It isn’t far-fetched to say that we may not be far away from the point where we don’t say '‘3D TV’' and we don’t say '‘internet connected or smart TV'’. We just say TV. It's the same as when HD first came to prominence, every set was labelled as HD and it was something new and special. Now we expect a TV to be HD, and very soon we'll expect every TV to be capable of delivering 3D images.
But 3D TV is still very much at the start of its journey. We can expect it to be a long one. Successful mass acceptance cannot be achieved without long term focus and relentless attention to innovation and persistent development, two qualities which the television industry leaders clearly possess in abundance.
Quick Links & Valuable 3D TV Resources
One of the great ways to get information on any product or service is to search the many article websites. These are used by experts in their fields to post articles online - some good and some not so good - which cover just about everything you're likely to want to know.
Here's a good selection of article directories with quick links to the specific 3D TV sections within them.
DMOZ is one of the oldest and most respected internet directories, carrying links to high quality and information rich websites. The 3D TV search returns some interesting results with great reading material.
Technorati.com is a highly respected blog directory which lets you search either for blog posts or for website information. Techorati is a hugely valuable information source containing comprehensive 3D TV info.
Wikipedia - the internet's best known information source - carries an in depth 3D TV article that explains the history and technology behind the development of 3D television.
About.com carries an in depth FAQ article which covers all areas of 3D TV development.
The manufacturer LG presents an easy to follow 3D TV guide on its official website.
More 3D TV Videos
As you'd expect, Youtube carries the most comprehensive listing of videos anywhere you'll find online, covering just about every manufacturer and type of set plus a series of videos on how 3D TV works and the technologies involved.
Well, the simple answer to this question is it's a generic term for a visual display technology that lets us, the viewers, experience 3D images delivered on a home TV in the form of specially created content including games, movies, sports, and others. If you haven't yet seen one of the latest specially filmed 3D movies at the cinema, you're in for a real treat when you do.
3D is a very powerful technology which has the ability to immerse us in a viewing experience, and make the action seem to 'pop' from the screen. The 3D movie Avatar is a great example of that, and when we get the chance to watch specially filmed sporting events and music concerts in real 3D I think we're in for a treat. Recent studies have shown that viewers watching a 3D Blu Ray movie were more attentive than when watching in 2D, with body test equipment such as EEG monitors, skin electrodes, and heart monitors proving that our bodies respond to 3D imaging.
History and Technology - How 3D TV Works
Employing technology first discovered in the early 1800s, the leading TV manufacturers are using ground-breaking technological skills to give us improved access to stunning 3D imaging - also known as stereoscopy - which basically tricks your brain into creating an illusion of visual depth by displaying two different images. This is known as a parallax view - the two slightly different perspectives of a visual object that each eye sees naturally because they are spaced physically apart. Our brains resolve these two different object views and this is what gives us the perception of depth and three dimensions.
You can read more about how 3D TV works in my article dedicated to explaining the technologies involved. If you want to read some technical detail on how our brains 'see' 3D images, there's a superb article on depth perception at Wikipedia.
As the viewing of 3D images in films, movies, and short clips developed, we needed to use (and still do) special 3D glasses to help our brains 'see' those 3D images on screen. The main types of 3D glasses are Anaglyph, Polarized or Passive, and Active Shutter glasses.
The last named shutter glasses (they work by automatically turning shutters on and off very quickly without you realizing) were the first models for use in the home which give the best 3D results - they're a world apart from the old cardboard and plastic 3D glasses of the 1950s, and different to the disposable passive glasses you get at 3D IMAX cinemas or at the latest regular cinema 3D movie showings.
These shutter glasses, or active glasses as they're also known, are currently expensive and will set you back up to around $100 a pair - though as the developments gather pace there's no doubt you'll find this price dropping significantly. Passive glasses are much cheaper, and this difference in pricing has contributed to a format war now taking place. Samsung, Sharp, and Panasonic are focussing on active glasses for their models. Toshiba, Phillips, LG, and Vizio are betting on passive glasses winning out. Of the manufacturers, LG are the only one able to claim availability of models using either of these glasses technologies.
The new types of passive glasses are built using what's known as FPR or Film Patterned Retarder technology. FPR works by optimizing the separation of images for our left and right eyes, and then converging them again through the passive 3D glasses to deliver the 3D image. Passive 3D TV models are on the increase, with image quality beginning to get close to the active glasses sets. The Vizio VT3D650SV in particular has received good reviews since its release. Reviews suggest there are no picture flicker issues, no ghosting, and no problems with glasses synchronisation. With the cheap cost of glasses, passive 3D TV sets look all set for a strong future. Designer 3D glasses are now available in different styles too.
