What is 3D TV?

Think of the “3” in 3D as the third axis, a newly arrived Z dimension that joins the 2D screen geometry of X (width) and Y (height).

You experience the sensation of depth in two basic ways:

  • as “Deep 3D” in which the TV seems to become an infinitely receding tank. It’s almost as if you could reach through the glass;
  • as “Pop-Out 3D” where objects appear to be spilling off the screen, teasing you to touch something appearing a nanometer from your nose.

Note: What makes the 3D illusion so startling is that you genuinely perceive the sense of depth that should only exist in the real world―not from an electronically-reproduced image on a flat screen.

With the arrival of three dimensions, entertainment in your home theater becomes ever more immersive. For sports fans, players appear to run in front of one another on a field that recedes behind them and where the ball seems to fly off the screen. For film fans, watching a 3D movie using a 3D-capable Blu-ray Disc player can replicate the awe you experienced seeing a movie like Avatar or Toy Story 3 in the theater. 

Beyond sports events and Hollywood movies, there are deep-in-the-lair nature documentaries, you-are-there travelogues and immersive video games.



How does 3D TV work?

A 3D TV shows two separate images of the same picture from slightly different angles, one meant for your left eye and the other for your right eye. The viewer wears active LCD shutter glasses that synch to the display rate, twisting off the passage of light to your right eye when the image meant for your left eye appears and vice versa when the image for your right eye is flashed. This happens so quickly that your mind is fooled into putting together a complete stereoscopic picture.The new TV technology differs—and until recently—from old-fashioned movie 3D as well as the type of 3D now playing in theaters. Traditional or anaglyph 3D used passive glasses tinted different colors for each eye. These often came in the form of cardboard glasses and the effect was primitive compared to today’s technology.

Theaters today hand patrons passive glasses, but instead of using colored lenses, they are polarized. Because most home theater 3D glasses are active, they require power. Some glasses use rechargeable batteries, and you may be able to plug them into USB ports on the TV to refresh them. Others use disposable, disc-type batteries. However, a year after the introduction of active 3D shutter glasses, several manufacturers introduced TVs and glasses that use polarized glasses. These passive glasses require no power.

Active Passive

What do I need to start watching 3D TV?

You need a 3D-capable television set with the same manufacturer’s 3D glasses for each person watching and a 3D-capable Blu-ray Disc player in order to watch 3D Blu-ray movies.  A particular TV manufacturer’s 3D glasses may not necessarily be compatible with another make of TV. For now, you need to wear the same brand glasses as the brand of TV. However, some accessory makers have introduced glasses that work with a variety of TV brands.

As for 3D content not on Blu-ray Disc, there are other program sources. Ask your satellite or cable TV operator about 3D channels or 3D video-on-demand content.

Is my late model non-3D HDTV capable of being upgraded to 3D?

No.  Even if you purchased an LCD TV in the last year or so that boasted refresh rates of 120Hz or 240Hz―which in theory might accommodate the display of a right and left image at 60Hz each―additional circuitry must be built in. The same is true for an older plasma TV, despite the 600Hz refresh rate cited by plasma manufacturers to compare their technology to the speed of LCD sets.

If you’re wondering whether a relatively-new Blu-ray Disc player be upgraded to 3D, again the answer is no.  If the manufacturer didn’t list the player as 3D capable, it’s not.

Can I get a “3D-ready” TV and complete the 3D part later?

At least one manufacturer has produced a handful of models that are ready to be upgraded to 3D with an optional emitter you simply plug in and place below or above the center of the screen.

The emitter controls 3D glasses you’d also purchase when you’re ready for 3D. However, most 3D TVs have the emitter built in so that the TV is 3D capable out of the box. Most HDTVs are not 3D upgradable, so you should be careful what you buy if you really want 3D.

What’s the range of screen sizes for 3D TVs?

Screens range in size from about 40 to 65 inches. All the major HDTV set manufacturers are shipping  3D TV models.

Do I need a special cable to connect a 3D Blu-ray Disc player to a 3D TV?

Though the HDMI 1.4 specification is built into the controllers in the HDMI ports of 3D-capable TVs and Blu-ray Disc players, you probably won’t see a 1.4 spec on cable packaging.  What you should look for is an HDMI cable labeled “High Speed.” Such cables provide the bandwidth to transfer 3D at 1080p. If your existing cable can dependably pass 1080p signals, there’s an excellent chance you can continue to use it for 3D.

How do I choose between different 3D TVs?

Your decision about buying a 3D TV should involve the same criteria you’d apply for buying any HDTV set: screen size and style; choice of flat-screen technology (LCD, LED-backlit LCD, or plasma); resolution (all 3D TV sets offer full HD or 1920 x 1080 pixels); the ability to display deep black; viewing angle; a variety of inputs including USB and multiple HDMI ports; and whether you want wired (Ethernet) or wireless (Wi-Fi) connectivity for streaming content from a networked computer or an Internet service. If you can get a demonstration of 3D TV in a showroom or from someone who has one set up at home, go for it. Since you’ll still be watching more TV in 2D than 3D, put your fondness for a TV’s overall feature set first if you find two TVs’ 3D capabilities equal.

Can everyone be entertained by a 3D TV?

About a million Americans are blind to the stereoscopic effect and cannot perceive the presence of depth on a 3D TV. While some of these people won’t suffer any ill effects from viewing the 3D picture, others may experience headaches, eye fatigue or other discomfort.

Should I consider a 3D TV bundle?

You’re likely to save some money if you buy a bundle―also called a kit―that comes with a combination of equipment including a 3D-capable TV, several pairs of glasses and a 3D-capable Blu-ray Disc player or home theater speaker system with 3D-capable Blu-ray player.

The Takeaway

  • The 3D TV you choose is likely be among the best and most capable 2D TVs in the manufacturer’s line. 3D is a feature, available to be turned on from the remote when the occasion arises.
  • 3D capability is here now on a minority of sets from all the major TV manufacturers. Combined with the same manufacturer’s 3D glasses and any brand of 3D capable Blu-ray Disc player, you’ll be positioned to experience the highest-resolution 3D available when playing a 3D-labeled Blu-ray movie.
  • To see the 3D effect all the viewers watching a particular TV model must wear either active LCD shutter glasses or polarized (passive) glasses. Active glasses are powered by disposable batteries; slightly more expensive ones are rechargeable. Polarized glasses are power free. If you wear eyeglasses, you wear 3D glasses over them.
  • 3D capability is almost always listed as a prime feature on a TV set or Blu-ray Disc player, so if you don’t see it listed, then the equipment is unlikely to ever be 3D capable. If a TV can be upgraded to 3D, it will be advertised as “3D ready.”
  • The number of 3D titles on home video is expected to grow, a direct result of the explosion of 3D movies reaching theaters during the last few years. Non-disc content in 3D is available now or coming soon in the form of 3D channels from satellite operators or video-on-demand and dedicated channels from cable operators. Several TV manufacturers have introduced 3D programming streamed from the Internet directly to their Internet-connected 3D TV sets.
  • Also, a new generation of digital cameras and camcorders has begun to hit the market that makes it possible to capture panoramas or home video in 3D. You need a 3D TV and 3D glasses to see shows you create in 3D.