3D and Projectors: What the Future Holds

Update Sept. 09, 2010: LG has released the LG CF3D, the first 1080p 3D projector geared for home theater. LG solved many of the problems previously associated with 3D projection. LG’s CF3D – and a crop of new 1080p 3D projectors – can accept content over HDMI and play 3D in HD. Stay tuned to the Projector People blog to find out more about 3D projectors for home theater.

No doubt 3D has revolutionized the cinema experience. Avatar was the highest-grossing movie of all time. In the near future, Jack Black, Johnny Knoxville and even Sacha Baron Cohen will all pop out of a screen near you.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

But what does this mean for the future of 3D projectors and Home Theater?

We recently sat down with Chris Chinnock, a 3D analyst at Insight Media and board member on the 3D@Home consortium, an industry group dedicated to expediting 3D for Home Theater adoption.

Chris is an expert when it comes to 3D. In his talk with us, he used big words like “horizontal parallax”, “swept volume” and “spatial‐temporal multiplexed”. This guy lives and breathes 3D.

Basically, Chris told us the future of 3D at home is bright, but the present is a little muddy. There are currently no standards for nearly all components of 3D production and viewing. From mastering the content to syncing the glasses and display, multiple protocols exist.

Chris said “handshaking” issues are common.

The 3D@Home consortium expects 3D will revolutionize the projector scene, and we heartily agree. But for now and in the near future, 3D at home is for patient, early adopters.

“But My Neighbor Has a 3D Projector”

3D-ready projectors entered the market two years ago. They were designed mainly for educational purposes. Think of how cool 11th grade geometry would have been if you could have seen parallelograms and isosceles triangles rotated in the third dimension.

But these projectors are only 720p, and since they don’t have an HDMI input, can only receive content from a PC through a VGA or DVI cable. This can reduce the image quality to a lousy 480i. In a way, watching 3D at home today is like taking a giant technological step backward.

Chris predicts that 1080p 3D projectors will hit the market as early as this fall.

For now, you can view 1080p 3D images on a 3D-enabled LCD flat screen television (that is, if you have a 3D-ready Blu-ray and 3D content and the proper cables.) But again, the lack of standards is an issue. Panasonic 3D glasses won’t work on your buddy’s Samsung TV. And 3D Blu-rays won’t play on all manufacturer displays. That’s why you typically see 3D-ready TVs, Blu-ray players and Blu-ray discs sold as bundles.

Sony recently announced the release of its first 3D Blu-ray title, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. It’s the first 3D Blu-ray available as a standalone disc. It will also work on any 3D TV, Sony said.

Small step for Sony. Giant leap for 3D Home Theater.

“Content is king, especially when it comes to 3D, and right now there’s just not very much 3D video material out there, either live-broadcast or prerecorded.” – www.sfgate.com

How 3D Technology Works: It’s All In Your Head

To “see” in 3D, a slightly different image must be delivered to each eye. This is traditionally done with special glasses. To your brain, these ever-so-similar overlapping images create the illusion of depth.

Anaglyph images and glasses are the most basic way to deliver a 3D effect. Chances are everyone has seen the red and blue glasses made popular during earlier attempts at a 3D revival.

3D anaglyph glasses

These work by filtering an image composed of two almost identical superimposed color layers. Anaglyph technology is still used today and will work with any TV or projector. However, it provides the poorest 3D image quality.

Many of today’s cinematic 3D experiences are delivered via polarizing systems. These send the projector’s light through polarizing filters that force the light waves to oscillate in two different directions, one intended for the left eye, the other for the right. A special polarization preserving screen is required.

Filters on the glasses allow the lenses to passively pick up the light (read: image) meant for each eye. The brain combines the two images and tada! 3D.

Color is improved and cross-talk (when one eye picks up an image meant for the other) is virtually eliminated with the polarizing method compared to anaglyph. However, the image’s brightness is greatly reduced since each eye only picks up half the light from the screen. Some theaters use two separately polarized projectors to compensate for this.

All the 3D-ready projectors available in the commercial and residential market today use active shutter glasses to deliver the third dimension. Chris expects this will be the standard for all 3D DLP projectors in the future.

In this setup, the image on the screen alternates rapidly between scenes intended for each eye. The glasses respond by opening and closing the corresponding lens. (When the right-eye image is on the screen, the glasses shut the lens of the left eye.)

Active shutter glasses are more expensive than those required for the other technologies. Currently, they run at about $99 and may not work on all manufacturers’ displays. However, Xpand recently released universal shutter glasses. As more competitors enter the market, we expect the cost of active shutter glasses to drop soon.

With active shutter glasses, cross-talk is nearly impossible. However, the image is significantly dimmer than its 2D counterpart.

So far, all 3D DLP projectors use the DLPLink protocol to sync the glasses and the screen. We predict this setup, in which a white light is beamed from the projector to the screen to the glasses, will become the standard for 3D projection.

Preparing Your Home Theater for 3D

The 3D@Home consortium predicts that 100% of DLP projectors will be 3D-ready by 2014. We’re positive that by that time, standards will have been developed and the kinks associated with current 3D technology will be worked out.

What can you do to ready your Home Theater setup in the meantime? Since the active shutter technology seems the most likely to stick, we highly recommend investing in a high-quality screen, like the Black Diamond series. It’s also wise to stock up on high-quality HDMI cables and invest in HDMI-enabled devices like Blu-ray players.

3D FAQ

We’ve received several inquiries about 3D recently (and we hope you’ll continue sending your questions in!) Here are some common 3D FAQs:

Do I need a 3D TV to play 3D content on my PS3?

Yes. Sony recently released a 3D firmware upgrade for the PS3. To watch 3D playback, you will need a 3D TV, as well as 3D content and HDMI cables.

What’s all this about HDMI 1.4 and 3D, will my HDMI 1.3 cables work?

That depends. The latest HDMI cable release, version 1.4, includes the capability to transmit a 3D signal. However, some higher quality HDMI 1.3 cables will also work if they support a firmware upgrade. The HDMI consortium has banned manufacturers from specifying the standard (ie. 1.3, 1.4, etc.) on their cables. Rather, manufacturers should display the cable’s features (3D ready, High Speed, etc.) All Projector People’s Comprehensive HDMI cables are capable of transmitting a 3D signal.

Can I watch 3D on my current 120 or 240 hz television?

Again, maybe. If you bought a high-end TV within the past few years, there is a very small chance it is 3D-ready. Jot down your model number and call the manufacturer.

Can I watch 2D DVDs and Blu-rays on a 3D display?

Yes, all 3D displays on the market today are backward compatible. They provide excellent 2D images.

When will we get more 3D content?

ESPN 3D launched in June on various carriers including AT&T U-verse, Comcast, and DirectTV. DirectTV also plans to air at least 85 live 3D sporting events in 2010. DirectTV 3D pay-per-view and on-demand channels should be available Summer 2010. Discovery, IMAX and Sony plan to launch entertainment, sports and nature content in 2011.

We Want Feedback

Have you had success with 3D in your Home Theater? If so, we want to hear your stories. Tell us what works, what doesn’t.

Do you have questions about 3D? We’re here to help. Send us your questions and we’ll do our best to answer them.