Hands on with PS3's 3D Blu-ray update

CNET tests the capability of the Sony PlayStation 3 to play 3D Blu-ray discs.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
David Katzmaier
Matthew Moskovciak
3 min read

The PS3 can now play 3D Blu-ray discs via a free upgrade. Now all you need is a new 3D TV, glasses, and discs. David Katzmaier/CNET

We got a chance to test the 3D portion of the Sony PlayStation 3's latest firmware update, version 3.5, and the short story is that it works fine, aside from one minor issue that may be a deal breaker for audiophiles, and some compatibility gaffes with older PS3s.

For our test we hooked up our PS3 Slim to a number of 3D TVs in our TV test lab: the LG 47LX9500, Panasonic TC-P50VT25, the Samsung UN55C8000, and the Sony KDL-46NX810--representing all of the current flat-panel 3D TV makers. In each case the PS3 delivered what was, as far as we can tell by eye and the TVs' status indicators and menus, Full HD 3D, aka 1080p to each eye via the frame-packing format used by Blu-ray. Images appeared as sharp as we expected, without the softer look characteristic of half-resolution broadcast 3D, from DirecTV for example.

For compatibility testing we tried six of the currently available 3D Blu-ray discs: "Monsters vs. Aliens," "Coraline," "IMAX: Under the Sea," "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," and "Monster House." All played without a hitch in 3D mode, as they have on standalone 3D players like the Samsung BD-C6900 and the Panasonic DMP-BDT100. It's also worth noting that, as with all of our previous 3D testing, we used standard HDMI cables we had onhand already; no new cables were required to pass 3D over HDMI.

Further compatibility testing performed on an older, 60GB PlayStation 3 "fat" (first generation, February 2007 manufacture date) reveals that the player cannot recognize or play back either "Monsters vs. Aliens" or "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." The other four 3D Blu-rays mentioned above were recognized and played back normally.

We wouldn't be surprised if a firmware update appeared to fix this issue, but in the meantime it might be annoying for Samsung and Panasonic 3D TV owners; both "Monsters" and "Ice Age" are exclusives, respectively, to each company for now. We would be surprised, on the other hand, if the forthcoming exclusive version of "Avatar" showed the same issue.

We've contacted Sony for an explanation and when we receive one, we'll update this post. Until then we don't know for sure which versions of the PS3 can play which 3D discs, and why.

Using a pop-up menu causes the PS3 to disable 3D.

A couple of other oddities are worth noting. The PS3 makes extensive use of menu overlays for settings and status, and engaging them by pressing Triangle or Select during playback causes the image to revert to 2D, which can be a bit jarring. Removing the menu re-engages 3D mode. For what it's worth, other players we've tested can deliver overlays and maintain 3D mode.

Audiophiles may fume in rage that, according to Google's translation of Sony's Japanese press release (hat tip: AVS Forum), the PS3 is incapable of outputting high-resolution audio formats, namely Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS-Master, when playing back 3D Blu-rays. We confirmed this issue using "Ice Age" and a Pioneer VSX-1020-K; while the Panasonic DMP-BDT100 lit up the Pioneer's "DTS-Master" indicator, the PS3 could only summon the standard "DTS" message in 3D. We don't consider this a big deal, however.

Aside from these minor issues, the upgrade making the Sony PS3 a 3D-compatible Blu-ray player (did we mention it's free?) provides a rare smooth sail in the otherwise rough seas of this year's 3D TV revival.

Editors' note: This article was updated with additional testing of a first-generation PS3.