It is that time of the year again when the holiday spirit is all around us and it is time to do some holiday shopping for presents both for you and for the people you love. A time of the year when you usually spend more than you expected to get things that you wanted to buy, but didn’t do it until now. Now, this is not a bad thing, but when you spend more money for more expensive presents you better get the best products and the ones that you’d really want for yourself or to give as present. And in order to do that if you are buying something that has 3D-capabilities, then you may find the following Holiday Shopping Guide useful to give you some ideas and pointers in what to buy and what not. Of course sometimes good discounts for something may make it more attractive than something else that could be the better choice, so don’t go only for the top discounts. I do hope that the following guide will help you in your stereo 3D technology shopping spree…
PC Upgrades for Stereo 3D Gaming
Obviously if you are upgrading your computer with the idea to get the best possible gaming performance in stereoscopic 3D mode you should start from the video card. With the video card the faster it is the better for stereoscopic 3D gaming, especially if you want to get the best possible experience playing in Full HD 3D mode. If you are going for a 3D solution based on Nvidia’s 3D Vision technology then you should go for at least GeForce GTX 660 Ti video card if you are using a single 1080p 3D-capable monitor. For a multi-monitor 3D gaming setup using three 3D-capable displays the recommended mnimum will be a single GeForce GTX 680 video card (it is capable of driving three 3D-capable monitors), but I’d recommend to go for at least two GTX 680s or at least a single GeForce GTX 690 dual-GPU video card. As I’ve said the faster the video card is the better performance you will get playing in stereoscopic 3D mode and going for higher resolution and for the maximum level of details could be quite demanding in stereo 3D mode. If you are using an AMD-based 3D gaming system, then you should consider at least a Radeon HD 7850 graphics card as a minimum for a single 3D monitor, though here the rule of the faster the better also applies. For multi-monitor 3D gamin on AMD-based PC you better go for a single or even dual Radeon HD 7970 or even tw of these in Crossfire mode (AMD does support Crossfire in stereo 3D for a while already).
Apart from the video card you can also consider doing some other upgrades to your system like increasing the amount of system memory as the currently widely used standard DDR3 memory is available at a really affordable prices, so you can allow yourself to go to 8GB or even 16GB if you still have 4GB or less memory in your computer. Another thing that can improve your general experience by significantly increasing performance and speed is to upgrade your hard drive to and SSD drive. You can add a smaller size SSD driver for a system disk containing the operating system and the software if you have a more limited budget, or go for a higher capacity SSD drive if that is not a problem for you. A good choice for a high-performance SSD drive is the Samsung SSD 830 and the newer 840 Series supporting SATA3 interface and offering transfer speeds of up to about 500MB/s.
3D-capable Computer Monitors
You should be well aware of the fact that when talking about 3D monitors for computers you have three main options: passive 3D display, active 3D display or an autostereoscopic 3D (glasses-free) display. All of these different technologies have both their advantages and disadvantages, so you should carefully consider what works best for you and what fits your needs and requirements best. And if possible before doing a final decision it will be best if you can try the products and experience the different options you have available and not make the choice based only on virtual research you have done online.
Passive 3D monitors are most widely available and the most affordable solution offered by many manufacturers, but they also do come with some disadvantages as compared to active 3D solutions. With passive 3D displays you can use both computers AMD and Nvidia-based video cards as well as other consumer electronic devices if the monitor is equipped with HDMI 1.4 interface. The normal passive 3D glasses are very affordable as they are not very complex or require any electronics and you have many options to choose from, even some expensive designer models. The more significant drawbacks are the reduced in half vertical resolution in stereo 3D mode as well as the very narrow vertical viewing angle that can be annoying at times. I prefer more active 3D displays, but some people have trouble with the active shutter glasses, so if you also do, then passive 3D should be your choice. For stereo 3D gaming needs you’d also need to use the TriDef 3D software along with your passive 3D monitor (all passive 3D monitors will work with it) and some models do come bundled with that software (will work for both AMD and NVidia graphics).
