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Work in progress
The recent flood of news about new 3D TVs, itself spurred by the hype surrounding the 3D release of "Avatar," has raised a few questions. This article, arranged in the tried-but-true manner of "Frequently Asked Questions," attempts to answer them.
What is 3D TV?
How can you get 3D from a 2D screen?
Here's what a 3D video game looks like without the glasses.
How is the new 3D TV technology different from older 3D?
A pair of LC shutter glasses?
How does Sky 3D work? How are 3D images captured?
How are 3D images broadcast?
How are 3D images viewed?
How does it compare to 3D in cinemas?
How does it compare to the 3D I have seen through red and green glasses?
Can 3D TVs only be used to watch 3D content?
Active v Passive 3D explained
Will I be able to record 3D programmes?
Can I watch 3D in another room with Sky Multiroom?
Where can I see Sky 3D in pubs?
How can I watch Sky 3D at home?
3D TV is a generic term for a display technology that
lets home viewers experience TV programs, movies, games,
and other video content in a stereoscopic effect. It
adds the illusion of a third dimension, depth, to
current TV and HDTV display technology, which is
typically limited to only height and width ("2D").
3. How is the new 3D TV technology different from older 3D?
Most people are familiar with the old anaglyph method, where a pair of glasses with lenses tinted red and cyan (or other colors) is used to combine two false-color images. The result seen by the viewer is discolored and usually lower-resolution than the new method.
The principal improvements afforded by new 3D TV technologies are full color and high resolution--reportedly full 1080p HD resolution for both eyes in the Blu-ray 3D, for example, and half that resolution in the DirecTV system. We expect DirecTV's 3D channels to look quite sharp despite lack of full 1080p resolution; see HDTV resolution explained for some reasons why.
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A pair of LC shutter glasses
New 3D TVs require active liquid crystal shutter glasses, which work by very quickly blocking each eye in sequence (120 times per second systems like Panasonic's Full HD 3D). The glasses, in addition to the liquid-crystal lenses, contain electronics and batteries (typically good for 80 or more hours), that sync to the TV via an infrared or Bluetooth signal.
(Note: For the remainder of this article, any mention of "3D" refers to the new full-color, high-resolution version, not the old anaglyph variety.)
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4. How is 3D TV different from 3D in the theater?
Many viewers have experienced newer 3D presentations, such as IMAX 3D, in movie theaters. Though the technologies differ somewhat--most theaters use passive polarized 3D glasses, for example--the main practical difference between 3D TV in the home and theatrical 3D is the size of the screen. In the home, the image is generally much smaller, occupying a lower percentage of viewers' fields of vision. Among TV makers we asked, only Panasonic recommend a closer seating distance (of 3x the screen height away--about 6.2 feet from a 50-inch screen) for a better experience; however, we suspect sitting closer or watching on a bigger screen will definitely help with any home 3D presentation. Smaller screens may also present other issues unique to 3D, such as a relatively narrow viewing distance range.
One advantage of 3D TV at home as opposed to the theater is user control. You can generally sit where you want relative to the screen at home, and some 3D compatible TVs provide some control over the 3D experience in addition to standard picture settings. Samsung's models, for example, allow you to adjust the "G axis," or the amount of 3D effect, to taste, comfort or to compensate for variations in eye spacing.
Since we at CNET haven't yet tested any 3D TVs thoroughly, we can't definitively speak to other differences between home and in-theater 3D yet.
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5. Can everyone see 3D?
No. Between 5 percent and 10 percent of Americans suffer from stereo blindness, according to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. They often have good depth perception--which relies on more than just stereopsis--but cannot perceive the depth dimension of 3D video presentations. Some stereo-blind viewers can watch 3D material with no problem as long as they wear glasses; it simply appears as 2D to them. Others may experience headaches, eye fatigue or other problems. (See also TV industry turns blind eye to non-3D viewers.)
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6. I've heard 3D causes headaches. Is that true?
Most people watching 3D suffer no ill effects after a brief orientation period lasting a few seconds as the image "snaps" into place, but in others, 3D can cause disorientation or headaches after extended periods. Viewer comfort is a major concern of 3D content producers; too much of a 3D effect can become tiresome after a while, abrupt camera movement can be disorienting, and certain onscreen objects can appear blurry, for example. Creators of 3D movies for children also have to account for the fact that a child's eyes are closer together (about 2 inches) than an adult's.
