3DTV: Beginner's guide

Technology boffins predict that a quarter of homes will have a 3D TV

Television, Time In
Television, Time In
Television, Time In
Television, Time In

Do not fear the TV that threatens to punch you square in the face. Embrace it, urge the 3D TV manufacturers and broadcasters, who’ll be pushing the new technology hard in 2011.

We’re all familiar with the concept of 3D movies at the cinema thanks to recent breakthrough films such as Avatar. Yet director James Cameron sees a big future for 3D technology as it moves from the big screen into our homes. ‘The number of networks and broadcasters investing in 3D is increasing all the time,’ he said at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month. And he’s right. Here in the UAE, local broadcaster Orbit Showtime Network (OSN) will be releasing 3D content on its airwaves this year.

So how can you take advantage of this technological breakthrough? Electronics manufacturers are busy hyping the latest 3D TV sets. But, with even the cheapest sets costing Dhs10,000 a pop, you could be wasting your money if you’re not clued up. Let us explain.

There are currently two types of 3D TVs on the market: passive and active. Passive models use traditional polarised glasses (the same as those worn in the cinema during 3D movies), which are used to view specially created DVDs in three dimensions. The quality isn’t fantastic, but it works well for mass audiences.

The newer ‘active’ method is what has grabbed the attention of techno-geeks. You’ll need a 3D TV and a pair of ‘shutter specs’, which cover one eye at a time, in turn. These glasses are synchronised to the changing picture on the screen, with each cycle showing a picture presented from a different angle to create the 3D effect. This method produces much better quality than passive 3D.

Of course, the quality also depends on what you watch. Movies and TV shows that are specifically filmed in 3D, such as Avatar, will always look better than 2D films that have been converted into 3D (something new 3D TVs such as the Samsung 7000 can do on the spot).

This year, however, we’ll start to see dedicated 3D content from broadcasters across the globe, while here in the UAE, OSN has just launched its first show created specifically for 3D viewing. Oceanworld allows viewers to experience the Great Barrier Reef and Roca Partida Island near Mexico in glorious three dimensions. So what else is on the horizon?

‘As far as 3D content is concerned, at the moment we’re limited in this region,’ says Mat Schramm from UAE-based digital communication agency AIR. ‘Du and Etisalat have 3D channels airing, but with very limited content; they’re mainly sample channels.’

So it’s still early days for 3D, although most insiders expect it to gather pace as more 3D content is created. ‘TV manufacturers have been cautious, expecting to reach mass-market no sooner than 2015, which seems reasonable,’ says Geoff Slaughter, editor of 3DTVWatcher.co.uk. ‘But the box has been opened, so there’s no going back.’

It’s not just the lack of content that is causing consumers to be wary: as with most new technology, 3D TV has its fair share of critics. A handful of medical professionals claim that it should not be used when pregnant, or if epileptic, and that viewing may prompt sickness and headaches. When watching 3D, the super-realistic image could potentially trick your brain into thinking you’re moving, while your body remains stationary. This disconnect between mind and body is what causes motion sickness, making you reach for the sick bag.

Essentially, 3D TV seems like a cross between a fairground ride and a magic-show illusion – things we’ve been enjoying for years. It could blow your mind or it may leave you a little queasy and unsatisfied, but one thing is for sure: the glasses are a major sticking point. ‘If someone can patent glasses-less 3D soon, the format might be worth considering,’ says Sean Williams from Digital Broadcast Middle East magazine. ‘While technology enthusiasts may be prepared to invest now, most people will probably steer clear until the amount of content rises and the prices drop.’

Try 3D TV for yourself at electronics stores across the city. What’s your view on 3D?

Does it work?

Time Out editor and proud 3D TV owner Ross Brown gives his verdict.

‘The glasses are not a strong look and everyone scoffs, but my TV, with the power to make everything 3D – even the news – has made ‘staying in’ brilliant again. I’m actually looking forward to box-set summer.
Happy three-dimensional days!’

Our pick of the sets

Philips 9000
Screen size: 46”
Dhs10,999. Available at Al Ghandi Electronics, Jumeirah (04 324 7000).

Panasonic VT20
Screen size: 50”
Dhs14,999. Available at Panasonic, The Dubai Mall (04 339 9624).

Samsung 7000
Screen size: 55”
Dhs14,999. Available at Samsung, The Dubai Mall (04 339 9607).

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