We're starting to see a new dawn in the world of 3D TVs -- the glorious advent of passive, rather than active, 3D technology. You can find out all about the differences between the two technologies in our handy 3D TV FAQ. Essentially, though, it boils down to this: passive 3D allows for cheaper and more comfortable glasses, but you won't be able to see a Full HD, 1080p 3D image.
The LED-illuminated TVs in Toshiba's Regza VL series will use passive 3D technology when they launch later this year, for a currently undisclosed price. The VL series marks Toshiba's first stab at passive 3D technology. Here are our first impressions of the 42-inch 42VL863 model. A 47-inch model is also going to be available.
The first thing we did when we saw the 42VL863 was don a set of 3D specs and check out the passive 3D technology in action -- and we were impressed
The 3D effect benefits from an impressive sense of depth, and the image is sharp at all times. We didn't notice any cross-talk or ghosting -- when the two images being combined on the screen become muddled and look blurry -- and the 3D action had a commendable smoothness and clarity to it. We were watching a custom-made Toshiba demo reel, however, so it's possible that other 3D content won't look quite so perfect.
We're accustomed to 3D glasses making images look rather washed-out, and significantly darker than they would without the specs on. It's probably more to do with the telly than the glasses, but we thought the colours being pumped out by the VL series TV looked really vibrant.
Passive 3D specs -- the sort you get at the cinema -- are much cheaper to manufacture than active 3D glasses. They're basically just inert lumps of plastic and don't require any charging. As such, Toshiba's seen fit to bundle four sets of glasses with every VL telly. That's enough for the average family. With active 3D TVs, you're usually forced for shell out for extra sets of specs, and they're usually very expensive.
Aside from the price of the glasses, there's one more benefit to passive 3D, as compared to active 3D -- it's less fiddly. The glasses have no power switch and don't talk to the TV. You just need to stick the specs on and look at the screen. You'll get the 3D effect instantly, without the need to shake your head around, or try and find a fiddly button on the top of the glasses.
But there's a catch. Because passive 3D TVs essentially blend two similar images together on the screen at the same time, you'll only get the benefit of half of the telly's maximum resolution. We didn't think the VL series TV's images looked blurry, but it's something worth bearing in mind if you're determined on viewing 3D content at the highest-possible resolution.
Place and time
The VL series TVs are smart in other respects. They're going to be among the first TVs to come pre-loaded with Toshiba's 'Places' platform. Places is a cloud-based media service, accessible via the remote, that plays host to on-demand gems like BBC iPlayer and, um, the Cartoon Network. We'll have to wait until we can fully review the TVs before we'll know whether Places is a useful service or just annoying bloatware. We're feeling sceptical, though.
Another interesting feature is the TVs' 'auto calibration' technology. A USB sensor comes packaged with your TV. When you plug it into the telly, it analyses a set of test images, and tinkers with your TV's settings accordingly, to produce the best-possible image. Again, we're a little sceptical about this feature, but we're keen to test it out.
Finally, Toshiba's keen on making your TV viewing a very personal experience. This seemingly boils down to hiding your favourite channels from your significant other. The VL series tellies' 'Personal TV' feature creates a profile for different users, and saves your picture settings, volume preferences and -- ahem -- favourite channels. This is something we're interested in. It seems daft that it's not already a standard feature on most TVs.
How well the Toshiba Regza VL series TVs stack up against the competition will ultimately come down to price. Hopefully, they won't be too expensive, because there's plenty here to look forward to, aside from the promising passive 3D tech. Stay tuned for a full review.
Edited by Charles Kloet