What Do I Need in My Home Theater to Watch 3D?

Although 3D TVs have been discontinued, you still have some options

Although manufacturers discontinued making 3D TVs, there is still a loyal group of fans who view 3D on TVs and video projectors available or in use. Also, there is still 3D content out there to watch if you know where to find it.

If you dare to take the plunge, find out what you need to get that immersive 3D viewing experience.

3D-Enabled TV or 3D-Enabled Video Projector

Samsung JU7100 Series 3D Smart UHD TV
Samsung JU7100 Series 3D Smart UHD TV. Samsung, inc. 

As your starting point, you need a TV or video projector that meets approved 3D specifications. These include some LED/LCDOLEDPlasma (Plasma TVs were discontinued in late 2014, early 2015, but there are many still in use) and DLP or LCD-type video projectors. All 3D-enabled TVs and most 3D-enabled Video Projectors work with the 3D standards approved for Blu-ray, cable/satellite, and streaming sources.

Also, all consumer-based 3D-enabled TVs and video projectors display standard 2D as well, so you can enjoy all your TV programs, Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, and other video content just as you always have, in the way you are used to seeing it.

Once you get your 3D TV or video projector, you need to set it up for the best possible viewing result.

3D-Enabled Blu-Ray Disc Player and Discs

Official Blu-ray 3D Logo
Blu-ray Disc Association / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

To watch 3D Blu-ray Discs, you need a 3D-enabled Blu-ray or Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player. However, in addition to playing 3D Blu-ray discs, all of these players will still play current Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, and CDs.

There are well over 500 3D Blu-ray Disc titles available in the U.S. and more internationally. Although you can't always find them at your local retailer, you can order many titles, including a steady stream of current releases, online.

3D via Cable/Satellite

To receive 3D content via HD-cable or Satellite, you may need a 3D-enabled cable or satellite box and a subscription that includes access to any 3D channels or services. Some cable providers offer 3D content via Video-on-Demand services. To find out if your cable services offer 3D content, contact them directly.

Of the two major satellite providers, Dish offers 3D programming on two of its channels. For more details on what box you need, titles, and pricing, refer to the Dish 3D Programming Page. DirecTV discontinued its 3D programming services.

3D via Streaming

VUDU 3D Streaming Service Page
VUDU 3D Streaming Service Page.

If you have 3D TV and receive some or most of your programming via internet streaming, there are two primary options for accessing 3D content.

  • Vudu: Vudu offers a 3D channel viewing option that features select movie trailers, shorts, and feature films available on either a pay-per-view or purchase basis. 
  • YouTube: There is a lot of user-generated 3D content available on YouTube based on the Anaglyph system, which you can also view on any TV or computer monitor with special glasses. The quality is low compared to the passive and active 3D systems used by TVs and video projectors adhering to official 3D standards.

3D Glasses

3D Glasses Example (Active Shutter Type)
3D Glasses Example (Active Shutter Type). Lifewire / Robert Silva

Yes, you will need to wear glasses to watch 3D. However, these are not the cheap paper 3D glasses of yesteryear. The glasses will most likely be one of two types: Passive or Active.

  • Passive Polarized — look and wear much like sunglasses and have enough front space to place over existing eyeglasses for those that need to. These glasses are inexpensive to manufacture and would probably cost consumers $5 to $25 for each pair depending on the frame style (rigid vs. flexible, plastic vs. metal).
  • Active Shutter — are slightly bulky since they have batteries and a transmitter that syncs the rapidly moving shutters for each eye with the onscreen display rate. These types of glasses are also more expensive than passive polarized glasses, ranging in price from $50 to $150 depending on the manufacturer.

The brand and model TV or video projector you have determines which type of glasses (passive polarized or active shutter) you will need for use. For example, LG 3D-enabled TVs require passive glasses, while some Sony TVs required active shutter glasses, and some require passive. All consumer-based video projectors (either LCD or DLP) require the use of active shutter glasses.

You may get one or two pairs of glasses with the set or projector you purchase, but it will most likely be an accessory that must be purchased separately. Prices for the glasses will vary, at both the manufacturer's discretion and what type they are. As mentioned above, active shutter glasses will be more expensive than passive polarized glasses.

Another factor to consider is that glasses branded for one manufacturer may not work another's 3D-TV or video projector. In other words, if you have a Samsung 3D-TV, your Samsung 3D glasses will not work with Panasonic's 3D-TVs. So, if you and your neighbors have different brand 3D-TVs, you will, in most cases, not be able to borrow each other's 3D glasses.

However, several companies make 3D glasses that you can use on several TVs and video projectors. One example is XpanD, a third party company that makes 3D glasses for both commercial and consumer applications, offers 3D Glasses that can work on many available 3D TVs and projectors that use the Active Shutter system.

3D and Home Theater Receivers

Yamaha RX-V683 7.2 Channel Network Home Theater Receiver
Yamaha RX-V683 7.2 Channel Network Home Theater Receiver. Yamaha

Although the addition of 3D does not change anything about audio, it may affect how you connect your 3D TV with the rest of your home theater system. For example, if you usually send both your audio and video signals through a home theater receiver, on the way to your TV, then your home theater receiver also needs to be 3D-compatible. However, there are some workarounds if your home theater receiver is not 3D compatible.

Glasses-Free 3D

Stream TV Networks Ultra D No-Glasses 3D TV
Stream TV Networks Ultra D No-Glasses 3D TV. Stream TV Networks, Inc

Although commercial, medical, and scientific applications use Glasses-Free 3D, it is available in small form factors for consumers in a limited number of tablets, smartphones, and portable game systems. Progress towards affordable implementation for mainstream consumers has been slow, confined mostly to demonstrations of pre-production prototypes at trade shows, such as CES.

The 4K Factor

Although some 4K Ultra HD TVs offer (or have offered) a 3D viewing option, the 4K Ultra HD standard does not include a 3D viewing standard. Most 3D content is in either 1080p or 720p resolutions, and a 3D-enabled 4K Ultra HD TV will upscale the 3D signal to 4K for screen display.

There is no indication that the 4K Ultra HD standard will ever include a 3D viewing format, with manufacturers opting instead of other picture enhancements such as HDR and wide color gamut. However, if you are a 3D fan, take heart. 4K upscaling (such as LG's Cinema 3D+), combined with optimized picture settings, can deliver a great 3D on a 3D-enabled 4K Ultra HD TV.

The Bottom Line

If the demise of 3D TV bums you out, two alternatives that can provide the best possible 2D movie viewing experience are 4K Ultra HD TVs with HDR and 4K Video Projectors. However, just as with 3D, you need more than only the TV or video projector.