One of the problems of being an early adopter is that you quickly find yourself being left behind by the relentless pace of technology. Just as you jump on one passing technological bandwagon, along comes another. If in the last year or two you have bought a high definition projector you could be forgiven for thinking that's it for a while. Then along comes 3D and suddenly you're faced with the prospect of having to replace your relatively new toy if you want to step into the third dimension.
Thankfully Optoma have devised an innovative solution that allows owners of '3D Ready' DLP projectors to enjoy 3D without having to replace their entire projector. The 3D-XL is an adapter that can be placed between the 3D source and the projector to produce a frame sequential 3D image at a resolution of 720p for each eye. The 3D-XL will work with 3D Blu-rays, 3D TV broadcasts and 3D games and although it only comes with one pair of active shutter glasses you can buy more for just £49 each. Amazingly the 3D-XL not only gives your current '3D Ready' DLP projector a new lease of life but it retails for an incredible £249. The question is can Optoma deliver quality 3D at such a remarkable price point - let's take a look and see. The full in-depth review follows after the summary and scoring.
Styling and Connections
The 3D-XL certainly won't be winning any design awards but then as an adapter it isn't really meant to be seen and once setup it can largely be left alone. The slender chassis is just a plain black box that measures 28cm x 19cm x 3cm and weighs a mere 1kg.
At the front there is an on/off button with a light to show the adapter is on, a button for choosing between HDMI1 and HDMI2 with a light showing which input has been selected and a button for choosing the SBS (side-by-side) Mode with a light to show it has been selected. Perhaps not surprisingly at this price point, the 3D-XL doesn't come with a remote control although depending on your setup there may not be much reason to access it anyway.
At the rear of the 3D-XL you will find two HDMI v1.4a audio supporting inputs with HDCP that can be used for your 3D sources. There is also one HDMI v1.3 output with HDCP which connects to the projector. There is also a DC In socket for the power as well as an RS-232 control port, a USB socket for service updates and an IR emitter for use with third party Nvidia 3D glasses. Perhaps most interestingly there is a switch called Output Mode which allows you to select '3D 720p' or 'Dual L/R 1080p' - more on this later.
The 3D-XL comes with a pair of Optoma's ZD201 active shutter glasses which are one of the better designs that we've seen recently. They have wide sides which are good for blocking out any ambient light and the lenses are reasonably big which provides a large field of view - important when looking at a projector screen. There is an on/off button on the top of the right hand frame and a large synch receiver on the bridge between the lenses. We found that the glasses had no trouble synching initially and as long as we were looking at the screen there were never any problems with losing synch. Overall, we found the glasses to be comfortable to wear with minimal flickering and a reasonable tolerance to tilting your head. Since only one pair is included you will probably need to buy more but additional glasses can be purchased for only £49 a pair.
The 3D-XL is designed to work with any '3D Ready' DLP projector so, aside from Optoma's own models, it could also be used in conjunction with similar models from Acer, BenQ, NEC, Viewsonic and Vivitek. The model that we used for this particular review was the Optoma HD67 but the 3D-XL can also be used with the HD67N, HD600X, EW536, EW531, EW533ST, EW536, EW531, EW775, EW610ST, EX601ST, EX542i, EX762, EX779, EX785 and DW318. In addition, Optoma has recently released a free firmware download that will allow owners of the HD65, the HD700X and the GT7000 to upgrade their projectors for use with the 3D-XL.
The concept behind '3D Ready' projectors is that they are capable of projecting images with a 120Hz refresh rate which means that when combined with an adapter - like the 3D-XL - they can instead project frame sequential 3D images at 60Hz - one for each eye. These projectors were initially designed to be used with Nvidia's 3D Vision system for PCs but with the advent of 3D delivered via Blu-ray or broadcast TV they offer the possibility of cost effective 3D.
