3D Coming to Your Living Room

March 18th, 2010

3D GlassesAt last January’s Consumer Electronics Show, consumer 3D television technology was a major presence. Expect to see actual products for sale later this year.

The good news is that the various industry players appear to be standardizing on active shutter glasses. The secret of 3D technology is that a slightly different picture is presented to each eye. Carefully crafted images can thus fool the brain into perceiving depth. With the old red and blue glasses, pictures for one eye were in red and the other in blue. The red lens would only be able to see the blue picture, and the blue lens would only be able to see the red picture. Thus each eye saw different images. The newer 3D systems in theaters use polarization. Two slightly different “movies” are displayed at the same time. The movie for one eye is polarized a certain way, and the movie for the other eye is polarized at (I assume) 90 degrees to the first. The glasses contain polarized lens that only allow the appropriate movie to be seen by the correct eye, thus showing a different movie to each eye. With active shutter glasses, rather than projecting both movies at the same time, the television quickly alternates between the movie for each eye, first showing the frame for the left eye, then the frame for the right, and so on. The glasses alternate at the same frequency, first leaving the left eye transparent and the right eye opaque, then vice-versa. This happens quickly enough that we don’t consciously notice the change. But the brain does, and it perceives the movie as being in 3D.

To actually watch a 3D movie at home, you’ll need a compatible television. Expect satellite and cable TV companies to start broadcasting some channels in 3D, but I believe the primary use will be with Blu-ray. For this, you’ll need a player that supports both HDMI 1.4 High Speed HDMI and the new Blu-ray 3D spec. The Sony PS3, of course, will upgrade with no problem. But for those of you encumbered with an “old” Blu-ray player, time to junk it and buy a newer model (or at least check and see if it’s possible to update the firmware).

I personally dislike 3D movies because putting the glasses over my prescription frames is awkward and annoying. But if active shutter technology becomes ubiquitous, then perhaps opticians will start offering prescription versions, like they currently do with sunglasses, ski goggles, and dive masks.

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