Reviews & Articles

Getting Started With 3D

Last Updated: December 31, 2010

This guide will show you exactly what you need to get 3D in your home.

Why is 3D Better?
3D Setup
Minimum Requirements
Recommended Setup

Why is 3D Better?

An introductory explanation of conventional (2D) TV and how 3D works is beneficial in understanding what 3D adds to your viewing experience. This is explained in the following sections. If you’re unsure if 3D is right for you try it out at your local TV retailer.

Conventional TV

Our natural real-world vision is stereoscopic, meaning that each of our two eyes sees everything from a slightly different position and angle. This allows us to perceive the world in three dimensions, horizontally, vertically, and with depth.

When we watch a conventional (two dimensional) video both eyes see the same picture. We see the objects shown in the video as flat due to the lack of a different perspective for each eye. After watching for a minute or two we “zone in” to the video, subconsciously forgetting about the TV and other objects around us. In this state our brain can make up for some of the loss of depth perception by using visual cues in the picture such as the size, angle, position and movement of objects and relate them to our real-world three dimensional vision experience but the missing critical stereoscopic component of vision cannot be overcome.

3D TV

Samsung 3D ConceptA 3D television makes it possible to display different images to each eye. This provides the facility to display the same picture from two different perspectives, one for each eye, thereby restoring stereoscopic vision.

The most common technique used by 3D TV’s in the home is through the use of active-shutter glasses which block the vision of one eye by making the lens in the glasses opaque while the image for the other eye is displayed on the screen. The same is performed for the alternate eye and the process repeats, typically 60 times per second. This happens so quickly that we don’t notice that each eye is being blocked, similar to how we don’t really notice when we blink our eyes (which is much slower at around a third of a second).

Benefits of 3D

3D provides a more immersive experience when watching movies, sport and documentaries by providing true depth perception. 3D also enhances computer games, and in some games, particularly those involving driving or sports, 3D can give you an advantage by allowing you to better judge distances and therefore the timing of certain actions such as cornering or hitting a ball.

PS3 and Xbox 360 Game Consoles
PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360

3D Setup

The Basics

To get set up for 3D you will need 3D equipment, such as a 3D capable television and glasses, and 3D content, like 3D capable games, movies or television channels. While most 3D televisions can convert standard 2D content to 3D automatically through the use of special image processing, the quality varies and it is only suited to certain content. It’s an interesting concept but it tends to cause eye-strain and is therefore more of a gimmick than something you would use regularly.

3D TV

The main setup cost is in purchasing a 3D capable TV and varies depending on the size, display technology (Plasma or LCD/LED), brand and model. Costs of 3D TV’s have continued to fall since their introduction and prices for the same model vary from store to store.

It is also possible to use a 3D projector but these are quite expensive for the typical home and room size and layout should be carefully considered.

Samsung 3D Glasses

Samsung 3D Glasses

Glasses

The cost for glasses can also be significant. They are generally specific to a TV manufacturer and not interchangeable, though some third-party glasses compatible with multiple TV’s are now appearing. Cost varies from one manufacturer to another and between models, with rechargeable glasses being more expensive than those requiring batteries and adult sized glasses being more expensive than glasses for children where available. Some TV’s include one or two pair of glasses in the box but others have none. Check with the retailer or manufacturer.

Tip: Bonus Bundles

Look for bonus bundles offered by manufacturers and retailers. These usually contain additional glasses, 3D movies, 3D games, or even 3D Blu-ray players, cameras, games consoles and a combination of several items, a huge saving if you are considering purchasing the items separately. Read the conditions for the bonus carefully before you buy as there are often requirements such as purchasing only from authorized resellers (which excludes many online-only stores) and some are offered only by redemption, requiring the submission of an application form, payment of postage and handling fees, and sometimes with lengthy delivery times.

Minimum Requirements

The indicative prices in the following setups are based on advertised prices for new equipment from discount retailers as at December 30, 2010. For the major 3D TV component a Samsung PN50C7000 (US) / PS50C7000 (Europe) 50″ plasma 1080p 3D TV is used at a cost of $1500. Prices for 1080p 3D TV’s vary between $1200 and $4500 depending on the display type, size, series and brand.

Watching Live 3D Television

  • 3D capable TV with in-built HDTV tuner ($1500)
  • Active shutter glasses (free with TV or bonus bundle, additional pairs $80 – $200)
  • One or more 3D channels to watch

Total Cost: $1500

There are not many 3D channels at present but this is expected to increase in the near future. Availability varies from country to country and from one provider to another.

