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Is 3D HDTV Right For You?

by April 26, 2010
Hey, its 3D! Lets spend more money!

Hey, it's 3D! Let's spend more money!

Just in case you haven't purchased enough A/V upgrades in the last few years, the home 3D home-video age is now upon us with plenty of new upgrades for your home theater system. Several brands have already hit the market that meets the new FHD3D standards for full 3D HDTV capabilities. But what exactly are you expected to buy and is it even worthwhile? 

The wave of 3D movies hitting theaters was fun back when it was just the odd feature. But now that it's become a full-blown home entertainment movement there’s a a glut of new 3D movies, premium ticket prices at the theater and now a slew of upgrades for 3D Blu-ray discs are filtering down to the home. Many home theater enthusiasts are left to ask - What do I have to upgrade to keep up with the home entertainment Jones'? 

Having just come off the HD upgrade cycle - are customers suffering upgrade fatigue?  Before embracing a new round of upgrades into 3D HDTV, you have to ask yourself: Does 3D really bring anything to the medium of film? 

We've seen a lot of fundamental upgrades to the film experience most are part of a natural evolution. Hollywood gave us talkies, then color and to keep ahead of TV we got widescreen and Panavision. Now we have HD and surround sound, all of which arguably add to the immersive quality of film even if they’re not critical to telling the story. 3D films have come and gone and come back again. But is it necessary? 

Gaming with 3D 

That 50-inch flat panel or a projector is a worthy upgrade for any home theater system. It’s easy to understand why we want to evolve our TVs from antiquated 60Hz, 480i video display that your grandfather used to adjust the rabbit ears on so he could watch Andy Griffith. 

But 3D! It’s only contribution to the medium of film is turning it into a passive carnival-ride. When 3D effects are done well, it’s a distraction from the story. Contrary to the popular marketing position on 3D - it is the very opposite of “immersive”. By its definition, immersion only occurs when we can’t define individual sensory vehicles. Our senses should literally be lost in the presentation intended by the movie’s director. 

The acoustic equivalent to 3D might be a set of giant, overpowered-subwoofers. For many red-blooded, home theater enthusiasts overpowered and subwoofer is an oxymoron and I would often concur. It’s a thrilling acoustic carnival ride to crank up the sub and blast-out a viewing of T2 on the system and go… wow! But this is not immersion, it’s a flagrant demonstration of powered speakers and gut-rumbling bass. Participants are aware of individual speakers around them and that’s the point. 

But immersion requires balance. Your audio-system should blend all speakers together into a seamless sound-field that takes you sonically into the environment the director intended. At no point should you be thinking about your rear-left channel or your sub-woofer. When a 3D visual effect is done well, you go… “Wow, that rocket leaped off my screen, what a great 3D effect.” It’s probably a wonderful experience in your home for exactly one or two movies before you never want to see a 3D effect or the required viewing glasses again. 

Avatar the Upgrade-Trojan Horse 

Avatar

There was something suspicious about the release and subsequent hoopla around Avatar, including several undeserved Oscar nominations. It’s as if the Oscars and over-publicity of this terribly ordinary sci-fi movie were complicit in a greater consumer strategy. 

Perhaps Avatar is supposed to be the killer-app for consumers, the peak stimulus to create a raging, popular need for 3D video technology in the home. Once consumers are hooked into the idea that they can bring 3D home, the Trojan Horse is wheeled through your door. 

Surprise! Instead of Greek soldiers jumping out of the horse overnight you’ll have Samsung, Monster Cables, Best Buy, Sony auctioning the pieces you’ll need to enjoy the full Avatar 3D experience at home. 

So, if you thought all you need is a 3D movie disc and a 240Hz display – forget it! There are several premium priced pieces to buy for the full 3D home experience. 

3D Upgraditis  

There's a lot of bad info on exactly what you need to upgrade to enjoy 3D in the home. HD had us upgrading everything for the past ten years, 3D HDTV will also require near end-to-end upgrades from media to display – even that brand new HDMI 1.3 A/V Receiver will need to be replaced, although there are workarounds.  

FHD3D Display 

Maybe you’ve had a chance to casually examine some of the new 3D HDTV sets hitting the showroom of local big-box stores. After a first-hand look at the effect you’ll be pleased to see that the home 3D HDTV effect is practically flawless and even cleaner than at the theater. 

