Updated , Mehdi Azzabi

3D TVs
Active 3D vs Passive 3D

In 2017, 3D TVs are all but gone. In fact, the only 3D TV we've reviewed this year is a 2016 model. While it was often touted as a major paradigm shift in televisions a few years ago, it has been abandoned completely now. No TV released this year in the United States had 3D, and the models available in the rest of the world can be counted on the fingers of one hand. 4k Blu-rays do not even support 3D.

A 3D TV uses either active or passive 3D. Most people prefer passive 3D over active 3D, even though the resolution is cut by half, because the glasses are cheaper and there is less crosstalk.

All 3D images, including the ones we see with our eyes, work on one principle: each of our eyes sees a different picture. By perceiving a slightly different picture from each perspective, the brain automatically constructs the third dimension.

Active Shutter 3D

How 3D Active Shutter works for 3D TVs

What it is: Active 3D TVs alternate between displaying frames meant for the right eye and the left eye. The glasses are syncronized to the TV and shutters darken the individual lenses in tandem with the image on screen. This causes each individual eye to only see the image made for that perspective and vice versa (right is closed when left image is shown, left is closed when right image is shown).

  • Full resolution: 1920x1080
  • Active 3D glasses are expensive and require batteries
  • More prone to crosstalk issues

Passive 3D

How Passive 3D works for 3D TVs or theater

What it is: Passive 3D TVs blend two frames in one, alternating between horizontal lines of the frame meant for the left eye and the one for the right eye. Passive 3D glasses have different polarization on each lens that fits with their respective lines (right polarized for even lines, left for odd).

  • Passive 3D glasses are cheaper (same as the ones from the theater)
  • More comfortable for the eye (no flickering, so less dizziness)
  • Half the vertical resolution: 1920x540
  Active shutter 3D TV Passive 3D TV
Crosstalk Poor Decent
Resolution Great Good
Brigthness Poor Poor
Motion Mediocre Great
Comfort Flickering can cause headaches Great
Availability Rare Rare
Glasses Expensive, require batteries Inexpensive, no batteries required

When we look at an object in real life, we see it in three dimensions because each eye sees it from a different perspective. The three inches between our eyes are enough to create two different images, and the difference between those images allows us to see in 3 dimensions. This is the basis for the two systems of 3D TVs, and they apply the same logic using two distinctive techniques.


Active 3D TV (Sony W800B)

Active shutter 3D

  • Always present, but some TVs have less than others.
Passive 3D TV (LG E6)

Passive 3D

  • A lot less common than on Active 3D TVs.

3D crosstalk, or ghosting, looks like two superposed images. It will make a section of the picture blurry - usually the edges of an object. The best way to experience what crosstalk looks like is to remove 3D glasses in a theater. This is, of course, the extreme case, where the complete picture has crosstalk (with normal usage, only small parts of a screen will show that defect).

There are two reasons why you may experience crosstalk. First, some televisions don't do a good job of displaying the correct picture to each eye. For example, on an active 3D TV, if the glasses are not perfectly in sync with the television, one eye can start to see part of the picture meant for the other eye. This is an effect of the TV's response time. As the shutter hides the left eye, some TVs might take long enough to display the next image that a faint trail of the previous one remains and leaves an undesirable doubling effect.

In the past, some theaters that used passive 3D could suffer from even worse crosstalk than active ones. Polarization used at the time would cause a very dramatic effect if the viewer were to tilt their head. Thanks to modern polarization techniques, newer passive 3D TVs are free of this issue.

Second, the actual media could contain crosstalk issues embedded. Even if each eye perceives the correct picture, the movie itself could be the problem. This is mostly present in low budget movies or movies that were originally filmed in 2D, but remastered in 3D in post production.

Winner: Passive 3D


Active Shutter 3D

  • Full vertical resolution of the content is used.

Passive 3D

  • Vertical resolution is halved, as it is split between the right and left eye.

The two different technologies make different uses of the resolution of the TV. Active 3D, since it alternates between two complete pictures for each eye, does not alter the resolution of the content. Passive 3D, on the other hand, splits the vertical resolution between two frames, so it is therefore halved. 

