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3D TV Newbie: What About Those Glasses?

The questions you have when you’re new to the world of 3D TV are both predictable and understandable, mostly because the technology is so new and people just don’t know what to expect. Things like “Does everything show up in 3D?” or “Does 2D content look as good as the 3D stuff?” are almost always near the top of the list, but an almost-universal Top Two question is “What about those 3D glasses?”

So yeah, what about them?

When you think of 3D glasses, the image that springs to mind is a low-contrast photo of a bunch of people in the 1950s wearing the red-and-blue glasses in a smoky theater. Not exactly high tech, nor is it flattering when you’re debating whether to don a pair of glasses for that shiny new 3D TV. But don’t worry: active-shutter glasses don’t make you look nearly as silly as the older models did, nor do they have the same hit-or-miss 3D effect. The technology does have some drawbacks, not the least of which is its price, but for every skeptic out there, there’s bound to be three or four people who find the glasses completely comfortable and inconsequential to wear.

First things first: you don’t always have to wear them. Like all 3D TVs, the Sony Bravia 55HX800 we’re using only broadcasts in 3D when you want it to. For everyday use — TV, as a computer monitor, for non-3D games and for non-3D Blu-rays and DVDs — the TV functions and looks just like any other HDTV on the market. In fact, other than the glossier screen and reduced heat output (since it’s LED rather than LCD), you’d be hard-pressed to tell any difference from the 52-inch Bravia we’d been using prior to this. So, it’s not until you activate the 3D setting or play a 3D Blu-ray that you have to power-on and wear the active shutter glasses. As a result, there’s no need to worry about wearing the 3D glasses every moment you’re using the set; that simply isn’t the case at all.

If you happen to have prescription lenses, the active shutter glasses are large enough to fit right over most eyeglasses, so you’ll not have to worry about seeing a bunch of three-dimensional blurriness. Watching a 3D Blu-ray on a 3D TV using active shutter glasses is just as crisp as watching a 2D Blu-ray on a normal HDTV. Although the glasses do seem thick, their “footprint” is small enough that I was surprised the active shutter glasses were able to fully envelop standard frames without a hitch. Even those Drew Carey-like frames didn’t phase Sony’s 3D glasses, and let’s face it, that’s an accomplishment.

Now, are they comfortable? Well, “comfort” is a relative term. You’ll find people who swear by the Xbox Live Headset, for instance, while others want to tear it off their head. Some people love the PS3’s DualShock 3 controller, while others say the contours of the Xbox 360 controller fit their hands better. However, the glasses are boxier than I had anticipated, and you definitely know you’re wearing them. It’s not due to excessive weight, because Sony’s active shutter glasses are light considering everything they contain. But, they do have special 3D receivers built into them, which makes them rigid, and they have thick sides that hold the nickel-sized battery powering the signal in each lens. Imagine some thick-framed Christian Dior sunglasses, and you get the idea. You also definitely notice the frames on the periphery as you watch the film; they don’t just “disappear” like the exit signs in a theater. This bulk is arguably more noticeable to viewers who don’t normally wear glasses, because they’re not used to the peripheral impediment, but it’s worth pointing out nonetheless.

However, in what’s probably just a weird coincidence, that same thickness means that even after watching a two-hour film in 3D, you don’t find yourself rubbing at any uncomfortable lines on your cheeks or on the bridge of your nose. Why? Because the glasses’ touchpoints are spread out over a wider area, much like the physics that govern why you don’t bleed when you poke your arm with a finger but you do bleed if you use a thumbtack. So, thickness has some drawbacks, but it also has its benefits.

In spite of this thickness, or perhaps because of it, Sony’s glasses look as stylish as possible. In fact, we had three independent people try the full 3D experience for themselves, and they were visibly impressed by how the glasses looked and felt. They certainly don’t feel flimsy, nor do they seem to be prone to breaking easily, which is good news for anyone with teens, young children or klutzes in the house. To be fair, all three of them did gawk at the price for a single pair of glasses (they’re on sale at for 09), but where the looks were concerned, they didn’t think twice about the fact that four of us were sitting in a dark room wearing what looked like sunglasses. For context, when we watched Friday the 13th on a standard HDTV using the red and blue glasses, jokes abounded and the lenses were poked out. Not so, this time around.

One thing we hadn’t anticipated is the specificity with which you need to hold your head when watching a 3D Blu-ray in these glasses. Although the transmitter on the 3D TV supports three angle adjustments, those alterations are strictly an up/down thing. While watching a movie wearing active shutter glasses, you can nod your head up and down and not notice any dip in quality, but if you cock your head in one direction like a confused dog, the screen will lose some of its 3D effect and gain a yellow tint. Cock your head the other direction, and the same thing happens but with a hint of blue. If you’re prone to lying down or resting your head on your arm while watching a movie, you’ll want to make sure the 3D transmitter bar is tilted at the same angle to maximize your experience. This isn’t a glasses-specific thing, but it definitely has an impact on the glasses’ performance and your overall experience.

The only other question remaining, really, is whether you really do need to buy a set of active shutter glasses for everyone in the room watching a 3D Blu-ray or 3D HDTV broadcast. The answer is yes, if you want everyone to experience the 3D effects. Like any 3D movie, watching a 3D Blu-ray without wearing active shutter glasses is possible but not enjoyable. The elements in the foreground, be it a character or setpiece, are less “ghosted” or “outlined” than the elements in the background, so those don’t appear too distorted when you’re not wearing glasses. They’re also not quite as dimensional as images in the background. But, when things move in and out of the foreground, or when there’s an important element in the background, you definitely need the 3D glasses to make out what’s going on. Without them, the image just appears too ghosted/distorted to watch comfortably.

But if you plan to have people over regularly to watch 3D content, ask them to pony up for their own active shutter glasses. It may sound uncouth, but it’s equally rude for them to expect you to lay down $400 to $600 for four pairs of 3D glasses. Unless there are that many people in your household, in which case you’d just prepare to pay the piper. For all those fears about becoming one of the maltshop crowd wearing red and blue glasses that don’t really work, those fears have been completely dashed. Active shutter glasses work, they’re not uncomfortable, they feel incredibly durable — and they don’t even look half bad. Not that you — or anyone else, for that matter — will be looking at anything other than the 3D TV.

— Jonas Allen

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