Wednesday, 16 June 2010


Whilst watching the World Cup, I've been noticing all the adverts for new TVs. Despite getting a kick out of the one with Captain Sulu in it, I've also been a bit bemused about all the ones urging me to buy a 3DTV, because the ~£1,000 I spent just 2 years ago on a 1080p HDTV, Blu-Ray player and Surround Sound system just wasn't enough, damn it.

All of this commercialisation has led me to look at the subject of 3DTV, to see exactly what all the fuss is about. I started out by seeking to answer a pretty basic question: do I need a 3DTV to watch 3D content, or, if you prefer, what does a 3DTV do that an HDTV can't?

The answer was not immediately obvious, but lies within the various 3D formats that you can get. They are, briefly:

  • Anaglyph - this is the traditional format that requires the red-and-blue glasses. One image is transmitted in red for one eye, the other in blue for the other eye. As each eye can only see in one colour because of the glasses, your brain puts the two images together to make it 3D;
  • Polarised - one image is transmitted in a 'light' wavelength and the other in a 'dark' wavelength. They are displayed simultaneously on a specially reflective screen, and need specially polarised glasses for you to get the 3D effect;
  • Close Shutter - Both images are transmitted alternately, with the frames interlaced, so it goes 'left-right-left-right' really fast. Special glasses which effectively wink in synchrony with the display are needed to get the 3D effect;
  • Lenticular - Both images are transmitted at the same time, one overlaying the other, onto a screen made up of tiny cylindrical prisms. No funky glasses are needed for this format, because the light is reflected in the right way on the screen.
You with me so far?

Okay, here's for the pros and cons:
  • Anaglyph:
    • Pros:
      • You don't need a new TV. The images are filtered on colour, so how fast the image changes on the screen isn't a problem, and you don't need a special screen.
      • It's cheap, both to produce and consume. Existing content could, with relatively little expense, be converted, and you don't need fancy new hardware.
    • Cons:
      • Filtering on colour is shit. It's little better than black-and-white in terms of picture quality, as most of the detail is lost as you limit the colour palette to 2 blocks of the spectrum.
      • Those Flash Gordon specs are even crapper. They make you look like a complete tool, and belong in the 1950s. How shit would they be when you want to watch a film?
  • Polarised:
    • Pros:
      • The viewing experience is a lot better - the full visible spectrum is available as a colour palette. 3DTV how it should be.
    • Cons:
      • That specially reflective screen. Yup, you need a new TV. It won't work on existing HDTVs - they're just not designed for it.
      • It's expensive - content can't easily be converted from 2D to 3D, and new content requires filming using a double-lensed camera.
      • You still have to wear glasses. You don't look like a reject villain from Flash Gordon, but Cyclops out of X-Men. Not a fantastic upgrade.
      • The polarised glasses reduce light, so not great for films with a darker palette, and you have to sit right in front of the TV to maximise the effect.
      • People have complained about headaches and motion sickness caused by the glasses, dubbed 'the Avatar Effect' - polarisation is the technique used in cinemas.
  • Close Shutter:
    • Pros:
      • You might not need a new TV, as there's no requirement for special reflectivity. Each viewing angle is displayed alternately, in sync with the glasses.
      • The glasses don't darken the view or filter on colour, like the previous 2 methods. Full, un-darkened colour palette. Thank you.
    • Cons:
      • Although your TV doesn't need a special screen, there is a question of refresh rates. Your TV has got to be able to change the image fast enough. If not... grab your wallet.
      • The glasses have motorised shutters that go in sync with the film. They'll need recharging, will probably make a noise, are bulky and if they get out of sync, will make you feel ill.
      • It's expensive. You might need a new TV, content will need producing with a double-lensed camera, and the glasses are likely to be steep on price too.
      • Fucking glasses. Motorised ones. Vibrating on your nose bridge. Sounds real fun. You're not going to end up loathing them at all, are you?!
  • Lenticular:
    • Pros:
      • NO GLASSES! The 3D effect is totally generated by the prism screen, meaning no dorky cumbersome glasses are required.
      • No darkening or colour filtering, unlike the anaglyph or polarised methods. Full 3D in full colour. Now we're talking.
    • Cons:
      • Expensive. And I mean expensive. New TV required, currently with a £6,000 price tag. Content needs to be made using a double-lensed camera.
In my 'umble opinion, m'Lud, lenticular appears to be the best. But with a £6,000 price tag for a replacement TV, and (incidentally) the odds-on requirement for a new Blu-Ray player in order to transmit the double images at the same time, it ain't 'appening soon.

Oh, and did I mention that these are all different formats? Anyone remember Betamax? Or HD-DVD? That's right. Expect another format war.

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