Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cheapest Way to Convert Your 2D TV into 3D! (Plus Smartphone Options!)

I have never been a fan of 3D, I find it gimmicky and it detracts from what a movie really offers. But now that it looks like 3D is going to be phased out (according to sources and rumors on LG and Samsung TV's), this means it will--for now--become a deprecated technology. And if it is one thing I like, it is breathing new life into old technology!



Why Do It?
Again, I am not a huge fan of 3D. While it can be fun, I normally want to watch a movie the way it was meant to, on a 2D plane. But that does not mean it does not have its place for consumers and viewers. 3D can be cool, and if you have children, I am sure they will be more than fascinated with 3D images and video.

Price
The biggest drawback to 3D is the upfront costs. You must buy a Blu-ray player that supports 3D playback. You must buy a TV that supports 3D content, which will usually comes with the glassware needed to watch the 3D properly. Or you can buy a 3D-ready TV, which then means buying another device to allow 3D playback on the TV, as well as the individual glasses for you to watch 3D videos with. Do not forget that you will need some 3D Blu-ray discs.

You can purchase a subscription to a streaming service that provides 3D content, but I should note that almost all reviewers and critics agree that the best 3D experiences come from 3D Blu-ray (which is likely because the bitrates will be much higher allowing for maximum quality).

All this means is a lot of money. You have a nice 1080p TV, but no 3D support? Too bad. A great Blu-ray player, but no 3D support? Too bad. A great movie that would look great in 3D? Too bad. The most obvious solution would be to buy everything again and ensure that it all supports 3D.

But why do this? If 3D is really ending, then why spend loads of cash on something that will eventually be rendered all but useless? I have a better way...

3D Blu-ray vs. Online Streaming Services
The biggest pro of 3D Blu-ray, as stated above, is that it should have better quality. Because it is being streamed directly from a disc as opposed to relying on Internet bandwidth, it will undoubtedly be better.

Most steaming services require around 5Mbps in order to watch HD content. 3D content is usually rated around twice that (although you may not find it in the requirements section of a streaming provider). With a dedicated 3D Blu-ray player you can easily get from anywhere between 25-60Mbps, depending on the Blu-ray. And because it does not depend upon a speedy Internet connection, a 3D Blu-ray player will have no problem outputting the 3D Blu-ray in its intended quality.

This does not mean that it will look horrid to watch over a streaming service, just that it will not give the optimal quality some may seek.

On the other side is cost, one of the reasons I am writing this article. A streaming service might come in handy here. Netfix costs $7.99 per month for a basic package. This does not include HD content, so at a minimum, a Netflix subscription to obtain 3D content would cost $9.99 per month. Hulu costs $7.99 per month. Many people might have one service or the other (or both), so this may end up being a cost reduction in the methods I will give below.

And if you prefer to own your 3D videos, services like VUDU or Amazon Video sell 3D videos at varying prices. Although, I would guess that these videos will still not be at the high quality 3D Blu-ray offers.

So, the major factors are quality versus cost. Blu-ray movies are getting quite cheap, and with the new 4K Blu-rays slowly coming out, it is even more likely to get cheaper. However, if you just want to pay-to-play, and avoid the need to buy more disc racks, a streaming service may be of better use.

The Cheapest Method
Assuming you have nothing but a TV, this will be the most inexpensive way to allow your TV to play 3D movies. Now, the movies will look only as good as your TV, so I would advise at least a 720p-capable TV, however, what I will describe should work on any TV that has input connections. I will also mention that your TV does not have to be 3D-ready.

The Requirements (A)
There are three main items you will need in order to get your 2D TV ready for 3D:

  • A device that is capable of reading and playing 3D movies.
  • A device to allow 3D playback on your 2D TV.
  • A 3D video or game. (Optional)

A device capable of reading and playing 3D movies would be either a Blu-ray player, or something like an Android TV Box. Blu-ray players can be cheap, but may not have as many features like WiFi capability, or the ability to use USB flash drives. If you are purely about using 3D Blu-ray discs, then a standalone 3D Blu-ray player is what you want.

You can get a standalone player for a little more than $20 on eBay, but these are often missing accessories or have problems like "does not play DVDs". Some might be a great deal, so keep your eye out for one! Refurbished or new players go for around $60 and up on Amazon. And used players typically range anywhere from $35 and up. The nice thing about some of these players is that they have support for apps like Netflix or Hulu, which will give you the option of playing 3D from either a Blu-ray disc or online streaming service.

The other option, the one I prefer, is an Android TV Box or Android stick. Android sticks are tiny and will not have all the extra inputs that an Android TV Box will have, and some use HDMI instead of USB. The only advantage of an Android stick over an Android TV Box should be not having the need of an external power supply. The method I will explain will require that you have the ability to output HDMI, and Android sticks do not have this. And if your TV only has only one HDMI input, and your Android stick uses HDMI, then you may not be able to do what I am going to elaborate on. Because of this, I will be focusing on Android TV Boxes.

