Although 3D movies have been around for more than half a century, it is only in the last couple of decades that cinema-goers have enjoyed the occasional spectacle of high-quality productions. I think it all started with IMAX theatres, but now just about every local movie venue is able to screen them. With digital technology marching on the way it has, it was just a matter of time before 3D came into the home with the introduction of 3D flat-screen TVs.

How Do They Work?

In Passive 3D systems,the secret lies in ‘polarization’.  If a light source is horizontally polarized then, if it is viewed through a vertically polarized filter, it will appear to be dark (but horizontally polarised filters will let the light through). Likewise, if the polarisations are reversed. In the cinema the left/right images are separately polarised and projected simultaneously onto a special screen that maintains the polarisations. The audience wears glasses with appropriately polarised filters over the left/right eyes, thus enjoying the illusion of 3D imagery.

Initially, in the days of ‘tubed’ (crt) TVs, the passive system was also used to introduce 3D into the home, but the way it was done was different to the cinema. As we all know, TV pictures are made up of a number of lines, each consisting of many coloured dots (pixels). These pixels can be arranged to emit light with either horizontal or vertical polarisation. By arranging all the odd-numbered lines to be polarized horizontally, and all the even-numbered lines to be polarized vertically, then the two images can appear on the screen simultaneously and we can use glasses similar to those used in the cinema to view the program in 3D. It’s as simple as that, but this method is not as easy to apply to flat-screens as it was to the older crt televisions, so is rarely used today.

In Active 3D systems, glasses are still used, but they contain electronic circuitry and liquid-crystal shutters that select what each eye is seeing. They are controlled (usually wirelessly) by the TV, which shows left/right images sequentially and switches the left/right shutters on the glasses appropriately. This system is mainly available only on High Definition flat-screen TVs, where Blu-ray players are used to play the 3D movies. Very little suitable content is available yet on-line, over-air, or by satellite/cable..   

What About Still Images?

Now we have the means to view 3D images in our living rooms, it will come as no surprise that there are cameras being produced that capture still images in 3D. There are even 2D (normal) digital cameras that have in-built features to create 3D images (e.g. Panasonic DMZ-TZ30), although these are generally restricted to static subjects.

File Formats

There are 3 competing file formats out here at the moment - MPO, JPS, and PNS. Not all TVs are compatible with all formats, neither do all cameras produce them. It is still early days, and the 3D revolution has yet to achieve wide consumer appeal, so beware of this if you are considering purchasing anything.

Editing 3D photos

This is not as easy as I thought it would be. It may be that the technology is still too young, or the market is just not there at the moment. There is a lot on the web about 3D graphics (art) creation, generating 3D from 2D images, and editing 3D movies, but very little that I could find about how to edit or enhance 3D photos, or convert them from one format to another. The closest I got was a reference to Adobe PhotoShop CS6 being capable of doing something, but I did not get to find out any details (besides, that is a very expensive program!). It could be that, if you bought a 3D camera, there would be bundled some software to accomplish this. I will be watching out for developments in this area…


I first started this section of the page in 2012 when, with the help of HD, 3D TV had matured beyond being a low-grade novelty and was becoming incorporated as a standard feature on high-end large flat (and, later curved) screen HDTVs. Having seen a demonstration of it in 2013 and been thoroughly impressed by it, I pushed the boat out and bought a 65” Samsung 4k curved screen Smart TV in 2014, and was not disappointed. So much so, I quickly bought an additional 4 pairs of active glasses (£5 each) so that family and friends could enjoy my new toy - which they certainly did.     

But that was nearly 3 years ago, and now in 2016 it seems that it has become virtually extinct, with none of the major manufacturers offering it as an integrated feature in any of their current range of models, or even as an optional accessory. Also, movie companies have dramatically reduced the release of 3D titles, and major cable and satellite providers have reduced or removed 3D channels from their services.

It is not clear to me why this about-turn has happened so fast, or has happened at all.  What is clear is that technology pundits took a dislike to it right from the start, and their opinions have rippled across the world of multimedia. Here is a typical negative view of 3D TV Click Here To Read It. (There are several other similar articles to be found on the web).

Whilst some of the comments expressed in these articles may have some foundation, what is missing is the fact that it was ludicrous in the first place to ever suggest that this technology should, or could, supplant 2D every-day viewing, but rather to enthuse over the fact that the facility was here at last, worked extremely well, and was available for occasional use when ever its extra dimension was needed.

Among the few Blu-ray 3D disks that I have bought have been the set of natural history discs featuring David Attenborough that were specially created in 3D with a purpose-built camera that cost £1M and capable of zooming in on microscopic detail. These movies are unlikely to ever be projected in a cinema, and if they ever appear on 2D television will have lost the visual impact and spatial quality that I have enjoyed. I also have his movie about the life of King Penguins, which is stunning. I have also watched this in 2D, and it is literally ‘flat’ in comparison.  

There is no doubt that watching a 3D blockbuster like Avatar at the cinema can be a unique experience, especially in a large screen theatre, with multi-channel surround sound, but recreating this at home with suitable equipment, and with appropriate room lighting conditions can easily come a close second. Sadly, it seems that this will never be possible in the future at any price (unless, like me, you bought your HDTV before 2016).

See this wikipedia page    for an interesting insight into this subject.