Man, this 3D business is getting complicated. For as well as the mess of passive/active/glasses-less 3D TVs, we now also have the curious phenomenon of 3D-Ready projectors to tussle with.
The first thing to clear up is that if a projector says it’s 3D-Ready, that doesn’t mean you can just plug your Blu-ray, Sky HD/3D receiver or games console straight into it. The 3D Ready term was in fact originally coined to describe DLP projectors - generally startlingly affordable models - capable of handling Nvidia’s 3D Vision PC output system.
The arrival of the Optoma 3D-XL converter box we’re looking at today, though, gets round this old Nvidia-only limitation. For it sits between your 3D sources and a 3D-Ready projector, and converts 3D inputs - be they frame packed ones from a Blu-ray player or side-by-side ones from a Sky box or Xbox 360 - into the frame sequential system supported by the 3D Ready projectors.
At which point many of you are probably feeling a bit confused. After all, don’t Blu-ray players output frame sequential 3D images in the first place?
Actually, no. 3D Blu-ray players use 'Frame Packing' - a stacking approach that places 3D’s necessary left and right eye images one on top of the other within a single, extra large frame, leaving display devices with the job of unstacking the two images before sequentially presenting one to the left eye and the other to the right eye. Frame sequential 3D, as used by 3D-Ready DLP projectors, is essentially much simpler. It involves delivering full resolution picture frames to a projector at a 120Hz refresh rate, with frames alternating between the left and right eye content. The projector doesn’t have to do anything more complicated than be able to show a 120Hz signal - providing, effectively, a 60fps image for each eye.
What the Optoma 3D-XL does, therefore, is convert incoming side-by-side (Sky, Xbox 360) and frame packed (Blu-ray) 3D signals into the frame sequential format ready to be fed to a compatible 3D-Ready projector. Such projectors are increasingly common, with Acer, BenQ, NEC and Vivitek all joining Optoma in offering 3D-Ready projection models. Optoma itself now has no less than 14 projectors able to work with the 3D-XL, including the DW318 we’re using for this test.
The key benefit of the 3D-XL approach is, without a shadow of doubt, cost. We’ve found the 3D-XL package going for just £250, which includes a pair of the necessary active glasses. Furthermore, the 3D-Ready projectors the 3D-XL works with tend to cost peanuts compared with the first ‘normal’ 3D projectors we’ve seen from JVC and Sony.
The DW318, for instance, is yours for around £500. So you can get yourself enjoying 3D images of 100in or more for just £750. (Plus the cost of your 3D sources, naturally.)
To be fair, this is to some degree a starting cost. Real 3D fans might also consider adding a 'silver' screen to boost the 3D performance, plus, of course, you’re going to need extra pairs of Optoma’s ZD201 glasses if you want to make 3D viewing a family affair.
However, even here there’s a saving of sorts, since the relative simplicity of the frame sequential glasses technology means further pairs of Optoma’s ZD201s cost just £60 each, compared with the £100 or more routinely charged for the extra glasses needed by most full HD 3D TVs.