Technology - Active vs Passive.... & Why 3D TV Without Glasses Is Not An Option

We need to start at one of the areas of 3D TVs that is the most critical to understand, so letís tackle the technologies. Watching 3D TV requires the viewer to wear glasses, and will do until no glasses 3D TVs become commercially available. 3D TV without glasses is still some way off, and though there are models under development it could be years before one is available at the quality levels and price points of current with glasses models.

So when we look at the technology used in 3D TVs the choice you face is between active shutter and passive models. These terms actually refer to the way the 3D glasses work with the TV, and could have a huge impact on how you approach all the other choices you'll need to consider.

Passive models are a fairly new innovation, with LG Electronics causing a shake up in the market with the recent release of their LG Cinema 3D TV range. The passive 3D glasses are lightweight and cheap to buy, in fact very similar to the ones you get at the cinema. LG claim their new sets are flicker free and have significantly reduced ghosting, two of the problems which have traditionally affected the better known active shutter glasses TVs. The main drawback is that they work at half the resolution of active sets, though this does not necessarily mean that there are significant picture quality differences. LGís 3D technology combines the image presented to the left eye with the image to the right to form one picture with the 3D effect. The passive glasses then filter the correct image to the relevant eye using by use of simple polarised lenses.

Active 3D TVs use glasses that are heavier,  more uncomfortable,  and much more expensive. Roughly a hundred times more expensive in the case of some models. They need batteries as a power source whereas the passive glasses do not. They work by using built in shutters in the glasses to display alternate frames to each eye at ultra high speed. The speed in which these alternate frames are delivered creates the 3D effect, and the shutter glasses interact with the TV by using either a built in or external synchronisation transmitter. The main benefit of active technology is that images are displayed at full HD resolution. The problems, apart from cost and discomfort, are that they can reduce brightness levels and are more prone to producing flickering images on some sets. Another issue is that some active glasses only work with the manufacturers set they're supplied with, although there are some universal makes available.

Let's not make a big deal about these issues though, many viewers wear active glasses without problems and millions of sets have already been sold worldwide. Clearly they work, and work well.




But what about the end result, do active or passive 3D TVs give the best overall image quality?

Yes, the glasses used in passive 3D TVs are cheaper and more comfortable to wear. But does this spell out the reason why you'd want to go passive rather than active? Surely quality is the overriding factor which needs the most consideration?

Well, that's not totally true. There is another difference emerging between the two technologies, and that's the potential of health issues. The way the active glasses work - by alternately showing images to left and right eyes at turn - does cause headaches and occasionally nausea for some people. The experts say this is unlikely to cause real long term damage, though it's early days still for 3D TV and we may not be absolutely certain about that for some time. The reduced flicker from passive models  does mean that headaches and are strain are less likely to be experienced.

But now to the quality. Definitely the most important factor....and the reality is that there's not much in it. The most recently released active 3D TVs from the likes of Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic have all been subject to improvements which reduce flicker and crosstalk. They look good. The LG Cinema 3D TVs have got great reviews in general, but the most telling reviews indicate that when viewed side by side with high quality active models, the active sets still just win out. For any of us who want a great 3D experience, it's clear that both active and passive 3D televisions will give us what we're looking for.



Display Types - Are Plasma, LCD or LED 3D TVs Best?

First it's a good idea to understand what these display types mean. The CNET article on 3D TVs describes gives a good basic description of LED, LCD, and plasma displays.

But for now let's look at the different types of displays from a 3D perspective.   One of the major differences is in the processing capability or speed of each type, often known as the refresh rate. Plasma 3D TVs have historically performed at higher refresh rates, though LCD and LED 3D TVs have been catching up over recent years. Recent LCD/LED models work at anywhere between 120 and 480Hz, whereas the best plasmas are now operating at anywhere up to 600Hz.

This means that Plasma 3D TVs are able to show the full range of 1080 lines of resolution to both our eyes, although the difference in quality between the two as a result of this is only important to anyone who is looking for the absolute best. For many viewers this difference in quality is not critical, and is most obvious only if you set the two different types side by side and compare them. It could become more of an issue when watching fast paced action such as sports in 3D, but with most 3D content at this stage being of the animated movie type that's not a current problem.



The 4 key quality problems to watch for in 3D TVs

The biggest differences in overall quality are apparent in three main areas - crosstalk or image ghosting, depth of images, brightness/colour levels, and motion blur.

Crosstalk -or ghosting as it's sometimes known - is the slight double image or halo effect you'll sometimes see around the edges of 3D images, and is one of the main quality issues encountered with 3D TVs. It's very similar to the effect you see when watching 3D images without glasses, and is caused by seeing the two images (which are supposed to be delivered at slightly different times to each of you eyes separately) too close together so they partly merge into one.

