Want to add a third dimension to your viewing?
Are you ready for a 3D TV? It’s not such a simple question. Australians have got on just fine with the old 2D version of entertainment for decades. So why bother getting a newfangled set to watch 3D titles in the first place? What’s wrong with the ol’ CRT box and a coat-hanger aerial?
Well, nothing. It’s just that 3D can be a little more entertaining and immersive. Okay, a lot more entertaining and immersive.
Since Avatar stormed onto cinema screens back in 2006, 3D viewing has become an accessible part of mainstream media. There’s now a wide range featuring 3D technology, and some broadcasters are said to be embracing it as well.
Add onto that, there are camcorders and even smartphones that make use of 3D recording techniques. That’s right. You could shoot your own 3D shorts on holiday, and watch them in your own living room.
However, it’s important to get all the facts lined up before you decide to make the transition to a 3D TV – what it is, how it works, and what it means for your watching habits.
How do 3D TVs even work?
There are three different types of 3D TVs available today, each with their various pros and cons.
Passive 3D TVs display two overlapping images at the same time. Each frame image is displayed using polarised light – one horizontally and the other vertically – with the polarised light matching the lenses in the glasses. The lenses separate the images, so the eyes see slightly different perspectives, letting your brain ‘create’ the 3D image. They’re called “passive” because there are no moving parts or circuitry in the glasses – everything is done by the TV. Watchers can experience some flickering when viewing a passive 3D TV – it uses the same technologies as the movies. But passive 3D TVs are generally the cheaper option.
Active 3D TVs differ from passive technologies in some very significant ways. For starters, there don’t rely on polarised light to generate the illusion of 3D images. Instead, the screen displays alternating high-speed images – one for the left eye and one for the right. As the name suggests, this 3D technologies requires that the viewers wear glasses which actively filter the images displayed. They do this by syncing wirelessly with the TV to activate alternating layers of liquid crystal embedded within the lenses. This effectively blocks images for a tiny fragment of a second. The result is that each eye only sees the image that matches its viewpoint. As you can guess, the glasses you need to wear for this to happen need batteries to run. This makes them slightly heavier than the glasses that work with passive TVs. And if the batteries run out, then no 3D for you! However, owners of active 3D TVs report little to no flicker, a clearer picture, and a more immersive viewing experience.
Autostereoscopic 3D TVs go beyond active and passive displays by offering 3D viewing without glasses. In most cases, the TV makes use of what is known as a “parallax barrier” to display differing content directly to the eyes. This barrier is a thin film set with tiny narrow slits. These slits point individual images at each eye, letting your brain produce the 3D effect. However, this technology does come with a drawback – a measurably narrow viewing angle. Because the TV supplies differing content to each eye without filtering, moving too far to the left or right means that you lose the 3D effect. And because this is a relatively new technology, the price tag associated with Autostereoscopic 3D TVs tends to be much larger.
Don’t forget that you should always take a look at the screen of a TV you’re planning to buy in person. This is especially important for 3D TVs. Not only are you checking for smooth colour transitions, deep blacks and a crisp image – you’re also looking for a 3D experience that doesn’t give you a headache.
How big is the screen?
With a 3D TV, it’s likely that you will be sharing the experience with others. Thus, a larger TV is not a bad option. Optionally, if you prefer to use it solely for games, chances are that you won’t need to fret about having to share the screen. However, as always, you still need to work out just how much room you can spare for your new TV – not to mention how far back you want to sit from the screen.
Keep in mind that most screen sizes are diagonally from corner to corner, and the actual physical dimensions of the unit are going to differ from the display measurements:
- 1 – 1.5 metres away = 88cm (35 inch) screen
- 1.5 – 2 metres away = 102cm (40 inch) screen
- 2 – 2.5 metres away = 127cm (50 inch) screen
- 2.5 – 3 metres away = 152cm (60 inch) screen
Another important reason to check out the screens in person is to see how the size of the display and distance from the unit might affect your 3D experience.
More than any other TV on the market, 3D TVs offer a huge range of viewing options. Not only do they display standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) content very well – even ultra high definition (Ultra HD) is some cases – but they also give you access to 3D titles.
