Get Used To "3D" TVs – They're Here To Stay

We’ve seen a lot of TVs announced before and during IFA this year. That makes sense — it’s a consumer electronics show, after all. And I guarantee that most if not all of those sets will have their 3D capability touted. It’s a dangerous move, since so many consumers are wary of 3D — not enough content, bulky glasses, headaches, and so on. So there’s been some grumbling: why are they including 3D on TVs when nobody wants it?

It’s really pretty simple: adding 3D capability to a TV is trivial. It’s a freebie feature they get to charge for.

The most common (if you can call it that) home 3D technology relies on LCD shutter glasses, which require the TV to show alternating images that last a fraction of a second — as little as 1/100th. This would have been difficult a few years ago, when we were still making the move from interlaced to progressive, and supporting 30p instead of 60i was the priority. But once that particular little war was over, and TVs had gotten sufficiently thin and bright that improvements on that front no longer excited consumers, TV makers needed something new. A new number to make bigger and bigger. Somewhere in a board room last year might have been heard a grave CTO murmuring to the board, “Gentlemen: refresh rates.”

Despite the fact that the quality difference between 60Hz and 120Hz is questionable (to say nothing of the difference between 120, 240, 480, and surely more) and the visual benefits of faster refresh rates dubious, TV makers have pushed that part of the technology hard. I would never say it made TVs worse, far from it, but more difficult and important tasks like improving dynamic range have fallen by the wayside as TV makers strive to make their “TruMotion” or “SmoothVision” or whatever technology as smooth and tru as possible. The result is that pretty much every TV released now supports these faster refresh rates.

Enter 3D. While some (arguably superior) 3D methods require polarized light or special manufacturing or materials, active shutter 3D requires only a display that can display X frames per second, and LCD glasses that can strobe at a similar rate. I don’t blame them for going for that first; to change the coatings and backlight tech and everything to produce circular polarized light, or to switch to a lenticular array system, would be incredibly costly.

As it turned out, the 3D technology they went for could be added to last year’s TVs with almost no effort at all. A simple spec for 3D signal transmission over HDMI, a tweak to the display driver, and they’re done creating “the next generation of television.” A nice bit of sleight of hand, that!

So not only could they sell their day-old pastries for full price again, but they get to sell the accessories that go with them. LCD shutter glasses are expensive and the technology is being improved quickly, resulting in faster and better blackouts. And then, in another year or two, some company or panel OEM will decide to go in for the newer and better 3D tech, and the current sets will be obsolete.

The fact, though, is that 3D is here to stay as a feature, and in the case of today’s TVs, it’s not even a new feature.

What can you do? It seems that as a consumer, you’re being screwed. So it is. So it has always been and always will be. All I can tell you is to do your research and if possible, don’t buy into any premium features, since those are the ones that depreciate the quickest. You can get an excellent TV for a good deal under a thousand dollars, and you can see 3D movies in the theaters. Pay attention to the specs, compare color and contrast in real life (get local dimming if you can), and don’t let any shop shark talk you into buying anything above 120Hz.