Article 14: Is 3D the Future of TV?

Welcome back to the Modern Nerd. This week I want to present my views on something that has many different angles, literally. Three dimensional technologies are new and exciting, but it’s tricky to sort through the hype and see if something like this is for you. Nobody has a window into the future, but the major TV manufacturers want to sell you on the idea that they do, and that window requires electronic glasses. But before I get to ranting too much, let’s look at the different kinds of 3D and whether they are worth the time or trouble or tin.

Back in the Day…

The simplest way to explain a 3D movie or TV is it changes the way your eye perceives the image so your brain thinks that it’s 3D. This used to be accomplished by color. The old style of using red and blue glasses can render an image in 3D, but you lose definition of those colors. The image just isn’t as good. There are several newer methods to produce 3D images that have become more mainstream.

Active Shutters and Polarized Light

When you go to the movie theatres to see a 3D movie these days, you get a pair of disposable 3D glasses. This works with the polarized light projectors (plural) that run in the booth. Two projectors throw up two different images at different polarizations, the glasses act as a filter and show the correct image to the correct eye. It’s a really big step up from Red/Blue and makes 3D movies a cool novelty once in a while.

Where the technology has really started to shine is in active shutter glasses. The human eye can perceive around 30 frames per second to watch a ‘moving’ image. This translates to 60 Hz, or cycles per second refresh rates on monitors and televisions now. Once you double that refresh rate to 120 Hz, you can broadcast an image to each eye separately. The glasses use infrared technology to flash the shutters alternatively to each eye, so you get a clear, full color image and are able to truly “see” in 3D.

You take the Good…

There are very prohibitive costs to upgrading to 3D. The televisions are the highest, because 3D TV’s require you to invest in the 120 Hz technology with active shutters. This is $500 at the entry level up to however much you are willing to spend. Polarized screens are not readily available in a television because LCD screens are already polarized to some degree. You need a pair of glasses for every person who is going to be watching the TV with you, which are around $100 each. Getting a 3D feed for your television is a bit problematic as well, as only the latest sporting events and select shows have any support for 3D. To watch 3D movies, you need a 3D compatible Blu-Ray player and the movies, which are not automatically in 3D just because they are on the Blu-Ray disc. They must be purchased especially for a 3D experience.

That said, there are places where 3D can shine. Laptops and computer monitors have options for 3D screens, and more and more video games are releasing support for 3D. Games can be very enjoyable to play in 3D, and driver companies like NVIDIA have legacy support that will convert an older game into 3D to be compatible. There are many customization options for the computer as well, allowing you to adjust the depth of field and intensity of the 3D effects just like on a high-end television.

You Take the Bad…

There are also some physical concerns with 3D. Because you are physically sitting in front of a screen, and not actually dynamically focusing on things the way your eyes work outside, there will be an adjustment period to the technology. Your eyes and brain will have to ‘learn’ how to let yourself see the 3D image, and headaches and eye fatigue can be a real roadblock to some users. If you have concerns about this, it would be wise to see how your body reacts to going to see a 3D movie before you invest any real money into a theatre system at home.

No Glasses?

There is the possibility that we may see TV’s with 3D capability without the use of 3D glasses. The handheld gaming system, the Nintendo 3DS, has a screen that is 3D-capable, but doesn’t require glasses. This is possible because your vantage point is very singular on such a small screen, and the pixels can be angled in the correct way much like an old style holographic card that will show you two images when you tilt it. Seeing this technology in a TV is still a ways off, but it is a bit of a red flag that you might not want to invest too much in a glasses-style 3D setup if something newer and better is just over the horizon.


3D has a large amount of potential, but to be honest at the end of the day we don’t know where it is and where it will land. It may fall off again or it may be here to stay. I don’t have that answer, but for my own personal opinion, 3D is too much of a gimmick and not for everyday use to be a viable option for a home theatre or watching a game. I would be happy to be proven wrong here, because I see the potential, but there are too many unanswered questions for me. Go out and try it, see if it is for you. My intention is not to turn anyone off to 3D, just to get you to think about what is involved in it. Thanks for reading.

Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer



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