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)
- 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:
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.
As much as I am loathe to admit it, in-home 3D is clearly coming at us with a vengeance and it won’t be long before most people have 3D-capable displays in their living rooms. Similarly, there has been no let-up in the pace of new 3D releases in the theatres – presumably to ensure continued revenues for the theatre companies as well as providing a reason to upgrade your home gear.
So given that 3D doesn’t appear to be going away, I guess it’s a good thing that sunglasses company Oakley has decided to tackle some of the issues that have faced every 3D audience member since red-and-blue lenses made their debut back in the 1950’s:
- Theatre-based glasses have flat lenses which allow light to leak through the sides. Because they don’t wrap around your eyes, the 3D effect does not encompass your peripheral vision, forcing you to turn your head to get the maximum 3D experience
- Home-based active-shutter glasses are heavy and require recharging for their internal batteries
- Both types of glasses are uncomfortable for extended use and, let’s face it, not very stylish.
To solve this, Oakley is going to launch a new line of optically-correct 3D glasses designed for people who want the best viewing and fashion experience both in theatres and at home.
What they haven’t solved yet – but apparently are working hard on – is the fact that theatre and home 3D systems are, so far, incompatible when it comes to 3D glasses. Movie theatres use a projection system known as “passive polarization“. This technique projects two different images on the movie screen at once, each image filtered through a polarized lens that modifies the “bias” of the light that is reflected back to your eyes. The inexpensive, disposable 3D glasses simply filter this light a second time so that your right and left eyes are receiving the appropriate version of the image.
Home systems, however, use a technique known as “active shutter” whereby the TV’s screen projects the two images in a rapidly alternating stream – flickering at very high frequencies. This method requires glasses that can cause the lens for each eye to flicker at the corresponding frequency, once again making sure that each eye gets the correct image to ensure the 3D effect.
Since one of Oakley’s goals is to eliminate the need to recharge your glasses, the obvious technique to embrace is the passive polarization system. But as of the writing of this post, there are hardly any home systems that support polarization-based 3D.
Oakley’s press release simply states that
Oakley is pursuing partnerships with manufacturers of home 3D systems that utilize passive polarization. This will allow consumers to use the same eyewear for home and cinema 3D entertainment.
As for styles and pricing, for now the company is only saying that both will be competitive with other products on the market and their own distinctly-styled product line-up.
I think it’s fair to say that this means we’ll be looking at fancy 3D specs priced in the $150-$350 USD range.
If that sounds like a good deal to you, Oakley is promising to release the first models this year “prior to the 2010 holiday season. It will initially be sold through premium optical distribution channels in the U.S., followed by a global launch in 2011.”
Update, November 8, 2010: Oakley has released their first set of 3D Glasses. They may not look any different from other Oakley specs – and that’s really the point – but you are looking at the future of 3D eyewear: The Oakley 3D GASCAN. Coming in at the bottom of the expected price range, you can order these from Oakley.com or drop by your nearest Sunglass Hut. Bring along $120 USD if you want to watch your next 3D movie in style.