Watching 3D movies at home is definitely a craze that passed me by because I was never able to get invested in the technology. However, there are some people who like to the idea of watching 3D content in their home theaters, so this article will explain how to do so.
To start, you’ll need a device capable of playing 3D content, which includes TVs, projectors, or computers with a 3D graphics card. Most importantly, you’ll need the 3D glasses, and to set your TV up for the best viewing experience. You also need to spend time getting the best viewing position for your 3D media.
Realistically, watching 3D movies at home requires little more than you buying the right equipment. However, to get the most from it, you’ll want to optimize all of your settings, which is something I discuss in more detail later in the article. It’s also worth noting that 3D technology has officially been discontinued, but is still available to buy.
What is Required to Watch 3D Movies at Home
The three major components required to watch 3D movies at home are as follows:
1. A Viewing Device
The first thing you’ll need for watching 3D movies at home is a viewing device with 3D capabilities. The most standard form is a TV, which come with a range of screen technologies, such as LCD or OLED, and also with a range of resolutions. I have talked about this in more detail in my guide on screen sizes.
It might be hard to find 3D TVs with 4K resolution because there wasn’t the biggest crossover, but there are definitely some out there.
Another option for your viewing device is a 3D enabled projector. These will obviously cost a bit more money (as projectors generally do anyway), but a projector is definitely the way forward if you want to replicate the 3D cinema experience at home. If you’re overwhelmed with the choices available in the market, you can check out my straightforward and honest list of recommended projectors for home theater.
All 3D projectors are configured to work with a range of different media, such as DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming services.
You can also get computers with 3D enabled graphics cards, but I won’t go into too much detail about these here because I don’t tend to use a computer in my home theater unless I really need to. However, any advice offered will still be applicable to a computer, and if you own one then you’ll likely know how to connect it to your home theater setup anyway.
If you’re connecting your viewing device through your AV receiver, then you need to make sure this is 3D enabled. Not all are, but it should say. However, if you don’t want to go out and buy a new receiver, there are some options that I’ll discuss later in the article.
2. 3D Media
Next you’ll need your 3D media, which can be in the form of DVD, Blu-Ray, or whatever you can find to stream. Not many major streaming services support 3D, but there are plenty of streaming sites online if that’s your preferred method.
Physical 3D media will generally become harder to find as the technology dies out, but while researching I found that there’s plenty available online still.
3. 3D Glasses
Finally, the last thing you’ll need is a pair of 3D glasses, obviously one pair for each viewer. People I know who invested in the technology usually bought 4 or 5 pairs, which covered them for guests and meant they had readily available spares if a pair broke. There are different kinds of 3 glasses available, but I’ll cover that in more detail later in the article.
The basic instructions for watching 3D media at home is to set up all of that technology, put your glasses on, and get watching. However, there is more you can do to get the best out of your equipment, which I’ll cover in more detail next.
How to Optimize your Viewing Experience
One of the biggest issues with 3D viewing at home is trying to get the most from your system, as there’s usually a very fine line between the perfect viewing experience and unviewable trash. Here are some general tips for getting the most out of your 3D TV or projector.
- Crank up the brightness. The picture might look fine for you now, but you’ll lose some of the brightness once you put on the glasses, simply because of the technology in them. Some glasses can reduce brightness by up to 50%, so make sure you have the remote handy.
- Optimize your picture settings. Most TVs and projectors will have a range of preset picture settings, such as “cinema” or “gaming.” Many 3D viewing devices will even have a 3D specific setting, but cycle through them all until you find one that works best for that particular piece of media.
- Check your 3D depth setting. This might need adjusting, particularly if you’re seeing blurry or unsynced images. Not every device will let you adjust this, but it’ll more than likely be the source of any major picture issues you’re experiencing.
- Turn off your ambient light setting. Not every device will have one, but many recent TVs will. It basically makes the screen brighter if there’s lots of ambient light, which is not what you need with 3D media. Disabling this will make it much easier to get the right brightness.
