How to Show Off Your 3D HDTV

Here's how to present your 3D HDTV set in the best way possible

A 3D HDTV can set you back anywhere from $1000 to $6000--and that's not including the active-shutter glasses, the 3D Blu-ray disc player, or media--so you'd better be able to show that baby off. Our guide will take you from step one (setting up your screening room) all the way to the end (choosing what to watch).

Set Up the Room

3D HDTVs are not for the faint of heart--and by that I mean anyone who's young, old, pregnant, drunk, or tired (thanks for the warning, Samsung). However, you can minimize the possibility of your 3D TV giving people epileptic seizures and/or nausea, by arranging your room with 3D feng shui in mind.

Dim the Lights

Your TV is the main event, so you'll need to place it carefully. Any excess light will detract from the viewing experience and potentially make your viewers queasy. Looking through the glasses in regular ambient room light, for example, will cause you to see a flicker from the "shuttering." This flicker is amplified if you look directly at a brighter light (such as a phone screen or a blinking LED), and the quick movement can cause motion sickness in some viewers. So be sure to position your television away from any windows (and especially not against a window), other screens (such as computers or fancy alarm clocks), and any electronics with LED lights.

Also, purchase a TV that doesn't have an illuminated logo or light bar at the bottom (or that has one you can turn off). If your television is hooked up to a cable box or a multimedia player that has blinking lights, put the box or player in a cabinet with doors that you can close. While that might seem a little excessive, remember that the ideal viewing situation--a movie theater--also lacks light.

Arrange the Furniture

Once your TV is in place, and you've stowed all of your electronics safely out of sight, arrange the furniture. Ideally, no more than four people should be viewing the television at once--because four people sitting side by side are about as much off-axis viewing as a 3D TV can handle. Once you get too far to either side of the TV, the picture will begin to flatten. And once you get to about a 45-degree angle, the picture is almost completely flat.

It's important to set up your furniture with that in mind. If you're going to have more than four people watching TV at once, it's best to have some people sitting behind others. The perfect situation would be theater-style graduated seating, but assuming that you can't afford to turn your living room into a minitheater, the next best arrangement is cushions on the floor, a couch, and barstools.

One more thing to note: If your group is watching material with a lot of movement (sports or action films), viewers sitting at an angle might start to feel queasy. They can mitigate the effect by moving farther away from the TV--the larger the angle, the farther away the viewer should be. Remember this when you set up seats for your Super Bowl party.

Grab Some Glasses

To watch 3D TV programming, you'll need a pair of active-shutter 3D glasses. They're called shutter glasses because they "shutter" in sync to the refresh rate of the TV screen. In other words, each lens alternately darkens over each eye very quickly. While that is happening, the 3D TV displays different perspectives for each eye at the same rate. So the left eye sees one perspective while the right eye's lens is dark, and then the right eye sees another perspective while the left eye's lens is dark.

Now that you know what you're buying, you can see why the glasses are not exactly cheap. Most pairs cost around $150 (LG's glasses are the cheapest, at $130). If you have children (or if you have a small face), you can purchase special kid-size glasses; some are a bit more expensive, but they come in fun colors. If you're a prescription-glasses wearer, you can get some contacts or suck it up--there are no special shutter glasses for you, though Panasonic's glasses (which feature a different design) are slightly more comfortable.

Most kinds of shutter glasses are tied to TVs--Samsung glasses work with Samsung TVs, Sony glasses work with Sony TVs, and so on. That is, of course, unfortunate, because it means that if you own a Samsung 3D TV and your friend owns a Panasonic 3D TV, your friend can't just bring his glasses over to watch 3D TV at your house--you need to have a Samsung pair handy for him.

We tried a pair of Sony glasses with a Samsung TV, and the result actually looked decently three-dimensional. The problem, though, is that the Sony glasses require a Sony 3D transmitter--which you can't plug into a Samsung TV. So the only way that mixing brands would work for you is if you had a setup like ours, with a Samsung TV sitting next to a Sony TV.

