While I wasn’t happy with DirecTV’s decision not to air ESPN 24/7, the company does earn bonus points for offering two additional 3D channels: DirecTV 3D On Demand, which shows on-demand programming available on the other channels , and a pay-per-view movie channel called Cinema 3D, which presents newer 3D theatrical releases. During my viewing time movies such as Jackass 3D, Piranha 3D, Tangled 3D, and Tron: Legacy-3D. There’s was also a 3D opera, “Lucrezia Borgia,” showing during my week of viewing. For example, one night I was reviewing the 3D channels Tangled 3D, Tron 3D, and Piranha 3D were all being aired. I wanted to watch the latter, but since its content would likely be highly inappropriate for a boy my son’s age, we watched Tangled, and it was easily the best 3D showcase I’ve seen outside of a Blu-ray.
However, it should be noted that while the 3D spec for Blu-ray provides for 1080p images to each eye, cable and satellite infrastructure can’t at least with existing equipment. Instead, TV service providers use “frame-compatible” 3D broadcasts, where the separate left- and right-eye signals are combined and squeezed into a standard 2D HDTV video frame. That requires the broadcasters to use spatial compression techniques, which reduces the image’s resolution. In DirecTV’s case, it uses the “side-by-side” 3D format, where the horizontal resolution—1080i/60Hz (1920 x 1080) of the image is reduced by half (960 x 1080) so the two images can be placed next to each other within a single frame.
Other companies may use “top/bottom” 3D, where the vertical resolution—either 1080p/24Hz (1920 x 1080) or 720p/60Hz (1280 x 720)—is compressed by half to allow left- and right-eye images to be placed on top of each other in a single frame. In both cases, the TV then takes these lower-resolution frames and expands them into a full-size image based on the TV’s native resolution.
With Tangled 3D via DirecTV, the images were satisfyingly detailed and the 3D was very effective, although the glasses darkened the overall picture compared to the 2D version. Comparing the broadcast to the Tangled Blu-ray disc, the latter’s images were crisper, with more detail, and they were free from the occasional aliasing I saw on some edges, such as diagonal lines, which I attributed to the loss of horizontal detail. The pay-per-view version also appeared to have some some color shifts compared to the pristine Blu-ray version I also watched.
Still, many viewers will find the quality of the DirecTV Cinema 3D satisfying, and a welcome source of additional high-quality 3D content. There’s still not a ton of 3D movies available on the channel, and the choices are repeated frequently throughout the week. Of course you’ll have to decide whether immediacy trumps a day or two wait (and a $7- per-moviefee) for to get a Blu-ray disc, which provides the absolutely best picture quality and sound quality currently available for 3D.
But overall, we’re happy that there are a growing number of 3D viewing options for those who own a 3D TV. At this stage in the game, I’d say we’re well ahead of what we experienced with the launch of HD. While a 3D Blu-ray disc still represents the best option for real enthusiasts, these new full-time 3D channels—plus the new 3D video-on-demand and pay-per-view 3D movies offered by DirecTV— provide credible options for getting additional content. And things can only get better, as more native 3D content becomes available and these networks continue to bolster the breadth and depth of their 3D programs.
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