TV makers at next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas will roll out a new category of 3D flat panel HDTV that permits the use of inexpensive, passive 3D glasses, like the ones you get for free in movie theaters.

LG and Vizio have already announced new LED-LCD “passive” models and we expect other TV makers to offer these new 3D sets as entry-level models.

Vizio and LG  fail to mention in their press releases for these products that the technology, called “Passive Pattern Retarder”, halves the vertical resolution of all 3D content!

Blu-ray movies contract from Full HD 1920 x1080 to 1920×540. It gets worse. Cable and DirecTV currently broadcast 3D sports, events and movies in the side-by-side format, typically at a resolution (per eye) of 960 x 1080. Viewed on the new Passive Patterned Retarder sets, the resolution of the side-by-side format drops to 960×540 (per eye), just one-quarter of Full HD.

Many of these reduced resolution patterned retarder sets will also have Internet streaming capabilities and apps. The industry will be calling them Smart TVs.

How They Work

All HD full resolution 3D TVs to date use active shutter glasses that synchronize the left and right eye with each respective image, which is displayed on the HDTV with all 1080 lines sequentially (left, right left right etc.).

A Passive Pattern Retarder (PPR) film coating on the surface of these new 3D TVs, allows the left lens to view only the odd numbered lines (1,3, 5 etc.) for the left eye image, while the right eye lens simultaneously passes only the even numbered image lines (2, 4, 6 etc.). Thus each eye only sees half the vertical resolution at 540 lines per eye.

This technology has been available for some time on LG sets sold overseas and on a JVC and Hyundai professional monitors. In demonstrations we’ve seen, the lower resolution is noticeable, with the wider spaced, fewer lines of resolution visible and reminiscent of the old 525 line analog NTSC standard definition. This is “progress?”

In a press release out of Korea, LG boasts its LW6500 series 3D TVs make 3D viewing more comfortable by using their latest passive glasses that weigh 16 grams (slightly over half an ounce).

They also claim the sets are flicker free, a claim with which we do not disagree since the glasses contain no shutters. However, a number of 2010 Full HD active shutter 3D TVs we’ve tested also had flicker free images.

One more note about PPR 3DTVs, they suffer from a reduced vertical 3D viewing angle when compared to active shutter designs. Depending the distance and angle of view, you could lose the 3D effect if you’re viewing from too high or low of an angle, as when you stand up or sit down.

Will these new entry-level 3D half-resolution sets fly with the public? We will report reactions next week from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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