This sounds like a pretty dramatic difference, but in reality, it is not completely halved. Some parts of the image is shared between the two eyes, and your brain does a great job at blending the information it gets. This isn't perfect, but if you sit slightly further than we recommend (see TV size to distance ratio), it is close to imperceptible. 

Unless you plan on getting a 1080p TV, then the difference is even smaller with 4k TVs. Since 4k has twice the vertical lines, it means that the reduced vertical resolution is far less impactful, especially since it matches the source resolution.

Winner: Active 3D. While Active 3D technically uses a better resolution, the difference between the two is imperceptible unless you are sitting close to the TV. The difference is even smaller on a 4k TV since the lines are half the size.


Active shutter 3D

  • Glasses block half of the light

Passive 3D

  • Half of the lines are black for each individual eye

When you put on the glasses, you will notice the brightness of the screen has been reduced by about half. With both methods (active and passive), only half the light gets to the eye. With an active 3D TV, the lenses of the glasses are black half of the time. With a passive 3D TV, one line out of two is black. To compensate, most TVs will automatically increase the brightness when displaying 3D content.

Winner. Draw


Active shutter 3D

  • Frames for each eye are shown one after the other

Passive 3D

  • Frames for each eye are shown simultaneously

The biggest difference when it comes to motion between the two technologies used for 3D TVs is that Active 3D shows left/right frames in sequence, while Passive 3D system shows them simultaneously. This creates an issue when there is movement on screen.

For example, when you follow a moving object from left to right, your eye will be in a continuous motion. Since the L/R frames are shown one after the other, your brain expects there to be a very slight difference in position between them. Since there is none, your brain perceives it as a difference in perspective or depth instead of movement. This reduces the quality of the 3D effect and can even introduce fatigue.

Winner: Passive 3D


Active shutter 3D

  • As the shutters block half the frames, Active 3D TVs have a flickering effect

Passive 3D

  • Passive glasses never block any light, so it does not induce flickering

Flickering, depending on the frequency, can be a common cause of discomfort with TVs. For many people, it takes as little as 30 minutes to feel a headache from watching a flickering screen. While this can be an issue regardless of the TV's support of 3D, models that use active 3D shutters will inevitably cause this. 

Since 3D glasses block every other frame, a flickering effect will always be apparent (even on otherwise flicker-free TVs). It's a bit worse on some TVs, but it's impossible to avoid unless you pick a TV with a passive 3D system.

Passive glasses also do not have batteries. This isn't the biggest problem but it generally means that they are more comfortable on the head than the heavier active variants.

Winner: Passive 3D


Active 3D glasses (Samsung)

Active shutter 3D

  • Glasses require batteries and syncing with the TV
  • Shutters block the eye opposite to the image shown on the TV
  • Expensive
Passive 3D glasses (RealD 3D)

Passive 3D

  • Entirely passive glasses that don't require batteries
  • Left lens and right lens have opposite circular polarization
  • Inexpensive

Unfortunately, technology is not yet to the point of providing a good 3D experience without using glasses. The two 3D technologies used in TVs use totally different types of glasses. Active shutter glasses, as the name suggests, feature shuttering lenses that block frames intermittently. When the frame meant for the left eye is shown on the screen, the glasses block the right eye and vice versa. This is done quickly enough that the eyes perceive the effect as a continuous feed to both eyes and gives the 3D effect.

Passive 3D glasses are much simpler devices. The TV itself has a 3D filter that polarizes even lines for the left eye and odd lines have an inverse polarization for the right eye. The glasses themselves have a fitting polarization on their left and right lens, so the left eye effectively only sees the even lines, and the right eye only sees the odd lines. Unlike active glasses, passive ones do not require to be synchronized with the content on the screen. Since nothing is being done other than different pieces of plastic or glass, they do not require batteries either, making them much easier to maintain and much lighter. Because of their complexity, active glasses are usually several times more expensive. 