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7. Does everyone watching a 3D TV need to wear the glasses?
Yes. Every member of a family sitting around the 3D TV, for example, must wear the glasses to see the 3D effect. If they don't, the image on the screen will appear doubled, distorted, and, for most practical purposes, unwatchable. Currently, there's no technology that lets a single TV display both 2D and 3D content simultaneously without glasses.
People who wear normal prescription lenses already can experience the full effect--and generally suffer little or no discomfort--by wearing the 3D glasses too, which are designed to fit over an existing pair of glasses.
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8. Do I need a new TV?
Yes. With one exception, none of the TV manufacturers we spoke with said that any of their current HDTVs can be upgraded to support the new 3D formats used by Blu-ray, DirecTV and others. One reason we've been given is that the TV must be able to accept a higher-bandwidth signal (technically 120Hz) to display Blu-ray 3D, and older TVs can typically only accept relatively lower-bandwidth (60Hz or less) signals. That's potentially confusing because many non-3D LCDs have 120Hz and 240Hz refresh rates, and manufacturer marketing also mentions "600Hz" plasmas. Regardless of the "Hz" spec, these non-3D models can only handle a source that outputs at 60Hz or less via HDMI--the "conversion" to a higher rate, if applicable, occurs inside the TV itself.
Another reason is that 3D requires different video processing and additional hardware, including some way to send the necessary Infrared or Bluetooth signal to the 3D glasses. We're not ruling our the possibility of third-party add-ons overcoming these limitations, but as of now there's no way to convert any 2D TV to be compatible with the new 3D TV formats.
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3D TV round
The exception applies to the approximately 4 million 3D compatible rear-projection DLP and plasma TVs sold in the last few years by Mitsubishi and Samsung. Both companies sold such DLPs, and Samsung also sold the PNB450 (2009) and PNA450 (2008) series plasmas, but all of them required a special 3D kit, along with connection to a PC source, to display 3D. Now Mitsubishi has announced a converter box, available later this year (model 3DC-1000, reportedly $100) that will allow those older TVs from both makers to display 3D Blu-ray, DirecTV and other new 3D formats. For its part Samsung says it has no plans to release its own such box. It remains to be seen how the old 3D compatible TVs can compare to the newer models in terms of 3D picture quality.
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9. Do I need a new Blu-ray player, cable box, game console, or AV receiver?
With one huge exception the answer for Blu-ray players is "yes." No Blu-ray player maker has said it will upgrade existing 2009 or earlier standalone players to work with Blu-ray 3D movies, so a new 3D Blu-ray player will be required for many viewers to view the new 3D Blu-rays.
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CES 2010: 3D Blu-ray player roundup (photos)
The Sony PS3 is the huge exception. Sony says that the game console will receive two separate firmware upgrades--one for gaming and another to allow display of 3D Blu-rays--in June 2010. Previously there was some confusion about whether the Blu-ray capability of the console would in fact be full HD resolution as seen on newer standalone Blu-ray players, but Sony assures us that it will, despite the fact that the PS3 is not HDMI 1.4-certified (question 10). When we asked about another rumor, which hinted that the console's 3D capability would only work with Sony TVs, the company replied that the PS3 would work in 3D with any 3D-compatible TV, regardless of brand.
As for the Xbox 360 and the Wii, neither Microsoft nor Nintendo has outlined its plans for 3D gaming.
DirecTV has said that its lower-resolution 3D system will require only a free software update to the company's current HD boxes. No other TV provider has announced 3D yet, but we assume some will follow suit and enable 3D without a new box.
Unless you use your AV receiver for switching between HDMI video sources, you won't have to upgrade to enjoy 3D Blu-ray movies. You can instead opt for a Blu-ray player with dual-HDMI outputs, such as the Panasonic DMP-BDT350, or forgo high-resolution audio (Dolby True HD or DTS Master Audio) that requires an HDMI connection to the receiver. If you do want to retain HDMI switching on a receiver with even a single 3D source (with the possible exception of the PS3), you will need to get an AV receiver that's 3D compatible. Numerous AV receiver makers have announced so-equipped 2010 models, including Onkyo, Pioneer and Sony, while 3D compatible home theater systems are also coming this year.