There are a number of available 3D sources including Blu-rays, games and TV broadcasts and each of these sources can use different methods of encoding the 3D content. For Blu-rays and games, the most common approach is to use frame packing which effectively stacks the left and right eye images on top of one another in a single frame which the 3D display then unstacks and displays sequentially, one for each eye. For 3D broadcast TV and X-Box 360 games the 3D content is encoded using side-by-side which results in a lower resolution but uses less bandwidth. Th 3D-XL delivers full resolution frames to the '3D Ready' projector at a 120Hz refresh rate with alternating frames for each eye and the projector is able to show this 120Hz signal thus producing a 60Hz image for each eye.
To synch the active shutter glasses with the projector the 3D-XL uses DLP Link which is an elegant solution that doesn't require an external IR emitter. Instead DLP Link uses the very fast refresh speed of these DLP projectors to send the synch signal between the left and right frames. These synch signals are then bounced off the screen and picked up by the receiver on the front of the active shutter glasses. This ingenious solution actually worked very well and we experienced no problems with synching whilst using the 3D-XL as long as we were looking at the screen. As soon as you look away from the screen the glasses will obviously lose synch but they will reacquire it once you start looking at the screen again.
The setup of the 3D-XL is simplicity itself, all you have to do is connect your 3D source to the 3D-XL using HDMI and then connect the 3D-XL to the projector via HDMI. There are two HDMI inputs which allow you to connect two 3D devices to the 3D-XL at any one time, you just need to use the button on the front of the 3D-XL to switch between the two inputs. You select '3D 720p' on the back of the 3D-XL and as soon as you start playing a 3D source that is encoded using frame packing the 3D-XL will automatically detect the signal and send the frame sequential 3D images to the projector. If the 3D source is encoded using side-by-side then you will need to select the SBS Mode button on the front panel because the 3D-XL cannot automatically detect content encoded using side-by-side. Obviously if you are watching 2D material then the 3D-XL will pass the material on to the projector at its native resolution.
We previously mentioned that on the back of the 3D-XL there is a switch that can be used to chose '3D 720p' or 'Dual L/R 1080p'. For normal operation with a single projector you would just chose '3D 720p' however the other choice does provide an interesting alternative. If you were to use two 3D-XLs in conjunction with two projectors you could actually create a full 1080p two stack projector system using passive glasses. All you would need to do is connect your 1080p 3D source to two 3D-XLs and then connect each of the 3D-XLs to a projector. On the back you select one 3D-XL to output 1080p for the left eye and the other to output 1080p for the right eye. Then you align the two projectors to ensure the two images are perfectly converged and add polarising filters over the lenses. When used in conjunction with a pair of passive glasses you will have 3D images that are free of any flicker and crosstalk and that will also have double the brightness. Obviously it is important to match the projectors and try and keep the lamp usage on each projector the same by alternating between the two when watching 2D material but, in theory, it is a highly cost effective way of creating a very impressive 3D system.
Picture Quality - 3D
We have mentioned this numerous times before but 3D really benefits from a large image, the bigger the screen the more immersive the experience. The problem with 3D TVs - even quite large ones - is that the 3D experience is more akin to looking through a window but with a projector you feel as though you are stepping into that world. The 3D-XL offers the opportunity to create that immersive 3D experience using your existing projector and the associated cost is minimal - about the same as a few pairs of active shutter 3D glasses.
Considering how much it costs, the 3D-XL produces remarkably good 3D images and is certainly comparable to 3D projectors that cost far more. The first thing that you notice is the almost complete lack of [tip=crosstalk]crosstalk[/tip]. Maybe it is because of the refresh rate or the fact that DLPs are very good at handling motion but these are some of the most crosstalk free 3D images we have seen to date. Quite often with 3D content the appearance of crosstalk and poor motion handling can result in you losing the illusion of dimensionality and thus taking you out of your 3D experience. This didn't happen with the 3D-XL, even with content that is often plagued with crosstalk and resulted in a very pleasing image.
