3D TV Review: Sky 3D, Games, Blu-rays and Photos

3D technology has changed drastically over the past few years, gone are the cheap green and red cardboard glasses from yesteryear and in come high-end 3D TV’s, far more expensive designer glasses and stereoscopic HD gaming and photography. Many of the big TV manufacturers such as Sony, Panasonic and Samsung have been pushing their new 3D TV technology to consumers for the past few months, though in-store, TV and online advertising

Despite the push from these companies, 3D in the home still hasn’t taken off as many of us would have hoped. There are a number of reasons for this, firstly the glasses. Not only do consumers still feel silly while wearing them, matters are made even worse when some companies are retailing their 3D glasses at around £100 a pair. This will put many people off buying them for family viewing, as the overall cost will be too expensive, especially after just buying a new TV.

Having just one pair of 3D glasses may be fine for gaming, but for movies and photos you really need at least a couple of them, if not more, especially when trying to involve others in the 3D experience. Also as 3D films appeal to many children, you will also be required to buy some child friendly 3D glasses and most of these are almost just as expensive as the adult ones.

Next you have the 3D content, there are nowhere near enough 3D films or games out right now to get the consumers interest. While some films really show off 3D in a great light, the one film that many people will want to get their hands on, Avatar, has become a Panasonic 3D TV exclusive for a year.

Yes, the one film that would have pushed 3D TV sales more than anything else can only be had with a 3D TV from Panasonic. Don’t get us wrong, the Panasonic TV’s are some of, if not the best at 3D right now, but if you want 3D to take off around the world you need films like these available at retail. Avatar in 3D will not be available for retail until December 2011 and there really are no other films that can compare to it in 3D currently.

Crosstalk is the next 3D irritation; this is where ghosting of images (leaking of part of the image for the left eye into the right eye and vice versa) happens during your viewing. We have noticed this not only in some films, but also in numerous games such as TRON Evolution. While some people say they can ignore it, when you do see it, you end up focussing on it. This ends up distracting you from enjoying the film or game you are playing.

Some TV’s and glasses cope better with crosstalk than others, but we have yet to see one TV set that can come close to eliminating it altogether and until we do, it will always irritate those of us who crave a great picture, especially when you may spend many years watching it.

Don’t get us wrong though, when 3D is done right it can look excellent. As mentioned earlier, watching Avatar on a Panasonic 3D TV can look superb and is just as good as what you saw in the Cinema, despite the much smaller screen. The picture is crisp and full of colour and the depth of the image really makes it feel more real than the 2D version ever did.

So what 3D movies, games and services are available?

Sky 3D

We have also had access to Sky’s 3D TV service for the past month and while some of the content has been really poor, there have been some diamonds in the rough. Football on Sky 3D is one of the sports that many consumers have been saying will push them to 3D, well we have to say that we were disappointed with it so far. Yes there are occasions when there is great depth on show, but most of the time you just don’t notice much difference during the game, it can even become distracting at times.

Nature programmes have been some of our favourites though, with David Attenborough’s Flying Monsters a real treat and one piece of made for 3D TV that really works well.

Some 3D movie content has also been shown on Sky 3D too – including Avatar. This is what we were really looking forward to trying and although there are a number of issues, the picture quality was pretty good. The main issue we have seen is with the jerkiness of the picture, this is likely to be due to the film showing in 50hz, but it can make you feel a little sick at times, especially with a long 3D film such as Avatar.

Due to the Sky HD hardware being over four years old now, the system isn’t perfect for 3D, due mainly to it only supporting HDMI 1.1. This means that the side-by-side 3D technology that Sky prefers, usually has to be manually setup via your 3D TV, not the most consumer friendly way of doing it, especially for those not technology minded. Sky broadcasts in 1080i/50hz and you are required to have the full Sky World package to get the Sky 3D channel for free, this costs around £62 a month.

3D Gaming

The easiest way to get into 3D gaming is via Sony’s PlayStation 3, the system has a few games that work in stereoscopic 3D as well as being capable of playing 3D Blu-Ray movies without the need of additional hardware or software.

Right now most of the 3D titles are a very mixed bag, for all the great titles like Super Stardust HD you get another five dire ones. We have played through Super Stardust HD and it is easily the best looking 3D title out right now, the depth is great and the game has no loss of speed or quality when you play it. Flying around the planet destroying the asteroids has the debris flying out of the screen at you and it works very well.

We also played Tron Evolution and it was a big disappointment both in gameplay and 3D terms. The game felt flat and looked quite poor with noticeable crosstalk showing up in backgrounds. You can adjust the 3D depth but it still doesn’t help the fact that the 3D effects feel very much tacked on. For a game that talked up 3D, it is a big letdown.

