How to Adjust a 3D TV for Best 3D Viewing Results

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 11: A glasses-free Toshiba 55-inch 3-D 4x full HD TV shows the movie, 'Coraline' at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center January 11, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images New/Getty Images

UPDATE: 3D TVs are officially dead; manufacturers have stopped making them, but there are still many in use. This information is being retained for those that own 3D TVs and for archive purposes.

3D Viewing Issues

3D TV can be either a great or terrible experience and although some people do have problems with adjusting to 3D viewing, there are many that enjoy the experience, when it is well-presented. However, there are still some issues to take into consideration that can contribute to a negative viewing experience, but can actually be easily corrected by following some easy steps.

The three main issues that consumers encounter when watching 3D are reduction in brightness, "ghosting" (also referred to as crosstalk), and motion blur.

  • Brightness: The reduction in brightness is the result of having to view 3D images through either Active Shutter or Passive Polarized 3D Glasses. This can reduce the brightness of the incoming images up to 50%.
  • Ghosting/Crosstalk: This occurs when the left and right eye images are not synced exactly with the LCD shutters or polarized filters in 3D glasses. What happens is that an object(s) in an image appears to have a duplicate image that looks like a halo or ghost around the actual object.
  • Motion Blur: Another problem is that when objects move fast across the screen, the objects may seem blurry or stutter more than they might do on 2D source material.

However, despite these issues, as mentioned in the introductory paragraph of this article, there is some practical action you can take that may minimize these issues without calling in a tech guru.

Picture Settings

The brightness, contrast, and motion response of the 3D TV or video projector needs to be optimized for 3D. Check your TV or projector picture settings menu. You will have several preset options, typically they are Cinema, Standard, Game, Vivid, and Custom—other choices might include Sports and PC, and if you have a THX certified TV, you should have a THX picture setting option as well (some TVs are certified for 2D and some are certified for 2D and 3D).

Each of the above options provides you with preset picture settings for brightness, contrast, color saturation, and sharpness suitable for different viewing sources or environments. In addition, some 3D TVs and Video Projectors will automatically default to a special preset mode when a 3D source is detected—this may be listed as 3D Dynamic, 3D Bright Mode, or a similar labeling.

Toggle through each and see which provides the best combination of brightness, contrast, color saturation, and sharpness that looks good through 3D glasses without being unnaturally bright or dark.

As you toggle through the presets (while viewing 3D content) also note which one results in 3D images with the least amount of ghosting or crosstalk. As the picture settings are adjusted to make the objects in the image more distinct, it helps reduce the amount of visible ghosting/crosstalk.

However, if none of the presets quite do it, also check the Custom setting option and set your own brightness, contrast, color saturation, and sharpness levels. Don't worry, you won't mess anything up. If you get too far off track, just go the picture settings reset option and everything will return to default settings.

Another setting option to check for is 3D Depth. If you still see too much crosstalk after using the presets and custom settings, check to see if the 3D depth setting will aid in correcting the problem. On some 3D TVs and video projectors, the 3D depth setting option only works with the 2D-to-3D conversion feature, and on others it works with both 2D/3D conversion and native 3D content.

One thing to keep in mind is that most TVs now allow you to make setting changes for each input source independently. In other words, if you have your 3D Blu-ray Disc player connected to HDMI input 1, then the settings made for that input will not affect other inputs.

This means you don't constantly have to change settings. Also, you have the ability to quickly go to another preset setting within each input. This helps if you use the same Blu-ray Disc player for both 2D and 3D as you can switch to your customized or preferred settings when viewing 3D, and switch back to another preset for standard 2D Blu-ray disc viewing.

Ambient Light Settings

In addition to the picture settings, disable the function that compensates for ambient light conditions. This function goes under several names, depending on the brand of TV: C.A.T.S. (Panasonic), Dynalight (Toshiba), Eco-Sensor (Samsung), Intelligent Sensor or Active Light Sensor (LG), etc.

When the ambient light sensor is active, the brightness of the screen will vary as the room light changes, making the image dimmer when the room is dark and brighter when the room is light. However, for 3D viewing, the TV should be displaying a brighter image in either a darkened or brightened room. Disabling the ambient light sensor will allow the TV to display the same picture brightness characteristics in all room lighting conditions.

Motion Response Settings

The next thing to check is motion response. Another problem with a lot of 3D content is that there can be blurring or motion lag during fast moving 3D scenes. This is not as much of an issue on Plasma TVs or DLP video projectors, as they have better natural motion response than an LCD (or LED/LCD) TV. However, for best results on a Plasma TV, check for a setting, such as "motion smoother" or similar function.