Interestingly although the 3D-XL was projecting the 3D images at 720p you were never aware of a loss of resolution and this was never an issue. As we have found the passive 3D displays the added depth cues that are provided by 3D material fool the brain into thinking that there is greater resolution than there actually is and thus the images, themselves, never appeared to offer a lower resolution than full 1080p displays. Of course, with side-by-side material and many games the resolution is lower anyway so with this kind of content the 720p output of the 3D-XL is a moot point.
Of course this is not say that the 3D-XL is perfect but at this price you could hardly expect it to be. The fact that the 3D-XL is sending 720p sequential images to the projector results in the occasional scaling artefact when downscaling 1080p content. However, when dealing with lower resolution 3D content, this was far less of a problem. There were also incidences of flicker with the active shutter glasses and we experienced some eye fatigue over long periods but in all honesty we experience this with many active shutter systems.
Whilst this is not a review of the Optoma HD67 that we happened to be using in conjunction with the 3D-XL, clearly the projector you use will be a key decider in the overall performance of the system. In some respects the kind of projectors that are often '3D Ready' offer advantages whilst in others they can affect performance. For example, one of the big problems with 3D is the lack of brightness caused by the glasses and here the higher lumens output of these DLP projectors can be an advantage. Conversely, of course, the black levels can be quite poor but when you're wearing the active shutter glasses this is less of an issue. Single chip DLPs also don't suffer from convergence errors and as such offer very sharp images but the use of a colour wheel can obviously result in rainbows for people that are susceptible to them.
Overall we found the 3D performance of the 3D-XL to be very good, especially when you consider how much it costs, and we think it offers an excellent method of experiencing 3D content particularly if you already own a '3D Ready' Projector.
- Very cheap
- Compatible with a number of projectors
- Good 3D performance
- Very little crosstalk
- Can be used to create a two stack 3D setup
- One pair of glasses included
- Additional glasses are relatively cheap
- Performance dependent on quality of projector
- Resolution limited to 720p
- Some scaling artefacts
- No remote control
Optoma 3D-XL 3D Projector Adapter Review
The Optoma 3D-XL is a good example of something doing exactly what it says on the tin. By adding the 3D-XL to your existing '3D Ready' DLP projector you can benefit from 3D material that may already be available to you either from 3D Blu-rays and games via the PS3 or from broadcast TV via Sky and more recently the BBC. The 3D-XL is compatible with all these 3D sources and can accept content encoded into 3D using either the frame packing or the side-by-side methods.
The performance of the 3D-XL is surprisingly good and produced some of the most crosstalk free images that we have seen to date. The use of DLP Link worked very well for synching the projector with the active shutter glasses and as long as you were looking at the screen there were never any problems with losing the synch. The 3D-XL also benefited from DLP's better motion handling and the increased brightness that this type of projector offers. The glasses were comfortable and effective and are reasonably cheap at only £49 a pair.
The Optoma 3D-XL isn't perfect of course and is very dependent on the quality of the projector that it is being used in conjunction with. For example, whilst the images tend to be bright the blacks can be poor (although this is a lot less of an issue when wearing the glasses) and whilst single chip DLPs benefit from very sharp images the use of a colour wheel can result in rainbows for some people.
Whilst the 3D-XL only outputs 3D at 720p we never found this to be an issue with 3D material because the additional depth cues trick the brain into thinking there is more detail than actually exists but the fact that the 3D-XL is scaling down the 1080p content did result in the occasional artefact. This lower resolution was clearly less of a problem with 3D TV broadcasts that already used a lower resolution or with 3D games, many of which use 720p as well.
However there is more to the 3D-XL than just a cheap upgrade because the design offers the opportunity to create a double stack 3D setup that can provide full 1080p passive 3D that is both bright and crosstalk free. This means that for an outlay of only a couple of thousand pounds you can create a 3D projector system as good as and possibly better than some costing ten times that amount.
Ultimately if you're an existing owner of a '3D Ready' DLP projector and are interested in 3D then buying the 3D-XL is something of a no-brainer because not only will it give your current projector a new lease of life but it also works surprisingly well and is incredibly cheap.
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