/ Technology

Why I’ve u-turned on 3D tech

3D Sony laptop

Despite the lukewarm reception 3D tech has had before now, following our hands-on experience at CES 2011 it’s clear 3D’s here to stay. And it’s the development of glasses-free tech that’s going to ensure its success.

3D laptops, 3D cameras, 3D camcorders, 3D monitors, 3D smartphones, and yes, countless 3D TVs. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) the big brands displayed their wares, and most of the time it was served up with a twist of 3D.

‘If it’s got a screen, we can make it 3D’ seems to be the business strategy. But is anyone actually interested?

3D was destined to fail

If, like me, your first reaction was to dismiss 3D as an expensive gimmick that’s simply not worth the hassle, then it could be time to start dining out on humble pie.

It all started at Samsung’s CES stand. The clunky, uncomfortable and quite honestly ridiculous 3D TV glasses may soon be a techie’s distant nightmare. Samsung unveiled lightweight, comfortable and (dare I say it) even stylish active-shutter goggles to put a whole new perspective on things.

And all those 3D cameras, camcorders and smartphones? Sure, many of them feel gimmicky, and I’ve yet to detect a groundswell of opinion demanding an upgrade to 3D. But, more importantly, it’s what these products promise. Some of the screens on these cameras displayed 3D images without the need for glasses.

What, no glasses?

We even saw the first workable prototypes for glasses-free 3D TVs themselves. Sony, Toshiba and LG all put on a glasses-free show, and though the technology clearly needs some work (it’s at the prototype stage after all) it was impossible not to be impressed.

The Toshiba and (possibly) Sony tellies work by filtering angled images to each eye, but will only work from certain angles and distances. Step too far to the side, or get too close and it just looks a mess.

LG’s TV has the same issues (it only works from 12-16 feet, and the viewing angles allow for the smallest of sideways shuffles), but hit the sweet spot and it looked truly, truly impressive. Bright, detailed and full of depth – it’s a classic case of a new technology feeling like a genuine bit of magic.

The fly in the ointment? LG’s glasses-free 3D telly doesn’t work at all as a 2D TV, and others struggle, so it’ll take a little bit more genuine magic to crack that particular nut. But the day they do (and they usually do) 3D suddenly looks less like an expensive chore and more like a hassle-free experience to be dipped-in and out of at your pleasure. Can’t wait.

Comments
Profile photo of jarowdowsky
Member

I’m seen a sudden increase in 3D **** being shared online. So seems theres a beginning of an interest in the tech. Still feels like a gimmick to me though – the output of content is surely the issue, rather than the technical developments.

Sure, a major picture like Toy Story 3 might get great 3D or a trash movie might be really ruined like Clash of the Titans, but movies haven’t really lead the way in home DVD or entertainment sales for a long time have they?

At least going by anecdotal evidence it seems the small number of people I know who still buy entertainment products focus on TV boxsets. I can’t see the next season of Mad Men or True Blood being filmed in 3D – can you?

In a time of increasing hardship it seems highly unlikely 3D in the home will be anything but the preserve of the most priviledged – especially given the current impression that interest in 3D in the cinema is already tailing off and might be about to fall off the cliff (though I’m sure it’ll look exciting on the way down).

Profile photo of jonas_1954
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My only experience of 3D was in a local shop using a pair of glasses. I have to say I was fascinated, but on the walk home began to ask if I would really want to watch for a long period of time.

I hope to purchase a new TV some time this year (I still have an old Panasonic non-digital set – good picture though) and will buy a larger screen digital set. For me the important factors will be the cost of 3D in conparision with 2D, and whether the 2D quality of a 3D set is at least equal to a 2D only model.

I would be interested to hear of the experiences of anyone who has a 3D set as to if they still watch 3D for long time periods.

Profile photo of radiomike
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Jonas, I bought a 3D set in the summer, mainly because I needed a new screen, not because I wanted to upgrade to 3D, but I got a 3D set as the outlay wasn’t that much over and above a comparable 2D screen.

Not being that enthusiastic about football, there hasn’t been much to watch on the Sky 3D channel to date so I did little 3D viewing until Avatar was shown over the holidays. It’s almost 3 hours long and I was sure I wouldn’t cope with wearing the glasses for that duration non-stop, but it wasn’t a problem at all. We both enjoyed it and the glasses didn’t detract from this, or distract us, at all. The 3D effects certainly added to the viewing pleasure.

So in my experience thus far, it’s an added benefit for the occasional special ‘event’ rather than something that is used day to day and I look forward to the next ‘event’ without any reservations. I’d imagine that if I was a footie fan, I’d have no hesitation donning the specs for a match or two every week.

Profile photo of jonas_1954
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Thanks Radiomike. Very helpful.

