3D Fits and Starts

3D at home can be fun, but in my reviews of 3D displays from most major manufacturers (Sony, Samsung, LG, Toshiba, and Panasonic), I've come across a problem that has been little noted. This problem is not with the displays themselves, all of which do a good job with the 3D effect, apart from occasional ghosting or crosstalk (double images when one eye sees the image meant for the other eye).

I've used first-generation 3D players from all the above manufacturers, and none has been entirely free from either occasional pixelation or image freezing. Pixelation is usually brief, but it can sometimes be severe (see photo). If the image freezes, the cure can range from manually skipping to the next chapter (jumping over some of the program in the process) to stopping the disc completely and starting again from the beginning. That's not only a nuisance, but I've sometimes found that the same problem repeats again the second time around!

These glitches sometimes occur at the same point on a given disc, but sometimes not. If they consistently occur at the same spot on the disc, you might conclude that it's a disc problem. But even in this case, the culprit can sometimes be the player. For example, I found that Panasonic's first 3D player was more sensitive to fingerprints on a disc than was Sony's first model.

When the problem is non-repeatable, it's impossible to test for it on multiple players, since you can't use any specific glitch as a benchmark. I have contemplated comparison tests between different players with various 3D discs, hoping to arrive at some meaningful conclusions. But that project might take so long (shoehorned into the priority business of reviewing new gear) that we'd be well into the next generation of players before the results were complete—and therefore irrelevant! Not to mention possible future firmware upgrades that might render the results moot.

It's also possible that the 3D TVs themselves might be a contributing factor. While this seems unlikely (given suitable HDMI cables, of course), the need for players and displays to maintain their HDMI handshake certainly can't be ignored. That adds a third dimension to the problem (pun intended)—disc, player, and display!

This sort of testing is something that manufacturers of displays, players, and discs are well equipped to perform. They also have the ability to assemble test material that might reliably reveal player problems—and not just material designed specifically to show how pristine their own players are! The same goes for content providers. Hopefully, this is going on behind the scenes as I write. The limited number of 3D Blu-ray releases to date might be helping to keep this issue under wraps. But should the problem continue as 3D sales expand in a hopefully improving economy, those increases could be very short lived.