What is 3DTV? Here's everything you wanted to know.

If you've gone to a theater in the last few months or have read various technology blogs, there's no doubt 3D is hottest thing around. Whether you're for or against 3D in the home, anyone looking at TVs these days needs to be educated on what 3D TV means and how it affects your buying decision.

3D is hardly new. In fact, the very first stereoscopic images date back into the 1800s! And while filmmakers and broadcasters have dabbled with anaglyph 3D here and there, today's digital technology is taking video in three dimensions to a whole new level.

So what is 3D? Simply put, 3D (or Stereoscopy if you want to be all 'technical') is any method of adding the illusion of depth to an image. The effect is created by taking advantage of how people perceive depth in the real world. By showing each eye a slightly different image from a different angle (notice how your eyes are spaced out?), the brain resolves to two images into one with the perception of depth!

To do that, though, you have to be able to project a two dimensional images with information destined for each eye. That means there's some serious trickery going on, or an apparatus to help get the right information to each eyeball.

Those Pesky Glasses

Glasses are still very much a part of 3D in the home. The 3DTVs being sold this year rely on two primary methods, polarized and active shutter, but I'll cover the old-school method as well.

Those familiar with 'old school' 3D will instantly recall images with red and blue on each side (color keyed as they call it), and a pair of red and blue colored cardboard glasses. This method has major repercussions on image quality, and thankfully is not the future of digital 3D today.

Passively Polarized systems are like what you'd see in the theater today, essentially filtering out one image for each eye (making it 3D). From the home perspective, the upside is that the glasses are dirt cheap, and can typically be used on any polarized set.


Active shutter systems quickly darken one eye from seeing the screen in rapid, alternating succession in sync with the image on the screen. The TV communicates with the glasses via IR or Bluetooth. Active shutter glasses are far more expensive, upwards of $200 per pair, but most feel give the best 3D experience.  These systems are also proprietary to the television, so the active shutter glasses for your Samsung won't work on a similar set from, say, Sony. Unlike other systems, there are no issues with viewing angles since the glasses block the eye one way or another.

Glasses free technologies do exist, but need much more time to "fully bake" as the expression goes (currently plagued with poor resolution, limited viewing angles, etc). Glasses free 3DTV in the home is years away from any practical big screen application.

The Content

There's a lot of action in 3D, but the majority of it is taking place in the theater. The home scene has little to choose from at the moment, but that's bound to change as more releases make it on to Blu-Ray and certain new 3D stations go on the air courtesy of ESPN and Discovery channel. See a full listing of what you can watch right now.

To watch 3D at home, you'll need a 3DTV, appropriate glasses, and a Blu-Ray player that supports the new 3D standard. If you want to watch TV content as it becomes available, you'll need a cable or satellite box than can receive and output the signal.

If you're into gaming, there's great news in store for you. Later this fall, Sony will be pushing an update to the Playstation 3 that will add 3D gaming capabilities (again, provided you have a 3DTV), and have already started talking about some games that will be available day one.

Want to learn more?

Thankfully, our new sister site, http://www.explore3dtv.com, is completely devoted to the very topic, and chock full of educational articles and the latest news about 3D. Click the image below to get started.


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