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What Is a 3D TV?

Jeremy Laukkonen
Jeremy Laukkonen

A three-dimensional (3D) television (TV) is a device that is capable of displaying special video recordings that contain extra visual information. Various techniques are used to create three-dimensional video recordings, each of which corresponds to different 3D TV technology. These special televisions can then use that extra visual information to create a somewhat realistic image that either appears to have depth or seems to project into a three-dimensional space in front of the TV set. Some 3D TV technology is built right into the television, while other TV sets are referred to as "3D ready" since they require additional equipment to render a three-dimensional image.

The concept of 3D imaging has been around since at least the 1890s, when the first patent was filed for a three-dimensional film process. Test reels of 3D footage were produced in the early part of the 20th century, though a different process was used to film the popular 3D movies of the 1950s. Three-dimensional television also dates to the early part of the 20th century, though it wasn't until the 21st century that new technologies and distribution systems were introduced to create the modern 3D TV.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Techniques such as two dimensions (2D) plus depth, multi-image capture, and stereoscopic recording can all be used to create video data that can later be turned into a three-dimensional image. Each technology creates a unique type of video data that will only work with certain televisions due to the processes involved. A 3D TV designed to use 2D plus depth uses a compressed greyscale video image that is included in the video feed to generate an illusion of three dimensions, while other methods rely on two different images to produce a stereoscopic effect.

There are two main categories that each 3D TV can be separated into based on the equipment that the device includes. A 3D-ready television is capable of producing three-dimensional images only if extra equipment is purchased and installed. This often means a 3D signal adapter that can be plugged into the television and one or more sets of active shutter glasses. The adapter is then used to activate the glasses at the proper intervals to display the 3D image. Other televisions do not require this adapter, as they come equipped with the proper hardware to operate the glasses.

Another type of 3D TV technology which is commonly referred to as "autostereoscopic" does not require glasses. This type of 3D TV is designed to automatically send a different image to each eye of a viewer, creating the desired three-dimensional effect. Since there are no glasses used with this type of technology, a viewer typically has to be a certain distance from the television and within a limited viewing angle in order to see the image in 3D.

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Discussion Comments


@Feryll - I think it is just a matter of time before the technology behind 3D TV gets to the point that more people are buying them. The only reason they haven't caught on yet is because they are not as convenient as most people want them to be. Once you can buy a 3D ready TV that is easily set up at a decent price everyone will buy them.


I am about to buy a new big screen TV. The one we have now is an old one that we got from a family member. It's a good TV, but it is old and the picture has seen better days. There are so many different types of TVs in the stores that I get confused when I go to buy one.

I thought I had one picked out; then a friend said I should buy a 3D TV. Honestly, I don't need 3D, but I would be disappointed if I bought a new TV and then a year from now, I found out that 3D TVs were really much better and everyone was getting them.


When I was about 12 years old, one of the local television stations showed a 3D movie. This may have been a national broadcast. I cannot remember for sure, but this was a big event. Most of us had no idea what a 3D image on a TV was supposed to look like, but we were all excited.

We had to buy our glasses at some of the local stores, so we would be able to see the film in 3D. On the night of the movie, a couple of my friends and my family were all anxiously waiting in the TV room for the movie to begin.

I do not know exactly what I was expecting, but I do remember being disappointed. First of all, the film was a horror movie, and a not very good one at that. And for the most part, the images looked like regular TV images except blurry. There were a couple of times when it appeared as though an object was going to fly off the screen and hit us, and we jumped.

Hopefully, today's 3D TVs have better images, and I would prefer a 3D TV without glasses, one where I do not have to wear them. The glasses are aggravating.

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