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Stereo displays: passive, active or neither?

Stereoscopic 3D for home has been surrounded in controversy, since this first active shutter displays started to appear. Now, as the winter holiday season approaches, there are two types to choose between! I compare my Sony 55HX800 and LG 55LW5600, to help you choose which best suits your needs. Or, you can wait for the third option, which will probably become mainstream in 2012.

The Sony solution: Active shutter glasses

When I purchased my first 3D TV, the Sony 55HX800 with shutter glasses (active) was the most attractive option. It has a beautiful picture and solid 3D presentation. On the downside, the user interface is typical Sony — the menu to adjust convergence blocks half of the screen, so good luck using it with any accuracy when you can’t see what you want to adjust! It’s also not granular enough for fine tuning adjustments.

The glasses are good, but require batteries and have no option for USB charging. Fortunately, the batteries last a long time (claim is 100 hours which my experience says is not unreasonable). Keeping your head straight is important for the best view.

My Sony 3D video camera plays well with it too, offering a proprietary 1080i60 feed that the TV plays natively to produce a fantastically clear image.

The LG Alternative: Passive, polarized glasses

So far, the combination of bad press and lack of content for the stereoscopic industry has slowed down adoption of the new format.

LG takes a very “low tech” approach of putting a thin film over the screen, which let’s the viewer use polarized glasses (exactly the same as what you get in the theatre, so keep the ones you get, don’t give them back!).

I have both screens, sitting side by side, connected to the same nVidia video card.

Wearing the glasses is much easier than the shutters. That said, the first time I used the TV for a long period, I felt very ill. That never happened with the Sony, though it also doesn’t happen anymore with the LG. I attribute some of this, in all cases, with tuning. It takes a while to get the image looking good.

There are some downsides:

1. When you turn on 3D, you will immediately see that the film makes the screen look interlaced, resulting in a diminished resolution. When you put the glasses on, this goes away, but the image quality is not as sharp as the Sony.

2. LG also forces you into a zoomed screen (probably ~10%). You can adjust this in the nVidia display panel, but it doesn’t work quite right. So, it’s good for videos and games where you can bring in UI elements from the edges, but you’re in a tough spot for desktop applications, etc.

3. I noticed that if I sit too close, areas of the screen that are not directly in my focus look like I am not wearing the glasses. Essentially, you need to move your head vertically, depending on where you want to look. In other words, you cannot “look up” at something, you must raise your whole head. As you move further back, this effect disappears.

The big win of the LG is that it produces an image that has a more intense stereo effect.

I turned up the stereoscopic effect to 100%, in the nVidia drivers, and tried a few different 3D sources: games, movies, 2D->3D still images. For reference: with the Sony, I found 30% to be about the maximum level I am comfortable with.

The LG’s 3D was, for lack of a less used word, stunning. The image quality may not be on par with the Sony, but the stereoscopic effect is more like watching a theatrical release.

Conclusion

For computer use, the Sony 55HX800 is a fantastic display. The text is crisp and the colour reproduction is solid. It’s definitely a great device for content development.

For content consumption, the LG 55LW5600 takes the cake. Easy to use glasses and a more spectacular stereoscopic effect override the detail and colour issues of the LG. You’re getting it for the 3D, anyhow!

Epilogue

While passive and active displays duke it out for your holiday shopping dollars, the next wave is showing up in the trade show circuit.

This wave is, of course, the holy grail of stereovision: glasses-free 3D.

I’ve seen a few displays up close, too. Stereoscopic display without the glasses is pretty cool, but the lens technology I have seen creates a very obvious interlacing effect. I cannot see how this will look good for computer desktop display, but it takes us one step closer to fully immersive experience.

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