It is also possible to watch 3D television on a computer using a 3D HDTV receiver card and a 3D monitor or TV with active shutter glasses but this is more difficult to set up and suitable only for technical enthusiasts.

Watching 3D Movies

Alice in Wonderland 3D Blu-ray

  • 3D capable TV ($1500)
  • Active shutter glasses (free with TV or bonus bundle, additional pairs $80 – $200)
  • 3D Blu-ray player (stand-alone $200, or a Sony PlayStation 3 $300)
  • High-speed HDMI cable ($20)
  • One or more 3D movies on Blu-ray ($15-$35)

Total Cost: $1720 to $1820 + movies

The quality of 3D movies varies. Look for movies that were made for 3D and check reviews before purchasing. Some regular 2D movies have been post-converted to 3D, similar to the automatic 2D to 3D conversion mentioned earlier but with additional manual adjustments. To do it well requires a lot of time and unfortunately some movies have been converted quickly just to get “3D” status. The quality of these 3D conversions varies greatly, with most in the poor to ok range, though there are a few exceptions.

Playing 3D Games

Motorstorm 3D Rift

  • 3D capable TV ($1500) or 3D capable monitor ($300)
  • Active shutter glasses (free with TV or bonus bundle, additional pairs $80 – $200)
  • PlayStation 3 ($300), Xbox 360 with HDMI ($300), or PC upgrade ($800)
  • High-speed HDMI cable for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, high speed HDMI cable or dual-link DVI cable for PC depending on the video card and monitor or TV  ($20)
  • One or more stereoscopic 3D games ($10 to $110)

Total Cost: $1120 to $1820 + games

Depending on the gaming platform that you choose (PS3, Xbox 360 or PC) the number and quality of 3D games will vary. The PS3 and PC have native 3D support for full resolution 3D games but not all games use this format. 3D Xbox 360 games generally use a half-resolution side-by-side display format and require the TV to be manually changed to the appropriate 3D mode. 

You will get the best all-round experience with the following setup, allowing you to watch 3D television and movies, play 3D games, and enjoy an immersive audio experience from the surround sound that comes with them.

  • 3D capable TV with in-built HDTV tuner ($1500)
  • Active shutter glasses (free with TV or bonus bundle, additional pairs $80 – $200)
  • PlayStation 3 ($300)
  • High-speed HDMI cable  ($20)
  • Surround sound system: receiver ($200 with 3D passthrough), speakers ($400 low-end 5.1 set), (total $600)

Total Cost: $2420 + movies and games

Notes

3D TV Logos
A 46 inch or greater TV size is recommended depending on your budget and how far you will be sitting from the TV. Both Plasma and LCD (LED back-lit or side-lit) are fine but picture quality varies between models. Popular brands are Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and LG. Several other manufacturers now also have 3D TV’s.

The Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) (with free firmware update 3.50 or later) makes an ideal media centre as it provides many 3D features in one device. It supports native HDMI 3D, has many current and upcoming 3D games, supports viewing of 3D MPO photos using the free Play Memories application, playing 3D video files with the in-built video player and is also a 3D Blu-ray player for 3D movies on Blu-ray disc.

A 5.1 surround sound system, comprising a receiver or amplifier and six speakers (center, front left, front right, side left, side right, subwoofer) is recommended. Many new receivers are now 7.1, adding rear left and right speakers. You don’t have to purchase all speakers at once as virtually all receivers allow you to configure which speakers are present. You can generally start with three speakers (center, front left, front right) and add more over time as your budget allows. While 7.1 (and indeed 6.1, 7.2 and 9.1) surround sound is better than 5.1 only a few movies and games support 7.1 natively and sound to the additional two speakers (if present) is simulated when playing 5.1 or 6.1 encoded audio. Unless you are a hi-fi enthusiast and have the budget and space for the additional speakers the improvement over 5.1 does not usually justify the additional cost.

Note that if you want to connect your 3D TV through the receiver, which is advisable if possible, you’ll need a receiver that supports 3D video, usually labeled as 3D or HDMI 1.4 or 1.4a compliant. The alternative, if you only have a HDMI 1.3 or earlier receiver, is to connect the TV directly to the video source device and the audio to the receiver via a separate connection. Some 3D Blu-ray players have dual HDMI connections for this purpose and games consoles such as the PlayStation 3 have a separate optical audio connection to provide this capability.