It can't be easy trying to produce a product that attempts to offer a universal solution to a common problem. Just when you think you've got all the bases covered, along comes yet another variation and suddenly your product isn't as universal as you'd hoped. Such was the case for XpanD and their X103 Universal Active Shutter 3D Glasses. They were designed to work with all the different manufacturer's active shutter glasses that used infra-red (IR) to sync with the emitter. In testing we found that the X103 glasses worked extremely well and happily sync'd with all the different 3D TVs that we tried them with, including models from Sony, LG, Panasonic, JVC and Samsung.
Unfortunately, at the start of this year, the latter of those manufacturers, Samsung, decided to redesign their active shutter glasses, moving from using IR to using Bluetooth (BT) instead. The logic behind this change was actually quite sensible because using IR does have a number of disadvantages. For example, there were instances where certain IR glasses, which require line-of-sight, would lose sync due to obstructions or would suffer from interference caused by other IR devices or strong ambient light. The advantage of using BT is that the glasses do not require line-of-sight to work in conjunction with the TV, the range is bigger and users have more freedom to move around. We found that this approach worked very well in testing but it did mean that XpanD's X103 glasses wouldn't work with Samsung's latest generation of 3D TVs. More recently, Optoma's new line-up of 3D projectors use active shutter glasses based upon Monster's Max 3D design which use a Radio Frequency (RF) approach that once again doesn't require line of sight and has an increased range.
Aside from the inherent problem of creating confusion amongst consumers by offering all these different methods of syncing active shutter 3D glasses, it also makes XpanD's task of creating a genuinely universal pair of active shutter glasses exponentially more difficult. The new X104 YOUniversal Active Shutter Glasses have been designed to address this and can sync with displays that use either IR or RF, thanks to the addition of an expansion module. Let's take a look at the X104 active shutter glasses and see how the new design measures up to its predecessor. The full in-depth review follows after the summary and scoring.
Styling and Design
The X104 glasses come with a sturdy plastic case for storage, a USB cable for recharging and data transfer, a microfibre cloth for cleaning, two different sized nosepieces and an instruction booklet.
The actual design of the X104 glasses has been revised from the previous X103 glasses to make them more slim-line and less bulky. However,they still retain the solid and robust construction found on the previous model. The front of the frame has been scaled down, so the X104 glasses look more like a pair of sunglasses and the arms are also more like regular glasses, as opposed to the tapered rubber arms that gripped the head on the X103 glasses. Whilst the tapered rubber arms on the X103 glasses kept them firmly in place, they could become a little uncomfortable when being worn for long periods of time. In contrast the arms of the X104 glasses fit comfortably over the ear, the whole frame sits snugly over the eyes and being lighter the glasses are more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Although the overall frame is much smaller than on the earlier design, it is good to see that the actual lens size remains about the same. This is important because the larger the lenses, the wider your field of view and this is especially important with big screen 3D projection.
As part of the process of slimming down the entire frame, the sides are not as wide as they were before which means that - depending on your viewing environment - they might let in some ambient light. Whilst the new design is much lighter than the older model, making the glasses more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, the previous design was very good at blocking out ambient light. This is important because any light hitting the lens can affect the illusion of 3D and should thus be minimised. As previously mentioned, the X104 glasses come with two different nosepieces that allow the user to choose the one most comfortable for them. We certainly found the smaller, lighter design of the X104 glasses to be very comfortable to wear and they did fit very snugly to the face. In fact they were a bit too snug and we found it difficult to wear the X104 glasses over regular glasses, whereas we never had that problem with the X103 glasses.
As with the X103, the IR sensor itself is positioned above the bridge of the nose between the two lenses which remains a sensible place to put it. There is a small button on the bottom of the right hand arm as you’re wearing them which is used to turn the glasses on or off, and to select different IR protocols. Next to the button is a small LED light that indicates the state of the battery; if the LED is flashing red then the battery needs charging, when the battery is being charged the LED flashes orange and when the battery is fully charged the LED remains green until the glasses are disconnected from the power supply. To connect the USB cable to the X104 glasses there is a mini-USB socket beneath a rubber cap at the end of the right hand arm of the glasses. Also, on the right hand side, there is a small X LED that ramps up from off to bright when they are turned on and then from bright to off when they are turned off. However the glasses will automatically turn off if no valid sync signal is detected for five minutes.