- On projectors, take advantage of the brightness boost setting. Many projectors have an issue with darker media anyway, so you’ll need to do everything possible to supercharge the image.
Getting the best from your 3D device simply requires you playing around with the settings until you’ve got a good enough picture. However, one major downside to this is that you might have to do so for every different thing you want to watch on the TV. This is one of the major pitfalls of viewing 3D movies at home, but is something you’ll have to get used to.
One of the biggest problems you might encounter when first setting up your 3D enabled device is something called “crosstalk.” Simply put, this is when the left eye and right eye images aren’t properly synced, and can result in you seeing blurry or incomplete images, or if you’re really lucky then a second image can appear around the first.
This is the main reason why you’ll need to adjust your 3D depth settings. Some TVs or projectors might not have a dedicated 3D depth setting, and may only let you adjust it through one of the preset image settings. If that’s the case then you might have to sacrifice some brightness in order to have a complete 3D image.
This is one of the only real major issues you should face when setting your equipment up for the first time. If you haven’t watched much 3D media before then your eyes might need some time to adjust to the difference, so bear this in mind when you first try it out.
The other important thing to consider is where you sit to view the movie. 3D media works best when you’re sat directly in front of it, otherwise the 2 images won’t sync properly. If you’re noticing crosstalk, check your seating area is in the right place. Most manufacturers will provide a short guide on where you can sit, but directly in front of the TV is usually the standard.
Getting the most out of your 3D viewing device can actually be quite hard, and you’ll probably find yourself going through the various settings to get a half-decent picture. However, once you know your way around the optimum settings, it won’t be too hard for you to do it again in future.
3D Glasses – What’s the Deal?
Regardless of whether you’re watching 3D content on a TV or a projector, you’ll need 3D glasses. In the early days of the technology, some companies were trying to find ways to provide a 3D picture without the glasses, but it never happened. I believe that the need for glasses is one of the biggest reasons 3D media failed, as it makes viewing much more difficult.
However, that aside, you need the glasses to actually get the 3D element. There are two types: passive polarized and active shutter. They both do the same thing, but in different ways. 3D glasses work in the following way:
- 3D media is sent as a signal to your TV or projector from the media and needs to be decoded. There are several ways in which this signal can be sent, so the TV has an internal decoder to work this out.
- However, all 3D media signals are sent with 2 images. The intention is for one image to be viewed by the left eye, and the other by the right eye. Showing them both on the same screen obviously makes this difficult, which is where the glasses come in.
- 3D glasses are designed to take the 2 images and separate them so they’re viewed by the correct eye. These images are then sent to the brain, which gets confused, overlaps them, and so sees them as a 3D image.
Passive Polarized Glasses
Passive polarized 3D glasses are the kind that most people will be familiar with, and are the ones generally given out in cinemas. They look much like sunglasses, and the passive element is exactly the same as with speakers: they don’t require external power. All you need to do is put them on and they produce a 3D image.
They work using polarized lenses, which essentially use horizontal lines to block out half of the image, so your left eye only sees the left image and vice versa. These glasses are lightweight and inexpensive but do have some rather big drawbacks.
- These glasses are lightweight and are usually large enough to put over existing glasses, which is a big benefit.
- They don’t require an external power source.
- Passive glasses are also inexpensive, making them a more attractive option for many.
- Easy to use, these glasses don’t need syncing with the TV or any other device.
- They’re widely available and generally compatible with all brands of 3D TV.
- They only work with LCD TVs and don’t work at all with projectors because of the technology.
- Passive glasses only produce half the resolution of a high-definition image because you’re literally only getting half the image in each eye.
- Some people might notice the polarized lines in the glasses, which can lead to issues such as headaches and vertigo.
- Some models can be very flimsy, but this is the flip side to the low price point.
