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3D TVs
Active 3D vs Passive 3D

Just a few years ago, 3D TVs were pushed by manufacturers as being the 'next big thing.' Now, 3D has become something of an afterthought. Vizio has done away with 3D completely, and most other manufacturers only include it with their upper-mid-range and high-end TVs.

A 3D TV uses either active or passive 3D. Most people prefer passive 3D over active 3D, even though the resolution is cut by half, because the glasses are cheaper and there is less crosstalk.

All 3D images, including the ones we see with our eyes, work on one principle: each of our eyes sees a different picture. By perceiving a slightly different picture from each perspective, the brain automatically constructs the third dimension.

Real life

How we see 3D in real life

Active 3D

How 3D Active Shutter works for 3D TVs

  • Full resolution: 1920x1080
  • Active 3D glasses are expensive and require batteries
  • More prone to crosstalk issues

Passive 3D

How Passive 3D works for 3D TVs or theater

  • Passive 3D glasses are cheaper (same as the ones from the theater)
  • More comfortable for the eye (no flickering, so less dizziness)
  • Half the vertical resolution: 1920x540

Real life

How we see 3D in real life

When we look at an object in real life, we see it in three dimensions because each eye sees it from a different perspective. The three inches between our eyes are enough to create two different images, and the difference between those images allows us to see in three dimensions.

As illustrated, the left eye sees more of the left side of the cube, and the right eye sees more of the right side. The brain superposes these two images to construct the 3D model from it, matching the differences of each image and creating the perspective from them.

Active Shutter 3D

2015/2016 Active 3D TVs 3D Score Mixed Usage
Samsung JU7100 9.0/10 7.8/10
Samsung JU7500 9.0/10 7.9/10
Samsung JS8500 9.0/10 8.0/10
Samsung JS9000 9.0/10 8.1/10
Samsung JS9500 9.0/10 8.2/10
Sony W800C 9.0/10 7.0/10
Sony W850C 9.0/10 6.9/10
Sony X850C 8.5/10 7.7/10
Sony X930C 9.0/10 8.1/10
Sony X930D 9.0/10 8.3/10

How 3D Active Shutter works for 3D TVs

Active Shutter 3D (or Active 3D) works by very quickly alternating pictures displayed on the screen. The glasses control which of the two pictures is seen by alternating between opaque and transparent.

This technology is called “Active” because the glasses are powered (using batteries) and they actively control which picture is perceived by which eye. The glasses need to be synchronized perfectly with the television screen and because of this, the glasses are expensive ($20 - $100). Also, active 3D TVs cause some people to become dizzy from to the constant flickering.

The perception of the flicker can be reduced if the television panel has a refresh rate of 240Hz (instead of 120Hz), which is a feature available on more advanced LED TVs. The faster the TV flashes, the less our brain notices the flashes.

Passive 3D

2015/2016 Passive 3D TVs 3D Score Mixed Usage
LG UF8500 10.0/10 6.9/10
LG UF9500 9.0/10 7.3/10
LG EC9300 9.0/10 8.1/10
LG EF9500 10.0/10 8.7/10
LG EG9100 9.0/10 8.1/10
LG EG9600 10.0/10 8.7/10
Sony X900C 10.0/10 7.6/10
LG UH8500 9.0/10 7.8/10
LG E6 10.0/10 8.9/10

How Passive 3D works for 3D TVs or theater

This method is very similar to the 3D technology used by movie theaters - you can even use glasses from a theater with your passive 3D TV. Instead of displaying one picture at the time like in active 3D, both are shown simultaneously; one with a horizontal light polarization and the other one vertical. The glasses have a different filter for each eye: one that cuts the horizontal light, and the other one the vertical light. The glasses are passive: they are not powered, so they are a lot cheaper than the glasses required for the active shutter technology.

So how can a screen simultaneously show two distinct pictures, each with a different polarization? In theaters, two projectors are used, both with a different filter. Both pictures can superpose on a theater screen because the light is additive. This isn't possible with TV screens, however, because the screen itself is the source.

To solve this, half the pixels are used to display the left picture and the other half the right one. The current technology interlaces each line.

The screen alternates each line of the picture. One picture gets the even ones, the other the odd ones. Each line has a predefined polarization applied to match the glasses. The downside of this approach is the reduced resolution apparent to a single eye. On a 1080p TV (with 1080 lines), only half (540) are used per picture. The horizontal resolution stays the same (1920 pixels) - only the number of lines is affected.

