t compare to native Blu-ray 3D discs. Although HD content provided the sharper picture, I had the best results in terms of three-dimensional depth from standard-def DVD, and I can’t figure out why. In the end, I’ll probably rarely catch myself using this feature in either format. Give me real Blu-ray 3D or nothing at all. That OPPO is starting to look mighty tempting again.

10 comments

  1. Scott H

    What’s nice about the Oppo is the two HDMI connections, so you can get the best picture quality from the player directly to your tv. While also setting the connection for video only. And the video streaming of the player is really good and picture quality is nice, compared to the ps3 I was using before. And Oppo is nice enough to include a 6 foot HDMI cable and the player comes in a black tote bag and contains one of the best product manuals i have ever seen. You will be extremely happy if you get it. Also it’s extremely quiet, got it to replace the noisy ps3 as my blu-ray player.

  2. Although I doubt I’d use it very often, I’m very curious about the 3D conversion feature. Unfortunately, neither of my 3D displays has conversion.

    I’m hoping for some sort of external 2D-to-3D converter box, though. I’d likely play around with converting TV content more than movies.

    I just pulled a redundant Blu-ray player out of my rack. I don’t need to add another one now.

    • Do you have a computer that you can hook up to the television? Total Media Theater has a 2D to 3D conversion in their software, and you can adjust the depth. I like using it on Home Movies – especially anything that has water. It also looks amazing on Aladdin. Of course, some of the other movies I have tried it on didn’t seem to benefit at all. Anyways, if you have a PC with an HDMI port (or DVI or Component if you want to also run AnyHDDVD), I suggest checking it out. There should be a free trial on their website.

  3. August Lehe

    Sorry to go far afield, but does ANYBODY know how to reliably achieve the inward curve of the picture as was/is achieved in theaters? Would this be more a function of the transfer? I used to notice this effect when shopping in stores, but I’ve forgotten which brands displayed a deep-dish curve of the 70mm epics and which did not.

    • The majority of theater screens are flat, and the overwhelming majority of movies were photographed to be projected on a flat screen.

      Some theaters, particularly those with really large screens, use curved screens, but this is mostly a gimmick intended to emphasize the “immersiveness” of the picture. It can often cause problems with focus, because only the center of the picture will be in proper focus and the sides will be out of focus.

      The only movies intentionally photographed to be projected on curved screens were the small number of three-strip Cinerama productions of the 1950s and ’60s. See my review of How the West Was Won for more info on that, and an explanation of the “Smilebox” transfer on the Blu-ray.

      http://bluray.highdefdigest.com/437/howthewestwaswon.html

      It is possible for front projection owners to create curved screens in the home, but it’s a painstakingly difficult and expensive process.

  4. August Lehe

    Thanks for the intelligent reply, Josh…In addition to HOW THE WEST WAS WON I recall seeing THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD PROJECTED LIKE CINERAMA on Broadway…Credits near the center of the screen were sharp, credits project at the corners were fuzzy…BUT I AM SURE GLAD I went to Broadway in NY & SAW BEN HUR, SPARTACUS AND LAWRENCE OF ARABIA hard-ticket first-run on a deeply-curved screen in 65/70mm.

    • In the ’60s, it was common for 65mm productions to be showcased on the curved Cinerama screens. In fact, after the original 3-strip Cinerama process went defunct, it was replaced by “Super Cinerama,” which was a flat, one-camera 65mm process projected onto the old screens.

      For home display, the best way to watch these movies is on a flat screen.

      The How the West Was Won Blu-ray includes both a flat Letterbox transfer and a curved Smilebox transfer that simulates the effect of a curved screen. If you watch the Smilebox version on a curved screen it will exaggerate the distortion. The best way to watch the Smilebox transfer is on a flat screen, while the best way to watch the Letterbox transfer is on a curved screen.

      We’re getting off-topic here, of course. At some point, I’m going to have to revive my old HD Advisor column to address questions like these.

  5. August Lehe

    A 3-D question…Let’s suppose one is only concerned with 3-D for 1950′s classic 3-revivals like House of Wax, etc. and will otherwise tend to avoid it; should we plan for 3-D upgrades of our Receiver, Screen, Blu Ray Player or all of the above? I am planning to purchase mainly in early 2013.

    • Assuming that those classic 3D movies eventually get released on Blu-ray in 3D (which is not a given), they’d be encoded in the same format as modern 3D movies. The basic idea of how the 3D effect is achieved hasn’t changed at all. Two separate eye views slightly offset from one another must be directed independently to the left and right eyes. It’s perfectly possible to transfer those old movies to the modern frame-packed Blu-ray 3D format.

      At a minimum, you will need a Blu-ray 3D player and a 3D TV. If you get a player that has two HDMI outputs, one for video and one for audio (Panasonic and OPPO make players like this), then you don’t necessarily need to upgrade your A/V receiver. You would just route the video to the TV and the audio to the receiver separately, rather than passing everything through the receiver to the TV.

  6. M. Enois Duarte
    Author

    As Josh pointed out, this is another reason I went with the Panasonic BDT310 (or considering an OPPO). I’m happy with my receiver and don’t really want to upgrade at the moment. Having the two separate lines (one for audio and one for video) is great.

    However, with news of the Panasonic PT-AE7000U, which I’m considering so that I don’t have to buy new glasses, I have to choose between upgrading my receiver or finding a good 1×2 splitter, which would be more cost effective.