It's been over 5 years since the first modern 3D TV's have hit the market (back in March 2010), giving viewers a chance to enjoy 3D Blu-ray movies, 3D TV programming, and play 3D games.  The technology behind it continues evolving, so let's attempt to dig in and answer some of the questions...

So what is 3D TV?

3D TV is a general term for a type of display design that adds the illusion of a third dimension, namely 'depth', to high def TV displays, which otherwise typically only display 'height' and 'width', or what we call a '2D' TV.

How Does 3D TV Work?

A 3D screen displays 2 separate images of the same scene at the same time, one for the viewer's right eye only, one for the left eye only, and each at separate angles.  Without the glasses, the images appear intermixed and skewed or distorted together.  When viewed with the 3D glasses, the two images are 'fused' together as a single image.  Additionally, the natural phenomenon of 'stereopsis' is re-created for the viewer, which is the power of the human visual sense to add depth to what the brain sees in nature after processing and translating the 2 separate images coming from both eyes, which usually lie about 2 inches apart and are seeing each image from slightly different angles.  The glasses take the 2 images on the screen and re-create these angles and effect for the viewer, making an otherwise flat image or '2D' image appear to have depth.

What is 3D TV?
What is 3D TV?

3D Glasses

Historically, there are 2 types, 'active' or 'passive' types of glasses.  The 'active' ones need batteries and sync to the TV signal via infrared or radio signal.  Sound clunky?  Well, fear not , because in 2011 Vizio, Toshiba, and LG introduced new 'passive polarized' glasses that are thinner, lighter, inexpensive, and actually compatible with the passive 3D used in movie theatres.  In this scenario the TV screen is actually coated with a polarizing film that allows each eye to view every other line to create the 3D effect.  The active glasses are generally not compatible across different TV manufacturers, whereas the passive glasses may work pretty well across brands.

active 3D glasses
Pictured: 'active' 3D glasses

How Do I Do It?

1) You need a TV with 3D - you'll need to decide on an 'active' versus 'passive' 3D TV, based on your preference for the matching 3D glasses described above, the TV's performance, and your own budget.

2) You'll need a 3D source, like a 3D Blu-ray player, a cable or satellite box that shows 3D content, or a 3D video streaming device or game console.

3) A pair of 3D glasses for EVERY VIEWER - you'll receive at least 2 'active' pairs with 'active' 3D TV sets and 4 'passive' pairs with 'passive' TV models.

4) If you have an A/V receiver, it needs to be able to switch 3D sources.  If you're using fairly recent HDMI cables, you should be ok (see our HDMI Releases Explained page for more details on 3D functionality with regards to HDMI cables).

With What?

Blu-ray discs - there are over 200 titles available now, look for discs with the 'Blu-ray 3D' logo on the box.
TV - ESPN 3D channel, DirecTV '3Net'.
Streaming - Vudu was first, but most recently Netflix added 3D streaming services (limited availability).
There are a few games available on Sony PS3 and Xbox 360 as well.

How Best to View 3D at Home?

The closer you get to the screen, the better the effect is.  But industry recommends no closer than 2 meters from the TV for a 50 inch-screen, to reduce eye fatigue and headaches, which have been reported in industry studies.
The formula is roughly 3 times the screen height away from the TV for the minimal distance.

Cost of a 3D TV

In 2012, the the cost of a new 3D model versus a new 2D model was on average about $300 more.
In 2013, expect the prices to even out a little more.

Can I toggle the 3D effect on and off?

Yes, all 3D TV's can display 2D if desired and from what we have seen, there is no degradation in picture quality.
Blu-ray discs also include 2D versions of the movie, so 2D TV's can also play them.

3D Formats

There are currently 3 formats, 'frame-packing' for Blu-ray, 'side-by-side and top and bottom' for TV and gaming, and 'checkerboard' used by the older DLP models.
(ALL new 3D TV's can handle all of these formats).

Things you can do, things you can't do

You CAN wear the 3D glasses over your existing prescription glasses.
You CANNOT wear them and get the 3D effect while lying down (sideways) on a couch (this mainly pertains to 'passive' 3D glasses).
You CANNOT wear them and get the 3D effect from a far-off point (this mainly pertains to 'passive' 3D glasses).

Note:  we understand many viewers complain about the discomfort of having to wear the glasses.  Hang in there, 'glasses free' HDTV is in its early (we mean early!) stages but it's in the works and we'll keep you posted on its development for the mainstream markets.


Right now, we give the edge to 'active' 3D TV models versus 'passive' ones, since they exhibited less ghosting or artifacts.  We also prefer Plasmas to LED TV's, because they exhibited less ghosting and better colors.  These are general observations and may change in the near future as we expect the 'passive' and LED 3D TV technologies to narrow the gap as they evolve.

So...Should I buy a 3D TV or is it just another gimmick to get me to spend money?

3D TV has come a long way, and still has a long way to go.  If you are looking for a smaller TV, which has less 'wow 3D effect',  or not wanting to spend any extra money on an 'upscale TV', we would say 'No'.

But if you are looking for a better and larger model of TV, you may find (especially in 2013 and beyond) that most or all of the larger models include 3D as just one of their many standard features.

That being said, 3D is not for everyone, and we recommend as with all TV's that you go to the store and view a demo of it to decide for yourself.

At this time you can still purchase a model with or without this technology, and if you do decide to go for it you can always 'toggle it off' when desired (as mentioned above).

You may also want to see a 3D movie in the cinema to get more acquainted with it as well.  (Here you can browse a great selection of 3D TVs online, or 3D titles.)

As we say here at the VideoCrib, 'Give it a Try, and Happy Viewing!'

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