You can also encounter crosstalk if the glasses are not properly synchronised with the TV. With their higher refresh rates the best of the plasma models are better at eliminating or at least significantly reducing the ghosting effect, however LG's recently released passive 3D TV models - the LG Cinema 3D TV range - perform very well in this respect as the glasses don't need to be so well synchronised with the TV.

Other positives for plasma include its ability to show depth in images and give a better or wider viewing angle. These aspects are of course hugely important in the viewing of 3D where immersion is the key to a great experience. Depth enhances this immersive quality, and the wider viewing angle gives an overall better experience to the viewer.

But when we consider brightness and colour it's the LCD/LED 3D TVs that start to come out on top. The difference here is caused because plasma TV displays tend to show darker images, though recent top if the range models have seen improvements and yet again there's not much in it when you compare the two side by side. The LCD sets do win out though when compared to the cheaper plasmas with more clear and vivid images.

Motion blur is most noticeable when watching fast paced action such as sports in 3D. The effect of this is of course blurred images during movement, something you don't often see in standard 2D Tvs. Plasma 3D TVs have an advantage here in that their screens are able to refresh individual plasma cells faster than LCD's can refresh pixels, though recent advances in LCD technology have improved so that the LCD displays can refresh at 100 times per second. This is double the standard rate and means that 100 Hz plus LCD 3D TVs are much better at handling motion imaging than their predecessors.

As a summary, it's easy to see that in the quality stakes the plasma 3D TV sets win out in most important areas, and generally perform better than LCD/LED. And it'll be no surprise to see that it's a Panasonic Plasma 3D TV - the PVT30 - that consistently gets the best reviews and recommendations.




The Manufacturers - Who Makes The 3D TVs?

Without the major manufacturers we all know, there would of course be very few 3D TVs on offer. There are nine major TV manufacturers that have 3D TVs in their ranges, and a handful of other that operate on a smaller scale. Quality varies as youíd expect, though almost every manufacturer has at least one model that has attracted good reviews, either from a pricing or quality perspective. The manufacturers have cleverly engineered their 3D TV models so they sit at the top of their ranges, meaning you get a stunning quality traditional 2D HDTV at the same time as getting the option to watch in 3D too.






What Difference Does Size Make?

Finally we need to look at display size. Bigger is generally better as far as 3D TV viewing is concerned, but when considering display size you really need to think your the home environment. Room size is what counts as well as budget. Youíre unlikely to get the benefits of a huge screen in a small room, so you need to make the choice based on what will fit and where you can sit in proximity to the display. Also the bigger screens tend to make small flaws in pictures more obvious the closer you sit. The ideal seating distance looks to be around 3 or 4 times the height of the TV.

Getting a good balance is essential for the best viewing experience, and ideally it's best to aim to get a 3D TV that can fill your vision, but be positioned at a distance that still gives sharp and clear images. As an example, the minimum seating distance recommended by Panasonic for their 65 inch model is 8 feet.




Pricing Levels of 3D TVs

Prices of 3D TVs are falling all the time, though of course there is a wide spread in pricing between the cheapest and the highest quality models. If you think back to the introduction of HD TVs, initial prices of those were sometimes in the $10,000 range. That's vastly different now, with many available at less than $1000. And the forecasts indicate prices could drop even further from now up to the Christmas shopping season.

When Samsung released the first of their plasma 3D TVs the 40 inch set cost roughly a third more than the equivalent 2D set, but now the cheapest 3D TV is much closer in price to a standard 2D HD. The premium, or difference in price, between a 2D and a 3D TV set was around $800 or $900 last year. Now we're looking at the $300 to $400 range, and very soon it could be down as low as $150.

Prices fo 3D TVs start at around $600 - $700. The new Playstation 3D TV - due to be released late in 2011 - will reportedly retail for around $500.

The sets with the higher refresh rates tend to sit in the top quality range and therefore retail at higher prices. Higher refresh rates give clearer pictures, but there are several models on the market for less money and at lower quality. If you're considering buying a cheaper 3D TV, it's always worth looking at the overall cost of owning one. DLP (Digital Light Processing) 3D TVs are a good example. One of these may cost less than an LED or LCD TV, but the bulbs used in them will need to be replaced regularly at a significant cost when compared with the starting buying price.

Don't forget that prices of 3D glasses need to be factored in too. Active shutter glasses can retail for anywhere up to $150 - although there are some models becoming available at around the $75 mark now - and you rarely get more than one or two pairs with the purchase of any new set. This is where one of the benefits of passive 3D TVs comes to the fore - the glasses on these sell for just a few dollars.




