Passive Polarized vs Active Shutter: Which 3D Glasses Are Better?

If you have a 3D TV or projector you need the right kind of glasses.

3D Glasses Example (Active Shutter Type)
Robert Silva

Although 3D televisions have fallen out of favor in recent years, there is still a small but loyal fan base. Many video projectors are still equipped with 3D technology, and there's a steady supply of titles available on 3D Blu-ray. To enjoy this kind of content, however, you need special glasses. There are two types of 3D glasses: passive polarized and active shutter.

Passive polarized glasses are fairly low-tech; they look and feel like cheap sunglasses and don't require a power source. Active shutter glasses, on the other hand, are pricier and more high-tech, requiring batteries and a transmitter that syncs with on-screen refresh rates.

Overall Findings

Passive Polarized Glasses
  • Lightweight and inexpensive.

  • No flickering, which means less discomfort or eye fatigue.

  • No power source required.

  • Resolution is half that of 2D and active shutter, because each line of pixels is reserved for either the left or right eye. This may also present horizontal artifacts on screen.

  • Does not work with projectors or plasma screen TVs.

Active Shutter Glasses
  • Uses shutters to rapidly alternate view between left and right eyes. Unlike passive polarized glasses, this allows for full-resolution image for both left and right eyes.

  • Shutters mean dimmer image and subtle image flickering.

  • Requires battery power.

  • Bulkier/heavier than passive polarized glasses.

  • Up to three times the cost of passive polarized glasses.

Choosing between passive polarized and active shutter mostly comes down to how much you're willing to spend. Active shutter glasses provide a crisper, higher-resolution image, but they cost a lot more.

Image Quality: Active Shutters Win Out

Passive Polarized Glasses
  • Each line is polarized to either left or right eye, resulting in a resolution that is half that of 2D or active shutter glasses.

  • 1080p resolution presents at 540p.

Actie Shutter Glasses
  • Shutters sync with screen refresh rates to rapidly open and close views to each eye, resulting in full resolution 3D image.

Active shutter glasses provide a crisper, higher-resolution image. They accomplish this by rapidly alternating the view from each eye through the use of shutters. Instead of having to compromise the resolution by relegating whole pixel lines to one of two eyes, active shutter glasses sync with the display's refresh rate to alternate exposure of the full resolution to each eye. The downside is that the image comes across as dimmer and may have a subtle flickering appearance.

Bang For Your Buck: Save Money With Passive Polarized Glasses

Passive Polarized Glasses
  • Cost as little as $5, depending on style or hardware extras.

Active Shutter Glasses
  • Anywhere from $50 to $150

Passive glasses are pretty cheap, often ranging from $5 to $25 for a pair. There are some differences in style that may affect price, such as material and flexibility. Active shutter glasses can cost anywhere from $50 to $150, thanks to the sophisticated tech and power sources needed to operate them. Whether or not the added price is also worth a bulkier system is up to the buyer.

Compatibility: It Depends on the System

Passive Polarized Glasses
  • Common among LG, Toshiba, Vizio, and some Sony displays.

  • Does not work with 3D projectors or plasma screen TVs.

  • Will work with any passive polarized display.

Active Shutter Glasses
  • Common among Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sharp displays.

  • Compatible with 3D projectors and plasma screen TVs.

  • Does not necessarily work with all active shutter displays

3D televisions have been out of production for several years now, but many are still being sold after-market. The model of 3D TV determines which type of glasses will need to be used.

Both projectors and plasma screen TVs only work with active shutter glasses because they do not project images through pixels like most digital displays. However, both active shutter and passive glasses can be used with LCD and OLED TVs.

When 3D display tech was first introduced, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sharp adopted active shutter glasses for LCD, Plasma, and DLP TVs. (Plasma and DLP TVs have since been discontinued.) LG and Vizio adopted polarized glasses for their LCD TVs. Although Toshiba and Vizio mostly used polarized glasses, some of their LCD TVs required active shutter. Sony mostly used active shutter but offered some TVs with polarized glasses as well.

Active shutter glasses used for one brand of TV or video projector may not work with a 3D-TV or video projector from another brand. This means, for example, if you have a Samsung 3D TV, your Samsung 3D glasses will not work on a Panasonic 3D TV.

Is 3D Possible Without Glasses?

There are technologies that allow 3D viewing without glasses but you need a special type of TV or video display. These are referred to as "AutoStereoscopic Displays".