How Does 3D TV Work

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Updated February 6, 2023

Many brands thought that 3D TVs would take over a large portion of the market when they became more widely available around 2011. In turn, this move led to consumers wondering how a 3D TV works. The early technology for 3D TV included stereoscopic, multi-view, and 2D-plus-depth displays. Although these TVs seem harder to find in recent years, some consumers still own 3D TVs. Modern 3D TVs use active shutter, polarized, or autostereoscopic 3D systems making them some of the best TVs in the market.

Active shutter 3D uses glasses that rapidly switch images back and forth between the eyes to create a 3D effect. Polarized 3D uses glasses that restrict the light the eyes can see. Autostereoscopic 3D doesn’t use glasses but requires the watcher to sit directly in front of the display to be able to see the 3D effect. Keep reading below to learn more in-depth about how each of these 3D systems works.


  • Modern 3D TVs may include active shutter, polarized, or autostereoscopic 3D systems.
  • Some 3D systems require glasses, while others do not.
  • Many manufacturers halted production on 3D TVs by early 2017.

3D TV With Glasses

Active Shutter 3D system

Many modern TV sets with 3D utilize an active shutter 3D system. These systems have several other names, including alternate frame sequencing, alternate image, AI, alternating field, field sequential, or the eclipse method. For these systems to work, the users wear specially designed glasses, which block one eye at a time.

They quickly switch the images back and forth between the eyes. For the eye to interpret these images, they must alternate so rapidly that the interruption does not interfere with the perceived image, which would look like a fusion of the two images into a single 3D image.

Active shutter 3D systems feature liquid crystal shutter glasses, using the same technology behind a liquid crystal display (LCD) TV. The liquid crystal layer becomes opaque when voltage is applied and appears transparent otherwise. This voltage alternately blocks one eye and then the other, syncing with the screen’s refresh rate. The glasses can be wired or use an infrared or radio frequency transmitter.

These systems can retain full color and spatial resolution with higher display contrast with brighter images. However, active shutter 3D systems can result in flickering, dark appearance, and increased price. Additionally, the frame rate must be doubled compared to polarized 3D systems to get an equivalent result. You should know how a TV remote works if you experience such problems and wish to change your settings.

Polarized 3D Systems

Polarized 3D systems also create 3D images by using glasses that restrict the light that reaches each eye. This method features two images superimposed onto the same screen through different polarizing filters. Each filter only passes on the similarly polarized light, blocking the polarized light in the opposite direction. This method means that each eye sees a different image, though the pictures show the same scene from slightly different perspectives. As long as they all have glasses with correctly polarized lenses, multiple people may view stereoscopic images simultaneously.

Polarized 3D systems are generally inexpensive, lightweight, and comfortable. They also do not require power or a transmitter to synchronize with the display. They also eliminate flickering effects. However, these systems may result in a significant increase in expense from the red-cyan filtering glasses. Additionally, there can be issues where the image is not correctly synchronized between the two images. You may have to change the settings to address these challenges or simply reset your TV remote if you are having challenges with it. As a result, many 3D TVs used active shutter glasses until 2011. So you may be thinking, that was 2011, surely there are 4D televisions by now but 4D TVs do not exist at the time of writing. However, if you would like to check out a massive 3D TV, read our review of the Mitsubishi Diamond 842 82- 3D TV.

3D TV Without Glasses

Autostereoscopic systems do not require glasses and require users to sit centrally in front of the display. These systems are based on parallax barriers and lenticular lenses. For parallax barriers, a device is placed in front of the image source, allowing it to show a stereoscopic or multiscopic image without the need for the viewers to wear 3D glasses. Lenticular lenses use an array of lenses that offer different parts of an image from different angles.

Since 2011, brands realized that the conversion from 2D to 3D was going too slowly. By 2013, channels were no longer broadcasting programs in 3D. A year later, Vizio stopped production, and by 2017, the final two significant manufacturers who were still producing 3D stopped their 3D support. It is believed that approximately 12% of people cannot correctly see 3D images due to various medical conditions.

It’s important to note that while 3D TVs never took off like a lot of people thought they would, other screen technologies are rapidly advancing. For instance, LED TVs are now widely available when they use to be a niche. LED will soon be replaced by OLED as the standard for most TVs. If you want to learn more, you can check out how LED TVs work. Additionally, there are advancements to LED panels in the way of QLED and NanoCell TVs. If you’re curious you can read our article on what is a NanoCell TV.

STAT: It is believed that approximately 12% of people are unable to properly see 3D images, owing to a variety of medical conditions. (source)


Is there an industry standard for 3D TV?

There are several standards for 3D TV, though the main one stems from the Society of Motion Picture and Television engineers.

What does 3D-ready mean?

A TV that is 3D-ready can be used to view a 3D image or show, but it does not automatically present these shows in 3D.

Can you watch regular TV in 3D?

You may be able to watch regular TV in 3D as long as the broadcast contains 3D information. However, many networks no longer broadcast in 3D.

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