HD Advisor Fifty 3-D

Posted Fri Apr 9, 2010 at 11:30 AM PDT by

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Answers by Joshua Zyber

What's Really Needed for 3-D?

Q: I've been doing my reading on this and yet I'm still confused! I know glasses will be required in order to view 3-D content. My confusion lies with the sources. If I have a 3-D TV, will I need a 3-D Blu-ray player? If I don't have the TV, will the player and glasses suffice? If I don't have the player but have the TV (with the glasses), will that be enough to watch a 3-D Blu-ray? I went to Fry's and Best Buy and was told I'll have to buy everything from the same brand from televisions down to the glasses (and batteries to power them)!

And what about the Blu-rays themselves? We were watching 3-D Blu-rays (albeit of questionable quality) before the advent of 3-D TVs, players and what have you. What will be different about them?

A: Any movies previously released on Blu-ray with a 3-D viewing option (such as 'Coraline' or 'The Final Destination') were authored using the old-fashioned anaglyph 3-D process. This is the type of 3-D that requires colored glasses (typically red/blue, yellow/green, or magenta/cyan). Anaglyph is backwards compatible with any color television. No special equipment is needed, except the colored glasses. However, it's also the absolute worst form of 3-D. It makes the picture dark and muddy, and ruins all the colors. The anaglyph 3-D effect is weak at best. The new 3-D standard being released this year is completely different. It maintains a full-color 3-D picture with vastly better picture quality.

The new 3-D standard will require a 3-D compatible television. Existing 2-D televisions cannot be adapted to display this new form of 3-D. They just aren't capable of it. You'll also need a pair of 3-D shutter glasses that can sync with the television. For that reason, most viewers will need to buy 3-D glasses from the same manufacturer as the TV. Samsung's glasses will not sync with a Panasonic TV, any more than you can use a Samsung TV's remote to control a Panasonic set. As far as whether the glasses will also use proprietary batteries from the same company, that will probably vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. I'd expect anything from Sony to be 100% proprietary.

With that said, the third party manufacturer XpanD has announced that it will sell universal 3-D glasses compatible with any 3-D television (by the same principle that many companies sell universal remotes). So that may be an alternative for many viewers.

Some 3-D televisions have the ability to convert any 2-D source signal into 3-D on-the-fly. Generally, the results will be rather poor and unconvincing, especially on content never designed to be 3-D in the first place.

For a true 3-D picture, you'll need a true 3-D source. There will be several options for this, including 3-D Blu-ray, 3-D cable/satellite broadcasts, and PS3 games.

At the present time, I don't believe that 3-D cable or satellite broadcasts will require any special hardware other than your existing receiver box. (Update: I may be wrong about that.) However, the form of 3-D transmitted over broadcast will only offer approximately 540p resolution per eye. It's not true high definition.

3-D Blu-ray will offer full 1080p high-def resolution per eye. This requires a specially-authored 3-D Blu-ray disc and a compatible 3-D Blu-ray player. Existing standalone 2-D Blu-ray players cannot be updated to support 3-D. You'll need a new player. But you won't necessarily need a player from the same brand as the TV. Any 3-D Blu-ray player should be compatible with any 3-D HDTV. They all use the same standardized transmission format.

It has been announced that Sony's Playstation 3 console will be updated to support 3-D for both games and Blu-ray discs. How that will work exactly is still unclear to me. Initial reports claimed that the PS3 would only support 3-D at 1080i resolution. More recent reports have conflicted that information. At the present time, I'm not sure which is correct.

3-D Projectors

Q: With 3-D now becoming a reality in the HDTV market, I am curious what the timeline might be for seeing 3-D home theater projectors? When there is more content available, I will be looking to upgrade to 3-D compatible equipment, but I have a dedicated home theater, which I love and am very impressed with in terms of picture quality. I wouldn't want to give it up for a smaller screen, just to have 3-D. Are there any technological problems which might delay the release of 3-D compatible projectors?

A: I'm in much the same situation as you. I use a projector for my primary home theater viewing. Unfortunately, the status for 1080p single-lens projectors using the new 3-D standard is lagging behind that of traditional HDTVs. Only a few manufacturers have announced 3-D projectors for later this year. What have been announced are very expensive (mostly $10k and up), like this LG model. To be frank, other than the 3-D aspect, I don't think the specs sound all that great. I have yet to see any 3-D projector announced that could rival the 2-D image quality of my existing JVC D-ILA projector. And of course, 2-D will remain the majority of most people's viewing.

I'm hoping for better announcements at this year's CEDIA conference in September.

Keep in mind that some 3-D compatible projectors were released in the past, primarily DLP models. These used an older form of 3-D that does not provide full 1080p resolution per eye. They are also not compatible with the new 3-D Blu-ray standard without a converter box of some sort. I do not recommend these for home theater purposes.

You'll note above that I specified "1080p single-lens projectors." These output the imagery from one lens, and require compatible active shutter glasses, much like the new 3-D HDTVs do. However, I will point out the existence of "passive" dual-lens 3-D projectors. Those shine the left and right eye imagery from separate lenses, and only require simple polarized glasses (much like you'd wear at a 3-D theater). On the other hand, they also require a silver screen, which will degrade regular 2-D viewing. These are also expensive, and I think most home theater owners will find them too impractical to consider.