Profile photo of gdavidbeck
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The author seems to equate what the vendors want with what the punters want. Buckets of 3D kit at CES does not a successful product make. Otherwise we’d all be knee deep in DAB radios (only the idiots who drank the koolade are). 3D is great for gamers, the occasional documentary or film and some sports, for 90% of what is on TV it is useless. If you can justify it for your viewing style or bragging rights then go for it. I mostly listen to the TV, certainly don’t sit fixed at 3 meters away, centred on the screen, nor intend to wear a pair of specs on top of my current specs to watch a panel show.

Profile photo of Mike Briggs
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MRBeck. Admittedly there is always a danger of journalists just pushing the agenda the manufacturers want – but we’re very conscious of that at Which? and do try and see things from the consumer perspective. Without a doubt 3D is being aggressively pushed as the next big thing but as the manufacturers themselves are finally beginning to realise most people are just not interested. I’ve put myself in that camp for so many reasons – it’s expensive, the content is rubbish, it feels gimmicky and is just a pain to actually watch.

But content will follow and prices will drop. For me the barrier was always the enjoymenty to be had (and as you point out there’s not alot if you’re stuck rooted to the spot with a pair of heavy specs on your head). The ‘glasses free’ approach felt like a genuine realisation that this has to be a passive ‘take it or leave it’ technology that can be enjoyed without all the associated hassle.

The question remains – can they get it to work before everyone gets completely fed-up with the diet of post production nonsense doing the rounds in multiplexes?

Profile photo of alistair
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I am pleased to invoke my status as chief idiot herewith. I bought my first DAB radio about 6 years ago, and am now up to 4 in my house.
There is no other way that 6 music gets delivered to me, nor Talksport with any degree of clarity.

Right, I am off to stick me head in a bucket again.

Profile photo of peterfll
Member

Sorry Mike. Still not interested. I’m normally an early adoptee, having had HD from launch as an example. I realised over a year ago that the current 3d tech is a heavily flawed, for a number some fairly rudimentary reasons. First off, 3D lacks the definition and clarity. Crosstalk and needing the perfect viewing angle are serious flaws. Second; the effect is vastly over rated. Most images have a pop up card quality to them instead of real depth. Third – the glasses. And that’s not to me tion the flaws such as eye strain, that I certainly get from viewing 3d content for too long.

Having seen the new Tron film before Xmas (unfortunately not showing in 2d so that wasn’t an option) the medium is not improving and I think will continue to be constrained by above factors. Also, at the weekend in John Lewis I had the opportunity to try one of the latest Sony active shutter based sets. The effect was so heavily compromised, and again only reaffirmed my opinion that this current generation of 3d tech will remain a passing curiosity for me. At best.

Profile photo of Mike Briggs
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Peterfll. I still agree with most of what you’re saying. Like you say the effect is vastly overrated – most of the 3D I’ve seen is very gimmicky and added in post production. But where it is effective it can truly add something extra to the viewing experience. For me that’s not sport, but it is natural history programmes and potentially films done right (and not in post production as an afterthought).

Now for me the caveat for this was always the glasses and the need to fully concentrate on watching the TV. This is absolutely not how most people watch TV most of the time. But without the glasses it genuinenly did feel like a different proposition – far more like the passive take it or leave it experience TV tends to be.

Time will tell though – the content has got to follow and there are plenty of technical problems to overcome before autostereoscopic is a viable consumer technology.

On the lacking definition front, though technically true what our viewing panel have found is that the extra depth effect offsets the lack of definition. The brain simply doesn’t notice it as much withall the 3D malarky going on.

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Jeff says:
16 January 2011

I watched 3D films 20 years at Disney in the USA – great novelty value, and recently IMAX 3D , again great novelty but for every day TV, I don’t think the current surge in interest will endure for long.
It feels like another push by the manufacturers to get people to buy a new TV for the wrong reasons rather than concentrating on what they should be doing -perfecting the fully internet enabled TV /Media Centre.

Member
Dave says:
16 January 2011

I remember when colour telly came out – too expensive whats wrong with black and white, and stereo sound – not that much different from mono, so why go to the expense of getting new kit, or HDTV – there hardly anything broadcast in HD so why bother.
I just bough a flat screen HD telly, didn’t go for 3D as I don’t think the market has matured yet and don’t want to chose the betamax path, but I won’t be at all surprise if in 10 years or so 3D is standard.

Member
Jason Shouler says:
16 February 2011

My prediction is that 2011 will be the year of passive 3D TV with active shutter technology becoming resigned to very low end systems (since it can be included with any 2D TV at negligible extra cost).

The natural progression from circular polarizing screen technology (passive), which by it’s very nature concentrates the bulk of the technology within the screen itself, is to glassless technology.

Myself, I don’t see a massive difference between wearing a cheap pair of glasses (which just look like sunglasses) or non at all and I think this is likely to be reflected in the public’s take up of 3D

Clearly passive is going to have a huge lead in the early years, since it suffers from non of the problems of glassless technology (viewing angles etc), but of course that can all change.