Active Shutter Glasses
Active shutter 3D glasses run on battery power, hence the active part of the name. These are a less widely available option, but are more reliable and can produce better images than passive glasses. Essentially, they work using rapidly moving shutters over each eye to produce the correct 3D image.
These glasses obviously only work with active TVs, but also work with projectors. The viewing device gives out 2 rapidly alternating images, meaning one full image for each eye. The technology is far more complex, but produces a better quality image.
- Active glasses produce much higher quality images than passive glasses, and still render them in HD.
- The glasses work with both TVs and projectors, making them much more versatile.
- Generally more expensive than passive glasses because of all the technology included in the eyewear, including batteries and a transmitter.
- More prone to breakage, and rendered completely unusable if the shutters break.
- Much heavier to wear, and generally can’t be worn with normal glasses.
- The shutters cause the image to become much darker, and the rapidly moving shutters can result in a blur too.
- They require connecting and syncing with your viewing device, which makes them more convoluted to set up.
- They run on batteries, which will either need charging or replacing, making them an overall more expensive investment.
As you can see, passive glasses are generally the easier option to use, and are compatible with all brands. However, you’re going to be essentially limited by the type of viewing device you have, as passive glasses will only work with passive TVs, and vice versa.
If you’re starting from the ground up and investing in a range of 3D devices, I would suggest going with active devices. Yes, they’re more expensive, but you have greater versatility with your initial viewing device, including the option of projectors, and most importantly you’ll get a better quality image.
The one biggest drawback with active shutter glasses is that you’ll need manufacturer specific ones due to the compatibility element. If you choose a major brand this can make them expensive, particularly if you’re buying for the whole family. That aside however, they’re definitely worth the investment over passive technology.
What to Do If your AV Receiver Isn’t 3D Compatible
As we all know, your AV receiver is the hub of your home theater. So what happens if your AV receiver isn’t 3D compatible, but you want to introduce the technology to your system? Well, the most obvious option is to buy a new AV receiver, but there are some alternatives if you’re still happy with your current model.
1. Using 2 HDMI Ports
If your new 3D enabled Blu-Ray player has 2 HDMI ports, then it’s actually quite easy to get around the issue. All you need to do is plug one HDMI cable directly into your TV or projector, which will provide the video, and the other goes into the AV receiver, which will provide the audio.
There are some obvious drawbacks to this method, such as needing a second cable connection, but it does allow you to get around the problem of buying a new AV receiver. I’d probably suggest this as the easiest option because it allows you to almost painlessly integrate the technology into your current setup.
2. Using Direct Audio Connections
The second option available is to buy a Blu-Ray player that has its own surround sound output connections. Much like with the previous method, you need to connect the Blu-Ray player directly to the TV again, but then use its 5.1 or 7.1 channel output connections to hook it up to your receiver.
This method does require your AV receiver to have matching surround sound input connections, but many of them will anyway. Another downside to this method is that it’ll obviously result in many more cables in your home theater setup, which is something I always try to keep to a minimum. However, it is another reasonably straightforward option if you don’t want to buy a new AV receiver.
You can also use this method with digital audio out connections, which rely on the same principles. The advantage of all of these methods is that they mean you don’t need to build a completely new, 3D compatible home theater system, but they do all mean more cables lying around. However, these are the pros and cons of upgrading to a 3 system.
The Pros and Cons of Watching 3D Media at Home
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I never really got interested in 3D technology. From the beginning I saw it as something of a craze that would need to work hard to take off, which never really seemed to happen. I can see it making a comeback in the future if manufacturers manage to solve the major problems.
However, if this is a technology you’re thinking of investing in for your home theater, consider these pros and cons to help you make the final decision. As I suggest with any new investment for your home theater though, make sure you do plenty of research first. You need to know what’s still available, and decide whether there’s a future in the technology for you.
3D viewing – the Pros
1. Watching 3D media at home
It’s one thing going to the cinema to watch a 3D movie, but it’s another thing entirely to have access to that technology in the comfort of your own home theater, and to apply it to so many other forms of media.
