Passive / Aggressive

In addition to upgrading my main home theater display to a new JVC 3D projector, I’ve also recently added a Vizio E3D320VX television to my theater room. Not only does this give me a second screen for when I don’t feel like firing up the projector, the Vizio set is also notable as a passive 3D display, which has allowed me to do some comparisons with the active shutter type used in the projector. And with its low price points, Vizio is definitely making an aggressive push to gain market traction for the passive technology.

The E3D320VX is a 32″ set being sold for the reasonable price of $499.99 both on Amazon and in retail stores. At the time of this writing, stock may still be in short supply in brick-and-mortar locations. Wal-Mart seems to be getting first dibs on Vizio’s passive TVs. Because I prefer not to deal with the hassle of shipping large items like this, I actually had to drive a bit out of my way to a Wal-Mart a few towns over to find one in stock.

Of course, a 32″ screen is not particularly large by home theater standards. I don’t intend this to be a reference display for reviewing purposes. My theater room is a fairly constrained space, and my projection screen will remain my primary viewing display. Ever since installing the projector, I’ve kept a small LCD monitor off to the side of the room for when it’s not practical or necessary to turn on my whole home theater system. This TV replaces that, and 32″ is the maximum size that I can fit in the space. It’s very convenient for watching the occasional TV show, bonus features on Blu-rays and DVDs, or playing videogames.

I’m not going to list off all of its features here, but of note is that the E3D320VX is an internet-enabled TV with Wi-Fi, and offers easy access via direct buttons on the remote to stream movies from Amazon, Netflix, or VUDU. It has a bunch of other internet widgets available through the menus as well.

The 32″ model has a 60 Hz refresh rate. Although it will accept a 24 fps signal from a Blu-ray player, it will not display a movie at native 24 fps. Instead, the set automatically adds 3:2 Pulldown. I believe that the larger models in this line run at 120 Hz and will allow 24 fps display with the superior 5:5 Pulldown method.

Other picture quality attributes are about what I expected for a TV of this price point. I did a basic calibration with a test disc, but I don’t plan to spend hundreds of dollars to bring in a professional calibrator for this set. It’s not worth my time or money, considering what I intend this TV to be used for. I turned off all dynamic contrast and other picture “enhancements.” The official specs list a 200,000:1 contrast ratio, but of course that’s only with the dynamic contrast feature cranked up to maximum, which results in severe brightness pumping artifacts that I can’t stand. With that turned off, the black level and contrast look OK by LCD standards – nothing remarkable but nothing terrible either. I can’t give you exact measurements in a CIE chart, but colors look fine to the eye. For a $500 set, it is what it is. I’m satisfied with the results for the most part, aside from one significant caveat.

As mentioned above, the E3D320VX is a passive 3D TV. Whereas active shutter 3D displays allow for full 1080p resolution per eye view in 3D mode by flashing one eye’s 1080p frame after the other’s in sequence (left / right / left / right, etc.), a passive screen displays both simultaneously within the same 1080p pixel panel. To do this, the vertical resolution of each eye’s view is halved, so that each eye sees 1920×540 resolution in alternating pixel rows of different polarity. (Note: While 1920×540 is obviously not as good as true 1080p per eye, it is not the same thing as “540p” resolution, which would be only 960×540 pixels.)

One unfortunate consequence of this passive 3D implementation is that the set has visible scan line structure, even when watching in standard 2D mode. If you sit too close to the screen, you can see horizontal scan lines in the image. These lines interrupt edge transitions, and tend to emphasize artifacts like aliasing, as well as grain and digital noise. The further back from the screen you sit, the less noticeable this problem will be. On this 32″ set, a seating distance of four feet is too close, but at six feet (about 2 ½ screen widths) the scan lines are no longer visible. Again, this isn’t a big deal for my purposes. However, someone buying one of the larger Vizio passive 3D models in hopes of making it a main home theater viewing screen may find this to be a deal-breaker.

