We're already in the second generation of in-home 3D, but you're forgiven if you feel nervous about making the plunge just yet. Spending $2000 or so on a 3D TV set, a few pairs of glasses, and a 3D-capable camera or camcorder still seems like a risky proposition at this point, as some key questions remain.
For instance, will 3D video shot with a Panasonic camcorder display correctly on a Samsung TV? If so, what will it take to play back your own 3D images and video on your set? And if you'd rather limit your viewing options to broadcast 3D content and 3D Blu-ray discs, will the content currently available keep you entertained for long?
In this guide, we'll help answer those questions. It's worth a read even if you're not interested specifically in a 3D setup: Soon, every new HDTV may support 3D viewing in one way or another, and more everyday cameras will offer 3D modes.
"In the next couple of years, 3D camcorder success will depend on the ability to easily watch your content on the new breed of TVs," says Christopher Chute, Research Manager at IDC Worldwide Digital Imaging Solutions Group. "Cameras built specifically for 3D shooting may have only a niche following, yet more cameras in the coming years will give you a choice of 3D modes and let you easily capture 3D still and video content. Another trend we'll see is more glasses-free 3D screens on cameras and camcorders, enabling easy local sharing."
Here's what you'll need to know about the 3D file formats, cameras, camcorders, and HDTVs available now and in the coming months.
Capturing 3D content: one lens vs. two lenses
In a traditional setup, a camera needs two lenses spaced about as far apart as a pair of eyeballs to take a 3D image. The photo taken through each lens represents a visual "channel"--one right channel, one left channel--that sync up with your eyeballs to create the 3D illusion you see in the resulting image. After taking the two photos, the camera combines the two "channel" images into one image in various ways, depending on the playback technology. Slightly offsetting the two images or firing the left- and right-channel images in rapid succession gives the image or video simulated depth when viewed with special eyewear or on a specially coated display.
Few single-lens 3D cameras and convertible 3D lens options are available now, though they are still probably the best option for casual shooters today. Not everyone wants to invest in a twin-lens camera built primarily for 3D shooting; one-lens cameras are everyday models built for traditional 2D shooting, but they also let you experiment with 3D photography. Be aware, however, that single-lens cameras can take only 3D still images, not 3D video footage; you'll need a dual-lens device to make 3D movies.
Inside single-lens models, accelerometers and algorithms perform most of the magic. The cameras detect where each lens in a two-lens setup should be; then on-screen guides instruct the shooter to move the camera accordingly to frame a 3D shot. The camera performs the post-shot stitching and processing automatically, and the result is a single .MPO-format 3D image.