3D TV vs. 3D sound

Now that everyone is thinking about 3D TV, what about 3D sound?

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

3D TV requires glasses; dimensional sound is an ears-only deal. Steve Guttenberg

Those awful glasses may doom 3D TV..

What with all the advances in technology they still haven't eliminated the glasses people have been using to watch 3D movies since the 1920s. "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland" may use vastly more refined 3D techniques, but the glasses remain. Some people get headaches, dizzy, or even nauseated watching 3D. There are exceptions, but most 3D films haven't matured past the gimmick stage.

No matter how you look at it, 3D TV is an expensive proposition. You'll need to buy a new Blu-ray player, new TV, and possibly a new receiver. Oh, and don't forget to factor in the cost for extra 3D glasses for family and friends.

Worse yet, after you've made the substantial investment in new hardware there's not a lot of 3D content to buy or see. Put those bucks in better-sounding speakers, and you'll have a vast assortment of choices to dazzle your ears right away. Surround sound may be imperfect, but you can hear it with just your own two ears; no special "ear goggles" are required.

So instead of investing in 3D TV, take those dollars and buy better speakers or a new receiver. That's an improvement you hear with every movie you watch and music you listen to. It's simply a smarter way to spend your money.

What is 3D sound? True 3D sound would involve height, width, and depth speakers. Stereo sound produces width, and surround speakers produce depth. What about height? My experiences with the only available height systems--Dolby Pro Logic IIz and Audyssey DSX--didn't do much for me, but I'm not giving up on the height dimension entirely. Pro Logic IIz and Audyssey DSX were designed to work with any surround movie. Maybe we'll have to wait for movies mixed to provide genuine height information to get three-dimensional sound.

Remember that while 5.1 surround is, by far, the most popular surround format, most people are listening to the stereo speakers built into their TVs. Stereo rules the roost. Too bad the speakers built into TVs are pretty marginal, but it's easy to put together a HT 2.0 or HT 2.1 system that can be remarkably three-dimensional sounding when you're sitting equidistant from the left and right speakers. The word "stereo" was derived from the Greek "stereos," meaning solid.

Remember that with stereo vision you see in three spatial dimensions--width, height and depth. That's the "D" that 3D movies and TV are selling.

It's been said that the purpose of 3D TV is to "render" reality, and a great hi-fi can be pretty awesome on the rendering front. I think it'll be a while before 3D TV catches up to high-end sound's fidelity.