TV makers naturally have a reason for this incompatibility. A Samsung representative points out that Samsung TVs are precalibrated to accommodate Samsung glasses, and might require significant calibration for non-Samsung glasses.

Save on Shutters

At $150 a pop, shutter glasses can quickly make 3D TV a pricey affair, adding up to about $600 for a four-person family. Some 3D TV makers have noted this, and are bundling glasses (usually only one or two pairs, though) with their 3D TVs.

Companies also offer 3D "starter kits," which usually include two pairs of glasses, a transmitter (if the transmitter is not built in to the TV), and a 3D Blu-ray disc or two. Most of these kits cost between $350 and $500, and feature otherwise unattainable 3D Blu-ray movies: Samsung's kit ($500) includes Shrek, Shrek 2, and Shrek 3D; Sony's kit ($400) includes Alice in Wonderland; and Panasonic's kit ($350) includes Ice Age 3D and Coraline. None of those films are yet available to purchase alone (though some of them will be released in December).

If all of this seems like a lot to spend on glasses that will work with only one company's TVs, never fear: Xpand has just released the first "universal" shutter glasses. The Xpand Universal X103 3D glasses are currently selling for $129 on Amazon, and support Mitsubishi, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba TVs.

Calibrate Your Television

Most casual viewers have no idea that calibrating a television can make a huge difference in picture quality. Now, it's true that most TVs come precalibrated--the TV makers, however, always perform precalibration under "optimal conditions," or theater-like conditions. In other words, they assume you'll be watching the TV in total darkness.

Of course, you already know that the best way to watch a 3D TV is in total darkness, so that makes the process a little easier.

The Basics

PC World Labs manager Tony Leung points out that users should always take three steps with their TVs--whether they decide to fully calibrate their sets or not.

First, always use "home" mode, not "store display" mode (the latter will be much, much too bright).

Second, instead of leaving an HDTV on the "standard" picture mode, switch to the "cinema," "THX," or "theater" mode--this will give you the best, truest color, even if you don't tweak it any further. Tony says that this mode seems dim to most people, but you'll get used to it in about three weeks--don't be tempted to switch to the "sports" or "vivid" modes (both of which will be much brighter), because colors will be off.

Lastly, always turn off any ambient-light sensors, or settings that will increase or decrease the TV's backlighting according to the amount of light in the room. If this setting is turned on, it will make calibration virtually impossible.

The Calibration Process

The easiest way to home-calibrate your TV is to purchase a calibration disc, such as Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics. A calibration disc features test patterns essential to calibrating your television, as well as filters for color calibration, and it will walk you through the entire process.

Because you're calibrating a 3D HDTV--not just any old HDTV--you should wear the shutter glasses while calibrating. If your shutter glasses do not turn on because the calibration disc does not show 3D content (many shutter glasses have this feature in order to conserve the battery), check the TV for a "force 3D" mode that transforms 2D content to 3D content.

The main reason you should have the shutter glasses on while calibrating is because shutter glasses tend to make the picture look a little dimmer (the lenses are, after all, alternately blocking light), and so you may need to up the brightness and contrast controls on your TV.

3D-Specific Settings

Most 3D TVs have 3D-specific menus, which offer from 2 to 20 options. Some of the common options include depth level (you can change how much depth you see in the picture, from nearly flat to telescopic), 3D mode (or "force 3D," for turning 2D pictures into 3D pictures), and picture modes (including split modes).

The last option is particularly important. We found in our tests that Comcast's ESPN 3D shows up by default in a horizontal split-screen mode. You can fix such an issue by going to the 3D-specific menu and choosing the horizontal split-screen option, which apparently cancels out the default split-screen and gives you a single-screen picture.

What to Watch

All right, now you have your room and your TV set up (as best you can) for optimal viewing. Go ahead, grab a Coke and a bag of popcorn, settle down on your couch, and watch...what?

As we've noted in the past, one of the biggest issues with 3D TV is the utter lack of content. But don't worry--that should be changing soon, as a slew of movies will be released in 3D Blu-ray this holiday season and next year. Until then, you're stuck with what's in stock right now.