While movie theaters don't generally use a purely passive system, the glasses used are interchangeable with what is found with Passive 3D TVs. Since cinemas project the image on a screen instead of having the screen itself display it, it's impossible to have different polarizations for alternating lines without using two different projectors. This is rare, so theaters use a combination of the principles by showing alternating L/R frames one after the other, but with different polarization similar to Passive TVs. This allows them to keep costs low by using a single projector and a fleet of inexpensive passive glasses. This also means that a good Passive 3D TV will provide a better 3D effect than the average 3D theater.

Winner: Passive 3D


3D TVs are essentially not made anymore, which means that you need to look for older models if you are a fan of the technology. To make it easier, we've compiled a list of 3D TVs from previous years that we've reviewed.

Winner: Draw


Even if passive 3D TVs technically have half the vertical resolution, it is a minimal difference perceptually. Passive 3D TVs offer a better 3D experience than active shutter TVs overall. They produce less crosstalk, have no inherent flickering, and their motion provides a better perception of depth. As a plus, their glasses are cheaper, lighter, and do not require to be synchronized to the TV. If the only factor stopping you from choosing between two TVs is the type of 3D technology used, you are better off picking a passive 3D TV.

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Questions & Answers

Which is a better 3d technology: active or passive?
It really depends on your preferences. In a perfect world, active would be superior because it keeps the full HD resolution. In practice though, most people will prefer passive, especially on mid-level TVs. Only the top TVs can be good at displaying active 3D, because it needs to alternate the pictures between each frame and very few TVs can do this without overlapping.
Are there any negative sides to buying a 3D TV if you only care about the non 3D part?
Not at all. Think of it as just another feature of the TV. It doesn't affect the 2D picture quality.
Is active or passive 3D determined by the Blu-ray player or the TV? Or is it a combination of both?
It is only determined by the TV, not the Blu-ray player.
Is it better to have a plasma tv for 3D content? Does refresh rate make a difference, or does it not matter?
Yes, for active TV models. With passive 3D, the refresh rate does not matter at all.
Can I buy the Samsung active 3D glasses for the Sony KDL55W800B?
Yes, a pair of Samsung 3D glasses like these ones would work.
My Samsung TV has very bad crosstalk (Samsung FH6030). Is this normal or should I expect a crosstalk-free TV? I got this TV to watch 3D movies, but I really cannot stand this effect appearing in all 3D movies. Besides that the 3D is really great. Any advice would be appreciated.
Active 3D on mid-level TVs (like your Samsung) does have more crosstalk than higher-end models. In this price range, passive 3D is the way to go for a crosstalk-free experience. It is usually found in LG TVs.
Will 3D TV be the trend in the future? From my personal point of view, I don't think the 3D effect is so attractive that I can ignore the inconveniences (wearing glasses when I watch TV, need more glasses for more people, etc.).
In its current form, no, for the reasons that you mentioned. It is also very costly to film a movie/show in original 3D, so few productions do that. A converted 2D to 3D movie is far from ideal. 3D television might take off in 20 years or so, once the glasses-free 3D TVs work properly (some exist today, but they are pretty bad).
I have downloaded a HSBS 3D movie from the internet but I'm not getting a good 3D effect with this format. Which 3D format would give a good 3D effect?
The format of the 3D encoding doesn't affect the depth of the 3D. It just affects the quality. Side by side reduces the horizontal resolution and top bottom reduces the vertical resolution. Both have the same apparent depth.
I have the Sony X850C 4k TV, but cannot find the Sony Active 3D glasses anywhere in stock. Will another manufacturer's Active 3D glasses sync and work with my TV? Which would you recommend? Thanks!
Yes. We used these, and they worked fine.
Does UHD TV with the double resolution help address the resolution issue of passive 3D?
Yes, but keep in mind that most 3D encoding reduces the effective resolution in one way or another. For example, a top-bottom encoding will have the same effective resolution on a 1080p passive 3D TV as a 1080p active 3D TV.
What about curved 4k 3d? Is it any better since the tv is curved?
The slightly amount of added depth from a curved screen is not enough to say there is a significant difference. It is about the same.
I like to watch TV while laying on the couch. Will either Active or Passive 3D work while the viewer is horizontal? If not, does anyone offer 3D glasses for horizontal viewing?
No TV will be good when lying down. The brain expects the perspective difference to follow the angle of the head, which doesn't happen on a TV because the pictures are pre-recorded. That said, passive works a bit better because active glasses turn dark at an angle perpendicular to the TV.
Will active glasses work with a passive 4k sony tv?
No. You need passive 3D glasses.
Can I use both passive and active 3D glasses while we are watching a 3D DVD movie on my Samsung 3D TV?
No. Samsung TVs only accept active 3D glasses.
In the real world, is the reduced resolution output really noticeable with passive 3d technology?
Not really, especially if you use top-bottom 3D file encoding.
We are looking for a flat screen TV that must not be wider than 41 inches. We are not gamers, so high hertz is not important, nor is 3D important (although we heard that not wearing the glasses doesn't affect the picture quality). We need a smart TV.
Get the Samsung UN40J6300. It has great picture quality and comes with a good smart TV interface. You could also get the UN40JU7100 if you don't mind paying a bit more. It has better picture quality, a better remote, and has 4k resolution and 3D.

