Can My Laptop, Monitor, Or TV Do 3D?

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Can My Laptop, Monitor, Or TV Do 3D?

Updated by James Bruce on 07/24/2017

Although 3DTV is unofficially dead, 3D movies are still alive and well, thanks to the recent resurrection of virtual reality. As a result, we are often asked, “Can I view 3D movies on my computer?” The quick answer is that you probably can’t. Continue reading to find out why you can’t and what you need to acquire to be able to!

Why You Probably Can’t View 3D on Your Monitor or Laptop

It has nothing to do with software or your graphics card. It is not possible to just download a 3D video player. Your display device is most likely incompatible. To understand why, we must look at the most prevalent technology for watching 3D material (whether in a theater or on a 3DTV).

To achieve any form of 3D illusion, a separate picture must be sent to each of your eyes. Put your finger in front of your face and concentrate on something behind it to show this. Close one eye before closing the other. Examine how your finger’s location varies dramatically depending on which eye you’re looking through. Your brain is continually integrating those two pictures to provide you with a three-dimensional view of the environment. The fact that the finger location varies so dramatically in this situation offers it a strong depth hint about how near your finger must be.

Take a look at the 3D movie frame below. Pick out a single cube, and see how the position is slightly different between the left and right view. You can view this scene in 3D without any glasses at all – just go cross-eyed until the 3D picture emerges in the middle!

Of course, going cross-eyed like that is neither healthy nor practical for any length of time. So how doesa TV or cinema screen show a different image to each of your eyes? There’s a couple of different methods.

Active Shutter 3D

These displays runat twice the normal refresh rate, and they use those extra frames to show the left image, then the right image, alternating at a high speed between each one. They must be paired with active shutter glasses, which contain a plain black LCD display over each eye. When given the correct timing signal, the left or right side of those glasses will entirely black out the image, such that one eye sees nothing, while the other eye sees the correct frame. This happens hundreds of times a second, so from the perspective of your brain, it’s just seeing two different images in each eye, and a 3D effect can be perceived. You can easily identify this type of display by a very slight flicker, and the fact that the glassesare sometimes bulkier, and require charging or a battery.

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The problem is that your typical LCD computer display is simply too slow to display images at the speed required for this to work: at least 120Hz. If a monitor or TV is claiming to be 3D-ready, it probably means it has a high enough frequency, and can be paired with some active shutter glasses and suitable software for 3D output. If your monitor or laptop doesn’t explicitly says that it’s 3D-ready, that’s becausemost likely isn’t.

Even if it claims to display images at 120Hz, that may mean it’s just interpolating the differences in a 60Hz signal to give the illusion of 120Hz, which is no good for this kind of 3D.

Passive Polarized 3D

This method divides the display into lines,interlacing the left and right image together, by displaying a line from each image alternately, at the same time. This then passes through a polarization filter, with alternating lines polarized in a different direction. To enable the 3D effect, they must be paired with some lightweight glasses, such that each eyepiece is in fact a different direction polarized filter. Now only the light from the image intended for the right eye can pass through the right eyepiece, and the same for the left.

You can tell that a display uses passive 3D polarization because the glasses are very lightweight — sometimes disposable, even — and don’t require a battery. It’s also considered to be slightly inferior because the overall brightness is less than that of an active 3D display, and there’s often a very slight “ghosting” effect, where the light from one eye has bled over to another.

Lenticular 3D

A third type of display uses cleverly angled “light pipes” which only allow the image to be viewed from a single direction. You’ve probably seen a form of this technology in collectable trading cards or cereal box toys, where you can feel plastic ridges on the card. Theyallow you to tilt the toy in order see a different frame of a very short animation. This technology has made its way to consumer grade 3D cameras, and the Nintendo 3DS, as well as a few TVs. What’s amazing about lenticular displays is that theydon’t require glasses at all.

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Unfortunately, they’re also not very good, often requiring specific viewing angles for the optimum effect, and even then, having quite muted depth effects. It’s notable that Nintendo has been removing the 3D display from its most recent handhelds.

Anaglyph 3D, aka red/blue

This is a pseudo form of 3D that we’re mentioning for the sake of completion. The principle is simple:remove the red channel completely from your left image, thenboth the cyan and green channels from the rightside. When you filter both the image back to your eye with red/blue glasses, you sort of end up a pretty bad 3D effect. You could use this kind of 3D output on any display, but we’d recommending not bothering because it’s just so bad.

That’s why your average monitor or laptop just cannot do 3D. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

But I’ve got a 3DTV! Can I Watch 3D Movies from My Computer?

Without a doubt. You only need to know what video format the TV expects if you have a matching set of 3D glasses that came with your 3DTV. There are two popular formats: top/bottom and side-by-side. This simply relates to how the left and right images are shown. The most frequent is side-by-side, which appears like the cross-eyed movie we linked at the beginning (but don’t attempt to watch it cross-eyed since the left and right channels are really reversed).

If you have a movie file that is already prepared correctly, all you need to do is transfer it through HDMI and turn on 3D mode on the TV. Load your 3D movie into VLC, make it full-screen, then switch to 3D mode on your TV. It truly is that simple.

Because of the encryption, if you have a BluRay drive in your PC, you’ll need some additional software. Your best bet is PowerDVD.

I’ve Got a VR Headset — Can I watch 3D Movies?

Yes! In fact, you may have an entire virtual theatre with a 300ft screen to yourself, with no bothersome kids or popcorn chomping noises. Unless, of course, you opt to eat popcorn, in which case you only have yourself to blame.

There are, however, certain limitations. The current generation of VR headsets has a resolution that is around half that of an HD display. For example, the Oculus Rift features a per-eye resolution of 1080 x 1200. The resolution of a full HD monitor is 1920 x 1080. And you must utilize that resolution to design your whole 3D world. So, if you’re sitting at the rear of a virtual cinema, the real resolution on the virtual cinema screen will be much lower. You may reduce this by bringing your virtual avatar closer to the screen, requiring you to move your head around to see the whole virtual screen, resulting in more virtual pixels on the screen. However, turning your head around to view the whole screen may get unpleasant after a time.

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Nonetheless, the temptation of a fully private, huge 3D-capable movie screen is immense.

Are you ready to give it a shot? We suggest skipping the faux seater theater seating arrangements and instead opting for a VR movie player that eliminates the nonsense: DEO VR. It is available for free on both Oculus Home and SteamVR. It can support uncommon formats by using the VLC engine as a render route, and it includes a plethora of settings and variables for setting up your virtual screen. If your filename contains _SBS or _TB, it recognizes it as a 3D movie and begins it in the appropriate mode.

My Monitor or Laptop is “NVidia 3DVision Ready” — What Does That Mean?

If your monitor or laptop supports 3DVision, you may buy an NVidia 3DVision kit for it, which includes a USB sync dongle and a set of active shutter glasses. Then you may play 3D games or view 3D movies. To utilize 3DVision on a desktop computer, an NVidia graphics card is also required.

However, the technology is mostly obsolete at this time, and considering that a VR headset costs roughly $500, we wouldn’t advocate investing in the 3DVision system.

Getting a 3D display to function properly may be difficult, but we hope this has answered at least some of your questions. Which method do you prefer for watching 3D movies? Do you still have a 3DTV and utilize it?

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