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In a dedicated home theater, which is the best option for getting the latest tech – 3D stereoscopic viewing, or 4K super-high definition resolution?
I must admit, I haven’t been a huge fan of 3D for movie watching. The glasses can be awkward, and the effect just usually seems like a struggle for my eyes. Especially for a three hour movie – ugh! I have seen some really cool demos of video games in 3D, and have been quite impressed with that experience. To pull off 3D correctly, there are a few new technical challenges.
BRIGHTNESS First of all, we need a lot more light output. Each eye must be shuttered off while the opposite eye is viewing the frame intended for it, so perceived brightness is cut in half from that alone. Then there is the fact that this process of switching from one eye to to the other cannot happen instantly, so both left and right images and shutters must be closed while the switch happens. This drops even more perceived brightness. The faster the technology is able to operate, the better, but we still end up with only 30% to 40% of our original perceived image brightness.
VIEWING ANGLE Our next issue is that our brain fights the 3D effect the more aware we are of the edges of the screen. The 3D effect improves when the image extends much further than normal towards the edges of our peripheral vision, requiring us to sit closer or have a larger screen. This presents two problems for the projector. Firstly, for a given installation, increasing the screen size reduces the overall brightness, so now we need even more light output. Secondly, to have the image appear so big from our perspective, we need to have a lot more resolution from the projector so as not to see the ‘screen door’ of the pixel structure.
So what is ‘4K’? This term has been used for commercial cinema projectors with a horizontal resolution of at least 4,000 pixel elements. Typically, a 4K projector has a resolution of 4,096 x 2160, over four times the resolution of normal 1920 x 1080 HDTV. That’s a LOT of pixels! Do we have movies and TV shows available in glorious 4K resolution? Sadly, not yet. But it is coming in the next few years. In the meantime, 4K projectors will upscale existing HD content to fit their panels with some visual benefits (similar to line-doubling back in the day for us old fogeys). Given that 4K projectors are often used in very large screen applications, they usually have much more light output. Do you see where this is heading? Yes, a 4K projector could easily help with the obstacles listed above with 3D projection.
As an example, Sony’s new VPL-VW1000ES is a full 4K projector (some other manufacturer’s claimed “4K” equivalent projectors are not) has 2,000 lumens of output and 3D processing built-in. That is nearly three times the light output of consumer projectors we were seeing only a few years ago. We recently installed and calibrated one of these Sony units in a client’s home theater, and I must say I was VERY impressed. ISF color temperature calibration could be considered unnecessary, and it basically hit all the industry calibration standards dead-on when set to the reference settings mode in the menu. Then I tried on the 3D glasses. After whining about having to wear the glasses, I looked at the image while MegaMind was playing. Plenty of brightness. Switching between eyes was nice and fast, with much less of the temporal warble I’ve seen in other projectors. Then I moved forward. On a nine foot wide screen, I was positioned only about eight feet away, which is generally considered too close. I still couldn’t see the pixels, just a nice smooth image. When the picture takes up that much of your field of view, it’s amazing how much better the eye/brain combo accepts the 3D effect. I would have to say it’s the best 3D experience I’ve personally ever had. In fact, the Sony 4K may just may be the best projector I have ever installed – and that includes the grand old days of large CRT projectors!
To wrap this all up – If you are currently thinking of installing a home theater with front projection, or may be considering upgrading your existing projector, I believe you should seriously consider going with the new Sony 4K. I think Sony is still running a promotional price right now. Wonder where you can get one delivered and professionally setup by a CEDIA certified Home Theater Design Specialist? Oh Right! Grand Home Automation…