3D Content Availability


There are a number options for watching 3D content on your new 3D TV. These include either watching 3D Blu Ray discs via a Blu Ray Player, streamed content via 3D TV channels or 3D video on demand services, or by taking advantage of the 2D to 3D conversion capability that's built in to various 3D TV models. I don't propose to cover these in depth here, just click on any of the links for more info.

One great way of getting extra 3D content is by creating your own. Sony's new video binoculars look to be a perfect way of doing just that. You can watch objects and record in 3D for later playback. They're coming soon.



Summary


Iíve simplified it in some areas, but you can see there are a number of choices to make if you are considering whether to take the plunge and buy a 3D TV now. The best option, certainly for anyone new to 3D TV, is to first spend some time studying. Read up on the technology at a site like 3DTVGuide.org, study a number of real buyer reviews at Amazon, and then visit a store that carries a wide range of demo models and try them out live. With such a huge choice of 3D TVs to work with, that's pretty much the only way you'll guarantee to get a set that suits you best and meets your needs, at a price you're comfortable with balanced against the quality you'll receive.

As far as the future goes, we're not far off the point where we donít say 'Ď3D TVí' any more. We just say TV, because thatís what we all expect a TV to be capable of. 3D TVs are still very much at the start of their journey. Successful mass acceptance cannot be achieved without focus long term focus and relentless attention to innovation and persistent development, two qualities which the TV manufacturing industry clearly possesses in abundance.

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Toshiba    Samsung    Mitsubishi    Panasonic    Sony    LG    Vizio    Philips    Sharp    Loewe
You'll find a list below of the vast majority of 3D TVs currently available to buy. The table is self explanatory, and is designed to give an easy way to get more information on any of the current models on the market. Click the dropdown to get reviews and pricing of different manufacturers models, or click on the full 3D TV range link for a list of individual 3D TVs from each manufacturer.
Technology moves fast, doesnít it. The interest in 3D TVs and 3D technology seen in 2010 has shown no sign of declining so far during 2011, with the major manufacturers working hard to introduce multiple new 3D TVs to their ranges. Whereas only 18 months ago you might have laughed at the idea of getting a high quality entertainment experience from watching a 3D TV at home, now the latest breakthrough developments in technology - and the resulting improvements in picture quality and the experience itself - are bearing fruit.

The latest releases of 3D TVs from the major manufacturers are ensuring that the technology is taking its place on the Ďmust haveí list of gadgets we want in our homes, including colour ereaders and other types of tablet PCs. Recently published surveys of US based and Middle East based TV owners show that they rate their 3D viewing experiences very highly, with the majority reporting watching 3D TV as a positive experience.

With Sony's Playstation 3D TV due to hit the markets in the near future, it's highly likely that the latter quarter of 2011 will see increased interest. Anyone wanting to buy a Playstation 3D TV might be well advised to get in early.

Even though there are some reservations about the availability of sufficient 3D content to watch,  now seems like a great time for anyone who has been considering whether to buy a 3D TV to jump in. But i
f you are venturing into the world of 3D TVs for the first time you are going to find that it's not a particularly straightforward one. There are multiple manufacturers, models, sizes, display types, and a wide variation in prices. Panasonic alone have 14 new models, LG a further seven,  with displays ranging from 32 up to and over 70 inches.

The choice gets further complicated because there are different technologies involved in driving how the 3D TVs actually work. Plus you'll need to consider if it's right to wait for the recently announced Sony Playstation 3D TV or no glasses models to hit the shelves. Add to that the issues surrounding 3D glasses and the questions over what content is available to watch, and anyone would be forgiven for feeling they're facing a bewildering amount of choices.

However, as with any series of choices that look complicated, there are ways to simplify and it all becomes much clearer when you start to break them down. In this article I'll try to cover each main area you'll need to consider when trying to understand 3D TVs and the technology that drives them. Hopefully this will give you a good starting point to finding out exactly which 3D TV is right for you.
Customer Reviews, Technical Info, Pricing Full 3D TV Range & Detailed Info Resources & More Info Best 3D TV Review Websites
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1. Discover How To Choose Between Active & Passive 3D TV Technology

2. Understand the key differences between Plasma, LCD or LED 3D TVs

3. Be aware of the problems - Quality issues to watch out for

4. Know the manufacturers - Who makes 3D TVs?

5. Decide on the best size 3D TV for your home

6. If you don't know the prices, how can you get a good deal?

7. When you sit down with your 3D TV - know what there is to watch



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