Sunday, 11 August 2013

Shopping for an 3D LED edge lit LCD TV in 2013... Active or Passive

As of writing, there was still no glassess free, living room 3D TV's on display in everyday high-street electical stores. Once those things become common place and their prices come down to an acceptable level, I will surely upgrade whatever my current TV is accordingly :)
For several years I've actively used a selection of 3D capable cameras, we have created a fair sized collection of 3D family/ holiday photo's and a handful of 3D videos. Up to now, the most convenient way to see this content would be for me to transfer it to my LG Optimus 3D phone. It's 4.3" autostereoscopic screen (AKA glasses free 3D) that could then be passed around the room for viewing, one person at a time. The glasses free aspect is truly fantastic in its convenience. The colours are very vibrant. The parallax barrier simultaneously gives separate views to left and right eyes. Your brain then works its magic to fuse the 2 viewd into a single 3D scene. It works! Being a mobile phone screen held in landscape mode, the LG Optimus 3D has 800 x 480 pixels of display area. So at most even in 2D, the vertical resolution is a pretty lowly 480 pixels. In 3D, it can render 400 x 480 3D image per eye, where the horizontal is stretched to maintain a 16:9 format. And given many of my 3D pictures are at least 1080 in height, I did long for a better way to see more resolution from my 3D photos. It is about time I bought home a 3D capable TV so we can enjoy them together at the same time on a big(ish) livingroom screen.

To that end, I recently went to several local showrooms in Causway Bay Hong Kong to help me decide what bespectacled 3D TV I'd be buying in the year 2013.

For the 3D feature, Samsung LCDs are exclusively an active only option. While LG LCD's are similarly exclusively passive. No single TV of any brand supports both active and passive at the same time. You have to make a choice of one or the other.
Noteworthy that both Sony and Panasonic showrooms currently exhibit overlapping sets with either Active or Passive 3D glasses supported from within their own brand. It allowed me to make a what I consider, a fair evaluation of TVs of the same size and same brand, with the only difference being use of either active or passive glasses for 3D. And what a difference I found... from around 2m or closer to a 42" passive 3D display, I simply could not get near the screen. I was seeing very distracting horizontal black lines that would break-up the stereo image. Especially while viewing 3D still photos (the black lines are still there with moving video, just a bit less obvious). The lines introduced heavy step-laddering with curves and diagonal lines in images. I had to get up to some 4m or more from the medium sized 42" screen before the black lines become less noticeable for me. The issue is exaggerated with even bigger 3D displays. You have to be an even greater distance from the screen to resolve the 3D effectively vs same sized active 3D. What's more, the often written claim that passive 3D has no crosstalk or ghosting is nonsense. Covering up one eye, I could still see residual traces of the image intended for the other eye on passive screens. Try it for yourself in any showroom. I was even pleasantly surprised to find that often, the crosstalk was even less apparent for active vs passive sets! This negative experience with passive matched my many demos previously with the commonly found LG's 3D TV's.

Personally for living room photo gallery TV sessions, I tend to view photos from afar to begin with, and then naturally want to get closer to the display for a closer, more detailed look. 3D photos tend to have this power, drawing me into the pic. Unfortunately, when you get close to the current gen 1080HD passive 3D screens, the image simply falls apart. That's why I had to begrudgingly exclude LG's many 3D TV offerings. Begrudgingly because I have an LG 3D Optimus smart phone with 3D camera and 3D glasses free screen which I am very happy to keep using. An inexpensive LG passive 3D TV with cheap, light weight flicker free glasses would have been an awesome match, however, the drawbacks of passive TVs was a deal breaker unfortunately. You'd simply have to keep from getting too up close to the current passive 3D displays. Instead, active 3D glasses, allows you to physically get nearer your 3D display and in return, to appreciate the much greater vertical resolution vs a passive at the same screen size and 2D resolution. Drawbacks of active 3D are with the glasses. They need batteries(they last several dozen hours and replacements are just a few pence each ), need to be turned on, even the lightest active pairs are weightier vs passive, more expensive (around £20 for 2pairs at the time of posting. Much cheaper than they used to be). The greatest hurdle is the flicker. If you are sensitive to active 3D flicker, then go with passive. No arguments there. However, if you are amongst the lucky ones who don't experience any flicker, or are not overly bothered by its presence, you will be rewarded with actives much better vertical resolution 3D that you can get up close to, vs what passive 3D can offer. Try it for yourself before you buy! I did... And am fully confident I made the right choice for getting the most out of my 3D family pics today. Till glasses free 3D TVs arrive...