Active vs. passive 3D: What is better?

We explain the technical differences between passive 3D and active 3D, and decide which is superior

If you buy a brand new TV these days, chances are if it's anything more than a bargain-bin model it will be able to play some form of 3D video. Almost all mid-range and high-end TVs from brands like Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, LG, Sharp and Toshiba support 3D playback, but different TVs use different methods to display the 3D effect. The two competing technologies are active 3D and passive 3D. In this article we will be highlighting the major differences between them to decide which is the better technology.

If you're picking out a new television and want to work out what's best for you, read through our LCD vs LED vs plasma TV buying guide.

Want to learn about 3D TV? Take a look at our 3D TV buying guide.

Active 3D

Samsung active 3D glasses

Active 3D is the technology that the first generation of 3D TVs debuted with, spearheaded by Samsung in 2010. Active 3D uses battery-powered 3D glasses which have LCD 'shutters' over each lens. When 3D content is being shown, the LCD glasses darken to block the lens of each eye of the 3D glasses sequentially, in sync with the 3D TV itself. The 3D TV shows sequential frames of 3D footage to each eye. Because one lens is blocked out, only particular video frames are shown to the right eye, and only particular frames are shown to the left eye. The frames shown to the left eye are shifted horizontally compared to the frames shown to the right eye; this horizontal shift is what makes video look 3D. Each frame contains a full 1080 lines in active 3D.

Passive 3D

LG passive 3D glasses

LG's new 'Cinema 3D' TVs use passive 3D. Passive 3D uses the same basic concept as active 3D — the video frames shown to each eye are off-set against each other to produce a simulated 3D effect. However, passive 3D does not use any fancy technology in the glasses. Instead, each lens is polarised; the left lens is polarised oppositely to the right lens. It's complicated, but essentially each line of pixels on a passive 3D TV is polarised to only display video frames to either the left or the right eye of a pair of polarised 3D glasses; there are 1080 lines in a Full HD TV, so 540 lines for each eye.

Which is better?

There are advantages and disadvantages to both passive and active 3D — the differences exist mostly in the glasses.

Passive 3D glasses are much cheaper than their active equivalent. A bundle of two pairs from LG costs just $19. They are more affordable because they don't have any batteries, Bluetooth or complicated circuitry built in — all they are is a pair of plastic frames and two polarised plastic lenses. You can buy polarised 3D glasses at the cinema for $1; though we assume the polarisation is different, it demonstrates the low production cost of passive glasses. In contrast, active shutter 3D glasses from the big brands like Panasonic, Sony and Samsung cost $100 or more, with premium models costing as much as $150. If you've got a dozen people coming around to watch a 3D movie, passive 3D is a clear winner in the price stakes.

Active 3D glasses are heavier than passive glasses due to having an inbuilt battery and circuitry, as well as thicker lenses, which contain the LCD shutters. This hasn't been a problem during our testing, but if you're watching a 3D movie marathon, active glasses might be marginally more uncomfortable. Active glasses are also prone to flickering — if you've got particular kinds of lighting around your TV (fluorescent globes are the worst offenders), active 3D glasses can show the light as flickery due to the fast on-off effect of the active shutters built into the glasses. This is only a problem with particular kinds of lighting — incandescent globes, for example, remain flicker-free in our experience. Passive 3D glasses don't exhibit any flicker.

To their credit, active shutter glasses are able to display more detail to each eye — the alternating-frame technology means a full 1080p image is shown to each eye, rather than the half frame (alternating lines down the TV screen) that passive 3D shows. This means that the video will have cleaner lines, especially on curves and edges. If high quality video is crucially important to you, active 3D is the choice to make. (You could just watch the movie in 2D and have the best picture, but that's another story.)

So, passive 3D wins out on price, weight, size and anti-flickering, but active 3D is still the go-to for outright image quality.

Tags LED TV3d TVplasma tv

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

PC World

17 Comments

Daniel Chung

1

Also the active 3D glasses make the screen size smaller and darker than the passive 3D glasses.

Ned

2

Well, I passed by the electronics shop two days ago and tried out Samsung active 3D and LG passive 3D for the very first time, and the LG was much better. I asked the shop assistant how they were going to sell the pricier active 3D sets the shop had, in the context of the present reality...she just smiled and informed me that people were buying them. Was I surprised? I guess folks still spend their monies without hands-on research. Good for Samsung though.

Anthony

3

In my experiences with the two, i truly enjoyed the active glasses much more. Sure they cost more, but it's a pretty common fact that things that are more costly are going to be more of an experience for you.