Currently these include Blu-ray and certain next-generation gaming console titles. However, while Foxtel Australia ceased its 3D cable service in 2013, there is hope that streaming video on demand (SVoD) services such as Presto, Netflix, Stan, and Quickflix could step up and deliver 3D titles in the future.
This means you’re after a good range of HDMI inputs, USB ports and surround sound outlets. You can probably skip over VGA ports – unless you have an older laptop that you want to connect up.
Pro tip: I have noticed that salespeople often like to bundle HDMI cables with the purchase of any new 3D TV. If you already have a setup in place, you might not need it. Make sure to check what you have in the cable draw at home before you commit to the purchase.
Don’t forget about coaxial inputs for free-to-air TV channels. While SVoD services provide instant entertainment, FTA channels still deliver home-made content you might be hard pressed to watch anywhere else.
And speaking of SVoD?
Unfortunately, 3D content is not currently available through Australian SVoD providers. Quickflix offers Blu-ray and DVD rental via post, making it easy to access 3D movies – but this isn’t exactly a streaming service.
That being said, there’s no doubt that with the growing volume of 3D titles currently available on the market, they will eventually find their way into their growing online offerings. To that end, getting a Smart TV that supports SVoD apps – and maybe features built-in WiFi – could be an investment in future viewing enjoyment.
Plasma, LCD, or OLED?
Finding a 3D TV in a Plasma model is a rare occurrence, as most manufacturers are moving toward LCD and OLED displays.
In the early days of 3D TVs, LCD TVs were known for slow refresh rates. Thus, they weren’t deemed an ideal choice for a 3D experience, as the liquid crystal displays take time to transition between left-right images. These days the refresh rates are sufficiently high that the human eye can’t track the transition between screens. As mentioned in previous articles about HD TVs and Ultra HD Tvs, LCD screens are either side or back-lit. Back-lit models deliver an even light spread, making them an excellent choice for bright lighting conditions. On the other hand, side-lit models tend to weigh less, making for better wall mounts. In either case, these models tend to be less costly than OLED TVs.
OLED TVs are the latest development in screen displays. Instead of projecting light through a layer of liquid crystal, OLEDs make use of organic light-emitting diodes mounted directly on the screen. These generate a range of coloured light – which removes the need for additional lighting sources. The result is that OLED TVs tend to be thinner and lighter than previous models – and can deliver excellent black levels. However, just like 3D TVs, these OLED displays are kind of recent additions to the markets, and thus can be highly expensive.
Which brands offer the best 3D experience?
To date, the biggest players in the 3D TV market include LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony. But choosing between these contenders is not a simple decision.
One simple way to pick is taking a look at the equipment you already have on hand. Assess your current entertainment system, if you have one. Is a majority of your stuff from a particular brand? If so, then it might be a cool idea to look closely at this company’s offering. Why? Because many brands offer exclusive connectivity and proprietary interfaces that only operate between devices from the same company.
There are also smaller TV manufacturers out there like TCL that have also ventured into the 3D TV field. These providers make a great venture if you just need the TV as a standalone unit.
But when it comes down to picking a TV model, for me the it’s not all about brand – it’s about how they can be handled. Are the menus easy to navigate? Can I switch inputs quickly? How does the remote feel in my hand?
As you might expect, it’s best to test out these factors on the showroom floor before forking over your hard-earned cash.
What do I ask the floor person?
So you’re ready to buy a 3D TV? Here’s a list of prerequisites to check out before hitting the showroom floor.
- Budget. How many dollars are you willing to part with to take your viewing experience to the next dimension?
- Space. Make sure to measure the dimensions you have available – width, height, depth, and viewing distance.
- Connectivity. What are you watching on your 3D TV? Does it have all the ports you require?
- Internet capability. With a 3D Smart TV you are likely to want to see how it handles WiFi in person.
- Brightness and lightness. Will your 3D TV sit on an entertainment unit opposite a bright window? Or is it destined for wall mounting in the dimly-lit man cave?
When checking out your 3D TV options, it will pay to keep these points in mind. This way, you will get a model that matches your budget, living space, and viewing habits – and will save you an embarrassing trip back to exchange TVs.
Need more help?
Go through this handy list of 3D TVs available today.
Want to see more options? Check out our TV comparison page!