3DTV Buyers Guide

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about 3D HDTV. However, the poor roll-out and competing viewing formats has made 3D one of the most confusing features ever.

This guide will help you decide which 3D-equipped HDTV is right for you.

What It Is

View-Master3DTV is more accurately described as “stereoscopic” television. You may recall View-Master slide viewers, these are an early example of 3DTV, just minus the TV part. The underlying principle is the same: Two distinct views are made of the same object, one as the left eye sees it, and the other as the right eye would see it. To view in 3D, the left eye must only see the left eye view and the right eye the right view.

If there is leakage between the different views (as in, the left eye sees some of the right image, or vice versa), ghost images appear when viewing. This is known as crosstalk, an obvious artifact that degrades the viewing experience.

Types of 3D

There are two distinct types of 3D televisions: active and passive.

Passive 3D requires the cheap, lightweight glasses you get at most 3D movie theaters. These “circular polarized” glasses are interchangeable among the different passive 3DTV brands, like LG and Toshiba. A number of 3rd-party companies now sell passive 3D glasses as well. The proponents of passive 3D, like LG, continue to campaign against the active format. Passive 3D TVs assign half their lines of resolution to each eye, so at any given moment each eye receives 1,920×540 resolution.

Active 3D uses battery-powered Óactive-shutter” glasses with simple LCDs as lenses. These block/pass the light when synced to the television. The glasses are manufacturer specific 3D glasses, and as they are more complex than passive 3D glasses, cost more. Moste sync to the TV with IR (infrared, like a remote) but a growing number are wireless (Bluetooth, etc). Active 3D TVs provide full-1080p resolution to each eye.

There are a number of “universal” glasses offered by Xpand, Monster, and others, but as nearly all active-shutter have a brand-specific tint, these universal glasses may not have exactly the same color characteristics.

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In addition to a 3DTV, you need a 3D source. The most common is Blu-ray. Currently, Blu-ray players with 3D as a feature command a slight price premium over their 2D-only counterparts. Even so, inexpensive 3D Blu-ray players abound. Blu-ray is currently the only way to get full-1080p 3D. All other sources have lower 3D resolution.

There are 139 3D Blu-ray titles available now.

Check out our 2011 Blu-ray Player Buyer’s Guide.


A growing number of cable providers, along with DirecTV, are offering 3D channels.

3net logoDirecTV and Comcast and have carried ESPN 3D since its launch. Time Warner Cable and Verizons FiOS followed suit shortly thereafter.

Starz 3D is available VOD on Cablevision, Cox, Verizon, Blue Ridge, and Comcast (the latter also has Xfinity 3D).

DirecTV also offers dedicated 3D channels like n3D, 3net, and DirecTV Cinema (a VOD service).

Even though most providers are offering some 3D, it’s often limited to one or two channels.

Types of 3D

Unlike Blu-ray 3D, all other sources of 3D are partial-resolution. This is out of the need to fit the 3D signal in the same space as a 2D signal. Geoff has a detailed article about the technology behind this.

The short version is this: Blu-ray uses Frame Sequential, which has full-resolution frames of video for each eye.

Side-by-Side packs the left and right eye info, exactly as it sounds, side-by-side in the space of one  2D image. Viewed without a 3D TV, this would look like two horizontally-squeezed images next to each other. Each eye, ideally, gets 960×1080 resolution. When viewed on a passive 3DTV, this is further reduced to 960×540, as each horizontal line on the TV is reserved for a specific eye.

Top/Bottom packs the left and right info on top of each other, looking like two vertically-squeezed images if viewed on a 2D set. Here, each eye gets 1,920×540 resolution.

The TVs

Remember, 3D is a feature. All 3DTVs can display a 2D image. Currently, 3D doesn’t add much of a price premium over 2D TVs. For example, here’s an LG Infinia 55LV5500 55-Inch 1080p 120Hz LED-LCD HDTV with Smart TV for $1289.99 via Amazon Direct

And here’s LG Infinia 55LW5600 55-Inch 3D 1080p 120Hz LED-LCD HDTV with Four Pairs of 3D Glasses. Same features plus passive 3D & glasses for $89 dollars more at $1,374.99 via Amazon Direct. .

Samsung has the UN46D6300 46-Inch 1080p 120Hz LED HDTV for is $ $1,074.92 via Amazon Direct.

and the UN46D6500 46-Inch 1080p 120HZ 3D LED TV for $1,099.98. That’s a difference of $25.06

Or you can go plasma with the Panasonic VIERA TC-P50S30 50-Inch 1080p Plasma HDTV which is $794.99.

The next step up Panasonic, the VIERA TC-P50ST30 50-Inch 1080p 3D Plasma HDTV.

Samsung PN51D550Samsung’s PN59D530 59-Inch 1080p 600Hz Plasma HDTV 51-inch plasma is $869.98 via Amazon Direct.

or their step up, the PN51D550 51-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Plasma HDTV is $899.99.

Generally speaking, adding 3D adds about $30 on mid-range 46-to-50-inch TVs, and about $100 for mid-range 55-inch.

All top-of-the-line TVs have 3D. And 3D TVs make the best 2D pictures .



Gary Merson
Geoff Morrison ¬  @TechWriterGeoff
Check out Geoff’s book.


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