Yes, you can. In fact, it’s surprisingly easy to play any old 2D DVD in 3D on your home TV. And though it won’t be a Monsters vs Aliens-level experience, it’s a good-enough holdover until the studios get around to releasing home-3D versions of their growing catalogue of digital 3D movies.
First step: find out if your TV is 3D-capable. Now, before you tune out – “Oh great, I have to buy an expensive new TV” – a surprising number of sets have this feature, though manufacturers rarely market it. In fact, every new DLP rear-projection TV can play 3D, and a decent number of plasmas can as well. If you’ve purchased an HDTV in the past few years, there’s a fair chance it can play 3D (Check the back for an output labelled “3D sync”.)
If your TV is 3D-ready, you’ll also need a PC and a 3D conversion kit such as Samsung’s SSG 1000. The kit comes with all the necessary hardware for the conversion, including a pair of 3D glasses, as well as a computer program called TriDef Media Player that can transform your video files and DVDs into 3D as they play. Since the movies will be playing from your computer, you’ll need to output your PC’s video to your TV using an HDMI cord. If your PC doesn’t have an HDMI output, you can use its DVI jack and a DVI-to-HDMI adapter.
The 3D effect works by showing your eyes the same image from slightly different angles, creating the illusion of depth perception. In cinemas, this is done with plastic polarised glasses that, when paired with 3D projectors and specially filtered movie screens, cause a different picture to pass into each eye. Since your home TV doesn’t have these special lenses and filters, the home 3D kit requires a bit more technical trickery to pull off the illusion. It uses what are called shutter glasses.
A 3D-enabled TV refreshes its image 120 times a second, but these batterypowered glasses effectively split the image between your eyes by blacking out each lens 60 times a second. A 3D emitter (which comes with the kit) tunes this flickering, ensuring that the lenses are open at alternating times so each eye receives different images from the screen. And it happens so fast that you can’t tell it’s going on.
As for the TriDef 3D conversion software, I noticed that the program seems to produce much of its 3D effect by pushing the bottom of the screen into the foreground and progressively sloping the upper part of the image into the background. “The basic assumption is that whatever is on the bottom of the screen is in front,” says Douglas Hunter, vice-president of licensing for Dynamic Digital Depth, the company that makes the TriDef software. “But that’s just one of about 15 different things the software does in deciding the depth values for each object. It’s also looking at things such as colour, contrast, motion and object structure.”
So what’s the insta-3D experience like? It’s definitely more of a fun toy than an enjoyable way to watch movies. I demoed the program on about a dozen test subjects. For the first few minutes, my subjects radiated wonder – like they were watching a moving picture or talkie for the first time. Freaks and Geeks in 3D! My DVD of old Residents music videos in 3D! (“Amazing!” “Wow!” “How the heck is this happening?”) But the initial excitement soon subsided, and my guinea pigs inevitably asked me to turn the 3D off. (“Can we just watch the movie normally now?”) Fact is, the experience is cool, and initially impressive, but it just isn’t enjoyable for very long.
The main problem: a lack of subtlety. The best digital 3D movies make deliberate use of the third dimension, either by throwing stuff at the audience’s face or by immersing the audience in the environment. The instant 2D-to- 3D software doesn’t do that. It just pops things into the foreground. Producing decent 3D footage is an art, and it’s not one that a simple PC program is able to replicate on the fly. At least not yet.
How it works: 3D shutter glasses A 3D-enabled TV switches between two different images 120 times a second. To deliver the images to separate eyes, the lenses black out 60 times a second at alternating intervals – so fast, you don’t notice.