A new generation of 3D television

11 Apr

April 11, 2011

By Geoff Meeker

Just over a year ago, I told you about the first commercially-available 3D TV set, by Samsung. I was fairly impressed by the Samsung’s crystal clear image and strong 3D image depth.

The Samsung’s weak point was the 3D glasses, which created a great image but cost $150 per pair. For a large family, that adds up to a lot of cash.

Now, the release of the LG Cinema 3D TV is threatening to set a new benchmark for 3D viewing. Indeed, in its media release, LG is calling it the “next generation” in 3D technology. Here’s the pitch, from the top of their release:

“The LG Cinema 3D TV recreates the 3D movie theatre viewing experience with lightweight, comfortable and affordable eyewear and delivers crisp bright images and wide-angle viewing practically eliminating the feelings of dizziness or eye fatigue that could occur with previous conventional 3D TVs. The… glasses are flicker-free, have no electrical parts, are free of electromagnetic waves, and never need to be recharged…”

What they don’t mention is the price of the glasses, which, at $20 per pair, is probably the TV’s strongest selling point. While the electronic glasses produced by Samsung, Sony and Panasonic may have been state-of-the-art, consumers have been slow to adopt it because of the high price. They also break easily.

It stood to reason, then, that LG would do well by going with affordable, passive glasses – but only if they could deliver image quality equal or superior to the active glasses.

I was at Future Shop last Thursday, when the LG Cinema 55” made its debut. Playing on the screen was “Under the Sea,” a visually-rich documentary by IMAX. As with all 3D TVs, the image looked fuzzy and unimpressive without the 3D glasses.

I slipped them on. It took a moment – perhaps five seconds – for my eyes to adjust, and “find” the 3D image. But then, I stood, transfixed, as the ocean bottom opened into a dramatic 3D image, with cavorting seals that occasionally swam within “touching” distance. And, once my eyes were acclimatized, the transitions between scenes were seamless and easy on the eye, with no loss of the 3D effect.

Many of the stereoscopic images I’ve seen in 3D are really a series of planes; one flat plane on top another, creating an illusion of depth. That was not the case here. At one point, a large fish swam into the foreground, and its full depth and perspective was there, from nose to tail. Furthermore, the background also had full depth, telescoping seamlessly from middle ground to infinity. It was uncanny.

For comparison, I walked around the corner for a second look at the Samsung I reviewed last year. The LG Cinema is noticeably better.

There’s no point going on about how breathtaking it is. To corrupt the saying, writing about 3D is like dancing about architecture. You need to see the LG Cinema for yourself.

The TV has a couple of other great features, most notably the wireless Internet, which allows you to easily update the TV’s software. There are direct links to YouTube, Facebook and Netflix, and even a web browser, so you can pretty much do what you want online.

The TV has DLNA technology, which enables access to your home computer. This will be of special interest to those who store a lot of movies and video on their systems.

The “Magic” remote works like a Wii controller: you point at the screen, and the cursor precisely follows your movements, making it easier to type passwords, web addresses, and so on.

I did have one reservation. When you stand eight feet from the TV, you can clearly see the horizontal lines of resolution, with the naked eye. These disappear when you stand further back, at the recommended distance of 12 feet (though how many of us have rec rooms that big)? These lines were not visible in regular 2D television, so it may be unique to 3D movies, or even to this specific film. However, LG is paying Future Shop to play this DVD exclusively, and it was actually locked into the player. If you look seriously at this TV, insist on screening a variety of DVDs.

As great as this TV is, I wouldn’t rush out to buy just yet. The technology is leapfrogging constantly, and there will be more advances in the months and years ahead.

However, if you need a TV now and elect to purchase this one, I am officially jealous.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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