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XPAND Universal 3D Glasses Review

One of the early complaints of would-be 3D TV buyers is the required active shutter glasses. First comes the fact that they have to wear them to see the 3D Blu-ray or 3D video game content. “Who wants to wear special glasses just to watch a movie?” they ask (it’s really not that bad). Second, and perhaps just as important, is the complaint about just how much the 3D active shutter glasses cost. A single pair from the 3D TV manufacturers averages about $150 — and they’re bound to that specific TV manufacturer. Change sets sometime down the line, and you’ll have to buy a new pair of glasses if it’s from a different company (say, you switch from a Sony to a Samsung).

One company has set out to address that latter complaint, and it generally succeeds. Of course, the success of XPAND shouldn’t be a surprise; the company’s been providing 3D glasses for cinema use for some time now. In fact, XPAND’s new Universal 3D Glasses can even be taken to the theater, for what it’s worth, giving you two products for the price of one. But to be more accurate, the new XPAND Universal 3D Glasses give you a whole lot more than two products from which to choose. XPAND’s Universal 3D Glasses are just that — “universal” — as they work with most 3D TVs currently on the market. And they cost about $25 less than most other manufacturer-specific glasses to boot.

Included in the package is included a pair of XPAND’s Universal 3D glasses; an extra pair of batteries; a protective sack/sleeve for the glasses; and in a surprisingly “human” touch, three different interchangeable nosepieces that allow users to find the best fit for their face. The glasses themselves feel a little cheap compared to the Sony TDG-BR100 set we’ve been using so far, but it’s due mostly to the rubber extensions on the glasses’ arms that go back toward the ears, which have a lot of bend to them. Theoretically this bend is nice, as it accommodates large heads, but I have a huge head (yes, I’m man enough to admit it) and I still felt like I was going to break the glasses when putting them on. And it wasn’t due to the lack of accommodating guys with Sputnik-like noggins, but to a bit of a “flimsy” feel.

Once the glasses are on, though, they show much less sensitivity to head movements and tilts, which is a great feature for movie watchers who rest their heads or cock them to one side when watching a movie. There’s still a little distortion, but not nearly the amount encountered when using the Sony TDG-BR100 set to watch a 3D Blu-ray movie or 3D games.

The XPAND Universal 3D glasses really are “universal” in that they work with most 3D TVs available today, with the notable exception of Vizio. However, XPAND says its glasses will support future 3D TV models with a simple firmware upgrade (a full list of compatible 3D TVs can be seen here). To make the glasses work with your 3D TV model, turn the glasses on and hold down the power button for three seconds. At that point, an LED light on the side will blink once to indicate Samsung, or you can continue to press the button until it blinks the number of times that correspond to your manufacturer (the number of blinks for each manufacturer is indicated in the instructions). Within 30 seconds, the glasses will exit “programming” mode and store the selection in memory, thus letting them startup every time with that manufacturer’s “codec” installed until further programming.

That’s how it works in theory, anyway. This programming leads to the first of two downfalls to these glasses, both of which could be “dealbreakers” to some folks when deciding which set of active shutter 3D glasses to buy. The first issue with the XPAND Universal 3D glasses is their sensitivity to the 3D transmission from the TV. Although the glasses did work with each 3D TV we tested (a Sony and a Samsung), they were much more sensitive to interference than the TV manufacturers’ own glasses, at times losing the 3D signal altogether. This resulted in both the expected halo/ghosting effect of viewing an “un-shuttered” image, as well as some annoying flickering as the glasses picked-up, lost and picked-up the 3D signal in a matter of 1.5 seconds. The flickering was particularly noticeable when using a laptop computer while watching a movie, which isn’t necessarily common but also isn’t completely unheard of in today’s wireless society either. (For the record, this flickering and loss of signal has never been encountered with the Sony TDG-BR100 glasses, but it happened time and again when using XPAND’s Universal 3D glasses.) At first I thought it may have been the laptop’s WiFi receiver interfering with the 3D signal, but the flickering and lost signals continued even after disabling all wireless connections on the laptop. Perhaps in designing something that can pick up and translate all 3D signals, XPAND created a technology that also requires a direct, laser-like path to the 3D signal transmitter in order to work its magic.

The second downfall to the XPAND Universal 3D glasses is that this set, compared to the Sony TDG-BR100s we’ve been using prior, has more of a reddish tint to the active-shutter lenses themselves, almost as if you’re wearing sunglasses. The discoloration is subtle, and it’s frankly mostly noticeable when watching the exact same sequence back-to-back with different manufacturer’s glasses, but it’s enough to alter the natural colors of the display. There is a benefit, to a certain degree, as the tinting helps “hide” or “mask” any ambient light in the room (or the exit signs in an XPAND 3D theater), but since most people watch movies in the dark, this will likely be an underutilized feature by most users. And it will likely trouble videophiles and image purists.

In terms of comfort, XPAND’s glasses have a flatter front profile than the Sony TDG-BR100s, which really makes the nosepiece variety a nice inclusion. However, that same flatness irritates the forehead (whose head is really flat, after all?), and the rigidity of the front of the glasses makes them less comfortable to wear for a feature-length film. XPAND’s active-shutter glasses are lighter than Sony’s, which is nice, but the rigidity and flatness still make them more uncomfortable. Considering the weight and “flimsiness” of the earpieces as mentioned earlier, I wasn’t expecting any issue with comfort to begin with.

Still, that minor discomfort may be more palatable than the “discomfort” of having to buy a new pair of active shutter glasses each time you buy a 3D TV from a different manufacturer. Considering the current price of most 3D TVs, it’s not likely that people are going to be upgrading or changing frequently, but you never know. Also, if the 3D TV price has tapped your bank account, or if you have a large family for which to buy glasses, the $25/pair savings compared to other manufacturer’s glasses is a nice feature. Compared to the manufacturer-specific glasses, that $25 savings amounts to “buy five get one free.”

But if you’re planning to stick with a single 3D TV manufacturer or don’t anticipate needing many pairs of glasses, you’re better off buying the manufacturer-specific set. Firmware updates to XPAND’s Universal 3D glasses might fix the dropped signals or set-compatibility numbers, but they can’t fix the form factor. These glasses got the job done, but the manufacturer-specific ones just did it better.

Click these links to see Amazon’s pricing for manufacturer-specific 3D glasses and for the Xpand Universal X103 3D Glasses Compatible with Active 3D TV’s, Black.

Score: 7.4
They get the job done, but there’s a little sacrifice in terms of discoloration, dropped signals and comfort. In this case, you really are better off going straight to the manufacturer, as it were.

— Jonas Allen

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