New Tech 2010: 3D At Home

Just days before boarding a plane in January for the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I made a point of doing something that many other folks the world over had been doing in droves: I watched Avatar at my local IMAX 3D theater. And I don’t think I’m alone in saying that it was the most involving 3D movie I’d ever seen. The distinct illusion of depth conveyed by the image projected on that massive IMAX screen was an entirely new sensation. In many ways, Avatar was the greatest movie experience I’d ever sat through.

The relative merits of the film’s story were almost beside the point. Much more telling was the fact that each screening on the day I saw Avatar was sold out. Our willingness — yours, mine, everyone else’s — to fork over a premium to watch director James Cameron’s sci-fi epic in 3D meant that the medium had achieved mass penetration.


Watching 3D movies in a theater on an enormous IMAX screen is one thing; watching them at home on a 50-inch TV is quite another. Nevertheless, 3D TVs will be arriving this summer at an electronics store near you — along with 3D Blu-ray players and 3D movies on Blu-ray Disc. A trio of DirecTV satellite channels showing 3D programming will also come out around the same time (see “3D Content is Coming” for the lowdown). obviously, video manufacturers and program providers are betting big time that folks who crammed into theaters to see Avatar — that means you! — will want to relive the experience in the comfort of their own home.

Overall, this doesn’t seem like such a bad bet. the 3D-at-home revolution has historical inevitability on its side: People tend to seek out increased fidelity in their video entertainment, whether that boost is one of resolution (DVD, followed by HDTV) or spatial realism (3D). And then there’s the fact that no one cares how you look in 3D glasses when you’re at home on your sofa. (your dog may be skeptical, but he’ll adapt.)

While electronics manufacturers plan to feed us 3D in several different ways (DLP TV makers like Mitsubishi and Samsung have been doing it for some time already with PC games), the bulk of them will deliver 3D movies using the same method. That’s because the Blu-ray Disc Association, a consortium of manufacturers responsible for mapping out Blu-ray technical specifications, recently banged out a unified standard that will ensure broad compatibility between 3D Blu-ray software and hardware.

You heard that right: sanity has prevailed. There will be no 3D disc format war.

Furthermore, 3D Blu-ray players will be backward compatible with both standard Blu-ray Discs and DVDs. And as you might expect, new 3D TVs will also be fully capable of displaying regular, non-3D video. Technically speaking, what you’ll get when you play a 3D Blu-ray movie is a 24 frames-per-second stream of 1080p-rez left- and right-eye images. (Both pictures are packed into the same video frame in an “over/under” arrangement.) A new 3Dcapable plasma TV takes the left/right images and displays them in frame-sequential format at a 120- hz refresh rate (60 frames per second per eye). most LCD TVs, meanwhile, will display 3D movies at a 240-hz rate (120 frames-per-second per eye).

Connections on both 3D TVs and BD players will be HDMI 1.4. this is an update to the HDMI standard that — along with guaranteeing passage of 3D video signals — enables other cool stuff , such as an ethernet channel for the networking of devices via HDMI. Another capability: an audio return channel to send soundtracks from the TV back to an A/V receiver without having to use an additional coax or optical digital cable. And you won’t necessarily have to worry about buying new cables. According to HDMI licensing, the organization behind the HDMI standard, the “high-speed” ones that you bought to use with your current HDMI 1.3 gear should work fine for 3D.

All the 3D TVs covered here require that you use “active-shutter” eyewear to watch 3D content. When triggered by a wireless synchronization signal emitted by the TV, a liquid crystal layer in the eyewear’s left/right lenses sequentially opens and shutters so that you perceive only the correct image being displayed. The end result: 3D awesomeness, with minimal “crosstalk” between left/right pictures. Most 3D-capable (as opposed to 3Dready) TVs should come with at least one pair of active-shutter eyewear. manufacturers haven’t announced pricing for additional glasses, but they are expected to average $100.