One of the main issues surrounding active 3D glasses has been the fact that specific manufacturers models only work with that manufacturers sets. As a result of this the glasses manufacturer ExpanD developed universal 3D glasses that are well on the way to becoming the future standard. Compatible models include:Sony Panasonic LG (compatible only with IR models) Phillips Mitsubishi (with compatible emitter) Samsung (compatible only with IR models) Sharp Toshiba
3D TV Without Glasses
For the near future we'll still need to use glasses with our specially designed home TVs, but developments in technology - particularly in the field of Parallax Barrier TV technology - promise to bring us true 'no glasses required' home 3D TVs over the next few years. To watch 3D TV without glasses you'll also still need some equipment to act as a source for content, and this is either delivered by the new generation 3D Blu Ray players or from content streamed by the network operators.
Toshiba look to be going all out for 3D TV with intentions to be the first manufacturer to offer active, passive, and no glasses 3D TV models to the consumer market. Active models are already released, passive to follow this year, and 3D TV without glasses models of 40 inch size upwards are expected within a year. Toshiba already have two smaller screen no glasses models on sale in Japan only.
Recent developments in mobile 3D TV are particularly interesting, with LG releasing a Smartphone that delivers 3D images without glasses, and other TV manufacturers gradually turning attention to smaller screen models. In April 2011 LG Electronics planned to demonstrate a version of a 7 inch mobile 3D TV that doesn't require glasses to see the 3D imaging. The prototype model was due to be shown at the 2011 NAB show in Las Vegas which ran from April 9 to April 14 2011.
Who Makes The Sets - The Manufacturers
It was the Japanese technology giant Samsung that led the charge in 3D TV models with a range of sets released in 2010 that are also capable of 2D to 3D conversion in real time. Toshiba and Mitsubishi models followed shortly after and the other major manufacturers such as Panasonic, Sony, and LG also have advanced ranges available to buy. All have new ranges announced for 2011.
Of course these are HD sets, and many of us will only recently have upgraded to HDTV. It's worth noting here that to watch any content in 3D on your TV, your old set just won't do. You'll definitely need to buy (or beg/steal/borrow) a new 3D ready TV. And of course, you'll want the best that your money will buy.
What Can You Watch In 3D?
It's clear that having a choice of 3D channels and Blu Ray movies is not enough to keep the growth on an upward curve. Ever increasing content is needed, and this needs to come in the shape of 3D games and user generated content as well as extra programming from the channel providers.
Games in 3D are already popular, but user generated material is a different case. Maybe we'll see a lot more of that as the fairly new 3D camcorders and camera gain credibility. Definitely we'll see more potential in this area once Sony's video binoculars are released late in 2011.
Many of the latest blockbuster 3D movies are making their way onto 3D DVD and 3D Blu Ray discs, more and more channel programming is being seen on the schedules. Movies on demand are seeing strong growth, with many channels now offering 3D VOD video on demand services. Over the next few years we're all going to see a huge increase in opportunities to experience TV in 3D.
Currently there are two ways to watch 3D content on your 3D television. 3D conversion is a process which uses a 2D to 3D converter built into the 3D TV, and this allows 2D content to be translated into 3D. True 3D content is filmed in 3D especially for the experience. There are many movies and video games already available which have been shot or created just for 3D, and plans for more 3D TV channels are well under way.
The increasing popularity of 3D can be seen with the release of a dedicated Youtube 3D channel.
As I mentioned earlier, there are some great 3D movies already showing in cinemas (Avatar is worthy of a mention here, don't miss it if you get a chance) but 3D content for TV is in its infancy. If the popularity of true 3D movies is any guide though, the mass breakthrough in three dimensional programming for our televisions will occur.
So, it's not surprising that the prices of the first sets were astronomically high initially, and beyond the reach of many of us. But there were takers among us, particularly those of us who had been exposed to the immersive experience that good quality 3D imaging offers, and couldn't wait for the cost to reduce. Personally, I'm in that number. I admit it, and I'm hooked.
In early 2011 prices have begun to fall, especially of older models as the manufacturers get their 2011 models on to the display shelves. Prices will continue to fall as technology advances, though no glasses models and of course the bigger home theatre size models can be expected to be high for some time.
The obvious negatives are the the requirement to wear glasses, and the requirement for extra equipment to view 3D content such as a 3D Blu Ray. The good news is that 3D Blu Ray players are rapidly reducing in price. As I mentioned earlier, the lack of 3D content is not so much of a problem now with new networks and channels springing up - but it's still not what it should be. We are still some way off the availability levels of 3D content that will really help the growth of 3D television into a must have entertainment source.
Glasses are an issue, both from a cost perspective and for when you have visitors in who also want to watch your 3D content. In addition to this, there have been recent news articles on the potential health risks of 3D TV which we should all take note of.