An Android TV Box is just a small device that has Android on it. The box can have several inputs and outputs, but the most important are to have at least one USB input (or TF, also known as SD, card slot), and one HDMI output. An Android TV Box can be expensive, but you can find ones for about $20 if you get a really good deal. On Amazon, you can get one for less than $40. On eBay, likely even less. Though, the more expensive it is, the more RAM, storage, and/or CPU processing power it should have. Some will even come with WiFi AC. Most of this is unnecessary, but you should get smoother playback on an Android TV Box than any Android stick.

Most boxes will probably support at least 1080p, so that should not be an issue. However, I would strongly suggest getting one that handles codecs like H.265 or VP9. And if so, you will want a strong CPU since those codecs require more CPU power to be read properly and smoothly. I recommend getting a quad-core model with at least 2GB of RAM. Although, you will probably still get decent results with a dual-core 1GB RAM model. Ensure that whatever you buy can take at least 32GB if it only has a SD card slot. You may need something larger, but for most situations, 32GB should suffice.

The final big point is to look for in an Android TV Box is that it supports 3D videonot just supports 3D gaming, or something similar. 3D gaming is different than streaming the 3D content we are discussing. 3D gaming or 3D GPU acceleration normally means games that are played in a 3D perspective, not viewed in 3D.

If you do happen to get an Android TV Box that supports 3D video, you can avoid getting a separate device for playing 3D! All you will need are a pair of 3D glasses that you can get on Amazon for around $12. Or a child pair on Amazon for about $8. The only drawback is that it will only be able to use videos that you have downloaded. It will not work with a video game console or you cable connection...

But remember, this is not just for 3D playback, you can do so much more with an Android TV Box than a standalone Blu-ray player! It is essentially a tablet or smartphone without a screen. You can play games on it, write emails, screen mirror, and still use Netflix or Hulu if you so desire.

As for a device that allows 3D playback on your 2D TV, there are several devices available. Some are specific to certain TV manufacturers, others are all-encompassing. What do most of these have in common? They cost quite a lot. If you want the best of the best of 3D, you will probably want one of those. The TV manufacturer-specific models will be less pricey than the all-encompassing options, but either way, they will be in the hundreds of dollars. And if you choose one for your TV brand, then change TV brands, you will lose your way to watch 3D.

The least expensive answer is a Cellnorth 3D Video Wizard. These can be bought for less than $40 new, and possibly less for used, but all the ones I have seen used are still about $40. This device comes with a remote, (at least) two pairs of 3D glasses (yellow/blue for a wider and more natural color spectrum), and a small console. The console converts 3D video signals to work with 2D TV's. While there are some conversion devices out there that are a bit cheaper, this one seems to be the best. It sports two HDMI inputs (where many have only one), and supports not only side-side and top-bottom 3D, but frame-packing for full resolution 3D playback, where possible (i.e. PS3, Blu-ray player, etc.).

The one drawback many will find is that the glasses cause the screen to be a bit darker. The normal ways to combat this is to either watch 3D videos or play 3D games in a darkened room, or at night, or increase the brightness of their screen display. The other (better) option is to adjust your visual settings, like the viewing modes, to something that helps color and increases brightness.

A positive, that may still hold true, is that Cellnorth apparently gives really good support. From replacing broken items to giving extra items free, this is something you hope for whether a product costs $40 or $400. In addition, the device should come with a 1-year guarantee.

The final thing you will need is a 3D video or game. This will depend on how you want to obtain and watch the 3D video. If using a online streaming service, simply go to that service from your standalone Blu-ray player (if it supports Netflix or Hulu) or Android TV Box and find some 3D content to play. I will talk about games more in-depth in the next section, but keep them in mind.

You can skip getting a 3D video or game if you just want to upconvert 2D content to 3D. This will save you some money, but real 3D content is where you will find the best quality!

Now, if you have a 3D Blu-ray disc and have a standalone Blu-ray player, it should be no problem to throw it in and play it. But if you have a 3D Blu-ray movie and want to use an Android TV Box, there will be a bit of work involved, but not much.

You will need a PC with a Blu-ray reader and MakeMKV. This is a free program, but needs the free registration key to operate. I do not like to link to other tutorials, but here are the steps to get a full HD image in a ".mkv" format to give you the full quality of a 3D Blu-ray from MakeMKV. Once you have the file, load it onto a USB flash drive, external USB HDD, or SD card.

Another cheap option is to buy a 3D video from VUDU or Amazon Video and load them in the same fashion.

The Setup
The setup is going to be fairly easy if you already have all the items prepped.

*IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A HDMI PORT ON YOUR TV, YOU WILL NEED A HDMI-TO-COMPOSITE OR HDMI-TO-COMPOSITE OR HDMI-TO-COAXIAL ADAPTER!

Standalone 3D Blu-ray Player

  1. Put the 3D Blu-ray disc inside the player.
  2. Attach the output HDMI of the 3D Blu-ray player to a HDMI input of the 3D Video Wizard.
  3. Then attach the output HDMI of the 3D Video Wizard to the a HDMI on your TV.