Active 3D monitors for computers are a bit of a mess and can be very confusing, because all of these do come with specific 3D glasses either bundled or separately sold that only work with one brand of video cards or other, or at least you can fully utilize them only with either an AMD-based or and Nvidia-based VGA. Nvidia’s 3D Vision technology is more widely available and there are a lot more options for compatible active 3D monitors supporting them. Thus in the last year there has been only one new 3D Vision compatible model released, the 27-inch Asus VG278HE which is apparently targeted at gamers interested in gaming in 2D mode with higher refresh rate (up to 144Hz) than in stereo 3D mode using the 120Hz refresh rate (60Hz per eye) as the monitor does not come with the 3D Vision active shutter glasses bundled and you need to buy a kit separately. Last year’s model Asus VH278H is the one you might want to go for if you are looking for a 27-inch 3D Vision-ready monitor that comes with integrated IR emitter and active 3D glasses bundled. If you are looking for a smaller size 3D Vision-ready monitor you may want to check out the BenQ XL2420TX (unfortunately still not available in Europe), there is also a XL2420T model available that also requires an additional 3D Vision kit to be purchased. Now, if you have a computer equipped with AMD-based video card you have a more limited choice of compatible 3D monitors and you should pretty much go for a Samsung 3D monitor as there are a multiple choices available in the form of 23 and 27-inch models, just make sure that you go for a model that has either Dual-Link DVI or Display Port interface and not a TV tuner built-in as these models are not a good choice for stereo 3D gaming needs, though they can make a nice alternative for a 3D HDTV. Samsung’s 3D monitors do come with the TriDef 3D software bundled, so no need to get a license for it separately. And aside from the confusion associated with what monitor works with what type of video card the other things you should be aware of with active 3D monitors is that a pair of glasses is significantly more expensive compared to passive 3D glasses. Also some people have trouble using the active 3D glasses due to issue with the very fast “flickering” of the lenses that produced the 3D effect.
Autostereoscopic 3D monitors are still very few and hard to find on the market due to the significantly higher prices of the technology used in these. The fact that you don’t need glasses to view 3D on these monitors may seem attractive, but the technology also has some disadvantages. Generally autostereoscopic 3D monitors still have a limited number of viewing positions that you need to be at in order to get the best experience and the resolution in stereo 3D mode is limited similar to that of passive 3D solutions, though here with glasses-free 3D displays it is usually halved horizontally. Autostereoscopic 3D monitors need a few more years in order fr the technology to become more affordable and to be further improved, getting rid of the disadvantages it has, so for now go for either passive 3D or active 3D monitor.
When choosing a gaming laptop with built-in 3D display and support for stereoscopic 3D gaming you should be very careful in order to get a model that will be able to provide you with the best experience. Similar to desktop PCs, here with the gaming laptops the video card is a very important thing, especially when talking about stereoscopic 3D gaming. And unlike with desktop computers with laptops normally you cannot replace or upgrade the video card you buy the laptop with, so it is very important to look for the fastest possible option for a video card when going for a gaming laptop. You should be well aware of the fact that mobile graphics chips are less powerful compared to their desktop counterparts, even though they may have the same model number like GTX 680 and 680M. So it is very important to look for the fastest possible mobile video card when you are buying a gaming laptop, the good thing is that there are also mobile solutions using two video cards in SLI or Crossfire configuration for even higher performance. For example if you are looking for a gaming laptop that will be usied for stereo 3D gaming with an Nvidia-based graphics and a Full HD 3D display you should consider going for a model with at least GeForce GTX 670MX, or 675MX, 680M or 680MX or even two of these in SLI. Everything up to that will most likely struggle to give you good performance in stereo 3D mode with high detail levels at 1080p resolution with more demanding games and this is something that you probably would not want to happen. If you are looking for a smaller gaming laptop that has an HD Ready resolution, then going for a mid-range graphics is an acceptable option as the performance requirements then will not be so high in stereoscopic 3D mode. But going for a good gaming laptop with stereo 3D support you will have to be ready to pay more in order to get good results and the best possible experience and you should avoid compromises especially with the video card. For Nvidia-based 3D gaming laptops you can look for different models from Asus and Alienware for example and for AMD-based solutions you should check out HP Envy 17 3D.
With 3D-capable projectors you should start by deciding if you want to get a device that will be used mostly for gaming in stereo 3D or for watching 3D movies, this is very important factor when you are making the right decision. With 3D projectors suitable for gaming in stereo 3D mode you are limited to pretty much 720p resolution, you should look for models that do not rely on HDMI 1.4 interface for the 3D, but instead use HDMI 1.3 or VGA with frame sequential mode for the 3D content. The HDMI 1.4 interface and the frame packaging mode that it uses for 3D is not considered as the best choice for gaming as it usually introduces more input lag due to the extra processing required for the input image and frame sequential mode is considered as the better choice. There are multiple good solutions available here such as the good old Acer H5360 3D DLP projector compatible with 3D Vision, or the more recent models like the BenQ W700/W710ST. Going for a 3D-capable projector for 3D movies mostly means you should consider a model with HDMI 1.4 support and here you can go for a 1080p model, while still being able to play games in stereo 3D mode, but at 720p resolution. The reason for that is the limitation of the 3D modes that HDMI 1.4 supports, namely 1080p 24Hz 3D mode and 720p 50/60Hz 3D mode, with the first is good for 3D movies and the second one Ok for movies and games in stereo 3D. BenQ for example has recently announced the first sub-$1000 USD Full HD 3D-capable projector, the BenQ W1070 or the popular and a bit older model Optoma HD33 3D projector. Of course going for a 3D projector for watching movies in stereo 3D mode you can go for much higher-end models if your budget allows it.