Sebastian

4

I preferred LG's (have not seen vizio) passive 3D - just a personal opinion, don't be offended if you prefer active. Why did I prefer it?

Yes, some lines are visible if you want to get picky. But to me using the 1080/540 issue as the sole or primary benchmark on video quality is like choosing one car over another because it is faster. Does that make it the superior car?

At any normal distance and even fairly close up, I didn't feel like the LG set was lacking in image quality. Unless you wanted to make and issue out of it, the lines just weren't a big deal to me. If I just wanted to watch something and enjoy it, the image did not leave me wanting.

Passive may only deliver 540 to each eye, but on the other hand detractors sometimes fail to mention that active shutter is rather dimmer because light is alternately being shut off to each eye and sometimes simultaneously shut off to minimize crosstalk risks. Passive seemed brighter to me. Some active sets looked pretty dull in comparison.

As far as 3d effect goes, there was no comparison-LG was the winner by miles. I've seen active from Sony, Samsung and Panasonic. They all look like a frame, beyond which lies a 3d world. It is pretty good.

Yes, sometimes things can extend out of the frame on active sets, but nothing like what I saw on the LG set. When I watched LG's passive, the image was much more submersive and felt less restricted by the frame. There was one sequence where I felt like this big fish was swimming around between the screen and my face. It was pretty jaw-dropping; it looked like a very good holograph that you imagine could only happen in a Star Trek Movie. None of the active sets ever gave me that experience. Off axis 3d looked pretty good also, although I did not compare to all the sets.

All things considered, (and only as far as image quality is concerned, not economics or convenience) I still preferred LG's 3d image even though it did not win every category.

Finally, there is the content issue. There is little 3d content available right now, and it will probably be a while before there is. So what you need is a good 2d set, which the LG is, and the 1080/540 is not an issue on 2d.

To sum up, the LG is a good 2d set for now, with wonderful and totally enjoyable 3d (even preferable 3d) when you can get it. On top of that, you can tilt your head more than with passive, easily share 3d with friends at a party without spending enough money on active glasses to buy another nice TV, not have to buy batteries all the time which adds to our waste, not run out of juice for the glasses in the middle of a movie, not have to worry about kids breaking your glasses or whether the glasses are on or off, have fewer worries about long-term comfort (flickering/shuttering w active), all in a very low-energy set. Whatever your preference may be, I would say it certainly has much to commend it, and is worth considering.

jason

5

I have to disagree with alot (not all) of this article in regards to active being superior to passive in terms such as resolution (I actually just posted this on another site where I found a similar claim). It's the complete opposite. Well, it's the complete opposite with the lg brand anyway. As of this month, it is official since the council/panel of individuals who determine whether a picture is full 1080p or not voted that lg's 3-d picture was in fact full 1080p regardless of the "split resolution" that many have argued over. It's on the lg official site right now as we sit here. Also, today I took one of my favorite blu-rays (that has alot of 3-d pop out) to the store I bought my lg 55lw6500 and had it put on a samsung plasma model and then immediately put it on the tv I bought and the pop out was the same on both but my picture quality was better because it showed a brighter picture. The resolution has never been a factor, if it was this panel of experts would not have voted that the picture quality is full 1080p in 3-d mode.

Tayeb

6

Hi
I was planning to bye Samsung 3d tv series 7000 46", but the price was very high in my country.. but when i found the new lg 3d tv lw6510 47" (the new generation of 3d) I changed my mind and I got it. Here is the reasons :-
1/ the price is ok
2/ passive shutter glasses is secure for eyes because u got the Pic. in both eyes at the same time.
3/ affordable glasses with low price
4/ u can move your head to any direction .. but in active shutter it will not work if you moved your head to right or left side.
5/ passive shutter glasses Pic. very bright and not effect the quality.. active shutter make it dark.

This is my word if you want to go 3d.. go LG with new 3d generation.

kirk

7

the LG is a cool tv i also planned to buy a samsung but like many of people price was a factor and i was still gonna get the more expensive samsung 3dtv b ut i went to bestbuy and tried all them out the samsung 240hertz tv is bright but the lg is rite ther with it even the panasonic is cool but the lg popped out like any other if not better at some points B/c of the flicker from sony batt. power glasses and other brands...overall the samsung is got the cooler lookin glasses and i think if lg made there cinema glasses a lil more better with the frame letting in light and glare from behind u...i reccommend the LG and buy glasses that have sides there about 50$ they work great and eliminates the glare...save a 1000$ ...i did..and got the 3d just like everyone else did

Jeff

8

I've been reading the artices on here and noticed that the people on here complaining about active are only doing so cause they can't afford it, Samsung and Sony Rule in TV quality and they chose to stick with active because it puts out a much better quality image then LG or Sharp, i bought the Samsung LED 55" 3D and i can confirm that the 3D images coming from it is simply INSANE, so if you want the best pay for it.....

