3D TV Guide the latest BIG thing in Display Technology

We have experienced 3D in movie theaters. Now 3D has come to the home thanks to the latest 3D TV technology and an extensive range of 3D HDTVs, 3D-enabled Blu-ray players, and 3D broadcast content.

Some have labeled 3D television as the latest big thing in display technology. Others say it would be hard for 3D to catch up in the home. While for some, 3D HDTVs are just the latest gimmick from TV makers to make you buy more stuff.

The truth is that there is a lot more to the 3D experience in the home than just a 3D-enabled HDTV and a source of 3D content. Admittedly, it is not all glitters; the present implementation of 3D has its downside as well; rather, 3D technology has still a lot of burdens to overcome to become the mainstream TV technology in home entertainment.

Discover more in this Guide to 3D Television Technology.

3D TV: a new form of home entertainment

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The move by the TV industry towards 3D entertainment in the home was something to be expected. The success of 3D movies in local cinemas surely could not have gone unnoticed. 3D films turned out to be a big hit in the movie theater. And James Cameron’s Avatar has drawn an even larger number of moviegoers, rolling up an amazing $2.5 billion worldwide in the first 66 days!

It is clear that the consumer electronics and entertainment industries believe that moving 3D into the home should translate into an equally success story. At least this was the target when the first 3D plasma and LED LCD HDTVs were released for the consumer market in 2010.

But sales of 3D televisions during 2010 were a total flop! As we stated at that time, sales predictions for 3D TVs were too optimistic. There were still too many challenges the technology had to overcome to become the TV technology of choice. In particular, the technology lacked the ease of use, convenience, and affordability many expect from a product addressed to the mass market.

Since then, a lot of things have changed despite the short time span. In particular, the price of 3D televisions has become more affordable as 3D is now being embedded into a larger number of HDTVs at both the mid-range and premium categories; rather, it has become impossible to find a premium HDTV without 3D. The truth is that TV makers have realized that pushing 3D on its own does not sell, but once bundled with a more enhanced feature set, yes.

So there we have 3D!

2010 will surely be remembered as the year of 3D television, as LG, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic and Vizio, all came with their first 3D flat-panel TVs. Mind you, these were not the first 3D HDTVs for the consumer market. The first 3D-ready TVs were DLP HDTVs released by Samsung and Mitsubishi in 2007.

These DLP 3D HDTVs used Texas Instruments wobulated DMD chip, which created a 1920 x 1080 pixel image from a 960 x 1080 DMD chip through the use of an optical actuator that offset (wobulate) the image by ½ pixel 120 times a second to create the full 1080p 60Hz image. It was this ½-pixel displacement of the optical actuator on the DLP chip that made it possible for Samsung and Mitsubishi DLP HDTVs to integrate 3-D capability, using a checkerboard pattern to display 3D content. As with active 3D-glasses technology, these early 3D-ready DLP HDTVs made use of an LCD shutter glasses for the viewer to be able to see the image in 3D.

In 2008, we saw a total of 13 DLP 3D-Ready HDTVs – including the Mitsubishi flagship L65A90 65-Inch Laser DLP; eventually, this was replaced by the Mitsubishi L75-A91 75-inch Laser DLP HDTV. But 2008 was also the year when we had the first flat-screen 3D HDTVs. It was again Samsung that managed to achieve this first with its PNA450 series plasma TVs. This situation repeated itself in 2009 with Mitsubishi DLP 3D-ready HDTVs and Samsung’s Series B450 plasma 3D TVs.

In other words, the 3D HDTV is not a 2010 invention despite that 2010 is being marked by many as the year when 3D HDTVs made their debuted on store shelves. However, what was different in 2010 with the new 3D TVs is that these supported Full HD 3D. Instead, the 3D Television technology as adopted in previous years using the checkerboard pattern, resulted in a 3D image with half the image resolution supported by full 1080p HDTV; this is basically the same as the passive 3D-glasses technology introduced in 2011.

Yet there is one more important difference. There was no such collective effort by both electronic manufactures and the entertainment industry prior to 2010, to come up with all that is necessary to move 3D into the home. You see, a 3D HDTV alone would not bring you 3D entertainment. You need a 3D-enabled playback device and a source of 3D content.

But what is this 3D Television Technology we are talking about?

I think that before continuing with our discussion, it is important for one to have an understanding of what is this 3D TV technology we are talking about now.

The short answer is that 3D television is a display technology that enables viewers in the home to experience TV programs, movies and video games in what is referred to as a stereoscopic effect. It relies on the use of stereopsis, or separation (more commonly known in 3D viewing as parallax); this separation is necessary to add the illusion of a third dimension to an otherwise two-dimensional flat image.

