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.
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.
3D content providers
The selection of 3D content available today is better than it was last summer--the last time we checked in--but not by much. 3D Blu-ray discs are still the easiest way to put your 3D TV to work--assuming that you have a 3D Blu-ray player or a Sony PlayStation 3. Unfortunately for consumers, we continue to see vendors lock down high-profile movies as key elements of exclusive bundle-only releases. The 3D Blu-ray version of Avatar, for example, is available only as part of a Panasonic 3D starter kit that includes two pairs of glasses for about $400.