Yesterday I had a chance to compare the three predominate 3D viewing technologies side by side. For TVs consumers can choose between passive polarizer glasses based 3D TVs and sets that use active shutter glasses. Glasses-Free 3D is now available on the Nintendo 3DS and on the new Toshiba Qosmio F750 laptop, that was just announced yesterday. Toshiba will unveil at the IFA 2011 in September a Glasses-Free TV with at least 40-inch of size. So Glasses-Free 3D TVs are coming faster than you thought? It sounds to good to be true and as my hands-on experience showed it is not just the cost that will keep you from buying a glasses-free 3D TV any time soon.
Let's start tough with 3D TVs using passive polarizer glasses, a technology also called FPR (Film Patterned Retarder). LG is one of the TV makers that touts Polarizer 3D TVs as the best option. The list of advantages is indeed very long. The glasses are much cheaper, lighter and do not need batteries. There is no flickering, the display is brighter and there are less health related side-effects. Additionally the same polarizer 3D technology is used in movie theaters. The big disadvantage is that the actually vertical resolution is only half of HD. Now the supporters of the polarizer 3D technology will tell you that this loss of resolution does not matter in real use. This is not really how it is though.
In my tests yesterday, I often got distracted by a visible grid. Depending how close I was standing the lower resolution shows. I like an immersive 3D experience. This means I sit a bit closer to the TV than recommended. When I was about 3 meters away from a 55-inch polarizer 3D TV, I still was seeing the grid. On a good shutter glasses 3D TV the 3D image feels like looking into a mirror. The image is completely smooth and clear. The resolution is making a big difference for me here. I was testing the latest Sony and Samsung shutter glasses based 3D TVs and the image quality was on both stunning. The new Samsung Bluetooth based 3D Glasses are very light and I can also wear them over my prescription eyeglasses. The polarizer 3D technology is a compromise and with devices like the iPhone having a retina display it makes it even more backwards.
The best available 3D picture quality on TVs is only available on shutter glasses based models. Now a word about Glasses-Free 3D. It sounds awesome and everybody believes that glasses-free 3D will be the future. It will eventually, but not today or next year for that matter. I tested the new Toshiba Qosmio F750 with a 15.6-inch glasses-free 3D display yesterday. This 3D laptop uses an optical lens layer in the LCD display in combination with eye tracking via the webcam. The 3D effect is actually pretty good and I could move my head around and it would still maintain the 3D view. The problem though is a very visible pattern and the lower resolution. This is even more annoying than the visible lines on the Polarizer based displays. The pattern destroys the clarity of the 3D imagery that the shutter glasses based displays deliver. The artifacts are caused by the grid of optical lenses. As long as these lenses can not be made much smaller the image delivered by glasses-free 3D displays will not be up to the quality of shutter-glass based devices.
What does this mean for you?
If you just want to casually watch 3D than a Polarizer based 3D TV is the way to go. There is no hassle with keeping glasses charged or synced and the image quality is acceptable if you sit far enough away from the TV.
If you want the best available 3D display quality you need to get a shutter glasses based 3D TV set. There is no way around the hassle with the glasses. Samsung will make the charging of their glasses easier with the release of an induction based charging stand.
Do not hold your breath for glasses-free 3D TVs. Toshiba will be unveiling a glasses-free 3D TV at the IFA 2011, but it will be high-priced and the 3D image quality will not challenge that of shutter glasses based 3D sets.