XPAND X103 Universal 3D Glasses

Mar 16 2011

If you have purchased a 3D-capable display or plan to then you will undoubtedly need to acquire 3D glasses unless you are buying one of the few glasses-free displays or don't plan on watching 3D content. Most displays requiring 3D glasses sold to date utilize a technology known as active shutter (explained later). Obviously, you could choose to purchase active shutter glasses provided by the display manufacturer, but currently, those glasses will not be compatible with a different manufacturer’s display.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the glasses were inexpensive, but when they cost over $100 each, not too many consumers are going to be stockpiling for a rare group viewing. Furthermore, those 3D glasses might be worthless if a second 3D display or replacement 3D display is purchased from another manufacturer. This is where XPAND steps in and attempts to alleviate the problem with their line of universal 3D glasses. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the XPAND X103 universal 3D glasses.

The XPAND X103 glasses offer universal compatibility with all major manufacturers’ 3D displays utilizing active shutter technology. There are also a number of cinemas where the glasses are compatible. With competitive pricing and promise of upgradability, the X103 glasses could potentially deliver a greater value than the display manufacturers’ proprietary designs. Let’s find out!

Specifications

Physical and Electrical
Lens Size: 2.2” Diagonal (57mm)
3D Technology: Active Shutter Glasses
Lens Type: LCD
Transparency: 37%
Sync Method: IR
Refresh: 96-144 Hz
Battery Life: Up to 100 hours
Battery Type: CR2032 battery, 220mAh
3D Viewing Angle: 170 degrees
Temperature: 5 – 45C
Weight: 1.9 oz (56g)
Dimensions: 6.6” x 1.8” x 6.4”
Compatibility
3D LCD TV: Sony, Samsung, LG, Philips, Sharp, Toshiba
3D DLP TV: Mitsubishi
3D Plasma TV: LG, Panasonic, Samsung
Cinema: XPAND Cinema

Test Equipment

Panasonic VT25 and Samsung C8000 plasma displays were used for this review.

Packaging and Hardware

The XPAND X103 universal 3D glasses are cleverly packaged in a capsule shaped plastic container with a minimal amount of packaging that provides strong protection for the glasses and accessories. Included with the glasses are a microfiber holder, 3 nosepieces, 3 batteries and an instruction booklet.

The glasses have a sturdy feel and fit comfortably on the face using one of the included nosepieces. When wearing eyeglasses, the size of the X103 glasses is appreciated when compared to the Samsung glasses. The XPAND lenses are larger and the frame covers more of the side view to help remove any peripheral distractions while viewing. Overall, construction and fit are superior with the XPAND glasses compared to the Samsung glasses.

Compared to the Panasonic glasses, the X103 glasses are more comfortable for short periods of time, but after extended use, the temples begin to pinch behind the ear.  In contrast, the original Panasonic glasses are more awkward, but the experience doesn't change with extended viewing.

Operation

Before continuing, it is important to understand how the current crop of active shutter 3D glasses operates. In general, when a display is in 3D mode, it is displaying images meant for the left and right eyes one after the other, so the sequence of frames are Left, Right, Left, Right, etc. Active shutter glasses then synchronize with the display and alternate opening the left and right shutters for the proper eye as the images are displayed such that the left eye only sees the left image and the right eye only sees the right image.

Most displays rely on infrared (IR) signaling to communicate with active shutter glasses; thus, this is the method by which the XPAND X103 universal glasses receive synchronization information to open and close the left and right shutters as the images are displayed.

Most display manufacturers have a different synchronization protocol so the XPAND X103 glasses must be configured initially before using a particular display type. The procedure is accomplished by simply pressing and holding the power button until an LED on the inside near the upper right lens is solid. The button is then pressed again to cycle through the six different modes and the LED will blink from one to six times to indicate which mode has been selected.

One of the disappointing aspects of the Samsung active shutter glasses is that they sometimes lose sync while watching content--obviously, this can be a very disruptive event. After careful study, it can be determined that the synchronization losses occur when brighter scenes are present in the viewing material. Since IR wavelengths are just outside the visible wavelength spectrum, one can imagine that plasma phosphors are emitting energy to some degree in the IR spectrum and causing interference. Fortunately, the XPAND X103 glasses do not suffer synchronization losses while watching normal content.  The glasses do lose synchronization momentarily when issuing IR remote control commands, but otherwise operate perfectly.

Thanks to suggestions by users on AVS forums, we were able to “fix” the Samsung active shutter glasses by carefully applying black electrical tape over most of the IR receiver on the glasses. We hypothesize that this “fix” works because the tape attenuates the IR emission of the plasma enough such that it no longer interferes with the stronger active shutter IR synchronization from the display. As an aside, Samsung’s 2011 D8000 plasma display will be using Bluetooth instead of IR for active shutter glasses synchronization. Hopefully, Samsung or some other third party will produce an adapter for IR models because it would eliminate this issue entirely.

"Fixed" Samsung IR Sensor

Only minor syncing issues are present with the Panasonic VT25 and Panasonic glasses, specifically when the head is tilted back. The XPAND X103 glasses maintain sync during this angle or any other angle of view with the VT25.