So, with that said, how’s the 3D? Pretty good, actually. The TV comes with two pairs of passive 3D glasses. They’re lightweight and much more comfortable to wear than the active shutter glasses that I need for my JVC projector. (It turns out that the set is also compatible with the RealD glasses handed out in movie theaters.) The passive glasses also allow more light in, which means that the 3D picture is brighter without quite as much need to compensate by boosting brightness and contrast electronically. You will still need to make some adjustments, though, so the set will save separate calibration settings for 2D and 3D. I found that these passive glasses give me less eye strain than the active type. I have not yet suffered any headaches after watching passive 3D. (I did get a pretty serious headache after my first night of active shutter 3D.) In short, passive 3D is a lot easier on the eyes.

In one annoyance, although the set will detect when a Blu-ray 3D or PS3 3D frame-packed signal is received, it will not automatically switch over to 3D mode. Instead, the TV prompts a message on screen instructing you to manually turn on 3D. I don’t see the point of that. Other 3D formats (such as the side-by-side or top/bottom types used in cable broadcast) are supported, but also require manual intervention to activate. Vizio seems to be more lenient in regards to out-of-compliance 3D signals than my JVC projector. For example, it should have no problem accepting the 720p side-by-side format that DirecTV uses for ESPN 3D, even though the HDMI spec only officially requires side-by-side 3D at 1080i resolution. (In contrast, my JVC projector sticks precisely to the HDMI guidelines, which you can find listed here.)

For the most part, the loss of resolution in 3D mode isn’t terribly noticeable, other than the scan line artifacts already noted when sitting too close. Our human eyes are more attuned to horizontal resolution than vertical resolution anyway. The picture may lose some detail, but it doesn’t look soft, per se. Also contributing to this is the fact that, when watching 3D, our brains seem to be more preoccupied with judging the “3D-ness” of the image than other traditional picture quality attributes. Or, at least my brain does.

A more severe limitation is the set’s viewing angle, specifically its vertical viewing angle. In my room, I have the TV on a shelf a little bit above my normal seated eyeline. Like this, the 3D picture has terrible crosstalk (double-images caused when picture meant for one eye is seen by the other). You basically have to be seated at dead-on eye level to avoid crosstalk. Unfortunately, the set’s stand doesn’t allow for tilting to adjust for this. The side-to-side horiztonal viewing angle is a little wider, but still limited compared to my 3D projector. In order to watch 3D in my room, I have to sit in a different chair and raise myself up to sit in direct alignment with the screen. It’s an annoyance for me, and I can see it being an even bigger problem in other rooms, especially those that expect multiple viewers to watch together. The set has very little flexibility in regards to placement.

All things considered, Vizio’s passive 3D HDTV line is a pretty notable development in the home theater arena. These low price points should get 3D into a lot more homes than ever before, and the more-comfortable 3D glasses should entice more viewers to try the feature. The technology isn’t quite perfected yet, however. It has some serious drawbacks that I would hope will be resolved in subsequent product generations. (Eventually, someone will make a higher-resolution 3D set that can display two full 1080p images simultaneously.) In the meantime, I don’t regret purchasing this at all. But I also hesitate to recommend it to someone who expects to make it the main display in a home theater.

2 comments

  1. I’ve been considering one of these. I think we talked about this earlier – maybe not on this model, but I remember you mentioning that Passive would mean that it was only 1920×540, then I stated, yes, but its a 32 inch set. I honestly don’t think the resolution will be that big of an issue with most viewers – at least, not at this size.

    The only thing that sounds like it would be a deal breaker is the height you have to be like when watching it. In any of the spaces that I could think of sticking a tv this size, it would probably be either slightly below or slightly above eye-level. That may end up being a deal-breaker for me.

    I am actually looking at the boxes from 3dvip.com right now which lets you do 3D on older, non-3D compatable sets. Sadly, I just found out that their devices do not include the emitter or a set of glasses, so it will cost me right at $500 to get going with that.

  2. Barsom Bob

    You asked for suggestions on 3D film and game content. Just curious what you have enjoyed and consider a good experience so far.

    I am a 3D supporter, but our use of it is still only 2% of our viewing time. agree with the other topic that studio and theater greed is hurting this nascent medium. I agree with William, more quality material needed. How about a criterion 3D of Dial M for Murder. Or the original House of Wax. Both are beautiful 3D films.

    That being said I am heading into the living room to pop in the 3D S I Swim Suit disc. LOL

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