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Two months ago I cautioned consumers about the possibility that some new passive 3DTVs could affect the quality of 3D side-by-side images but also the quality of HD viewing, which is what most viewers would still watch because most content is not available in 3D.

Some viewers may prefer to convert to 3D all content if the set is capable to do that, and although some 2D content may show an interesting improvement with the touch of some 3D depth, I would not recommend on-the-fly 3D conversions of all content because some may be difficult to watch when converted to 3D, and abusing of that practice could even hurt the general acceptance of 3D if viewers become disappointed with the results and think all 3D is the same, when actually is not.

Recent events that happened when several 3D public theaters projected 2D movies may bring to surface the potential of possibly affecting 2D viewing on some 3DTVs at home; keep reading.

By design, all active-shutter 3DTVs (all plasmas, most LCDs released until recently, DLP rear-projection sets, and most front-projectors) should not interfere with the quality of HD viewing because the 3D effect is mainly performed by the activity of the 3D glasses while the TV just regulates the sequence of images, the 3D effect/functionality is disabled by the TV when not watching 3D, and the TV would perform as a typical HDTV, actually a better HDTV performer from the higher-end TV lines released initially.

New passive 3DTVs that use a polarization method however, are suited with an additional layer of material (film, screen, etc.) that is applied to their primary screen to polarize the light as it comes out of the TV, so the even/odd video lines of the image can selectively be presented to each eye thru the polarized glasses.

Any extra material added to the screen to view 3D is a material thru which any image (2D or 3D) would be seen and has the potential to affect the quality of HD viewing if not designed properly. The trade-off: 3D glasses can be sold at reduced prices, such as the ones most local theaters use. Auto-stereoscopic (glasses-free) 3DTVs allow multiple viewers to view their corresponding 3D images from their viewing locations and also add extra layers over the primary panel which can also potentially affect HD viewed thru the added layers.

Polarized passive 3DTVs are just starting to appear on the market to compete with the active-shutter-glasses 3DTVs first introduced in mid-2010. However, it may happen that the potential of passive polarized 3D technology at home, driven mainly by the positive 3D experiences in local theaters and the hype of cheap 3D glasses may deflate regardless how cheap the glasses could be.

James Cameron did a tremendous effort to offer the best 3D movie experience the public has seen so far, and the theaters did their part by installing 3D projectors and 3D compatible screens, but now the public may be skeptical when paying good money to watch a regular 2D movie on a theater that is also suited for 3D and shows a substandard 2D presentation. That skepticism could be contagious when buying similar passive polarized technology for the home.

Why? Because recent reports disclosed that the added equipment used for 3D projection at local theaters, known to reduce at least 50% of the light output produced by the projector (if dedicated for a 2D purpose), has been routinely kept in the middle of the projector’s light path even when the system is used to show a 2D feature, producing a very dark feature presentation of substandard quality compared to a theater that uses a dedicated 2D projection system for 2D viewing.

According to the reports, some viewers did not realize of the lower quality of the feature presentation, some noticed it but perhaps were not motivated enough to leave the theater, and many others noticed the problem and did not like it. Would you think the last two groups are coming back to that theater?

Leaving in place the 3D filter/lenses in front of the projector light when showing a 2D feature was considered practical for the projector’s operator, but it negatively affects the quality of the presentation. It also has the potential to affect the overall theater attendance of the public to view 2D and 3D, at a time when Hollywood was able to get a renewed boost of patrons coming back to theaters who even paid more for 3D tickets.

No mention was made that those local theaters may have also used the screen made to maintain 3D light polarization for 2D viewing as well. Some manufacturers produce dual purpose 2D/3D screens so home-theaters would not have to invest and install two screens, but their use for quality viewing maybe an unacceptable compromise to many. The screen is an issue regardless if the 3D filter/lens is left in the path of the projector’s light or not.

As mentioned, the negative publicity about those local theaters may unveil a broader way to operate and could also affect the adoption of newer passive 3DTVs at home, because the 3DTVs implement a similar approach of polarizing the image at the point of light source so cheaper 3D glasses could be used.

In the case of a 3DTV there are no filters/lenses that can be removed for HD viewing, the source of light is a dual purpose LCD screen sealed with extra layers to display both 2D and 3D, and the user has no control, quality or otherwise, of what could still be in the path of light when viewing HD. Although it is generally known that 3D content would be viewed at half resolution per eye even when sourced from full resolution 3D Blu-ray discs. Certainly not an experience to pursue either way if looking for uncompromised quality, assuming the viewer is not affected by the operation of active-shutter glasses.

Panasonic, Samsung, and the other manufacturers implemented and promoted the benefits of the active-shutter glasses concept, for its full resolution per eye, for its light maximization when using all the image pixels for each eye, for its no-compromise method to display full resolution 3D Blu-ray movies at home, and for the recent introduction of <$50 3D glasses and of universal 3D glasses.

I imagine that after the recent technology attacks between active-shutter and passive-polarized companies the active-shutter manufacturers may be salivating in joy and smiling when reading about the negative publicity of passive polarized (miss) implementations for 2D presentations at local theaters due to its similarity to the polarization method of passive 3DTVs, which claimed to be a better system, mainly driven by the hype of cheaper 3D glasses.

I wonder how this negative experience would be explained to a consumer that may ask if a 3DTV passive polarized screen he/she is about to buy could potentially compromise HD viewing based on the local theater reports.

Although the true answer to that is “potentially possible” a typical uninformed salesperson may probably say “definitely no, trust me, buy this 3DTV, your kids would love it, and the glasses are cheap”.

We have to admit that the general consumer would probably have insufficient familiarity to technically argue about such assurance and end up buying the pushed 3DTV. It may also be safe to assume that most consumers would not even notice which technology/3DTV is better until a knowledgeable person takes the time to educate them about the differences, which is unlikely to happen on a market that misses the benefit of brick-and-mortar audio/video specialty stores. Besides, many 3DTVs are purchased in the Internet without even viewing its image and to save a few bucks, or because a wife-decor-factor regarding the bezel color, or by a free ($20) Blu-ray coming with it, and unfortunately articles like this are useless to most.

In other words, a situation similar to a regular consumer looking for advice at the local store back when HDTV was introduced in 1998, but repeated 13 years later for another TV, courtesy of a complexity that has been gradually increased by the industry rather than simplifying it, so not even 13 years of HDTV experience seem sufficient for a consumer to be able to buy a new 3DTV without receiving proper advice, and the expert advice is still provided by a salesperson that was rotated from selling refrigerators last week, but has been fully trained in 3D over the weekend.

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, June 1, 2011 7:50 AM

About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.