Update: Updated recommendations to current models.
Hi, I know you are busy. Would love an update to the above 3D article with the 2016 Passive & Active 3D Models. Thanks
The page have been updated with the newer 2015-2016 TV models. Thanks for your feedback.
A local TV salesman recommended that I buy a 3D TV because it is better at showing fast motion (like sports). Is that correct? I have no interest in watching anything in 3D. Does a 1080p 3D TV have a better motion rate than a 4K TV without 3D? I am comparing the Samsung HU6830 with the H7150.
Whether or not a TV is 3D is no indication of its ability to handle fast motion. We did not test the HU6830, but the H7150 that we tested handled fast movement fine. We have heard, though, that the largest size of the H7150 has a bit more blur than the smaller sizes.
Hi, I am interested in a UHD 4K 65" or possibly 70" TV with passive 3D and either a web browser or Android TV. I wear prescription glasses so I could tape the passive paper glasses in front of each lens. I realize there are very little native 3D movies to see so the 2D to 3D up converter should be very good as well as the resolution up scaler to 4K. I want a high apparent refresh rate to watch trains go by a camera and still be able to read the graphics on the sides. I do not want to spend more than 2K from an online discount supplier. Refurbished or open box is fine with me. If I wait until next February or March will prices for 2015 models come down or will they be in short supply because of the 2016 production in the factories? In the 65" to 70" size range should I wait for Super UHD or will that be too expensive for the next couple of years? Thank you very much, Charles in KY
The choice is slim for 2015 4k passive 3d TVs. LG have the UF8500 and UF9500 and Sony has the X900C. The closest to your budget would be the LG 65" UF8500 without taking taxes into account. Unfortunately, we can't really recommend it since we did not review that one. Your other option would be to go active 3d and wear 3d glasses on top of your current glasses. The 65" Samsung JU7100 would then be a good choice delivering 4k, image interpolation to reduce motion blur and a web browser. It may go a little higher in price than what you want to pay for so if you want to go either refurbished or open box it should sit right in. 'Super UHD' is mostly a marketing term made by Samsung for their premium TVs so they will most likely cost more than your budget allow. No need to wait for that.
Hello. For 2015 you have left off the LG - OLED - Passive 3D TVS. I'm just wondering why, as they truly are the BEST in terms of PQ. Thanks!
Thanks for pointing out the omission! We're going to be revamping the 3D article in the next couple of months, and the LG OLEDs will indeed be listed.
While it is true that passive 3D TVs are capable of outstanding ghost elimination, users need to know that, in order to achieve this, careful attention MUST be paid to the vertical angle of view for every watcher.
The easiest way to check this is as follows: With each watcher seated and with the TV off or tuned to a black screen, each watcher should see his eyes reflected, from top to bottom, in roughly the middle third of the screen. The farther the reflection of the watcher's eyes appears above or below this middle zone, the more noticeable the ghosting!
To correct this requires lowering, raising, or tilting the TV, or raising or lowering the viewing position. Failure to observe this necessary positioning has resulted in a few unfairly poor reviews of passive 3D TVs, as well as unsatisfactory displays in stores.
-- Cordially, Oliver Dean, Competition Co-Director, Los Angeles 3D Club
Thanks for the tip! We agree that this is something viewers should know.
I see lots of active 3D glasses for sale. Are the different manufacturers using anything different to transmit the signal? I see some advertised as Bluetooth, some infrared.
It depends on how old your TV is. A few years ago, everyone was using a different proprietary technology, like you mentioned. You couldn't buy a pair of glasses from a different company. Now the glasses are universal.
