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Passive Vs. Active 3D Glasses

A few weeks ago we wrote a small article about the differences between Active Shutter 3D Glasses, Passive 3D Glasses, and Glasses Free 3D.  Since then, we've been inundated by emails  from  readers that have argued the case for  both sides.   It seems that people are very passionate about their politics, religion, and 3D Glasses technology.    In an attempt to clear up some of the misconceptions that continued to prevail after our last article, we decided to do a side-by-side comparison of the two most popular 3D technologies:  Active 3D  and Passive 3D.     Glasses Free 3D will have to wait until it is more widely available.  
 
LG and Vizio have been pushing their passive 3D technology fairly heavily in recent months.  Since most US movie theaters use this passive technology for 3D films, it is a very familiar  to us all.  While it does quite well on the big screen, is it the right technology for our homes? As we explained in our last article on the subject, technologically the active shutter 3D glasses are superior.  However, this doesn't always mean that the quality of the image is better to the human eye.  3D  isn't just about the number of resolution lines on the screen. It's a bit of an art form that  can't be boiled down to numbers.   
 

How did we conduct our test?

 
For our test we used the largest LCD TV's we had available to us. Using a larger screenactive vs passive 3d glasses.png  means that subtle differences between the two technologies would become exaggerated, allowing us to study them clearly.  We didn't just want to rely on the numbers here, we wanted our eyes to be the judge.  For   Team  Passive , we used a 65 inch Vizio HDTV.  For Team  Active  we used a 65 inch Panasonic HDTV.   We placed both televisions side by side in a darkened room and proceeded to watch several hours of 3D movies playing simultaneously on both televisions (after finishing  the Gator football game, of course). This gave us an opportunity to pause the movies at specific times to study the image quality in depth.  The recommended seating distance for most 3D TV makers is a minimum of 8 feet, with a standard of 12.  We sat at both distances to see if there was any observable difference.  
 

What did we find?

 
As expected, with the two televisions set up adjacent to each other, it becomes fairly obvious that there is a resolution difference.  While the image quality of the Team Passive was certainly higher than standard television, it didn't quite reach the HD quality of Team Active.  While watching Thor BluRay 3D, for example, the intricacies of Thor's armor was completely lost by Team Passive at both 8 foot and 12 foot seating distances. In comparison, the Team Active image was much sharper  and contained way fewer artifacts.   
 
active shutter 3D glasses.pngAnother  side-effect to the passive technology employed by Team Passive is the appearance of empty horizontal lines in the image.  This was  much less noticeable from farther away, but when sitting at  8 feet it became obvious that there were black lines running across the screen.  This caused the image to appear jagged and pixelated.   Team Active's picture was much smoother, rounded, and natural on the Panasonic television  from any viewing distance. This was definitely a win for Team Active's shutter glasses.
 
We also noticed that the depth of field on Team Passive's screen was much shallower than Team Active.  There is nothing inherent in either  technology that should cause this, so we think it may simply be an issue attributed to the different TV makers.  However, we felt it was important enough to mention  here. 
 
When we started our tests, we knew that Team Passive would be at a disadvantage when it came to resolution.  But, we were sure they would make up ground when it came to what was suppose to be their strong suit:  Cross talk.  Team Passive's fans have adamantly stated that  the major benefit to their technology (aside from the cost) was the reduction of "ghosting" (aka: cross talk) around 3D images.   During our testing, we found that ghosting most often occurred when a 3D image was bright while the background was dark.  Nowhere was this clearer than during Tron when the character's suits were glowing light-blue or light-orange/red against the darkened background.   To our surprise, however,3D Shutter LCD glasses Team Passive had just as much cross-talk as Team Active.   Thinking that there must have been a defect in the passive glasses we were using, we  tried several different brands (including the RealD 3D Glasses handed out at movie theaters).  While different passive glasses did improve cross-talk noticeably, none were able to reduce the cross-talk to a level below that of the active  shutter glasses. We called this match-up a tie for both teams. 
 
At the extremes of the viewing angles, we also found that Team Active was able to provide a more coherent image.   When we viewed the TV from an extreme angle using the passive glasses, the polarization broke apart the image causing it to appear blurry.   To be fair,   if  a viewer is sitting in a normal position to watch TV, this should not be an issue.  I don't know if I would want to watch a 2D movie let alone a 3D one at the angle we used for this particular test.  This was a very slight victory for Team Active. 
 
One area where Team Passive did shine (pun intended!) was in the brightness of the image.  The shutter glasses technology seemed to make the image slightly darker than the passive 3D glasses.   Colors for Team Passive were brighter, while still maintaining the deep blacks and shadows. Score a big point for Team Passive.
 
Comfort was something that our team was a little split on.  I wear glasses, and I tended to prefer passive 3D glasses because they fit quite well over my eye glasses.  The active 3D glasses are slightly heavier (as they contain electronics and a battery), and I felt that over several hours viewing time this became annoying.  My fellow testers did not agree, and felt that both glasses were of equal comfort.  We also differed on the 'flickering" effect.  Because active shutter 3D glasses flicker between the left/right eye  60 times a second they are often said to have a strobing effect.  However, in our tests the only time this was true was when we used the glasses in a bright room (not ideal for any 3D viewing, or movie night anyway) or wore them outside  (not a fashionable choice).   We did notice, however, that the amount of flickering perceived was different depending on the person wearing them.  Because comfort is a personal preference,  we  recommend that before choosing between the two technologies you try them both to see which is  more comfortable for you.  
 

Will passive be the gateway 3D technology?

 
In our decisively unscientific comparison testing, we found that the active shutter glasses were the better technological choice for 3D viewing.  However, given the price difference between Team Passive and Team active, we can not rule out passive technology.  Even with inexpensive competition finally entering the market (like Tekspree.com and xPand  active shutter glasses), the least expensive LCD glasses are $60 compared to $10 for passive glasses.  When purchasing glasses for a family of four, this can really add up!   It may be that the 3D revolution has to start with something more simple and affordable, much the same way cell phones had to start with suitcase sized devices that couldn't even *gasp* check email. We strongly believe, however, that once you start watching movies in 3D  you will want more: more 3D  depth, a wider viewing angle, and more resolution. For that, nothing beats active shutter glasses ... yet.  
 

Winner: Team Active.  

 

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