3-D with Projectors, x2

Q: I know a lot of home theater buffs already are equipped with dual projectors and polarized glasses for 3-D. Do you know of any Blu-ray players being proposed that have dual HDMI outputs strictly for video (not the audio/video outputs mentioned in the article). In other words, if the left eye and right eye streams were split internally in the player, and it provided to two conventional v1.1 HDMI outputs, that would suit these setups perfectly. Even if a box were available that would split the v1.4 stream into two individual HDMI streams, that would work. It still would require the purchase of the new player, of course, but not a new projection system. In my case, I would buy an additional projector rather than a 3-D projector which makes more sense since I would have an extra projector (also the 3-D light output would be double that of a time multiplexed system

A: As you've described, rather than purchase a single 3-D projector, it's also possible to achieve the 3-D effect using two separate projectors, one for the left eye imagery and one for the right eye imagery. Most viewers will find this impractical. In addition to the space needed to mount two projectors, your image quality can be compromised if the two pictures are not perfectly aligned on the screen. The two projectors will need to have identical color quality and calibration. You'll also have to worry about two separate lamps aging at different rates. If one lamp is older or dims faster than the other, that can cause serious and rapid brightness fluctuations during playback.

As mentioned in the previous answer, the polarized 3-D image also requires a silver screen that will degrade the quality of regular 2-D content. Effectively, that means you'll need two screens, a regular white screen for 2-D and a silver screen for 3-D.

If, after all that, you still want to go through with it, I'm not aware of any manufacturers planning to sell Blu-ray players with two HDMI video connections, that will separate the left eye and right eye images to separate outputs. The Panasonic DMP-BDT350 will have two HDMI outputs, but one can only be used for audio. You'll need some sort of external converter box that will accept the 3-D Blu-ray signal and split it to separate streams. I have not heard of anyone selling such a thing yet, though it's possible that a niche brand may offer one eventually.

Does 3-D Work the Same for Everyone?

Q: When I was a child, I saw a couple of 3-D movies at Disneyworld and was wowed by them. I also remember 'Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare' clearly. I saw that movie four times, just because the final scene in 3-D was awesome for me at the time. Even with the red and blue glasses, I was able to see stuff coming out of the screen, like the scene with the baseball bat with spikes or the flying heads around Freddy.

That was my last 3-D movie until 'Spy Kids 3-D'. With that one, something changed. I could see depth in the picture but nothing coming out of the screen like I did before. I was kind of disappointed. But I knew it was just me, because I could see the audience reacting to things coming out of the screen like they were supposed to.

After that, I avoided 3-D movies until the tech was better. That's when I saw 'Up' and 'Avatar' in 3-D. As beautiful as those two movies were, and as much depth as I could see, I couldn't see anything coming out of the screen. It's like watching a window. I can see everything like it's behind glass, but nothing comes closer than the screen.

So I don't know if it's an eye problem, a mental problem (I mean that my brain is stupid or intelligent enough not to be fooled) or what is going on. I use glasses, but my girlfriend does too and she is able to see things coming out of the screen.

So if the problem is that a limited group of people have the same problem I have, then I guess there is no point for me investing in 3-D TV, because I don't care about image depth alone. It was the combination of both things that I loved.

A: There are two issues at play here. On the one hand, some people are simply unable to see the 3-D effect, including this CNET writer. Depending on which expert you believe, perhaps up to 10% of the population may have this problem. Although I'm no optometrist, I think it's very possible that this condition may develop (or worsen) as a viewer ages. Even though you enjoyed 3-D movies when you were younger, you may not be able to see the same effect as an adult.

The other thing to note is that many newer 3-D movies have been using the 3-D effect differently than those in the past. Movies like 'Coraline', 'Up', and 'Avatar' have in fact been designed to emphasize the depth of the imagery, rather than gimmicky "Comin' at ya!" gags in which spears and yo-yos dangle out above the audience members' heads. It's just a different artistic approach. However, each of these movies should still have some imagery that extends outwards from the screen.

In your case, I suspect some combination of both of these explanations. It sounds like you can still perceive the depth part of the 3-D effect fine, but are missing part of the experience that others (like your girlfriend) claim to see when watching the same movies. The fact that newer 3-D movies focus more of their efforts on the depth aspect just accentuates the problem.

I'd be curious what reaction you have to the upcoming 'Resident Evil: Afterlife'. The trailer for that one appears to use 3-D in a very gimmicky, stuff-flying-out-of-the-screen manner. If you still don't see anything extending beyond the screen when that movie is released, I think it very likely you fall into the percentage of people with physiological problems perceiving 3-D.

Homework Assignment: You Be the Advisor

The HD Advisor knows many things, but he doesn't know everything. Some questions are best answered with a consensus of opinions from our readers. If you can help to answer the following question, please post your response in our forum thread linked at the end of this article. Your advice and opinions matter too!

HDAVI Control

Q: I currently have an older receiver with no HDMI inputs, as well as a Panasonic Blu-ray player, a Panasonic DVD Recorder/VCR, and a Panasonic plasma TV. The Blu-ray player, DVD recorder, and a Verizon FiOS box are connected with separate HDMI cables to the TV. The Panasonic Blu-ray, DVD, and TV are HDAVI/Viera Link compliant. So I can control them all through the TV. When I turn the TV off or switch from one component to the other, the Blu-ray and/or DVD recorder will automatically turn on or off as required. Of course, the FiOS box has to be controlled manually or with a universal remote. I expect to eventually get a new receiver with HDMI audio inputs, so there would then be just one HDMI connection to the TV. Will the HDAVI functions of all three components still work together with just the one HDMI connection to the TV coming from the receiver? In other words, can the TV, Blu-ray, and DVD still communicate with each other when going through the receiver? If that's not normally possible, are there any HDAVI compliant receivers with the capability?

Check back soon for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.

Joshua Zyber's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this site, its owners or employees.

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