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The Early Adopter’s Guide to 3D TV, Cameras, Camcorders, and Editing

At a Glance
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File Types and Playback Differences

The only foolproof way to display your own 3D photos and videos on current 3D-capable sets is to connect your camera or camcorder to the set via HDMI and then use it as a playback device. In general, native file support in today's 3D TV sets is iffy, but .MPO still images are well on their way toward achieving mainstream native support. What's more, you should be able to resolve most current native-playback issues via future firmware updates for each set.

Panasonic Viera TC-P42GT25
Overall, .MPO is establishing itself as the standard for 3D still images. CIPA (the Camera and Imaging Products Association) supports the file format, which is the 3D still-image file type that most mainstream 3D-capable cameras use. Also, Panasonic Viera 3D sets natively support .MPO. Using the Panasonic Viera TC-P42GT25, we had no trouble viewing .MPO images directly from the TV's SD Card slots and USB-in ports.

3D video files are much trickier to work with, because of divergent file types and codecs. JVC and Panasonic capture 3D video as AVCHD-format .MTS files, Sony will use a to-be-determined MPEG-4 MVC codec, and Fujifilm uses a 3D version of the .AVI file format. In our testing, no Panasonic or Samsung 3D TV set natively supported any of these file types, but connecting the capture devices to any 3D-capable set via HDMI should let you play back 3D videos on the big screen properly.

You should keep a few things in mind before you shoot the next family moment in 3D. First, whether your TV uses active-shutter glasses or passive polarized glasses, your 3D videos and photos should work: File types don't depend on the tech used to create the 3D image, so you don't have to worry about a 3D Blu-ray disc working on one kind of 3D TV but not on another.

At the moment, active-shutter glasses should produce a higher-quality image than polarized 3D glasses, but they also cost more, require batteries, and often have problems with "flickering" images that can tire your eyes. Polarized glasses are the kind you've used in movie theaters--they're cheaper and lighter because all of the signal processing happens in the TV. However, polarized 3D sets haven't reached the market yet (Vizio and LG both announced polarized 3D sets at CES 2011), and we haven't had a chance to compare them against active-shutter sets to see how the image quality and 3D depth stack up.

Waiting for glasses-free 3D on a big-screen TV? Don't hold your breath. We've seen some promising (and not-so-promising) demos of glasses-free 3D TVs, but none that can consistently produce a 3D image with the range of acceptable viewing angles we expect of our current TVs. Instead, you have to stand in one of two spots about 8 to 10 feet away to see the 3D image--so it's not something you'd want in your living room. Smaller devices--such as portable Blu-ray players, laptops, game consoles, and the 3D LCD viewfinders on cameras and camcorders--can pull off glasses-free 3D, but so far the effect is pretty subtle.

Playing 3D photos and videos that you shot yourself usually involves connecting your camera or camcorder to a 3D TV via HDMI 1.4, but we're hoping that more manufacturers will offer the on-board SD Card slot and .MPO file support that Panasonic's Viera line of 3D TVs provide. We've yet to see a TV that plays back 3D .MTS videos (or any other 3D video file format) natively, an advance that would make viewing your own 3D videos a lot easier.

Samsung UN40C7000
Once you get.MPO images and .MTS 3D videos to play on your TV, you'll see subtle differences in the "3Dness" of the image, depending on the TV and camera that you use. We viewed sample .MPO images shot with different cameras on Panasonic's Viera TC-P42GT25 and Samsung's UN40C7000 using active-shutter glasses, and the differences were obvious.

For example, in our eyes-on tests, .MPO images shot with the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3 looked stunning when played back via a USB port on Panasonic's Viera TC-P42GT25: The images displayed "coming out of the TV" foreground effects, expansive background depth, and subtle, true-to-life layering between different points in each image. But 3D .MPO images shot with the Sony Cyber-shot WX5 looked much more "3D" when viewed on the Sony Bravia KDL-40HX800 3D TV than on the Viera TC-P42GT25. Still images in .MPO format shot with the JVC GS-TD1 had a nice 3D effect when played back natively on the Panasonic set, but the image looked very layered: Subjects at different focal lengths looked a bit flat, and more like cardboard cutouts than real, three-dimensional objects. What's more, the Samsung set didn't recognize .MPO and 3D .MTS files on a connected USB drive; we had to connect the capture devices to the set via HDMI to view the files.

Even when you connect a camera or camcorder to a 3D TV for playback over HDMI, differences in 3D quality are noticeable from set to set. After we connected the FinePix Real 3D W3 to a Panasonic TV, the same 3D video showed more depth and much less flickering than it did when played on the Samsung set. Differences in the sets' signal processing, in 3D glasses technology, and even in the amount of battery charge left in the active-shutter glasses can affect the 3D quality during playback.

At a Glance
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