3D Blu-ray Discs

Don't expect to see the awesome 3D feature films that are hitting theaters right now--many of them won't be available for 3D home viewing initially, or will be part of an HDTV or shutter-glasses "bundle." Currently you'll find three categories of 3D Blu-ray discs available: kids' movies, Imax- and National Geographic-type documentaries, and films whose only saving grace is the fact that they are available in 3D.

Make sure to check Blu-ray discs before you purchase them--I ended up buying Monsters Vs. Aliens and National Geographic Sea Monsters from Amazon, but both were in red-and-green-glasses 3D (paper-and-cellophane glasses included), not shutter-glasses 3D. Check for a note or a sticker on the package that says you must have active-shutter glasses in order to view 3D content.

Children's movies currently available include Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, The Last Airbender, Open Season, and The Polar Express. A number of popular family movies will also be coming out in the next couple of months, including Coraline, Despicable Me, and Legend of the Guardians. 3D TV seems to have been invented for colorful, Pixar-like animation, so I recommend checking out these films (even if you're over the age of 12).

If you're more of a Discovery Channel fan, Deep Sea 3D, Grand Canyon Adventure, Under the Sea 3D, and Dinosaurs Alive! will be right up your alley. Occasionally the 3D floating particles in the ocean will make you a little seasick, but otherwise these films will show off your 3D TV nicely.

Lastly, you might consider a couple of it's-not-my-place-to-judge-but-they're-bad movies--such as Clash of the Titans, Step Up 3D (available December 21), and Resident Evil: Afterlife (available December 28)--that at least some people will enjoy.

3D Broadcast Channels

Perhaps you're more of a sports fan. Or maybe you just don't want to worry about a 3D Blu-ray disc player. Either way, you have (limited) options if you're looking for 3D broadcasts.

Comcast offers ESPN 3D, which shows select 3D programming. This means that, unless you're a big college-football fan, most of what you'll be watching is a fetching yet boring ESPN 3D logo. ESPN has guaranteed 85 live sporting events in 3D for its first year; let's hope that it will have more events next year.

Watching ESPN 3D produces a slightly less intense feeling than watching 3D Blu-ray movies, probably because it's a live sporting event and the producers have less time to contemplate mise-en-scène . It's still decent, though all of the extra movement--the team on the field, the cheerleaders, and the crowd jumping up and down and screaming--can be a bit overwhelming. Having the lights completely off or as dim as possible is extremely important; any excess lighting may cause nausea.

DirecTV offers a 3D TV package that includes three channels: ESPN 3D, DirecTV Cinema, and n3D powered by Panasonic. In this package ESPN 3D presents the same programming as Comcast's ESPN 3D; DirecTV Cinema has select films and documentaries, and n3D features "the best in 3D sports, music, nature, arts, and more" (such as the MLB All-Star game, specials on 3D filmmaking, and the X Games).

Show Off!

Phew, that was easy, right? All you had to do was purchase a bunch of active-shutter glasses, hunt down hard-to-find 3D Blu-ray discs, rearrange your entire living room, and make it through a calibration disc while wearing the shutter glasses. No sweat! Now it's time to sit back and enjoy your new, perfectly calibrated 3D HDTV with as many friends as you could afford to buy shutter glasses for.

Testing equipment used for this article: 40-inch Sony Bravia 40HX800 LCD HDTV, 42-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P42G25 plasma HDTV, 55-inch Samsung UN55C8000 LCD HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3

Content viewed for testing: DVE Essentials: HD Basics calibration disc, Comcast ESPN 3D, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3D Blu-ray disc, FIFA World Cup 2010 Blu-ray disc, Grand Canyon Adventure 3D Blu-ray disc, Imax: Deep Sea 3D Blu-ray disc, The Last Airbender Blu-ray disc, Open Season 3D Blu-ray disc

This story, "How to Show Off Your 3D HDTV" was originally published by PCWorld.

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon