In their zeal to say something, anything, about 3D TVs that arrived at dealers in March, the toaster testers at Consumer Reports put out a short video that contained incorrect information and impressions derived from improper testing.
They obtained a Samsung LED-edgelit LCD set, and also a Panasonic plasma set, and revealed that with the Samsung, turning the 3D glasses 90° on their side completely blocked the picture, due to the glasses’ polarization, and pointed out that no such anomaly occurred with the Panasonic. The presenter inferred that the Samsung would provide a poorer 3D experience for a viewer who’s laying on a couch horizontally.
What CR should have known is that in order to achieve the best 3D experience, it is assumed that viewers will be sitting upright, and that the glasses will be horizontally even. At the Hollywood Post Alliance’s annual Technology Retreat in February, noted 3D expert Dr. Marty Banks, director of UC Berkeley’s Vision Science Lab, delivered a fascinating presentation that included a description of a 3D visual acuity evaluation setup. In order to glean the most useful data, test observers peering into the device actually have their heads “locked” in place, for optimum eye alignment. If a viewer’s head is lopsided, then the 3D effect deteriorates.
“The Panasonic has better blacks!” According to CR, the Panasonic set delivered superior blacks, compared to the Samsung. That statement caught the attention of senior management at Samsung’s headquarters in Korea, and resulted in one of their top engineers traveling to the US to meet with key reviewers and provide technical information as to why they felt CR came to the wrong conclusion.
With a Panasonic 3D plasma set parked next to a Samsung 3D LED/LCD model, they showed that the Panasonic set was incorrectly calibrated when it switched into 3D mode, compared to when it was properly adjusted for 2D viewing. They also provided 3D HD test patterns to the reviewers (none existed outside of the various TV companies’ labs). With the test patterns, it was easy to see that the Panasonic (in 3D mode) needed significant additional adjustment in order to get black level and contrast set correctly – both were way, way off. Once adjusted and compared with the Samsung (which was also properly adjusted for 3D), the Panasonic did appear to have darker blacks in some scenes, but the Samsung actually delivered a superior overall picture, as the Panasonic appeared to be crushing some black detail, which the Samsung delivered intact.
They also pointed out that comparing 3D LCD to 3D plasma is a potentially troublesome affair, as each display type has unique challenges in delivering a quality 3DTV effect. As the only TV company to offer both types of 3DTVs, Samsung is certainly well qualified to know the ins and outs of both technologies.
Prescription 3D Glasses?
During the week that I attended Samsung’s briefing, the May issue of CR arrived, and in their “Ask The Experts” section, a reader inquired if prescription 3D glasses would be forthcoming. “Probably” was the response from the magazine’s unnamed 3DTV “expert”.
As active 3D glasses are multi-layered affairs (with polarizing layers, the LCD shutter itself, and possibly a color filter layer in some cases), I couldn’t see how they could be made with prescription lens optics as well. After all, prescription eyeglass lenses are ground glass or molded plastic, and bear little relation to active 3D lens types.
So I went and asked a real expert if indeed prescription 3D glasses would be likely to appear on the market. “A slight possibility, but very low” was the response I got when I spoke with Ami Dror, Chief Strategy Officer of XpanD, whose firm counts over 3,000 3D movie theaters and screening rooms worldwide that feature their active 3D glasses. They’ve sold more than two million pairs to date, and are co-partnering and providing OEM active shutter 3D glasses to some of the 3DTV set makers.
He pointed out that there are a number of substantial technical hurdles to overcome, and that while his firm is presently exploring this question, due to focal point issues and other challenges, he doesn’t hold out much hope. Instead, they’re concentrating on making 3D specs that are themselves prescription eyeglass-friendly.