Common problems with 3D TVs

Reduced brightness

When you put on the glasses, you will notice the brightness of the screen has been reduced by about half. With both methods (active and passive), only half the light gets to the eye. With an active 3D TV, the lenses of the glasses are black half of the time. With a passive 3D TV, one line out of two is black. To compensate, most TVs will automatically increase the brightness when displaying 3D content.

Flickering

Flickering, or the impression that the screen flashes, was a major problem in the first years of the 3D TVs. It still happens today, but only on lower-end active 3D sets, and particularly those with a refresh rate of only 120Hz. Passive 3D never suffers from that problem, because each eye is constantly receiving light from the screen.

Crosstalk (also known as ghosting)

3D crosstalk, or ghosting, looks like two superposed images. It will make a section of the picture blurry - usually the edges of an object. The best way to experience what crosstalk looks like is to remove 3D glasses in a theater. This is of course the extreme case, where the complete picture has crosstalk (with normal usage, only small parts of a screen will show that defect).

There are two reasons why you may experience crosstalk. First, some televisions don't do a good job of displaying the correct picture to each eye. For example, on an active 3D TV, if the glasses are not perfectly in sync with the television, one eye can start to see part of the picture meant for the other eye. 3D TVs have become a lot better at managing this, and now most of the current models do not suffer from that problem.

Second, the actual media could contain crosstalk issues embedded. Even if each eye perceives the correct picture, the movie itself could be the problem. This is mostly present in low budget movies or movies that were originally filmed in 2D, but remastered in 3D in post production.

Conclusion

Even though they have half the vertical resolution, most people still prefer passive 3D TVs over active 3D TVs. Passive 3D TVs have less flickering and generally less crosstalk, creating a better overall 3D experience. The glasses are also cheaper and more comfortable.

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Questions & Answers

29 ANSWERED QUESTIONS
80
Which is a better 3d technology: active or passive?
It really depends on your preferences. In a perfect world, active would be superior because it keeps the full HD resolution. In practice though, most people will prefer passive, especially on mid-level TVs. Only the top TVs can be good at displaying active 3D, because it needs to alternate the pictures between each frame and very few TVs can do this without overlapping.
30
Are there any negative sides to buying a 3D TV if you only care about the non 3D part?
Not at all. Think of it as just another feature of the TV. It doesn't affect the 2D picture quality.
21
Is active or passive 3D determined by the Blu-ray player or the TV? Or is it a combination of both?
It is only determined by the TV, not the Blu-ray player.
20
Is it better to have a plasma tv for 3D content? Does refresh rate make a difference, or does it not matter?
Yes, for active TV models. With passive 3D, the refresh rate does not matter at all.
16
Can I buy the Samsung active 3D glasses for the Sony KDL55W800B?
Yes, a pair of Samsung 3D glasses like these ones would work.
15
My Samsung TV has very bad crosstalk (Samsung FH6030). Is this normal or should I expect a crosstalk-free TV? I got this TV to watch 3D movies, but I really cannot stand this effect appearing in all 3D movies. Besides that the 3D is really great. Any advice would be appreciated.
Active 3D on mid-level TVs (like your Samsung) does have more crosstalk than higher-end models. In this price range, passive 3D is the way to go for a crosstalk-free experience. It is usually found in LG TVs.
14
Will 3D TV be the trend in the future? From my personal point of view, I don't think the 3D effect is so attractive that I can ignore the inconveniences (wearing glasses when I watch TV, need more glasses for more people, etc.).
In its current form, no, for the reasons that you mentioned. It is also very costly to film a movie/show in original 3D, so few productions do that. A converted 2D to 3D movie is far from ideal. 3D television might take off in 20 years or so, once the glasses-free 3D TVs work properly (some exist today, but they are pretty bad).
10
I have downloaded a HSBS 3D movie from the internet but I'm not getting a good 3D effect with this format. Which 3D format would give a good 3D effect?
The format of the 3D encoding doesn't affect the depth of the 3D. It just affects the quality. Side by side reduces the horizontal resolution and top bottom reduces the vertical resolution. Both have the same apparent depth.
9
I have the Sony X850C 4k TV, but cannot find the Sony Active 3D glasses anywhere in stock. Will another manufacturer's Active 3D glasses sync and work with my TV? Which would you recommend? Thanks!
Yes. We used these, and they worked fine.
8
Does UHD TV with the double resolution help address the resolution issue of passive 3D?
Yes, but keep in mind that most 3D encoding reduces the effective resolution in one way or another. For example, a top-bottom encoding will have the same effective resolution on a 1080p passive 3D TV as a 1080p active 3D TV.
6
I like to watch TV while laying on the couch. Will either Active or Passive 3D work while the viewer is horizontal? If not, does anyone offer 3D glasses for horizontal viewing?
No TV will be good when lying down. The brain expects the perspective difference to follow the angle of the head, which doesn't happen on a TV because the pictures are pre-recorded. That said, passive works a bit better because active glasses turn dark at an angle perpendicular to the TV.
6
Will active glasses work with a passive 4k sony tv?
No. You need passive 3D glasses.
6
What about curved 4k 3d? Is it any better since the tv is curved?
The slightly amount of added depth from a curved screen is not enough to say there is a significant difference. It is about the same.
4
Can I use both passive and active 3D glasses while we are watching a 3D DVD movie on my Samsung 3D TV?
No. Samsung TVs only accept active 3D glasses.
4
In the real world, is the reduced resolution output really noticeable with passive 3d technology?
Not really, especially if you use top-bottom 3D file encoding.
4
We are looking for a flat screen TV that must not be wider than 41 inches. We are not gamers, so high hertz is not important, nor is 3D important (although we heard that not wearing the glasses doesn't affect the picture quality). We need a smart TV.
Get the Samsung UN40J6300. It has great picture quality and comes with a good smart TV interface. You could also get the UN40JU7100 if you don't mind paying a bit more. It has better picture quality, a better remote, and has 4k resolution and 3D.

