Vizio debuts “theatre 3D” TVs – a first in North America


Vizio's new theatre 3D HDTV, which uses inexpensive eyewear instead of the costly and uncomfortable active shutter glasses.

Even though I am far from sold on the whole 3D bandwagon that has picked up so much steam this year from manufacturers and retailers alike, I’m giving a big thumbs-up to Vizio for their new 3D TV model – one that offers passive technology for the first time in North America.

I haven’t seen the massive 65″ XVT3D650SVin real life, so I can’t vouch for any of Vizio’s claims of performance, which include:

  • causes less eyestrain (than active-shutter glasses)
  • flicker-free
  • brighter images
  • wider viewing angles

… when compared to the other 3D models out there, all of which use the active-shutter technology.

Just in case you haven’t been brushing up on all your in-home 3D jargon, here’s the big difference between 3D in the theatres and 3D at home:

Inexpensive 3D glasses made by RealD

Inexpensive 3D glasses made by RealD

Theatre 3D technology e.g. RealD, Dolby 3D etc, uses “passive” glasses – the cheap plastic shades they give out for free (and which so many people have taken home) are simply two polarized lenses which let in light coming in from two different angles. The right lens lets in one image while the left lens lets in another. Your brain assembles them into a single, 3-dimensional image. If you want to see this effect in action, take two pairs of these glasses next time you’re in the theatre and overlap the left lens from one pair with the right lens from the other pair, but make sure the glasses are held perpendicular to each other – you should see a completely dark lens that lets in almost no light at all. That’s because you’re now blocking both angles, not just one.

But most TV manufacturers so far have opted for “active” shutter glasses instead. With this technique, the TV flickers between two different images rapidly while the lenses of the battery-powered glasses flicker on and off at the same rates. The result is the same (more or less) as theatre-3D, but for two major differences: 1) the active shutter glasses are very expensive and require their own power source 2) because the lenses are only letting light into your eye half the time, image brightness in noticeably reduced.

So why do they do it? I can’t answer definitively, but my guess is that it was cheaper and easier for them to do it this way given that there was essentially no change required to the screen portion of the equation – they simply had to make it flicker between two images instead of one, which given the availability of 240Hz or higher screens, wasn’t that hard.

Passive systems require polarized light sources to match the polarized lenses in the inexpensive glasses. Developing a screen capable of kicking out two orientations of polarized light in this way must have been a little tricky and presumably more expensive. But that’s sheer guesswork on my part.

Whatever the reasons, Vizio has now broken the barrier and I think it’s a milestone for 3D adoption. We’ve seen from your comments how many of you object to the comfort and expense of active glasses, and the inherent limitation of how many people can watch at once when you only have so many of these glasses to hand out.

With Vizio’s system, which comes with four pairs of the passive-lens glasses, you can buy fancy extra glasses like Oakley’s recently released 3D line of stylin’ shades, or you can simply hold on to the pair you got at the last 3D movie you attended in a theatre.  Either way, the cost – and to some degree the comfort – issue around 3D goggles is now largely dealt with.

Price will still be a stumbling block for most however, as the XVT3D650SV (wow terrible name) will run you $3,499 USD and there’s no word if they’ll even be bringing it to Canada. But you do get a lot for that investment: it’s a huge screen at 65″, it has edge-lit LED backlighting, internet apps (Vizio VIA), built-in Wi-Fi b/g/n, a cool remote control with a slide out QWERTY keyboard and SRS Surround audio.

My impression of Vizio up until a  few months ago was that they were primarily a producer of inexpensive and not especially good TVs, but that all changed when CNET, who I respect a great deal, awarded them an editor’s choice in August – a first for the company.

Again, I’ll withold final judgement of the XVT3D650SV until I see it with my own eyes, but there’s no question for me that this is the shape that 3D must have in order to enjoy higher penetration in people’s homes  – that is when we finally get around to buying new TVs.

Update, Feb 16: CNET has finally posted their full review of the Vizio XVT3D650SV and the verdict is mixed. Looks like the passive 3D technology compares favourably against active 3D systems, but the model’s poor 2D performance manages to hurt the overall rating considerably. My hope is that this shortcoming can be resolved on future models and that passive 3D eventually becomes the standard.

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