The X103 glasses were very easy to use and the new X104 glasses are even easier. If your TV or projector uses an infra-red (IR) emitter then you just turn the X104 glasses on and then hold down the on button for three seconds. The X104 glasses will then automatically detect the IR sync signal and the X LED will blink until the auto detection is complete, which might take up to a minute. Once the auto detection is complete, the X104 glasses will store the detected IR protocol in their memory and will always start up in this mode when you turn them on.
If for any reason the X104 glasses can not detect the IR sync signal then you can select the specific device manually. First you need to hold down the on button for three seconds, as before, but once you enter the auto detect mode you then hold the button down for another six seconds. The X LED will then blink once, corresponding to the first IR protocol and if you press the on button again the X LED will blink twice corresponding to the second IR protocol and so on.
1 Blink - Samsung or Mitsubishi
2 Blinks - LG
3 Blinks - Sony
4 Blinks - Panasonic or Toshiba
5 Blinks - Philips or HP or JVC
6 Blinks - XPAND Emitter
7 Blinks - Nvidia
8 Blinks - Vizio
9 Blinks - Bang and Olufsen
10 Blinks - Sharp
11 Blinks - Acer
Once you have selected your desired IR protocol, within 30 seconds the X104 glasses will exit the programming mode and store the selection in their memory. The glasses will always start up in this mode the next time you turn them on. However, if an XpanD Cinema sync is present, then the X104 glasses will automatically detect it and sync without the need for you to select auto detect or manual mode.
The new X104 glasses are not only rechargeable via USB but, thanks to a new piece of software, they can also be connected to a PC to allow users to easily change the desired IR protocol, customise the setting for shutter timings and upgrade the firmware on the glasses. To access these settings the PC application needs to be downloaded from the XpanD website and installed on to your PC. To change the IR protocol you just select the desired option from a drop down menu on the PC application; once selected the glasses can be disconnected. To change the shutter timings you select the Advanced Options - in the PC application - and drag the two slides corresponding to "open delay" and "close delay" and set the desired timings. If you wish to discard changes, just use the "Reset to default" button and, once finished, close the Advanced Option menu by clicking on "Hide advanced options". To upgrade the firmware you turn the glasses on and connect them via the USB cable to your PC. You then launch the PC application and click on "Application update available" or "Check for update" buttons. Ensure that your PC is connected to the internet and the glasses will be updated from the server automatically once you confirm you want to update the firmware. Once the upgrade is complete, a dialogue box confirms this and the glasses can be disconnected - do not disconnect before the upgrade is complete.
In addition to the PC application, XpanD have also released a smartphone app which allows users to customise their X104 glasses in the same way that they can with the PC application. In conjunction with these features, XpanD have also developed an RF expansion module which allows users to sync their X104 glasses with displays that use the new 3D RF standard. So in addition to being the most flexible active shutter 3D glasses on the market, this expansion module makes the X104 glasses the most genuinely universal.
We were able to test the X104 glasses with a number of different displays that we either own or happened to be in for review. Specifically we tried the X104 glasses with JVC's DLA-X3 3D projector (this projector actually ships with JVC branded versions of the X103 glasses), Sony's HX723 3D LCD TV, LG's PZ850 3D plasma TV and Panasonic's GT30 3D plasma TV. In all four cases the X104 glasses had no problems, quickly detecting the IR sync signal and synchronising with the relevant display. We found that the glasses worked perfectly every time and we never had any problems with losing sync, nor did we experience problems with flicker or eyestrain. The glasses did not appear to cause any unwanted discolouration, nor did they appear to darken the image any more than you would expect from a pair of active shutter 3D glasses. The X104 glasses also did not appear to introduce any additional crosstalk and we found them to be very tolerant to tilting your head.
This latter attribute is especially useful when using the glasses with a Sony display. As anyone who has read one of our Sony 3D display reviews will know, the Sony active shutter glasses have absolutely no tolerance to tilting your head. The reason for this is that Sony, in an effort to brighten their 3D image, have used only horizontal polarised filters on their glasses, instead of adding a vertical filter as well. Whilst the use of only one filter does mean the lens is lighter, it also means that you can't tilt you head without introducing crosstalk and losing the 3D effect. The passive 3D glasses you use at the cinema use circular polarised lenses to avoid this problem and most manufacturers of active shutter 3D glasses (including XpanD) use a horizontal and a vertical polarised filter to mitigate this issue. To address the complaints of consumers Sony eventually released a set of clip-on vertical filters but that is hardly the most elegant solution. So until Sony corrects the problem properly, the XpanD X104 glasses would be a much better choice of active shutter 3D glasses for anyone using a Sony 3D display.