Update: Updated recommendations to current models.
4
Hi, I know you are busy. Would love an update to the above 3D article with the 2016 Passive & Active 3D Models. Thanks
The page have been updated with the newer 2015-2016 TV models. Thanks for your feedback.
3
A local TV salesman recommended that I buy a 3D TV because it is better at showing fast motion (like sports). Is that correct? I have no interest in watching anything in 3D. Does a 1080p 3D TV have a better motion rate than a 4K TV without 3D? I am comparing the Samsung HU6830 with the H7150.
Whether or not a TV is 3D is no indication of its ability to handle fast motion. We did not test the HU6830, but the H7150 that we tested handled fast movement fine. We have heard, though, that the largest size of the H7150 has a bit more blur than the smaller sizes.
3
Hi, I am interested in a UHD 4K 65" or possibly 70" TV with passive 3D and either a web browser or Android TV. I wear prescription glasses so I could tape the passive paper glasses in front of each lens. I realize there are very little native 3D movies to see so the 2D to 3D up converter should be very good as well as the resolution up scaler to 4K. I want a high apparent refresh rate to watch trains go by a camera and still be able to read the graphics on the sides. I do not want to spend more than 2K from an online discount supplier. Refurbished or open box is fine with me. If I wait until next February or March will prices for 2015 models come down or will they be in short supply because of the 2016 production in the factories? In the 65" to 70" size range should I wait for Super UHD or will that be too expensive for the next couple of years? Thank you very much, Charles in KY
The choice is slim for 2015 4k passive 3d TVs. LG have the UF8500 and UF9500 and Sony has the X900C. The closest to your budget would be the LG 65" UF8500 without taking taxes into account. Unfortunately, we can't really recommend it since we did not review that one. Your other option would be to go active 3d and wear 3d glasses on top of your current glasses. The 65" Samsung JU7100 would then be a good choice delivering 4k, image interpolation to reduce motion blur and a web browser. It may go a little higher in price than what you want to pay for so if you want to go either refurbished or open box it should sit right in. 'Super UHD' is mostly a marketing term made by Samsung for their premium TVs so they will most likely cost more than your budget allow. No need to wait for that.
3
While it is true that passive 3D TVs are capable of outstanding ghost elimination, users need to know that, in order to achieve this, careful attention MUST be paid to the vertical angle of view for every watcher.
The easiest way to check this is as follows: With each watcher seated and with the TV off or tuned to a black screen, each watcher should see his eyes reflected, from top to bottom, in roughly the middle third of the screen. The farther the reflection of the watcher's eyes appears above or below this middle zone, the more noticeable the ghosting!
To correct this requires lowering, raising, or tilting the TV, or raising or lowering the viewing position. Failure to observe this necessary positioning has resulted in a few unfairly poor reviews of passive 3D TVs, as well as unsatisfactory displays in stores.
-- Cordially, Oliver Dean, Competition Co-Director, Los Angeles 3D Club
Thanks for the tip! We agree that this is something viewers should know.
2
I see lots of active 3D glasses for sale. Are the different manufacturers using anything different to transmit the signal? I see some advertised as Bluetooth, some infrared.
It depends on how old your TV is. A few years ago, everyone was using a different proprietary technology, like you mentioned. You couldn't buy a pair of glasses from a different company. Now the glasses are universal.
2
