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Friday, June 18, 2010

So Why Does 3D Need A 3DTV?

My earliest memory of 3D is watching the decidedly un-spooky yet relatively funny Three Stooges "Spooks", which had a wide variety of object on wires dangled in front of us.

And that was on our old, decidedly non-HD television. So when Sony starts beating the pulpit that you need a TV to experience games and movies off the PlayStation 3 in 3D ... should I believe it?

Well, like so many things in technology - the answer is: sorta. Let's go backwards from the new technology to the old Stooges technology.

Active Shutter Glasses
This is the 3D of choice for television providers. It works by having a signal sent to glasses which alternates the right and left lenses being closed at a very fast refresh rate. The advantage to this tech is that it doesn't put any filter between your eye and the screen, only alternates them - and hence you don't get the muted or distorted colors that other glasses provide.

It is also the technology which requires the most hardware. Since each frame is alternated, you halve your refresh rate. So if your isn't a 120hz television (and many HDTV's in the home today are not), you won't get the 60hz that most moviegoers are used to viewing. Also, something needs to send that signal to the glasses. In theory, you could have an add-on device if you television is 120hz or more ... but hardware providers are focusing on new sets, not add-ons.

However, the technology that is distinct 3D from HD isn't that expensive, so new 3D ready sets should resemble HD prices in the relatively near future.

Polarized Glasses
Also called "passive" glasses, polarized lenses are what cinemas like IMAX used, and I'm guessing what Sony must have used at E3 to show off Killzone 3. These glasses rely on having an image displayed with two different polarities, and quite like those old red and green glasses from the Stooge days ... only one lens allows one kind of polarity to pass.

Since each lens requires a polarized screen, colors are muted when using the passive glasses. However, the big reason you aren't using this at home is because it's suited for projection screens. Flatscreen TV's are already polarized to properly display their pixels and don't really have the capacity to split the views. Existing projection sets may also require additional

Whether games and movies could be made to send out a mode for projection TV's, though - I don't really know. But it doesn't sound like Sony has any plans to offer such a feature.

Anaglyph Glasses
These are the old school, two color, Stooge glasses. The advantage is that they work on nearly anything that can display more than two colors. The bad thing is that they are well known for all the problems 3D can have: ghosting, eye fatigue, washed out colors, etc. So I think there's an unspoken concept of the "new 3D" that they don't want to support the "old 3D".

So the big question is...
Would the availability of anaglyph, which has been used to bring 3D to your home as recently as Coraline, outweigh any of the problems traditionally associated with it? Anaglyph poses two problems for TV makers like Sony: it's a substandard experience and they don't sell any new TV's with it. So having software which supports both active shutter and anaglyph is a cost which would only reduce sales - potentially not the best business strategy.

So the answer might be: you could do anaglyph 3D gaming on your TV, but there's a chance it might make you want to vomit.

I can't feel like I'm missing much. I have yet to see 3D is use where it is really a game changer. Interesting, sure - but maybe by the time I'm ready to retire the not-so-old plasma ... we won't even be using googles anymore.

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