The possibilities here are almost endless, available in different forms and using different technologies from different manufacturers. The situation here is very similar to that of 3D-capable monitors, you have passive 3D models, active 3D models and autostereoscopic 3D ones, but the panel technologies here are not only limited to LCD, there are also Plasma TVs and OLED technology may be coming soon as well. The things valid for the different technologies used with 3D monitors also apply for the 3D HDTVs, both positive and negative with autostereoscopic 3D HDTVs not being the best choice available. Here I’ll give you some basic pointers to help you choose the right 3D HDTV for you. I’ll start with the fact that 3D HDTVs are not the best choice for gaming in stereo 3D mode as they rely on HDMI 1.4 frame packaging for the 3D, so you get support for 1080p 24Hz 3D mode and 720p 50/60Hz 3D mode. We are still far from having 3D HDTVs with high-speed HDMI chips allowing for more bandwidth to provide higher refresh rate at 1080p resolution in 3D mode, though the last generation of video cards are already equipped with such, maybe 2013 models will offer that as well. Depending on what type of 3D HDTV you are looking for I’d recommend to check out the following brands: Panasonic for plasma 3D HDTV such as Panasonic VIERA VT50 series for some of the best quality 3D. If going for an LCD-based active 3D HDTV then Samsung is probably the best option in terms of quality, features and price. If considering a passive 3D HDTV, then you should start by checking out LG Cinema 3D HDTVs. Another interesting alternative, though only available in some markets such as North American for example are Mitsubishi’s 3D HDTVs like their 3D DLP range or the more recent Laservue product line.
3D Gaming Consoles
Not much of a choice here, the two decent choices you currently have are Playstation 3 console for more grownup kids and for adults. The PS3 clearly leads in terms of 3D-capabilities over the competing Xbox 360 console, due to the earlier adoption of 3D support and the wider availability of 3D-capable game titles. Not to miss the fact that the PlayStation 3 console has a Blu-ray optical drive that can be used for playing back Blu-ray 3D movies as well, so two functions in one device. The other option is the Nintendo 3DS portable gaming console that is a good choice for smaller kids, though quite a few adults also like the device. The autostereoscopic 3D display of the Nintendo console is a nice feature and apart from gaming in stereo 3D it also has a 3D camera though a low resolution one, but still it can be a lots of fun.
3D Digital Cameras
Things here are not that bright as you might think, at least not for 3D-capable digital cameras as still one of the best options is already the bit old Fujifilm W3 3D capable camera that comes with 10Mp sensor, 3.5-inch autostereoscopic LCD and ability to record 720p 3D video. Aside from it there is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-3D1, but that one does not come with a 3D-capable display built in and that could be a serious disadvantage for a 3D camera, and there are also a lot of other mostly Asian brands making different 3D-capable digital cameras where the low price is the focus not the quality. Unfortunately we are still far from seeing a 3D-capable DSLR camera that can provide superior quality to the compact digital cameras with 3D support due to the larger sensor size and the better lenses, you however have the not so easy option to combine two 2D cameras into a 3D rig to take better 3D photos. On the other hand at the moment most popular brands making compact digital cameras already have built-in mode for taking 3D photos using a single lens in their latest models, a mode that may produce quite good results at times, but is not as good as when using a 3D camera such as the Fujifilm W3 for example.
If we are talking about 3D-capable digital camcorders there are more options available here, both consumer oriented as well as professional solutions, though most professional ones rely on camera setups using two 2D cameras synced together. I’ll point out some of the more interesting and popular consumer models, such as the JVC GS-TD1 3D-capable digital camera or the Sony HDR-TD10/TD20 3D camcorder.
Similar to the situation with the 3D-capable compact digital cameras, there are not that many options available for smartphones offering 3D functionality such as an autostereoscopic 3D display and a 3D-capable dual-sensor camera. One of the options here is HTC EVO 3D and another popular option is LG Optimus 3D/Thrill 4G or the more recent and slightly improved LG Optimus 3D Max. Again, similar to the situation with compact 2D digital cameras, with smartphones such as the ones from Sony for example there are models with built in functionality to take 3D photos using a single lens camera. And of there are also quite a few Asian manufacturers making 3D-capable devices with limited regional availability that are hard to find if possible at all in other regions than the ones they were made especially for.
I do hope that this short guide with some advice on different 3D-capable devices can help you make a better choice for a present for yourself or someone else for the upcoming holidays. I’ve tried to cover the more important aspects for many of the available 3D-capable devices, but if you still have extra questions feel free to ask in the comments below…