Is there any option of converting active 3d tv to passive?
No, you can't convert a TV, but certain projectors can be upgraded with additional accessories.
2
Does anybody make a video card for PCs that will allow me to display passive 3D on a video wall?
Most modern video cards should be capable of outputting in 3D to multiple displays(but double-check that the one you plan on using does). Just make sure the model you choose has a sufficient amount of outputs for your plans. NVIDIA Surround supports up to 5 displays and AMD's Eyefinity supports up to six displays at a time. Going further requires professional graphics card such as AMD's FirePro series and NVIDIA's SVS supporting Quadro models (marketed as NVIDIA Mosaic).
2
Hello. For 2015 you have left off the LG - OLED - Passive 3D TVS. I'm just wondering why, as they truly are the BEST in terms of PQ. Thanks!
Thanks for pointing out the omission! We're going to be revamping the 3D article in the next couple of months, and the LG OLEDs will indeed be listed.
2
Hi, can you tell me if the LG 65UF9500 uses top/bottom encoding?
Yes.
1
Do you have any information on the 2014 Panasonic 55" AS680? I'm looking for a comparison between this and the Samsung 6400 of the same size.
Unfortunately no. We didn't test that one.
1
I'm just curious as to whether or not you guys have any insight into why all of the manufacturers outside of LG seem to be making sets with active 3d? I have a 2012 Samsung PN51E550 and the crosstalk issues have completely turned me off from active 3d. I want a 65" 3d/4k TV for my new home theater room and am quite annoyed with the selection. Should I be concerned with the possibility of ghosting/crosstalk or have the manufacturers done a better job of getting rid of it on the newer models? I also purchased, and subsequently returned, an x850b a few weeks ago due to the flash lighting in the corners. I'm debating the JS8500 or the x930c, and am leaning towards the latter because I like to watch TV in a dark setting. Am I correct in assuming this would be the correct choice given the black uniformity rating on the site? Thanks.
It might just be because active 3D has an easier marketing pitch since it can maintain its full resolution. The more comfortable passive 3D became more interesting with the higher resolution of 4k TVs but 3D as a whole is getting less and less popular. As long as your main seating are in front of the TV you won't have crosstalk with active 3D. It can be a problem at wide horizontal angle or on moderate vertical angles (for setup where the TV is mounted high on a wall). Both the JS8500 and x930c have good 3D. In a dark room, the 3D glasses darkens the screen some more so neither TV should have problems with black uniformity. Overall, uniformity (gray uniformity) is better on the JS8500 so if that is what you are after, get this one. In revenge, if you enjoy a brighter picture while watching 3D, then the x930c would be the better pick.
0
Is that true using passive 3D you must sit further than with active 3D, because you see more crosstalk if you look at it from up close? I plan to use a 40-50" UHD TV as a computer screen and want play games with 3D, so does that mean active 3D is better for me?
After testing both from up close, Active is indeed the better option, with less crosstalk. Passive is passable, and doesn't look completely horrible from up close, but the amount of crosstalk is far from ideal.
0
I would like to use the SSG-5100 3D glasses for my UN65JS8500 because they use a more common CR2025 battery with a slightly extended life rather than the CR1620 used on the single pair of 3D glasses - SSG-5150 that comes with the TV. Any reason I would not want to use the SSG-5100 - 2014 version?
The SSG-5100GB 3D glasses have been reported to work fine with the JS8500 so there is no reason not to use them.
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