Applying the technology to sports, TV shows, or games makes a big difference to your viewing experience, and will be a talking point among your friends.
2. It provides a more immersive viewing experience
This one almost goes without saying, but having the characters on screen coming towards you results in a much more immersive viewing experience than what you get with 2D media.
Being able to lose yourself in your favorite TV show in this way is almost incomparable, and you’ll find it difficult to switch back after.
3. They still make great 2D TVs
This is something I’ve managed to not mention at all yet, but all 3D TVs and projectors still function in 2D formats, and what’s more, they do it really well. 3D TVs are generally more powerful than purely 2D models because of all the extra juice needed to make a 3D image look good.
So this results in much better images when viewing 2D, including deeper blacks, better response time, and higher contrast.
4. Some 3D devices can convert from 2D in real time
This is generally a feature you’ll only find on higher end models, but some have the ability to convert 2D images into 3D in real time.
Sure, they’re not going to be completely 3D, or be of the same quality as native 3D content, but it can make a big difference to image depth and perspective, which can help really bring the picture alive. I’d particularly recommend this option if you watch lots of sports, as this makes it far more interesting.
3D Viewing – the Cons
1. It’s already outdated
This is the big one. 3D TVs and projectors are no longer in production, meaning you’ll have to make do with what exists. Sure, you’ll still be able to buy new TVs, but the technology isn’t going to develop any further. As a result, you might find it hard to get a 4K TV, and you’ll be stuck with this technology regardless of what happens in the future.
I always recommend future proofing your home theater, which is something you can’t do with 3D technology.
2. The glasses
Where do I start on the glasses? They’re usually uncomfortable, and the active ones are both heavy and difficult to wear, not to mention expensive.
I always find the glasses completely ruin the element of immersion that 3D media is meant to provide. Plus you’ll have to replace the glasses when they break because otherwise the whole TV will be rendered useless, and buying glasses is going to get much harder as time goes by.
3. 3D headaches
Many users complain of 3D headaches, which can be due to a wide range of factors, but it mostly comes down to the glasses and the rapidly flickering images.
Sitting down to watch a feature length film wearing these glasses can be a painful experience, both physically and mentally. Watching TV should be fun, so why give yourself a headache over it?
4. Lack of content
There just isn’t enough media in 3D format. Sure, there are several hundred titles on Blu-Ray, but this number isn’t going to increase. What’s more, streaming services don’t offer a wealth of choice, and 3D TV channels never really took off.
Make sure you check to see if the available media is stuff you’d watch, otherwise there’s no point in investing in the technology.
5. 3D equipment is expensive
3D TVs will be more expensive than 2D versions for a long time to come, and obviously the same applies to projectors. What’s more, you might find you need to upgrade your AV receiver, not to mention all the 3D glasses you’ll need to buy.
And let’s not forget the price increase for native 3D media, which can be much more expensive than 2D media. You may find yourself buying almost a whole new home theater just to watch 3D media, and is it really worth it?
For me, the cons of 3D content definitely outweigh the pros. If this was 10 years ago and the technology was only taking off, then my opinion might be different, but considering we’ve seen the beginning and the end of 3D technology within the space of a decade, I think that really tells us all we need to know about it. However, use this information to make your own decision about the investment.
Watching 3D movies at home is, in principle, a reasonably simple affair. It’s not largely different from watching 2D media, except for all the new technology you’ll need. This is where the complications arise, and where much of the cost will come from. However, if you’re reasonably tech-savvy, then this should be of little problem to you.
My final piece of advice is the same as what I usually give: think about investing in this technology before buying. Do plenty of research, but most importantly, remember that there’s not going to be any more in the future. Investing in 3D technology now would be like buying a HD-DVD player after Blu-Ray won the war: is there much point?
Thanks for reading! Before you go, check out my recommended equipment for home theater.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.