HDMI 1.4 cables are coming, but don't buy them just for 3D.
(Credit: Dong Ngo/CNET)
10. Can I use my existing HDMI cables?
At this point, it appears you can. We've heard conflicting reports from manufacturers, but the best information we have indicates that most current HDMI cables, including the inexpensive ones CNET recommends, will work fine with the new 3D formats. One caveat is that that longer cables, say over three feet, might have problems. We'll be able to confirm once we can test one of the new 3D TVs with a 3D Blu-ray player, but until then we recommend trying to use your old cables before spending extra on "high-speed," "HDMI 1.4-certified" or "3D-ready" HDMI cables.
There has also been some confusion over whether certification in the newest HDMI standards, namely HDMI 1.4 and HDMI 1.4a, is required for cables, TVs or other AV gear to properly handle 3D. The answer according to sources we spoke with, including Sony, is "no." In short, HDMI specification is a messy business. Being HDMI 1.4 certified doesn't mean that certain features of the new specification, such as 3D, higher-than-1080p resolution and a new Ethernet channel, are necessarily included on a given piece of hardware. Our best advice is to ignore the HDMI version of a particular product and focus on actual features provided in manufacturer product information, such as the ability to handle 3D.
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11. Can I watch current 2D shows, movies, games, and other content in 3D?
That depends on the TV. Samsung, Sony and Toshiba models will include 2D to 3D conversion processing that will allow viewers to "watch everything in 3D." However, we don't expect these systems, especially in their first generation, to come close to the realism of true 3D content. We checked out a canned demo of Toshiba's process at CES and it seemed to work, but it certainly could stand improvement.
Panasonic's 2010 3D TVs announced so far do not offer 2D to 3D conversion. No other TV manufacturer (namely LG and Vizio among current purveyors of 3D TVs) has announced a built-in conversion system. Given the lack of true 3D content, we wouldn't be surprised to hear about a add-on 2D to 3D solution that works with the new TVs.
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12. Can the 3D feature on a 3D TV be tuned off?
Yes. All 3D TVs will display current 2D content with no problem and no glasses required, and we don't expect their picture quality in 2D to be any worse than on an equivalent 2D HDTV. The Blu-ray 3D specification calls for all such discs to also include a 2D version of the movie, allowing current 2D players to play them with no problem.
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13. Do 3D TVs use more power?
It's just too early to know until we can test one. No manufacturer we asked would say one way or another whether power use increased in 3D mode. Two other sources CNET spoke with, the head of USC's Entertainment Technology Center, as well as Bruce Berkoff of the LCD TV association, said it does not.
On the other hand, it's true that the active LC shutter glasses effectively block half of the light arriving from the screen, and the lenses are not entirely transparent to begin with, so logically a TV displaying a 3D image could use more power than the same TV to produce a 2D image of equivalent brightness. We also understand that Panasonic's 3D plasma, for example, includes a built-in "brightness offset" that automatically increases the light output (a major component of power use) to make up for the dimmer image when viewed through the glasses. It's conceivable that other makers do the same kind of thing.
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This logo is reserved for Blu-ray discs that use the "new" 3D technology.
(Credit: Blu-ray Disc Association)
Existing Blu-ray and DVD discs in 3D, such as "Coraline" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth," contain versions of the films (and often a couple pairs of colored glasses) in the old anaglyph style, and so cannot deliver full-color, high-resolution 3D. The best way to differentiate between the new ("full HD") and the old ("anaglyph") 3D Blu-ray discs is to look for the official 3D Blu-ray logo.
DirecTV will be the first TV provider with 3D content, announcing three 3D channels of its own (one on-demand channel, one pay channel, and one free channel). Content is scarce, although select sporting events, namely the All-Star Game in baseball and the World Cup in Soccer, will also be presented in 3D. ESPN and Discovery each said it would also launch 3D channels this year, although no provider, including DirecTV, has yet announced carriage of either one.
With the help of gear like the Nvidia 3D kit, PCs have been able to deliver 3D games, many converted from 2D versions, for the last few years to some compatible TVs (see question 8) and monitors. However, no console games specifically designed to work with the new 3D TVs have been announced, aside from Avatar: The Game. We expect 3D versions of existing games to be announced this year, perhaps with an "upgrade path" allowing existing owners to not have to repurchase the game at full price, but nothing's been officially announced yet.
