A lot of discussions on 3D TVs these days have to do with active vs. passive TVs.
However active vs. passive is not really the "format war" many writers would have you believe. Both formats are compatible was all existing stereoscopic 3D content. The decision to buy an active or passive 3D TV is really a matter of choice. Some consumers prefer active while others prefer passive. At some point all manufacturers may shift to one or the other (or eventually glassesless 3D TVs), but choosing the "wrong" format today will not be like buying a Betamax vs. a VHS player 25 years ago.
The real "format war" has to do with how the 3D signal is sent to the TV. By definition 3D signals have two separate video streams, one for the left eye and one for the right eye. In order to broadcast these signals across existing 2D infrastructure the left and right signals are typically compressed and combined into a single frame. The most common methods for doing this include:
- Top and Bottom (or Over/Under)
- SENSIO Hi-Fi 3D
Unfortunately all of these methods (except SENSIO Hi-Fi 3D) result in reducing the
resolution of the original picture by about 50%. SENSIO Hi-Fi 3D uses a patented compression algorithm which results in virtually lossless resolution when compared to the original picture.
Eventually one of these formats may win out, but it is too early to say which one that will be. And in the meantime we are forced to deal with multiple formats.
The good news is that most 3D TVs are capable of processing multiple formats.
My Sony Bravia 55HX800 3D TV for example can handle Side-by-Side and Top and Bottom. The new Vizio 3D Theater line of TVs on the other hand can handle Side-by-Side, Top and Bottom, SENSIO Hi-Fi 3D and RealD formats.
The bad news is that most TVs can't automatically recognize which signal is being received and therefore the user must manually setup the TV each time he wants to view 3D content.
As far as I know, only Vizio 3D TVs can detect which signal format is being received and automatically configure the TV to display the 3D picture without the need for the user to manually configure the TV each time. Vizio 3D TVs incorporate SENSIO Autodetect which does all the work for the user.
This may not sound like a big problem, but believe me it's a huge pain when you want to watch 3D content.
To give you an idea of what I mean, the following illustrates what I typically go through every time I try to watch a 3D video on my Sony TV. In this case I am attempting to watch a 3D video I have saved on my PS3 in the side-by-side format. I would need to follow the same procedure if I was watching a live 3D sporting event on cable, streaming 3D content over the internet, or replaying 3D content saved on my PVR. The exception to this is if I am watching a 3D movie on Blu-Ray (which I rarely do).
Step 1: Select 3D video to be played. The TV at this point does not realize that it is receiving a 3D signal (in side-by-side format).
Step 2: Press '3D' button on remote. Every time I press the 3D button I hope that somehow my Sony TV will simply display the 3D picture, but unfortunately it never does. It just puts the TV into "3D Mode" and by default assumes I want to see 'Simulated 3D' and simulates a 3D effect on the entire side-by-side picture.
Step 3: Press 'Menu' button on remote. This is actually a mistake, but I almost always push the 'Menu' button here when I actually need to press the 'Options' button to pull up the '3D Menu'.
Step 4: Press 'Return' button on remote (to get out of 'Menu' mode)
Step 5: Press 'Options' button on remote
Step 6: Scroll down to '3D Menu' on remote. Oops. At least 50% of the time instead of pressing the 'Down' button I end up pressing the 'Menu' button by accident. This is due to the layout of the Sony remote which puts the 'Menu' directly under the 'Down' button. This of course puts me back to where I was after Step 3.
Step 7: Press 'Options' button on remote. Dammit! Out of frustration I immediately push the 'Options' button without first pressing the 'Return' button to exit out of 'Menu' mode. So instead of going to the main options area as in Step 5 I am presented with the option to add the existing setting to my favorites. Arrrgggghhh!!!
Step 8: Press 'Return' button Twice.
Step 9: Press 'Options' button again.
Step 10: Scroll down to '3D Menu' - being very careful not to press the 'Menu' button instead of the 'Down' button on the remote.
Step 11: Press 'Enter' Yeah! I finally made it to the '3D Menu' !!!
Step 12: Scroll down to '3D Format' on remote. Again, being very careful not to press the 'Menu' button instead of the 'Down' button on the remote.
Step 11: Press 'Enter' button on remote
Step 12: Scroll down to 'Side-by-Side' on remote. Again, of course, being very, very careful not to press the 'Menu' button instead of the 'Down' button on the remote. If I were to hit the 'Menu' button by accident here I would probably throw the remote through the TV screen!!
Step 13: Press 'Enter' button on remote
Step 14: Press 'Return' on remote.
VOILA! The appropriate 3D settings have now been properly set and the 3D image is being properly processed and displayed by the TV.
Now all I need to do is get my active 3D glasses, turn them on, and sit back and enjoy the 3D video. However by this time about a minute or so has passed so if I forgot to pause the video at the start of the process I'll need to rewind it back to the beginning.
Unfortunately, now that the 3D settings are set the TV interprets every signal it receives as a side-by-side 3D signal. So God forbid I need to change some of the settings on my PS3 since all of the PS3 menus are now be stretched to double their original size and overlapped, making them unreadable on the TV.
Likewise if I want to choose another 3D video to watch all of the PS3 menus are distorted and barely readable.
To be able to properly read the PS3 menus I need to turn off the 3D settings on the TV. This is quickly and easily done by pressing the 3D button on the remote.
Of course if I want to select a second 3D video to watch I'll need to repeat all of the above steps once again to reconfigure the 3D to read the side-by-side signal properly. :(
Is it any wonder why I'm the only one in my house who actually knows how to watch 3D on my 3D TV?
I am fairly tech savvy, so if I find this process confusing and cumbersome my wife or kids have zero chance of ever watching a 3D video on my Sony TV on their own.
The next time I'm in the market for a 3D TV I am going to make sure that whatever TV I choose is intelligent enough to recognize and decode the 3D signal without me have to go through the steps above. It will make for a much more enjoyable viewing experience.
If I were to choose a 3D TV today I would give serious consideration to Vizio's Theater line of 3DTVs. The LG's line of Cinema Passive 3DTVs also look fantastic (minus the SENSIO technologies).
Read what others have to say about these passive 3DTVs at Amazon.com by clicking the images below: