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Are 3DTVs worth looking at this holiday season? Add to ...

As the owner of a popular Canadian consumer electronics website and as a self-confessed technology junkie, I am often invited by friends and readers to advise them on whether I think the new technology is worth buying.

This holiday season, a question that is cropping up more and more often is whether it’s worth buying a high definition television (HDTV) capable of displaying stereoscopic images, commonly known as a 3DTV.

When the topic of 3DTV comes up, I find the discussion quickly becomes polarized. On one hand, supporters speak excitedly about the fun of watching 3D movies and 3D sporting events while detractors dismiss 3DTV as a movie studio gimmick that’s simply trying to get consumers to buy an expensive and soon-to-be obsolete toy.

The debate is of special interest to me because I am currently looking for a new high definition television and I have the same decision to make. Should I buy a 3DTV or just a “regular” HDTV?

After considerable research and many hours spent watching 3DTV’s and 2D televisions over the last six months, I have come to the conclusion that anyone buying an HDTV for their home this holiday season should seriously consider buying a 3DTV. I’ve got several reasons:

Buy quality, it lasts: When investigating the purchase of an HDTV or 3DTV, it’s important for potential buyers to remember that their new flat-panel plasma or LCD television could end up being the most used consumer electronic purchase they ever own. The lifespan of a quality television is now so long -- some have a panel life of 100,000 hours -- that it could conceivably last several decades. And considering Canadians watch 28 hours of television a week, according to the Television Bureau of Canada, it makes sense to invest in the best quality panel you can afford. After all, you may be watching that TV for the next 10 years, maybe more.

What makes a great HDTV: The key ingredients of a great high-definition television have been known for years. They include a fast display, excellent contrast, a powerful video-processing engine and high-quality electronic components. It turns out the key ingredients to a great 3DTV television are pretty much the same. However, the technological demands of processing and displaying 3D images requires that all of those individual components be of even higher quality.

For example, a standard definition television presents images at 60 frames-per-second but a stereoscopic 3DTV presents 120 frames-per-seconds, 60 frames-per-second for the left eye and 60 frames-per-second for the right eye. Through the use of high speed shutters, 3D glasses block the right eye from seeing left eye images and the left eye from seeing images meant for the right eye. The result is a stereoscopic (i.e. 3D) image.

Because a 3DTV has to present twice as many frames-per-second as a 2D set, it is critical that the panel and the video processing engine be faster and the electronic algorithms be more efficient.

The technology demand of 3DTVs is so great that lesser quality display panel simply can’t keep up. Most 3DTV are high enough quality to present excellent 2D images but not high enough to display a high quality 3D images. Typical problems with 3D include “artifacts” and “crosstalk.” Artifacts are errors in the image that occur when the HDTV's video processor is unable to process all the information it receives from a source device. Crosstalk is the technical term used to describe “ghosting,” which is when viewers see a double image on the screen.

Spend some time watching a 3D movie on a 3DTV and you’re likely going to see some stray artifacts and crosstalk. However, the best 3D presentation I have seen was from Panasonic’s high end VT series of 3D plasma televisions. The company has done an incredible job in virtually eliminating ghosting thanks to faster phosphor decay, which turns off the previous frame’s image much faster, and a sophisticated electronic processing algorithm for its active shutter glasses that momentarily shuts both shutters of its glasses between frames resulting in even less ghosting.

The good news is that all the technological advancements incorporated into 3DTV’s not only means the panel can reproduce a stereoscopic image but it also means that it can produce a superior 2D image. So for the best 2D image, consider buying a 3DTV.

Is 3DTV a fad? For most people, myself included, the thought of sitting in a darkened room with cheap cardboard glasses watching anaglyphic 3D images that attempt to scare you by appearing to jump out at you seems silly. Since that is how we watched 3D movies in the past, it is very easy to dismiss 3DTV as just the re-appearance of an old and tiresome fad.

However, new 3D technology does not use the old method of presenting stereoscopic images. Rather, it employs something called Active 3D, which can make for some pretty compelling viewing. Instead of viewing 3D as a fad, consumers should think of Active 3D as an adjunct to the normal viewing experience. In the coming years, I expect Active 3D programming will be used selectively by movie studios and television networks. The result is that the bulk of our viewing will be 2D but there will be times when 3D enhances the viewing experience. Think of 3D as a treat to be enjoyed on occasion but not all the time.

If you’re buying a television in the coming months, it’s important to remember that you’ll have this television for 10 to 20 years and that during that time there will be plenty of opportunities to watch 3D television, so consider spending the extra money.

the primary reason you should consider buying a 3DTV this holiday season is that 3DTV’s provide some the best 2D video quality available in the marketplace today. Consider 3D playback a bonus that will make for some added fun over the course of the next ten or twenty years.

Hugh’s HDTV Pick

  • My top pick in HDTV this holiday season is the Panasonic VT25 Plasma series. These 3DTV sets are starting at $2,000 at big box retail outlets and range in size from 50 to 65-inches. In addition to providing superior 2D high definition images, the Panasonic Plasma virtually eliminates crosstalk and provides the best 3D viewing experience available in the marketplace today.
  • Panel life is an industry measurement of the amount of time it takes before the brightness of a flat-panel television decreases by 50%. Panel life is considered to be a proxy for the estimated life span of an HDTV because it equates to the length of time a panel can operate before the owner will want to replace it because it’s no longer bright enough. Premium LCD and Plasma display panels typically have a panel life of 100,000 hours, up from 60,000 hours just a few years ago.

Resources and Links

  1. The Digital Home HDTV forums are the place for Canadian tech enthusiasts to discuss the latest HDTV’s and HD technology.
  2. Industry sponsored website 3DUniversity offers up information on how 3D works, a history of 3D, a description of the various 3D formats, a listing of 3D products, FAQs, and how to best set up your 3D home theatre.

Hugh Thompson is the owner and publisher of Digital Home , a consumer electronics news and information website. As a voice for the Canadian consumer, Hugh is a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country discussing the latest in consumer electronics and the business of convergence in the Digital Home.

Hugh's column will appear on the first Wednesday of the month.

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Follow on Twitter: @digitalhomca


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