Next up we tried Prince of Persia Trilogy 3D and although nowhere near as great as Super Stardust HD, the game does have some very good subtle 3D effects on show throughout the three titles.  The Sly Cooper Trilogy was another game that shipped with 3D as an option, unfortunately it doesn’t look that good in any of the three titles and makes little difference.

While Sony and the PlayStation 3 have jumped into 3D gaming and 3D movies in a big way, many PC users have felt a little left behind when it comes to connecting up their computers to 3D Televisions. Well the good news is that this all about to change thanks to NVIDIA's new 3DTV Play software.

PC 3D Gaming

The 3DTV Play software works if you have both a compatible NVIDIA Graphics card and a HDMI 1.4 based 3D TV from the list that the company provides on their website.

The software doesn't just allow you to play 3D games, but also enables 3D Blu-Ray movie playback, and the ability to view 3D photos on your PC if you have a compatible 3D camera. However, the 3DTV Play pack does come with a number of 3D photos for you to try out even if you haven’t gotten around to buying a 3D camera yet. From our early tests with 3D films, the 3DTV Play software does a perfectly good job with films such as Alice in Wonderland and Monster House in 3D.

The software has been a long time coming to the consumer -- with numerous delays along the way -- and still has issues today, especially with some games. Neowin tried the technology, in an early play through, and we have had issues with a number of “3D Vision Ready” titles such as Dead Rising 2 and Civilization 5. Both games showed low, unplayable frame rates despite running at 720p @ 60hz and 1080 @ 24hz.

Not everything is bad news, though. With a list of over 500 3D compatible games showing up on the NVIDIA website, some titles such as StarCraft 2, Borderlands, Just Cause 2, Darksiders and Batman: Arkham Asylum look and play great in 3D on our test system (an NVIDIA GTX 295), although many titles do have trouble running in 1080p at 24hz, though this is more likely due to our dated hardware than the 3DTV Play software itself.

Running a game in 3D at 1080p means that the graphics card is doing twice the work that it normally does, this can bring down even the most recent top end cards.

When running a 3D title, a small information bar will show up in the bottom right of your TV for any titles which have specific 3DTV play issues. These can be simple things such as icons rendering in 2D or missing textures.

3D Photography

3D photography via 3DTV Play is pretty good too; thanks to some example photos that NVIDIA provided us with we were able to test out around 10 3D photos. The ones that really showed up well were nature based, especially macro flower photos, they added a depth that really makes a difference when viewing them.

It is however, very hard to judge if 3D photography will take off in any shape or form. The first consumer 3D cameras on the market from Fuji were overpriced and sold in very low numbers. So unless companies such as Sony and Samsung get 3D cameras out in the near future, this may end up just being an unused feature for many consumers.

3D Blu-Ray

Hands down the best example of 3D on a TV is via 3D Blu-Ray content. As we mentioned earlier in our article, Avatar in 3D on a Panasonic 3D TV is superb and easily the best show off title out at the moment. The issue here is that unless you are rich and want to pay over the odds for it on eBay, you will have to wait until December to get your hands on it.

To begin with the main 3D movies on Blu-Ray were nature titles, but more recently things have got a lot better on the 3D front. All of these titles were run at 1080p/24hz.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs looks great, the colors and the depth of the picture really stand out. It also has some great 3D effects on show and a lot of them are very subtle and don’t distract you from the story.

Alice in Wonderland in 3D is also surprisingly good, it has very little crosstalk and despite the fact that the movie was not filmed in 3D originally, the effects are very good, especially the butterfly at the end of the film, which really feels like it is coming out of the screen at you.

Bolt 3D – one of the poorest examples of 3D so far, the picture was dull and the 3D effects we very hard to notice at all. A shame as many animated movies are perfect for 3D.

A downside of many 3D glasses is that they make the picture much darker than normal viewing, but with our Sony 3D TV we were able to maintain a good level of brightness when adjusting the settings.

Final Thoughts

We hope this has helped some of you decide on whether 3D technology is worth delving into right now. Although at the end of 2010 it was hard to know if 3D technology would take off, it seems that after the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, many more companies see 3D TV as the future. Sony seems to have decided to bring 3D to not just their TV’s but to their camcorders and cameras, which is another good sign.

It won't be long before 3D TV's that require no glasses will be released, a select few from Toshiba were on show at CES. At the moment they will need a lot more work before they can do the same job as the 3D glasses do as there are too many variable places to sit in a room that interfere with the 3D picture. This is the way forward however, even if it will take a couple of years or more to get right.

If you do decide to go for a 3D TV, make sure you give each set a really good testing as each one has its plus and minus points and with what many people see as the second generation of 3D TV sets just a few months away, it may well be worth waiting.

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