Brian

9

LG has really good inexpensive 3D and LED TV's. In the end Plasma definately has better picture quality without a doubt and LED is just brighter. The LED's however are catching up. I own both types of TV's in my home (LED for living room and Plasma for basement). You can't really notice the difference, but if you look at them side by side you can clearly see the depth and detail on the Plasma TV. Same goes for 3D, there is a better picture and detail on the Sony and Samsung 3D. However I would purchase an LG 3D, it is also quite good and inexpensive. It's a matter of what you want, your budget and if you think its worth it.

Mr d

10

What isn't mentioned about active 3d is that by using the active shutters you are reducing the refresh time on the screen so for every two images produced your right eye sees one and your left eye the other while for passive the refresh rate is doubled but advertisers dont want you to realise this.

Brailey1

11

i was in a mix thinking which type 3d to go for. after research of the both types of 3d tvs on the market i went for the sharp aquos 60 led 3d tv for movies and games it ticks all the boxes for me picture quality is amazing...each to there own tho meaning we all like diffrent things best advice is try before you buy each tv i viewed i spent around 20 minutes watching 3d so take your time so you get the one thats right for you

Dario

12

I prefer active glasses bcs the 3D depth is richer.. and has a Full 1080p resolution.. bcs I wanted to enjoy the game and movie to its highest 3D depth..if you are not that perfectionist, buy tvs that have passive glasses.

Mark H.

13

OK, the passive are cheaper but there's an effect called, fringing. On the edges of a polarised pixel some abberation can take place which means that some comprmise of the, (left right) image polarisation is inveitable which causes left to right eye bleeding and distruction of the stereo 3D effect. IMO two alternate images presented at a frame rate of 100Hz to alternate eyes represents two 50 FPS images to each eye. 50FPS was totally fine for over 40 years so what's the problem with active flicker?

Johny Z

14

I’m a TV installer and this is what we experienced in our daily work. Which 3D TV and which 3D Technology is best (active vs. passive). Both is good with its own pro’s and cons. The answer is what the consumer experience the best in his opinion. No 2 people or their brains are the same. They experienced everything different. It’s like asking 10 people which car is the best and you will get 10 different answers with their own pro’s and cons.
So my advice is go to the store ask them to show you the pictures of different 3DTV’s and technology and make your own list of pro’s and cons and make a sound decision based on your experience. A point of interesting fact is that the picture you see in the store (bright environment) and your home (dark environment) and viewing usually at night will give you a different viewing experience. I viewed a 3D clip on a LG passive TV in store and wasn’t impressed. Once the TV was installed and I viewed the same clip on the same TV at night the image was much sharper. Yes. Active glasses do flicker, especially in a well lit shop, but in your dark TV room it’s not noticeable. You will also watch only 1or 2 movies a night so weight and comfort is not really a factor.
We experience that the salesmen will sell you the equipment where he can get the most commission on, and not the best value for your money or to suit your specific requirements. Don’t fall in the trap for his sales talk, 90% is bullsh@t. Make a good market research at different shops and friends advice and remember your experience it what counts. You will have to pay.
A few guidelines, buy passive if you have children, view children cartoons, a lot of people to watch and have a small TV. Buy active if you viewing group is small, want to watch in high quality and have a big TV.
My personal choice: I bought a Samsung 51” plasma 3D full HD with active glasses (after 2 years research comparing brand names and technology) and will not go passive.

steve

15

LG is the only way to go. Its true cinema experience. Active gives massive headache due to ridiculous flickering. Lg 200 Hz or 200 images per second is fabulous. Im glad my active 3d Pana broke down. I bought the LG far more superior. As for the guy who installs TVs LOL you must be joking!

Anonymous

16

I think active-or-passive is more subjective, what if someone just like filckers or just like heavy glasses? I can't stand that so I got my LG 3D TV. Simple enough, you just have to go to shop and try it on.

carl

17

I saw a beautiful LG tv in 3d,seeing the lines in the picture bothered me.Isn't that why we have 1080p. I'll take my panasonic. CC

Comments are now closed.

Latest News Articles

Most Popular Articles

Follow Us

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Resources

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?