Everything You Need to Know About 3-D TV

How does it work? What happens if you don't wear the glasses? And why isn't the Super Bowl broadcast in 3-D? Tech maven Tobey Grumet answers these and other questions.

How does it work? What happens if you don't wear the glasses? And why isn't the Super Bowl broadcast in 3-D? Tech maven Tobey Grumet answers these and other questions.


Aviator-style 3-D glasses by Gucci.

How does 3-D TV work?

All 3-D TVs are also regular old 2-D TVs—with a feature designed to recognize 3-D content and automatically switch to that mode. The two most popular (and affordable) types for large-screen TVs are generically known as Active and Passive, which simply refer to how the 3-D effect is created. Active glasses use liquid-crystal shutters (and batteries) that rapidly sync each eye with what the TV is showing. Passive glasses are usually less expensive (and lighter) and separate the picture into two views, allowing each eye to see something different (but also allowing some double-image blurring artifacts to come through).

__What kinds of 3-D glasses are available?

__Active glasses are primarily sold by the manufacturer of the television to ensure compatibility. Passive polarized glasses, however, are fairly standard and come in many styles—from those old-school throwaway paper glasses to high-end vendors of eyewear (like Gucci).

Do you have to have glasses to see in 3-D?

For now, yes. Glasses-based systems will give you the best 3-D TV viewing experience. But if you're violently opposed to wearing any extra gear, you may want to wait for glasses-free 3-D technology, which is developing rapidly—though still a few years from penetrating the consumer market for both cost and performance reasons.

How much does 3-D cost?

When you buy a 3-D TV, you're getting a whole lot of other sophisticated features, so it is impossible to break out just the cost of the 3-D. Depending on features and display size, a TV should range from $1,000 to $5,000. Glasses usually come with the television, though sometimes a separate package or 3-D kit does need to be purchased.

What happens to the people in the room who don't have the glasses? Do they see blue and red crap?

Nope, that blue and red crap is synonymous with the old anaglyph technology. Today's 3-D TV is created digitally rather than using color addition and subtraction. Most non-glasses wearers will see a shadow behind an item that is supposed to pop out. For items in the background or for wide-view shots, the picture will look normal.

How many TVs have 3-D capabilities now?

According to Heidi Hoffman, managing director of 3D@Home Consortium, major TV manufacturers are now making half of their models with 3-D capability. More than 6 million TVs in U.S. homes today have 3-D capability, which is nearly 10 percent.

Is 3-D on the Web or on tablets yet?

There are several really good 3-D content "portals" available on the Internet today. But to view the ones in digital 3-D (sometimes called Stereo 3D), you would need a monitor capable of showing 3-D. LG and HTC both offer a 3-D cell phone. But as you can imagine, they use glasses-free technology (also called auto-stereo). Several prototype 3-D tablets have been shown in dark corners and should be introduced to the general public shortly.

What are they doing with the Super Bowl specifically?

3-D cameras will be distributed around the stadium to capture the action in 3-D, and the footage will be processed and produced in much the same way that the 2-D footage is—but Fox (which owns the right to airtime) just announced it won't broadcast the live game in 3-D because it doesn't have its 3-D model in place yet.

Will any of the ads be in 3-D?

If an ad was created in 3-D, it will be broadcast that way. Many major brands are creating them, but there's no word yet which ones we can count on during Super Bowl—though somebody is sure to do it, if just for a stunt.

Are any other shows (Oscars, etc.) broadcast in 3-D?

There are a lot of 3-D shows shown on the major 3-D channels—ESPN3D, 3net, Xfinity3D, n3D, AEG Digital Media, and National Geographic 3-D Channel. But the only major programming scheduled to air in 3-D right now are the London Olympics this summer.

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