For LCD and LED/LCD TVs, make sure you enable the 120Hz or 240Hz motion settings.

For Plasma, LCD, and OLED TVs, even the above setting options may not solve the problem entirely, as a lot depends on how well the 3D was actually filmed (or converted from 2D in post processing), but optimizing a TV's motion response settings certainly doesn't hurt.

Note for Video Projectors

For video projectors, things to check are both the Lamp output setting (set to bright) and other settings, such as Brightness Boost. Doing this will project a brighter image on the screen, which should compensate for the brightness level decrease when viewing through 3D glasses. However, keep in mind that while in the short run this works pretty well, it will decrease your lamp life, so when not viewing 3D, you should go in and disable the brightness boost or similar function, unless you prefer that it be enabled for both 2D or 3D viewing.

Also, a growing number of projectors automatically default to a brighter light output (along with some auto adjustment in color and contrast setting) when a 3D input signal is detected. This makes it easier for the viewer, but you may still need to make some further adjustment according to your own preferences.

Note on TVs and Video Projectors with the 2D-to-3D Conversion Feature

There are a growing number of 3D TVs (and also some video projectors and 3D Blu-ray disc players) that also feature a built-in real-time 2D-to-3D conversion feature. This is not as good a viewing experience as watching originally produced or transmitted 3D content, but it can add a sense of depth and perspective if used appropriately and sparingly, such as with viewing live sporting events.

On the other hand, since this feature cannot calculate all the necessary depth cues in a 2D image correctly, sometimes the depth is not quite right, and some rippling effects can make some back objects look to close and some foreground objects may not stand out properly.

There are two takeaways regarding the use of the 2D-to-3D conversion feature, if your TV, video projector, or Blu-ray Disc player offers it.

First, when viewing native 3D content, make sure your 3D TV is set for 3D and not 2D-to-3D as this will definitely make a difference in the 3D viewing experience.

Second, because of the inaccuracies in using the 2D-to-3D conversion feature, the optimized settings you made for watching 3D will not correct some of the internet issues present when viewing 3D-converted 2D content.

Bonus Tip 3D Viewing Tip: DarbeeVision

Another option that I have used to improve the 3D viewing experience is the addition of Darbee Visual Presence Processing.

Briefly, you connect a Darbee processor (which is about the size of very small external hard drive) between your 3D source (such a 3D-enabled Blu-ray Disc Player) and your 3D TV via HDMI.

When activated, what the processor does is bring out more detail in both external and internal edges of objects by manipulating brightness and contrast levels in real time.

The result for 3D viewing is that the processing can counteract the softness of 3D images, bringing them back to 2D sharpness levels. The degree of the Visual Presence processing effect is user adjustable from 0 to 120 percent. However, too much of the effect can make images harsh and bring out unwanted video noise that may ordinarily not be visible in the content.

It is also important to point out that the Visual Presence Effect can also be applied to standard 2D viewing (after all, you don't always watch TV in 3D). The effect brings out more depth in 2D images, and, although not the same as viewing true 3D, can improve perceived image depth and detail for a 2D viewing experience.

For a full rundown on this option, including photo examples on how the effect works on 2D images, read my full review of the Darbee DVP-5000S Visual Presence Processor (Buy From Amazon) and see if it might be a good fit for your 3D viewing setup.

Darbee Visual Presences Processing is also built into Optoma HD28DSE video projector and OPPO Digital BDP-103 Blu-ray Disc player.

Final Take

The information provided above is based on my own experiences watching and reviewing 3D TVs and video projectors and are not the only ways for optimizing a TV or video projector for 3D viewing. Starting with a correctly calibrated TV or video projector is the best foundation, especially if you are having the TV or video projector professionally installed.

Also, we all have slightly different viewing preferences and many perceive color, motion response, as well as 3D, differently.

Of course, I couldn't end this article without stating that just like there are good and bad movies, and good movies with poor picture quality, and bad movies with great picture quality, the same goes for 3D—if it is bad movie, it is a bad movie—3D might make it more fun visually, but it can't make up for bad storytelling and/or bad acting.

Also, just because a movie is in 3D, doesn't mean the 3D filming or conversion process was done well—some 3D movies just don't look that good.

However, for examples of movies that look great in 3D, check out some of my personal favorites.

Hopefully, the tips in this article will assist in providing you either a 3D viewing solution or a reference point from which to optimize settings to your own taste.