At a minimum, to watch 3D TV in the comfort of your own home, you will need a 3D-capable television, special 3D glasses for each viewer, and an input source – this could be a BluRay player that can play 3D disks, or the 3D channels that will inevitably spring up on satellite and cable. That is a considerable investment for a relatively new and emerging technology that still has its share of teething problems. The other annoyance is that for technical reasons (which have to do with how the picture is presented on screen), the 3D glasses you buy for a Samsung TV will not work with any other brand. That means that the manufacturer has a captive market and there is no pressure, as yet, to keep prices at more affordable levels.
Samsung’s SSG-2100 “active shutter” 3D glasses retail for around $95 (£60) a pair and are widely available from a variety of on-line outlets. It pays to shop around, as prices can vary a great deal. They come in a black, Samsung-branded drawstring carry case, with a microfibre cloth for polishing the “lenses”, and a comprehensive instruction booklet. The glasses have a blocky black design, and are aesthetically unremarkable – you are not going to look cool wearing them. The part of the frame holding the lenses feels quite solid, but in contrast, the bit that goes over the ear feels quite plasticky and flimsy. I have my doubts that it will survive continued and robust use in a house with young children.
The frame is designed so that it fits comfortably over existing eyeglasses, and thoughtfully, there is a slightly protruding “ledge” on the inside of the top of the frame, which helps block out light between the glasses and the face. The nosepiece isn’t padded, but it is ergonomically moulded in soft plastic, so it doesn’t pinch the nose. There is a small 3D receiver behind a tiny red bit of plastic in the centre of the frame, above the nosepiece, that receives the signals from the emitter on the 3D TV. The small, watch-type battery (a 3 volt CR 2025) fits into a sliding compartment in the frame. The features are rounded out by a recessed on/off button on the right hand side.
The glasses are very ease to use and are turned on by depressing the on switch, which briefly glows red before going out. This is slightly annoying, as its hard to tell if the unit is on or of, especially if you forget to switch them off. To turn it off, you hold down the button, and it flashes three times to let you know you’ve succeeded. It would have made much more sense to keep the button lighted when on, but I suppose that would have affected battery life. Speaking of which, after four months of consistent use (I would estimate around 25 hours of viewing) the battery has yet to need replacing.
When you turn them on, you will notice your field of vision darken a little, which also has the side effect of muting some of the more vibrant colours in the 3D image you are watching. The “active shutter” LCD’s in each of the lenses block the view in one eye, and then the other, alternating them in rapid succession (too quick to discern with the naked eye) which creates a 3D image. This rapid on/off action is directed by the TV’s 3D emitter, which synchronises the signal with the refresh rate of the TV’s LCD screen. This is why your glasses won’t work on other TV’s – each manufacturer uses a slightly different standard.
The viewing experience is generally pretty good, although more often and not, you get some ghosting (also called cross-talk noise) in the image, which can reduce the quality of the experience and is also tiring on the eyes. Pictures do not really leap out you (like in the movies) so you won’t be dodging flying bullets, but you do get a very real sense of depth. Watching sports puts you right in the crowd, and there is a perceptible “wow factor” that shouldn’t be discounted. The glasses and TV seem to work best with animated films (which accounts for their prevalence amongst 3D titles). Apparently watching for too long in one viewing can cause headaches and nausea in some people, but I have yet to experience this effect. After a while, you forget that the glasses are there, but those who don’t normally wear glasses may find they get a little heavy.
3D still has a way to go before it is a truly mainstream technology. The fact that the glasses are “tied” to each manufacturer and can’t operate with other brands of 3D TV is a major drawback, but an understandable one given that each of the TV giants is racing to establish their standard as the universal one (think of the battle between BluRay and HD DVD). Once a standard is established, no doubt licensed third party manufacturers will step in and create a more competitive market. The lack of quality 3D programming and content (3D BluRay is still a new phenomenon, with flagship title “Avatar” not due out until 2011) is also a factor.
However, for the time being, if you have a 3D Samsung TV, your options are limited to two choices – these SSG-2100’s, which represent Samsung’s budget offering, and the more upscale, rechargeable SSG-2200’s, which come in a child-friendly size, and an adult version (at $100 (£65) and $115 (£75) respectively). Samsung do offer a promo package that includes two pairs of the glasses reviewed, plus a 3D movie, for around $190 (£115) – useful for families willing to take the plunge, but still quite expensive.
The glasses themselves are perfectly useable and appear to do the job they were designed for, but given that there are no comparables on the market, and the technology isn’t perfected yet (especially the prevalent and annoying cross-talk noise) it is hard to give a really fair assessment of their performance – you simply can’t know for certain what issues are down to the glasses, how they compare to (non-existent) others, and what is down to the picture being delivered to your screen.