Pricing of course also plays its part as a drawback - as with any new technology the cost of equipment is high in the early days. Prices are falling though, and for 3D fans the current entry cost is getting to be within reach. In fact, as I write in early February 2011, a number of UK online stores are selling a 50 inch Samsung Plasma 3D TV for around 700 pounds.
Another issue, and one which might be difficult to overcome for some of us, is in room size. 3D works best on larger screen sets, and also most sets perform better in dark environments. Not always easy to achieve in a smaller size room. Viewing angle isn't such a problem, though especially with LCD models you won't want to be sitting way off to the side.
The biggest quality impacting problem is that of crosstalk. This is the appearance of blurring or double ghosting around the edges of 3D objects on the display. There can be a number of causes and its impact varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model. Filming techniques can contribute to crosstalk, but it's predominantly caused by TV displays not being able to refresh themselves quickly enough to keep up speed that the 3D images are delivered, so that a part of the image intended for one eye merges into the image that's destined for the other. It's useful to note here that plasma sets enjoy a faster response time than LCD models, hence they're generally better at handling ghosting problems.
Are there any health risks involved in watching 3D content?
This has been the subject of some debate ever since Samsung issued 3D TV health warnings on their website late in 2010. The reality is that some people do experience nausea and sickness when watching 3D images, though this seems to be of a temporary nature and not experienced by everyone.
This is due to the way our eyes and brains 'see' 3D images. We see in 3D naturally in real life, but watching 3D TV is the result of artificial creation of 3D images which our eyes and brains need to 'translate' to make sense of. For some viewers eyes that is difficult and can cause short term issues such as dizziness, nausea or tiredness. For some people this might be immediate, sometimes it might occur if watching 3D content for too long.
Anyone experiencing these problems might find that different sets have less effect than others, mainly because of the differences in quality of 3D images that they deliver. This will be due to either the type of technology that drives the set, or the quality of the imaging itself.
So the question really is about any potential long term risks. The general concensus of opinion is that this is unlikely, and moderation is the key to enjoying 3D entertainment. Personally I can sit through 2 hour 3D movies at the cinema with no issues, and going by the popularity of 3D movies in general that appears to be the same for the vast majority of viewers.
One recommendation if you're watching 3D TV at home would be to take short breaks, maybe every 20 minutes take a 20 second break and focus away from the set on a distant image.
I'm considering whether to buy a 3D TV, where can I find more information?
If you're beginning to think whether to buy a 3D TV now, the most important first steps are going to be reading through reviews to get an idea of how pricing is balanced against picture quality, and what features your money will buy. Online reviews can be found easily and will help in the search for the best 3D TV to meet your needs.
What to watch for in 3D TV quality
It may not be surprising to learn that the same attributes affecting picture quality on standard 2D TVs also affect the performance of 3D sets. These include the critical problem of ''ghosting'' or blurred images - often know as crosstalk - the level of blackness, picture brightness, detail or clarity of images, and the angle you watch the TV from. The good news is that the manufacturers are well aware of picture quality issues, and focus appropriate attention and technological improvement efforts on reducing or eliminating problems.
Many 3D sets now take pride of place as the top of the range TV models for each of the manufacturers, hence picture quality is excellent in many models when viewed both in 2D and 3D. There are differences in quality in different sets, and that's where a study of reviews will come in useful. Good review sites are plentiful on the internet, and as long as you choose reputable ones you'll get some great info on which 3DTV sets are the best, which sets are average, and which sets are the ones to steer clear of.
Four Of The Best 3D Sets
Panasonic TX-P65VT20 - The biggest plasma 3D TV available as of Dec 2010. The Panasonic Viera model delivers excellent performance with fast processing and lightning fast responses that renders it superb for 3D games and gaming.
Sony KDL-40HX803 - One of the best from Sony - a 40 thin model with a 40 inch LED screen giving high brightness and excellent colours.
Samsung L46C750 - 46 inch from Samsung at a respectable price of around 1000 pounds. The 300,000 to 1 contract ratio, coupled with Samsung's 3D HyperReal Engine technology gives a top quality picture.
Philips 46PFL9705 - Exemplary performance from a Philips set delivering sharp, crystal clear 3D images by courtesy of it's 46 inch LED backlit LCD screen.
What Does The Future Hold? Where is 3D Entertainment Heading?
As you can see, the subject of 3D TV is a fascinating one. We've covered which sets are available now and how they work. The longer term future of home 3D entertainment is likely to be in the development of holographic TV or further in the future in Holodeck technology. Recent developments in Holographic TV include a prototype from a Japanese researchers which uses revolutionary electronic wave technology to present a holographic image.
In the nearer future though it's a safe bet that smaller screen models will become increasingly popular, right from the mobile 3D TV models now entering the market right up to popular low to mid-size display TVs of around 24 inches up to 36 inches.
As little as a few years ago most of us would have been laughing at the idea of buying a 3D TV for our homes, and being able to watch high quality 3D content outside of a cinema. But with the arrival of bigger and better models, that idea has now become a reality for many of us. 3D technology is hitting the public consciousness at a time when broadband internet TV services are also booming, and the two together are combining to promise a huge change in the way we access entertainment and knowledge.
The scale of public interest can be seen in the fact that in North America alone over 2 million sets were shipped in 2010 after just nine months of a real market. If you compare this to HDTV take up, where a quarter of that number were sold in the first five years, it's clear that the potential of 3D as an entertainment medium is outstanding.
And there's no sign of a decrease in the appetite for 3D entertainment, in fact the opposite is true. Recent research indicates that a rapid acceleration is likely, with a predicted 30 plus percent of US homes owning a 3D TV by 2014, and an even bigger take up in Europe and the Far East.
Sales of TVs, 3D Blu Ray players, and 3D games consoles will make up the bulk of the forecasted exponential growth in 3D enabled devices in the coming years. As the amount of programming we can watch in 3D does grow over the next few years, it's likely to attract more and more 3D fans looking for something extra from their home entertainment.
So 3D TV definitely has the potential to take its place among the leading entertainment technologies, and the great thing about the current crop of models on offer is that in fact they are the top of the range models from each of the manufacturers. As such, you're pretty much guaranteed superb high quality standard 2D imaging as well as having the option to watch in 3D - and latest technology developments in OLED 3D TV are promising even more. And they're becoming more and more affordable.
This IFA show of 2012 - held in Berlin in September - saw two big advances in the 3D TV without glasses arena with announcements of models from both Toshiba and Philips.
The Toshiba 55ZL2 - the first commercially available full size no glasses model with a 55 inch display - may just signal the beginning for the end of 3D glasses. The model was scheduled to be released first in Japan in November 2011 labelled as the Toshiba REGZA 55X3. European release will follow in the first few months of 2012.
The CES show held early in 2012 should give us some other real life examples of no glasses models, not only from Toshiba and Philips but from other new names such as MasterImage 3D and Stream TV Networks.
Stream TV in particular are promising a solution which allows good quality 2D to 3D conversion on no glasses displays.
Sony's Playstation 3D TV was hot news for a while leading up to its release. The branded dual player, individual view gaming monitor promised revolutionary gaming entertainment which can be enjoyed by two players each seeing a different image of the game. The end of split screen gaming? Things have gone quiet, and anyone looking to buy Playstation 3D TV bundles at the best prices has a good choice.
At 24 inches, the PS 3D display is on the small side, but there are plenty other gaming models available with bigger screens.
Passive 3D TV
LG caused a stir in 2011 with the release of their Cinema Passive 3D TV range - a series of models that use passive glasses. They quickly became popular and successful sales figures were good throughout the year.
Vizio followed up with their own passive range. Toshiba have a model known as the 47 inch 47TL515U. The latest manufacturers to get in on the act are Panasonic, who announced a new passive model at the CES show, and Sony who recently announced their intent to ship passive models in 2013.
Apparently Sony are planning some aggressive marketing for their new models, part of an attempt to get them firmly into one of the leading manufacturer positions.
Creating 3D Content
3D content availability is increasing, though still falls short of the volume needed to make watching 3D at home the first choice for many of us. Sure, there are movies on Blu Ray, 3D games are increasing, and content from TV channels is on the up. But more is needed.
One great way to get more content is to create your own.
The recently announced video binoculars from Sony may give the perfect solution with their long distance video recording capability, and we wait to see if the Ereader can give more content with the announcement of a colour ereader from Amazon
Recently Youtube has been breaking new ground by using technology which can convert the HD videos you watch on the popular site from 2D into 3D. All you need to do is switch from HD to 3D to watch any video that has been uploaded in 1080p.
Youtube already carries more than 10,000 3D videos.
Head Mounted Displays
Interest has steadily been growing in 3D HMD technology since the release of Sony's head mounted display - the HMZ T1 - late in 2011.
The most recent development comes courtesy of Epson, who have released their Moverio BT-100 model. This promises to be a successful breakthrough in 3D HMDs, with a pair of half inch 960x540 resolution LCD displays combining to replicate the effect of a 320 inch screen right in front of your eyes.
Hot News & Developments
The USA Government website presents a wide range of general 3D information and 3D television related links to other official sites in the US.
Good quality, affordable 3D TV without glasses is what we're all waiting for.....
the UK will soon see the first commercial release of a Toshiba no glasses model outside of Japan and Germany!!....the Toshiba 55ZL2.
At around £7k it's not cheap, but looks to be the first real step towards without glasses 3D entertainment.
This section covers the bigger news developments in 3D technology.
The quick guide to the difference between active and passive 3D TVs. What size is best?. Plasma, LCD, or LED....and how much it's going to cost you?