3D displays use the FHD3D standard. It displays two high-def video signals at 1920 X 1080 resolution, one for each eye for the stereoscopic 3D effect. Special glasses are required and these can be expensive, so if you’re looking for the hardware, make sure you try to land a package deal with two or more pairs of glasses included. You can try using Real-3D glasses from the local Cineplex, but they don’t work. It’s a completely different standard. 

The good news about FHD3D is that it’s widely accepted across the consumer electronics fold. There seems to be little chance that a competing format will step up and divide the industry. 

The bad news is that despite what some have been saying, any-old 240hz (or greater) capable display is not enough to make it compatible with the new 3D standard. Your HDTV must specifically be capable of FHD3D to accept the 3D video signals. 

The source for the new standard will be a 3D Blu-ray player capable of outputting the FHD3D content to a compatible HDTV. If you’re a PlayStation 3 user, Sony has already announced an upcoming firmware revision that will turn the PS3 in an FHD3D capable Blu-ray player. 

Some FHD3D TV sets will be capable of 3D upconversion (or 3D interpolation). This will be a sort of ‘fake’ 3D effect processing you can impose on material intended for 2D. This is outside the accepted 3D standards and won’t yield the same quality results as native 3D material. It’s a bit like Dolby Pro-Logic turning two-channel stereo sound into a multi-channel audio matrix.

HDMI 1.4 

3D LED HDTV

Oh no! Not another HDMI version. Oh, yes! An HDMI upgrade is in your future if you want to enjoy the new 3D standard. Unfortunately that new AV receiver you just upgraded for HDMI 1.3 won't pass the new FHD3D signals. You can of course, bypass the receiver by sending the Blu-ray player’s HDMI output to your TV and use an alternate digital output on the Blu-ray player to your surround sound receiver. But as you guessed, digital audio outs aren't capable of the new lossless audio standards that had you upgrading to an HDMI 1.3 receiver in the first place.  

Finally, the most blatantly underhanded online source for misinformation is the big-box retailer itself. Be ready for sales staff to inform that all of your 'old' HDMI cables will need to be upgraded to costly new HDMI 1.4 cables. That's generally not true. 

This is taken directly from the Expert Advice page from the scurvy dogs at FutureShop.ca: 

"HDMI 1.4 cables
Connecting to your 3D-capable sources like 3D-capable Blu-ray players will require new cables that are certified for 3D use. Look for the HDMI 1.4 designation to ensure that you're buying a compatible cable."
 

This is the kind of 'expert advice' that will have you spending hundreds of dollars on expensive Monster Cables. 

HDMI 1.4 has a maximum bit-rate of 10.2 Gbps, identical to what they now call Category 2 HDMI 1.3. The FHD3D standard has a data-rate of 6.75 Gbps. Older HDMI 1.3 cables, now known as Category 1, have a minimum data rate of 2.25Gbps. This means older HDMI 1.3 cables might work but might not - but newer HDMI 1.3 cables will most certainly pass the 6.75Gbps required for the FHD3D standard. The only way to know is to try your existing HDMI cables, the solution is certainly not to dutifully buy the recommended $100+ Monster Cables your big-box retailer will suggest. 

If You Must Go 3D

So, you’ve decided you’re in the market for a 3DHD panel. If you don’t already have an HDTV you really can’t go wrong if you’re willing to spend the extra premium. Even if you don’t plan on using it exclusively for 3D, these are fine 2D HDTVs as well. The new sets you’ll find also include all the competitive features that modern displays carry these days; like Wireless N, DLNA and of course 240Hz refresh rates. It’s likely that someday nearly all new HDTVs sold will be capable of the FHD3D standard. But hey, if you’re an early adopter that likes to ride the leading edge of the technology-curve - more power to you!

 

About the author:

Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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Recent Forum Posts:

BMXTRIX posts on April 29, 2010 13:39
Jack Hammer, post: 713355
I bought a new TV 6 months ago and if I felt HD3D was halfway workable with what's offered now I'd consider a new one. As someone who is interested in A/V I would normally consider becoming an early adopter because I don't want to wait for the new toys. However with 3D so far, IMO, there isn't much point to becoming an early adopter yet, there's just little if any content available and the technology is progressing forward without that content. Until there's content there is no point in owning technology that may or may not work with it in 6 months. As soon as it is all there I'll seriously consider upgrading, until then I'll wait on the sidelines.
I think that this is definitely the case for a lot of people at this point. The main advantage of 3D is that it encourages new purchasers to get their ‘premium’ model TV for the next year or two, but on its own, 3D has very little to offer.