We were also able to test the X104s with XpanD's new RF expansion module which is designed to work in conjunction with the new 3D RF standard developed by a number of manufacturers. First of all we ran the XpanD PC application to ensure the glasses had the latest firmware. Then we attached the RF expansion module to the USB port at the end of the right arm and although this is a little ungainly, you didn't really notice when actually wearing them. We then turned the glasses on and held the on/off button down for three seconds which allowed the glasses to pair with the TV. Once this had been done, which took about 10-15 seconds, we were able to use the X104s in conjunction with any 3D TV that uses the new RF standard. So far we have been able to test the glasses in conjunction with 2012 Samsung and Panasonic 3D TVs and found that the expansion module worked well with both brands. With the addition of the new RF expansion module, it is fair to say that the XpanD X104s truly are universal.
- Universal active shutter glasses
- Automatic IR detection
- Optional RF module
- Well designed and robust construction
- Comfortable to wear even for long periods
- Didn't appear to suffer from any sync issues
- No problems with eye strain or fatigue
- Didn't experience any problems with flicker
- Greater tolerance for tilting your head
- Rechargeable and upgradeable via USB
- Glasses can be customised via app or PC
- Sides of the frames could be wider
- Don't always fit comfortably over regular glasses
XpanD YOUniversal Active Shutter 3D Glasses Review
The design of the X104 glasses is certainly more stylish than the previous X103 glasses, which were a bit chunky. As a result of this redesign, the X104 glasses are lighter and thus more comfortable to wear but they still retain a solid and robust construction. The X103 glasses had rubber arms that gripped the head which did result in the glasses staying firmly in place, but could also become slightly uncomfortable over long periods of time. The arms on the X104 glasses are more like regular glasses and fit comfortably over the ears. The X104 glasses also come in three frame sizes (small, medium and large) and two colours (black and blue).
Despite the smaller frame on the X104 glasses, the lenses are about the same size as the X103 glasses; which is good because the larger the lenses the greater the field of view, which is especially important with a big projected image. There are, however, two disadvantages with the new svelte design of the X104, especially when compared to the previous X103 glasses. The smaller frame size means that the X104 glasses don't fit as easily over regular glasses as the X103 glasses. In addition, the sides of he X104 glasses are not as wide as they were on the X103 glasses which means the new design isn't as effective at blocking out ambient light.
The new glasses are rechargeable - via USB - and, thanks to a recently released piece of software, they can also be connected to a PC to allow users to easily change the desired IR protocol, customise the shutter timing settings and upgrade the firmware. In addition to the PC application, XpanD have also released a smartphone app which allows users to customise their X104 glasses in a similar fashion to the PC application. In conjunction with the PC and smartphone applications, XpanD have also released an RF expansion module that is designed to work with the new 3D RF standard. We were able to test this new expansion module with a number of TVs that utilise the new standard and we found that the glasses were easy to setup and worked very well once paired with the TV.
We were also able to test the X104 glasses with a number of IR 3D displays and they worked wonderfully with all of them. The auto detection worked perfectly every time, quickly detecting the IR sync signal and synchronising with the 3D display. We never had any problems with losing sync, nor did we experience problems with flicker or eyestrain. The glasses did not appear to cause any unwanted discolouration, nor did they appear to darken the image any more than you would expect from a pair of active shutter 3D glasses. The X104 glasses also did not appear to introduce any additional crosstalk and we found them to be very tolerant to tilting your head.
Overall the XpanD X104 YOUniversal Active Shutter 3D glasses offer an excellent option to anyone looking for a universal solution. The new design works very well and is lighter, more comfortable to wear and can be recharged via USB. The glasses performed superbly, delivering great 3D images without introducing any additional issues of their own. The X104 glasses are also incredibly flexible to set up thanks to the PC interface and the smartphone app. With the release of the RF expansion module, it is fair to say that the XpanD X104s truly are universal. Highly Recommended.
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