Having used Sony’s 55-inch Bravia 3D TV for a couple of weeks now, the questions from readers and friends alike have gotten a bit more sophisticated. “So what’s up with those glasses?” used to be the first line out of most people’s mouths. Now, although the novelty of 3D TV is still alive and kicking as evidenced by people’s in-person smiles, the inquiries are getting a bit more tactical, almost as if folks are starting to consider buying a 3D TV a bit more seriously. Chalk that one up to the holiday shopping season, perhaps. Regardless, a new question has popped up as the most-pressing on people’s minds, which we’re going to address on this week’s installment of 3D Thursday: “What does primetime TV look like on a 3D TV?”
There are two ways to answer this question, both of which are — or at least can be — true. The first response is “TV shows like ‘Glee’ or ‘Big Bang Theory’ really don’t look any different on a 3D TV than they do on your normal HDTV.” The second response is “Primetime TV can look great in 3D, but it’s all faked.” Let me explain, and in the process, try to erase that furrowed brow from your head.
Think of a 3D TV as basically a souped-up HDTV that just happens to have a 3D button on the controller that you only press when you’re ready to watch something in 3D. (In the case of the Sony Bravia 55HX800 that’s literally the case, but more on that later.) For all intents and purposes, a 3D TV really is just a fancy HDTV, and unless you’re watching something that’s transmitted with a 3D signal, the picture, sound and image are literally no different than if you were watching the show on a normal LCD or plasma HDTV. We’ve watched ‘Glee,’ ‘Big Bang Theory,’ ‘Amazing Race,’ ‘David Letterman,’ the local evening news, even the BBC comedy ‘As Time Goes By’ all via their high-definition broadcasts, and everything looks just like it does our non-3D HDTV. If there’s a difference, it’s only because the 3D TV we’re using now is a year newer than our LCD set, so the image looks a smidge better. Nowhere is there any indication that we’re even using a 3D TV. Until we look down and notice that little 3D button on the controller.
Last night we got curious about just what broadcast TV could look like in 3D, so we pressed that little 3D button on the Sony Bravia 55HX800’s remote control while watching ‘Survivor.’ This button, which may or may not be present on other manufacturers’ 3D TV remotes, basically forces a rudimentary 3D image to display on the TV screen even though the show wasn’t filmed, edited or broadcast in 3D. Any effects we noticed were strictly due to the TV itself manually transmitting the signal differently right there in the room.
For people in the room not wearing the active-shutter glasses, the image appeared fuzzy and out of focus, just like it would if they were trying to watch a 3D Blu-ray movie without wearing them. With the glasses on, however, the image was just as crisp as it had been before and even had an extra sense of depth. Heck, even the commercials had some 3D effects. The post-production effects in Survivor probably best demonstrated the 3D — things like the names of the Survivors and their tribe (Libertad), the Survivor logo, or even the little CBS watermark at the bottom. In fact, those elements popped off the screen to the degree that it seemed like the glasses allowed viewers to tell the difference between individual layers in the native Avid or Adobe After Effects file. It was really quite surprising and effective.
The primary broadcast was a mixed bag, with some scenes showing little 3D while others performed well. Again, that’s simply the luck of the draw, since the 3D effects were being cobbled and forced by the TV and were completely unbeknownst to Jeff Probst and Co. Oddly enough, the three-second nature clips, such as one scene last night with a crab ducking into the sand, or one climbing up a bush, or a snake gliding through the water, elicited the best sense of depth. The static scenes in last night’s episode — things like the camera panning around the reward-challenge course or the camera watching an uncontrolled campfire engulf the Survivors’ camp — also gave a slight impression of being there. One of the most effective 3D scenes was the immunity challenge, probably because Chase and Jane were natively filmed from an angle that indicated depth, which the 3D TV absolutely devoured and amped-up to the Nth degree.
Yet at the core of everyone’s question about how broadcast TV looks on a 3D TV is basically “is it worth buying a 3D TV if I don’t have any 3D Blu-ray movies?” The answer is no. Certain portions of the 2010 FIFA World Cup were broadcast in 3D (we have a review of that Blu-ray release coming, by the way), certain NCAA football games have been broadcast in 3D, and the NBA and NFL have and/or will soon follow suit. But the amount of over-the-air 3D content isn’t sufficient yet to justify a purchase, and forcing the 3D effects via a little button is nice but doesn’t carry enough “wow factor” to warrant a purchase strictly for primetime TV. Although I will admit, seeing Brenda voted off last night and watching her slink off the set induced an even larger smile than if I’d not perceived it in three dimensions.
— Jonas Allen