Not sure when you bought your first HDTV, but there were very few who bought into that 10 years ago when there was only the RCA DTC100 DirecTV receiver and a couple of channels of minimum content HD. It's not much different now with 3D, but the big (huge!) plus is that 3D doesn't take away from the 2D TV, and is part of the premium 2D displays.

I will watch my budget this year and will hopefully get a good 3D projector if it comes to market. But, I'm keeping my options open.

I do know that I don't want to buy something now, and moving forward, which is not up to date with the 3D spec. So, my next BD player will have 3D capability, as will my next A/V receiver and display. Since I likely would buy the nicer product anyway, then I want to make sure I'm covered for when content is available.

But, I'm sure not going to upgrade right away without any content. I will wait, at the very least, until Avatar is released in 3D on Blu.
s162216 posts on April 29, 2010 03:20
Alice in Wonderland might not have looked as good becasue it was filmed in traditional “2D” and then digitally converted to the 3D format.
Jack Hammer posts on April 28, 2010 15:25
AV_Integrated, post: 713302
See, but this is what every typical consumer says. It's not a ‘this tech sucks’ attitude, but a ‘let’s wait a bit' mentaility and is very typical of the average consumer.

The best part is, those who wait a few years will have a lot of content to choose from including TV and tons of BD movies available as well as video games.

I mean, it is very interesting to note that there are a lot of discussions about 3D right now, but you can't buy a single 3DBD at this time in any store. The only 3D Blu-rays available are packaged with the TVs you buy, and nothing else is out there.

Let me ask you this:
Were you all set to buy a brand new TV this year? Was that originally a part of your plans? Or did you think you probably would wait a few years to buy a TV anyway?

If the later, then when you do buy, it seems like 3D will be something you might consider.

But what about if it was the former? I would guess that you just didn't want the high end Samsung or Sony display which has it… which is fine. Just curious really.
I bought a new TV 6 months ago and if I felt HD3D was halfway workable with what's offered now I'd consider a new one. As someone who is interested in A/V I would normally consider becoming an early adopter because I don't want to wait for the new toys. However with 3D so far, IMO, there isn't much point to becoming an early adopter yet, there's just little if any content available and the technology is progressing forward without that content. Until there's content there is no point in owning technology that may or may not work with it in 6 months. As soon as it is all there I'll seriously consider upgrading, until then I'll wait on the sidelines.
AV_Integrated posts on April 28, 2010 12:26
Jack Hammer, post: 713296
To date I've seen 3dTV twice. The first was on a 50“ tv watching tech divers on a deep wreck, I was amazed at how good it looked. Then I found out it was, IIRC, ~$30k in processing and was a professional setup way beyond what is affordable to most. The second time was seeing ”Alice in Wonderland" in 3d IMAX and I wasn't impressed. There were a few moments that were really cool, but overall it felt gimmicky to me.

Based on these limited experiences and everything I keep hearing and reading I'll wait a few years before I consider jumping on board. I just don't see the point in wasting money for equipment that at this time will likely be outdated or inferior before we have any real content to view.
See, but this is what every typical consumer says. It's not a ‘this tech sucks’ attitude, but a ‘let’s wait a bit' mentaility and is very typical of the average consumer.

The best part is, those who wait a few years will have a lot of content to choose from including TV and tons of BD movies available as well as video games.

I mean, it is very interesting to note that there are a lot of discussions about 3D right now, but you can't buy a single 3DBD at this time in any store. The only 3D Blu-rays available are packaged with the TVs you buy, and nothing else is out there.

Let me ask you this:
Were you all set to buy a brand new TV this year? Was that originally a part of your plans? Or did you think you probably would wait a few years to buy a TV anyway?

If the later, then when you do buy, it seems like 3D will be something you might consider.

But what about if it was the former? I would guess that you just didn't want the high end Samsung or Sony display which has it… which is fine. Just curious really.
Jack Hammer posts on April 28, 2010 12:11
To date I've seen 3dTV twice. The first was on a 50“ tv watching tech divers on a deep wreck, I was amazed at how good it looked. Then I found out it was, IIRC, ~$30k in processing and was a professional setup way beyond what is affordable to most. The second time was seeing ”Alice in Wonderland" in 3d IMAX and I wasn't impressed. There were a few moments that were really cool, but overall it felt gimmicky to me.

Based on these limited experiences and everything I keep hearing and reading I'll wait a few years before I consider jumping on board. I just don't see the point in wasting money for equipment that at this time will likely be outdated or inferior before we have any real content to view.
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