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17. Will 3D TVs work with all 3D formats?
Unlike with Blu-ray versus HD DVD, there doesn't seem to be a major "format war" between the various methods for delivering 3D. All of the TV makers we spoke with specified that their upcoming 3D sets would work with the Blu-ray format, and we expect them all to support DirecTV's 3D channels and the well-established RealD format as well. When we asked about other 3D formats, including ones that use side-by-side, checkerboard, and top-and-bottom modes, and 3D found on current source devices like PCs using Nvidia's 3D Vision, TV makers who responded either specified their sets would be compatible or implied they would be by launch time. In short, compatibility shouldn't be a major hurdle for 3D TVs, although the glasses are proprietary to each manufacturer (question 15).
18. How much does all of this cost?
3D TVs and Blu-ray players are invariably found at the high end of manufacturers' product lines in 2010. They command a minimum $200-$300 premium over the most similar non-3D versions, although they often include extra other features unrelated to 3D that help jack up that price. The least expensive 3D TV announced so far is the Samsung PN50C7000 plasma ($1,700, April), which does not include the glasses. Check out our list of 3D compatible TVs for pricing information on currently available models.
The only 3D-compatible Blu-ray player currently available is the Samsung BD-C6900 ($250-$400), while the Panasonic DMP-BD350/300 (both $400) will be available soon. When Sony releases its 3D Blu-ray firmware update later this summer (question 9) the PS3 Slim ($299) will become 3D compatible, while the Sony BDP-S470 ($200), as well as other 2010 Sony models, will also get firmware updates to go 3D. No other Blu-ray maker has announced a similar upgrade plan, and no other 3D player has been announced with pricing.
Panasonic and Samsung have said each pair of 3D glasses will cost $150, and we expect other makers to charge the same amount initially. You'll need four pairs of glasses for your family of four, for example, to all watch a 3D movie together, which works out to $600 when sold separately.
We don't expect 3D Blu-ray discs to cost much more than their 2D counterparts, and you should be able to use your old HDMI cables (question 10).
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19. Seriously, is 3D TV any good or just the latest gimmick to get me to buy new crap?
In our early opinion, informed by the limited demos we've seen, the new 3D TV technology seen under the right conditions can be very impressive and definitely delivers a "wow" factor that will appeal to fans of immersive home theater, gamers, and other early adopters. Aside from screen size, the experience is very similar to what you'll see at the theater.
But that screen size difference is huge, and final versions of 3D TVs shipping later this year might perform differently from demos. And we have no idea how home viewing conditions like ambient light, seating distance, viewing angle, and other factors, which figure less prominently into the theater experience, affect 3D in the home.
Finally, when evaluating whether 3D TV is "any good," it's worth drawing attention again to the many issues described above and elsewhere.
And of course, like any new technology (or product for that matter), 3D is in essence intended to get you to buy more stuff. Years of underwhelming 3D implementations and misguided marketing earns 3D more of a right than other technologies to bear the description "gimmick." Again, we recommend seeing 3D in the theater, or better yet visiting an electronics store and seeing a 3D TV demo yourself, before writing 3D off or becoming a fanboy/girl. Even after seeing an impressive in-store demo (check out the video above), it pays to consider how the technology would be used in your home.
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20. I'm thinking of buying a new TV. Should I wait for 3D TVs?
Not unless you're an early adopter or a die-hard 3D fan who simply can't wait for the next best thing. 3D content will be rare in the first couple of years. Glasses, 3D gear, and of course, the TVs themselves will command a premium price. And like any technology, we expect it to improve quickly--although glasses-free 3D is still a few years away. Getting a new, non-3D TV now is still a fairly safe bet, and you can be sure to enjoy it even after 3D becomes more common. Even when 3D is available on just about every TV--something we expect to happen within the next few years--viewers will probably don the glasses mainly for special events like sports and movies, and not necessarily to watch the evening news.
So there you have it: the basics of what we know about 3D TV today. We're receiving updated information constantly, so we'll update this article periodically and add new questions and answers when appropriate. In the meantime, feel free to sound off in the comments section if we missed something major, think we did a good job, or you just feel like venting.
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