This illusion is created by simultaneously displaying two separate full-size but slightly different images of the same scene―one for the left eye and the other for the right eye. The differences in the two images are intended to mimic in very simple terms, the way the human vision system sees an object. The distance separating our eyes―referred to as interpupillary distance―helps the eyes see objects from a slightly different angle, leading to two slightly but distinct images. The brain then processes these differences to generate among others, depth information to create the 3-dimensional image.

Differences between 3D Television Technology and Human Vision

While 3D Television relies on the use of two slightly different images in a similar manner to the human vision system to build a 3-dimensional representation, yet there are a few distinct differences in the way we see a 3-dimensional object and the way 3D TV works.

As we further explain in our article ‘3D Technology and the Human Vision‘, the fact that 3D TV technology generates the illusion of depth by presenting two 2D images on a flat screen is a totally unnatural event for the brain. When we are viewing an object in space, two sets of eye muscles get into action―the convergence muscles which directs the left and right eye towards the same point in space and therefore to converge (because of the interpupillary distance) to the same point, and the eye focusing muscles which causes the eyeball to accommodate to produce a focused image of the object.

The brain directs these two sets of eye muscles to the same point in space because this is the way human vision works, yet present 3D television technology only addresses the issue of convergence. In other words, the convergence point and the eye focusing point in the case of a 3D generated illusion exist at two different points in space, with the focusing being fixed on the TV screen while the converge being set at a different point depending on the parallax, or difference between the two left and right 2D-images.

This disparity between convergence and focusing leads to various undesirable effects. It is also the reason why producers shooting movie content for 3D presentations use different shooting techniques to those used with ordinary 2D material to minimize as much as possible these effects.

With some viewers, this disparity may even lead to ill effects like prolonged disorientation and headaches when viewing 3D content.  Worst still, the fact that the human brain makes use of various cues to determine relative image depth, delivering relative depth information through convergence alone is not always enough for some viewers to see the 3D illusion created by 3D imaging technology.

The implication here is that some may be literally blind to this 3D TV technology. It is estimated that 3D-blind viewers amount to several million viewers in the US alone. The irony is that the TV industry is not doing anything for these viewers to hopefully start enjoying the 3D TV experience like the rest of us.

We discuss this issue in further detail in our article ‘3D Television: It is NOT for Everyone‘.

Challenges of 3D in the Home

Well, 3D TV in the home has become a reality, yet despite the sharp rise in the sales of 3D HDTVs we saw during 2011, and a rise that is expected to continue during 2012, studies show that consumers buying 3D TVs are not doing so for the sake of the third dimension, but simply because 3D is being made available on a wider range of TVs. Even more of a concern is that those with a 3D TV are not watching more 3D content at home. Why?

As stated in our article, ‘Is It Worth Investing in a 3D HDTV?‘, we believe that 3D TV technology has still a number of serious hurdles to overcome for 3D at home to become a mass market preposition. Definitely, the worst problem relates to the use of the 3D glasses. The more comfortable passive 3D glasses technology cuts the image resolution by half, while full HD active 3D glasses systems are still hindered by a bundle of picture glitches; in the meantime, glassless 3D TV technology is both very expensive and far from perfect.

And overall, the less immersive 3D experience at home leaves a lot to be desired. In addition, the lack of 3D content, the general consumer reluctance to pay extra for 3D content, and consumers’ unwillingness to upgrade just for the sake of 3D TV alone, are equally major issues of concern for both the TV manufacturing and TV entertainment industries.

Different 3D Television Formats

So far, we did not mention anything about the most common 3D television formats. These 3D formats span from the Side-by-Side 3D as used by DirecTV and Sony’s PlayStation Top/Bottom 3D, to the latest Blu-ray 3DTM format.

Some originally thought that the different formats would eventually lead to a 3D format war. But this was never in the pipeline as when the first 3D TVs appeared in 2010, all 3D TV makers confirmed that their HDTVs comply with practically all 3D TV standards in use.

We discuss the most common 3D TV formats in our article ‘3D Television Formats‘. The article also tries to explain in very simple terms why not all 3D TV formats need the latest HDMI 1.4 to deliver 3D content.

Most Frequently Asked Questions

3D Television is a relatively new technology; and as with all new technologies, there often arise numerous questions about 3D for which many would like to have just short, straight-to-the-point answers.

Our ‘3D Television FAQs‘ page presents in a concise form, answers to some of the most common frequently asked questions on 3D technology. Despite the concise nature of the answers, the overall information presented in our 3D FAQ page may still serve as a short reference guide to all that relates to the world of 3D TV.

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