Is there any option of converting active 3d tv to passive?
No, you can't convert a TV, but certain projectors can be upgraded with additional accessories.
Does anybody make a video card for PCs that will allow me to display passive 3D on a video wall?
Most modern video cards should be capable of outputting in 3D to multiple displays(but double-check that the one you plan on using does). Just make sure the model you choose has a sufficient amount of outputs for your plans. NVIDIA Surround supports up to 5 displays and AMD's Eyefinity supports up to six displays at a time. Going further requires professional graphics card such as AMD's FirePro series and NVIDIA's SVS supporting Quadro models (marketed as NVIDIA Mosaic).
Hi, can you tell me if the LG 65UF9500 uses top/bottom encoding?
Do you have any information on the 2014 Panasonic 55" AS680? I'm looking for a comparison between this and the Samsung 6400 of the same size.
Unfortunately no. We didn't test that one.
I'm just curious as to whether or not you guys have any insight into why all of the manufacturers outside of LG seem to be making sets with active 3d? I have a 2012 Samsung PN51E550 and the crosstalk issues have completely turned me off from active 3d. I want a 65" 3d/4k TV for my new home theater room and am quite annoyed with the selection. Should I be concerned with the possibility of ghosting/crosstalk or have the manufacturers done a better job of getting rid of it on the newer models? I also purchased, and subsequently returned, an x850b a few weeks ago due to the flash lighting in the corners. I'm debating the JS8500 or the x930c, and am leaning towards the latter because I like to watch TV in a dark setting. Am I correct in assuming this would be the correct choice given the black uniformity rating on the site? Thanks.
It might just be because active 3D has an easier marketing pitch since it can maintain its full resolution. The more comfortable passive 3D became more interesting with the higher resolution of 4k TVs but 3D as a whole is getting less and less popular. As long as your main seating are in front of the TV you won't have crosstalk with active 3D. It can be a problem at wide horizontal angle or on moderate vertical angles (for setup where the TV is mounted high on a wall). Both the JS8500 and x930c have good 3D. In a dark room, the 3D glasses darkens the screen some more so neither TV should have problems with black uniformity. Overall, uniformity (gray uniformity) is better on the JS8500 so if that is what you are after, get this one. In revenge, if you enjoy a brighter picture while watching 3D, then the x930c would be the better pick.
Is that true using passive 3D you must sit further than with active 3D, because you see more crosstalk if you look at it from up close? I plan to use a 40-50" UHD TV as a computer screen and want play games with 3D, so does that mean active 3D is better for me?
After testing both from up close, Active is indeed the better option, with less crosstalk. Passive is passable, and doesn't look completely horrible from up close, but the amount of crosstalk is far from ideal.
I would like to use the SSG-5100 3D glasses for my UN65JS8500 because they use a more common CR2025 battery with a slightly extended life rather than the CR1620 used on the single pair of 3D glasses - SSG-5150 that comes with the TV. Any reason I would not want to use the SSG-5100 - 2014 version?
The SSG-5100GB 3D glasses have been reported to work fine with the JS8500 so there is no reason not to use them.
Wouldn't this depend on how you lie down to watch the TV? For example, if you are lying on the couch so that your head is on one end and feet on the other wouldn't passive 3D glasses not work due to the glasses effectively being rotated 90 degrees to the TV?
On older TVs that use linear polarization this would be true. Newer 3d TVs use circular polarization, which allows the viewer to tilt their head relative to the TV and still maintain left/right separation.
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