Picture Quality

A viewing of Avatar on the Panasonic VT25, reveals that the X103 glasses provide a bit warmer picture than when viewing through the Panasonic glasses. The added warmth is only noticeable due to switching back and forth between glasses and is not expected to be noticed through casual observation. Overall, the Panasonic glasses provide a superior picture, but the X103 glasses are a close second.

A screening of How to Train Your Dragon 3D on the Samsung C8000 exposes a disappointing picture that is not only warmer than the image when viewed with Samsung glasses, but more importantly, lacks contrast with the letterbox bars appearing more gray than black.

Upon first noticing this difference, we were confident that the display could be calibrated to make the X103 glasses produce as good a picture as the Samsung glasses. Naturally, we tried to adjust the brightness of the display with the AVS HD 709 black clipping pattern. When viewing the pattern, the display’s 2D to 3D conversion mode was engaged. Frustratingly, the result of the brightness calibration was the same whether using the XPAND X103 glasses or the Samsung glasses; yet when viewing with the X103 glasses, black was definitely not as black as when viewing with the Samsung glasses. We hypothesize that the XPAND X103 glasses are not blocking out as much light as the Samsung glasses.

Further, we attempted to use a colorimeter to at least measure the visible difference. The meter was placed over the glasses and held up to the display as close as possible while trying to measure minimum luminance levels with a 0 IRE pattern (pure black test pattern). In this state, the glasses are off and cannot sync with the IR signal from the display. The measurements were nearly identical.

Surely, there is an obvious difference when the glasses are on. The only reasonable explanation for this difference in brightness is that the time the XPAND X103 glasses have the shutters open is longer than the Samsung glasses. We know that the displays produce a much higher light output in 3D mode to compensate for the dimming effect that occurs when viewing through active shutter glasses, thus, if the shutter is open a longer period of time, the eye senses more light.

The XPAND X103 lenses appear to have a neutral gray appearance. In contrast, the Samsung lenses have more of an amber tint and the Panasonic lenses have a somewhat brownish tint. This difference appears to be what is causing the warmer image when viewing with the X103 glasses. Both the Samsung and Panasonic displays have many calibration options that could most likely be employed with a colorimeter to correct for the additional warmth provided by the X103 glasses. However, once this type of calibration is performed, use of the Samsung or Panasonic glasses will likely appear too cool.

 

Conclusion

Can active shutter glasses truly be universal? In the basic operational sense, they can be universal; however, when it comes to picture quality, manufacturers have independently tuned their 3D glasses and displays such that each set of glasses requires its own unique calibration to achieve a proper image. Thus, it is important to always calibrate to and view with the same type of active shutter glasses. The repercussions of viewing a display with a different manufacturer’s glasses will undoubtedly cause viewers with different glasses to experience differences with respect to picture quality.

Ultimately, it would be best if manufacturers adopted a standard for active shutter glasses. The standard would include items such as lens tint and shutter time. IR should also be improved or abandoned as a synchronization technique in the home theater environment. Indeed, the CEA has recognized the need for compatibility between different vendor’s glasses though the proposed goals only seem to address operational compatibility with IR active shutter glasses.

At this time, it is difficult to recommend the XPAND X103 glasses to any Samsung plasma owners due to the luminance issue. We have contacted XPAND about the issue but have yet to hear any response though we do hold out hope for a firmware fix that might be able to resolve the issue as the X103 glasses can be upgraded.

If you own a Panasonic plasma, the XPAND glasses might be a good solution if you also own another manufacturer’s 3D display or you have friends or family that own another manufacturer’s display. If you frequently visit XPAND cinema, it is possible the glasses may also come in handy.

 

Pros

  • Universally compatible
  • Upgradable
  • Improved IR synchronization over both Samsung and Panasonic
  • Compatible with some 3D cinemas

Cons

  • Luminance problems with Samsung C8000 plasma

 

Thanks to fellow Senior Editor, Andrew Van Til, for contributing to this review.

Thanks to XPAND for supplying the review sample. Retail price for the XPAND X103 glasses is $129 and can be found on Amazon.com for ~$100.

Comments

A shame on the Samsung color issue, I just got suckered in to buying one of last years models because of the cheap prices and was thinking of grabbing some spare x103 glasses.  I may have to try that electrical tape method when it comes in but I'm tempted to see if I have any old overexposed 35mm film negatives laying around and making a proper 720nm passthrough for the sensor.

That's a great idea and I think I will give it a try and see if it works. I've got plenty of old 35mm film laying around.

I haven't had any sync issues with my Samsung glasses yet.  Can you recommend a test video that is good for causing it so I can mess around with fixing it.  I'd like to debug the potential issue before it happens while entertaining guests.

It certainly is content dependent. It happens pretty easily with How To Train Your Dragon 3D which came with my glasses. You could probably throw up any sort of picture with bright whites in 2D to 3D mode as well.

You can't test the color shift in 3d glasses with a colorimeter - you need a spectroradiometer. A good one, such as the Orb SP0100, that doesn't get fooled by all the polarization involved.

I've got some measurements I can post if there is still interest here.

William

Sure, that would be great.

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