Panasonic debuted its 3D TV offering to the press at Pana HQ this morning. The company has decided to restrict its 3D offering to plasma panels only, with three new 50, 54 and 65-inch models due in shops by June.
Panasonic claims that the superior contrast ratios of plasma panels, and their ability to deliver unblurred fast-moving action makes them superior to LCD panels for 3D.
Sony, of course, would beg to differ with its own 3D system for LCD panels debuted to the press last week.
Like the Sony system, the Panasonic 3D experience relies on the use of Active Shutter glasses that you purchase with your TV. These glasses communicate with the TV via an infrared signal to switch the left and right lenses on and off as dictated by the onscreen image.
Panasonic's (and Sony's) 3D system is based on what is called Frame Sequential technology. Under this system, 100 full HD images are produced per second, 50 for the left eye and 50 for the right. Your Active Shutter glasses blank out the left lens when an image is produced for the right eye, and vice versa for the right.
The glasses even turn off both lenses between frames.
Under this system there is no opportunity for "cross talk" between left and right images to occur, which can create a blurriness and lack of definition in the image. If you've seen Avatar or any other 3D movie at the cinema you'll have experienced this problem. Switching off the lenses also helps to maintain image contrast and definition by avoiding light from previous images leaking into the next.
Rather stingily, Panasonic intends to give you just one pair of glasses with your TV and charge you about $150 for every further pair. Sony, at least, will give you two pairs so you don't have to watch on your own. However, Panasonic reps note that Chinese factories are already starting to churn out third party 3D glasses so you may well be able to buy a cheap pair of Ray-Ban Aviator look-alikes before long. It's even possible that Sony's and Panasonic's glasses will be interchangeable as the systems are broadly the same.
You'll note that Panasonic has given thought to the spectacle wearers amongst us by providing ample space between your face and the lenses for a pair of specs. This does, however, put the lens frame right in your field of view and tends to distract from the immersive experience. Sony's glasses hug your eyes more, which removes the frame from your field of view but is probably no good for accomodating a pair of specs. On the other hand, both systems make you look equally silly.
The glasses are driven by a CR2032 coin-type battery that Panasonic says offers about 72 hours of viewing.
What's it like?
On the whole, it's pretty awesome. Far superior to anything you'll have seen in the cinema. The blurriness I noted in Avatar and weird spots where you seem to go blind in one eye are completely eradicated and the horizontal field of view is superb. You can be right out to the side of the TV and the effect is not lost. Although there is a restriction with distance from the screen, about 4 metres being the maximum to preserve the full effect.
As you'd hope, Blu-ray content encoded in 3D looks particularly good. In our demo we trawled through some footage of trekking in the Grand Canyon, diving on a coral reef, and even some beach volleyball shot at Mt Maunganui. In all, image resolution and definition were superb and the impression of depth was convincing, if not wholly realistic. I could never shake the feeling that I was looking at layers of depth rather than a seamless progression into the distance.
As I noted with Sony last week, this layered look becomes more pronounced when a zoom lens has been used to shoot the images -- something often seen in sports when going for the close up. A zoom already adds compression to the image and putting 3D on top just seems to create cardboard cut-outs rather than a rounded whole.
One area where 3D will definitley thrive is in gaming. Adding depth makes the experience 100 times more immersive and will make most people better game players. Treated to a sequence from the 3D-encoded Avatar game for the Xbox, I could see gamers climbing over each other to get this technology in their hands.
Sony has also promised that a firmware upgrade will make all PS3 consoles 3D compatible. A good thing also if you don't want to have to go out and buy another 3D Blu-ray player to watch movies.
At launch there will most likely be a number of 3D games available as encoding these is not big effort for the companies, but movies will likely be thinner on the ground. Many animated features are being re-coded into 3D and the new Toy Story will be shot in 3D but live action movies will take longer to appear as shooting in 3D with the new generation of cameras has only just begun. Rumours suggest that the new Bond will be 3D.
As we've noted at PC World before, the local broadcasters are not falling over themselves to offer 3D content. Yes, many overseas broadcasters like ESPN and Sky UK are gearing up to offer sports this year, and much of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be shot in 3D, but don't expect it here in the immediate future. By all accounts, the local broadcasters have not even settled on a technology standard with which to deliver 3D content. That said, if you do buy a 3D TV when they go on sale you'll most likely be safe as the two main standards being adopted overseas (side-by-side and top-and-bottom) to broadcast 3D are compatible with the Panasonic's ( and I assume Sony's) platform.