Technology Talk


Grab your glasses – Here’s more 3D TV

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3D TV has been the holy grail of home entertainment enthusiasts since the days when moviegoers donned blue and red spectacles to view such classics as House of Wax and It Came From Outer Space in the 1950s. Since then, 3D technology has gone through many ups and downs (with Jaws 3D being a notable down), but no serious attempts to bring it to the home television market had been undertaken. This all changed two years ago with the debut of James Cameron’s Avatar. With stunning visual effects and even more stunning box-office returns, Avatar catapulted 3D technology back into the forefront of emerging technologies. Avatar quickly became the highest grossing movie of all time, thanks in no small part to the large percentage of viewers who were willing to pay a premium to see the movie in 3D. The consumer interest, and potential profits, of 3D technology were not lost on television manufacturers.

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As with any new technology, there are some problems and concerns with 3D television. Price is a major factor in any decision to purchase a 3D TV. Prices for 3D sets start at around double what a comparable 2D set would cost. If you add in additional costs such as extra 3D glasses, the price can really start to add up in a hurry! For 3D sets that use active glasses, extra pairs can run more than $150! The active glasses are also bulky, require batteries (another cost), work only with specific sets and must maintain constant communication with a transmitter on the TV or they will lose sync and stop rendering 3D properly! Most sets only come with one or two sets of glasses, so a family of four can expect to shell out an additional $300 or more just to let the entire family watch a 3D movie together! Another hidden cost of 3D is in the extra equipment necessary to view 3D movies. That blue-ray player you paid a mint for last year won’t cut it—you’ll need an upgraded model to watch 3D HD movies. Most digital tuners will require an upgrade to view 3D television content like that offered by ESPN 3D. And, since 3D is an immersive experience, it works better with a larger field of view. This means that, to get the best 3D experience, you need to buy the largest screen you can afford or fit into your living room! Bigger screens are, of course, more expensive but can have a huge impact on the quality of your 3D experience!

Entertainment variety is another consideration with 3D TV. Unless you just want to watch Avatar over and over again, there isn’t a whole lot to choose from right now. The list of titles is growing, and broadcasters like Discovery and ESPN are starting to offer 3D programming, but the pickings are still pretty slim! Some movies are being converted to the 3D format, but true, original 3D content is developing more slowly. As more home viewers adopt 3D technology, the variety of content is sure to increase—it’s simply a matter of how long you’re willing to wait to see an entertainment return on your investment! One of the bright spots on the variety horizon is with home video game consoles. Sony and Microsoft are both pushing 3D titles for their Playstation and Xbox consoles. If the gaming community drives up 3D sales, more manufacturers and producers will be willing to take the plunge into the 3D market.

Advances in glassless, or autostereoscopic, 3D technology may make you want to wait before adopting one of the current models of 3D televisions. Current models all use glasses to help your eyes interpret the 3D images. Whether those glasses are the wildly expensive active models or the less-pricey passive models, they all still require you to wear a set of 3D glasses for the entire length of the movie—even if the glasses are ill-fitting, heavy or uncomfortable! There is hope for the future, as some manufacturers, most notably Toshiba, have production model 3D TVs that are slated for release this year and don’t require the use of special glasses! However, 3D TVs that don’t require glasses have been promised to consumers for years; so far, none have entered mass production!

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The autostereoscopic 3D sets solve the problem of bulky or expensive glasses, but they also create a new set of considerations. The sets use parallax barrier technology to create a 3D image without the need for glasses. This is done, in its simplest form, by having the screen, or a barrier in front of the screen, act as the 3D glasses, splitting the image and sending it to the correct eye to create a 3D effect. In essence, the screen acts as a giant pair of 3D glasses, allowing multiple viewers to see the 3D image from different angles while watching the TV. In practice, the technology still has some kinks that early adopters may want to think about. The image is dependent upon the correct part of the split image reaching the correct eye—viewing angle and motion can severely affect the quality of the 3D picture! The screen ends up creating viewing “zones”—each of these zones is an ideal place to view the 3D image from. If you’re not sitting in one of the zones, you may have a distorted or nonexistent 3D image! If you have more people than the TV has zones, someone may be out of luck! Even if you’re lucky enough to be in the “sweet spot” zone (directly in front of the TV), slight movements of your head can cause the 3D image to fall apart! So, to get the most out of your autostereoscopic 3D TV, all you need to do is make sure you never invite more people than you have viewing zones and only invite guests who can remain nearly motionless for the full 171 minutes of Avatar!

I kid! 3D TV may be the best thing to happen to TV since that whole color thing, but it is an early technology, and, as such, there will be growing pains! Without early adopters, no technology would make it off the ground floor; however, even if you always have to have the latest and greatest tech out there, it won’t hurt you to do some homework and make sure that the hidden costs, early bugs and as-yet-undiscovered quirks don’t end up costing you more than you’re willing to spend for the early adopter bragging rights!

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