Android TV Box

  1. Put the USB flash drive or SD card (that contains the 3D video) in the box.
  2. Make sure that you have installed a media player that plays 3D on your Android TV Box. Attach the output HDMI of the Android TV Box to the 3D Video Wizard.
  3. Then attach the output HDMI of the 3D Video Wizard to the a HDMI on your TV. 
Note: If your Android TV Box already supports 3D videos, you will not need the 3D Video Wizard.

From here, it is just a matter of turning everything on and getting it going. The Blu-ray player should be easy enough by booting up and pushing play. Ensure that the 3D Video Wizard is turned on. (If you have two HDMI devices plugged into the 3D Video Wizard, use the supplied remote to choose which source you want to view.) Click the 2D/3D button on the 3D Video Wizard remote to enable the conversion. Put on your glasses and you are done!

The Android TV Box is almost identical, the only difference being that you will have to push play on your media playback app within Android.

You now have a 2D/3D setup that should cost you $100 or less!

Absolute Cheapest Method(s)
The main item that many people may already have is a Blu-ray reader. If you do have this, it is probably sitting in your PC. As long as it reads 2x or better, it should be able to play 3D Blu-ray discs. You may even have a standalone Blu-ray player, and this too may be able to play 3D Blu-ray discs. Or maybe you have a PS3/PS4 or Xbox 360/One.

The second item some people may already have is an Android tablet or smartphone with MHL or HDMI output capability.

This goes back to the standalone player versus Android device option above, but with many more risks involved as I will divulge in a bit.

The Requirements (B)
Having a Blu-ray player of some sort may help bring down your setup costs as you now only need two items:

  • A device to allow 3D playback on your 2D TV.
  • A 3D video (or game).

This gets a little trickier to explain as there are many variables involved. I will go through them one-by-one.

If you have a Blu-ray reader in your PC, then you will still need two more items in addition to the other two listed above. You will need software on your PC that can properly playback 3D Blu-ray movies. And you will need a HDMI cable that can be hooked up to your PC and extend to your TV.

One problem may be is if you have an old graphics card, you may only have a VGA output. You could use a VGA-to-HDMI converter, but VGA only sends video through, so you will still need a way to output the sound. Likewise, if you only have DVI available from your graphics card, you would need a DVI-to-HDMI converter, but again, it only transports video, so outputting sound becomes the issue. One solution to this is HDMI conversion cables that also have a 3.5mm jack or yellow component that can be plugged in to both your PC and TV to help export the sound. You could also purchase a conversion box that will take the cables and output them to other cables, avoiding conversion cables altogether (but adding more cables).

A further issue is if you do not have a TV with a HDMI input and instead have component or composite cables. You now have the opposite problem where you have HDMI coming from the PC, but need component for the TV. Again, you will need either a cable that converts it to the appropriate cables needed, or an adapter box. If this is the case, remember that the quality of what you see will be greatly deteriorated (moreso for component cable inputs than those with composite cables inputs).

If you have a standalone Blu-ray player, but it does not specify that it works for 3D Blu-ray discs, there is a chance it might work. I assume that some have software/hardware restrictions to ensure that this is not possible, but others may not (or can be hacked to allow such playback). The only way you will know is if you can get yours hands on a 3D Blu-ray disc and check if it works. If it does, then you are good to go. If not, you are out-of-luck...

The other item regarding playback of 3D Blu-ray discs is having a console like a PS3/PS4, or a Xbox 360/One. The Xbox 360 does not have a Blu-ray player, but it does have some game titles that support 3D playback. So, most of your content will have to be in 2D and then upconverted to 3D. There is a slight chance that a hacked Xbox 360 using XMPlayer could play ripped 3D Blu-ray discs, but I have not been able to test this...

As for a PS3/PS4 or a Xbox One, you should be able to treat it just like a standalone 3D Blu-ray player.

If one of these options applies to you, then you just need a device that can read and play 3D playback. If you have an Android device from recent years (2013+), then you may be able to perform 3D playback. If your smartphone or tablet has a Snapdragon 800 or higher, or a Exynos 5 or higher, then it should be able to output 60fps at a resolution of at least 1080p. Other CPU's like MediaTek should also be able to perform 60fps if they are from the 6500 series or newer. 60fps is important because it will give you true 3D playback as opposed to other methods.

The first problem is that you have to make sure that your phone or tablet supports HDMI or MHL out. If it only supports MHL, you will need an adapter to change from MHL to HDMI. And even HDMI will still require a special cable for your Android device.

The second problem is one of power. You might have a huge battery, or great battery life, on your smartphone or tablet, but watching a movie will drain it fast. You should not lose all your battery life on a single movie, but the device may be working a bit harder than normal, and you may not want to risk having your video shutdown in the middle of it. If you do not want to risk it, you will need an adapter that can split your output to not only HDMI but to a cable for charging. On top of that, you will have to make sure that the adapter supports charging and not just data transfer. There are adapters that do this split, but I am unsure if they have charging or not. I am sure some do, but which ones are the real question.

If you are lucky and have a special tablet (like some from China), you may actually have a DC jack and HDMI out, avoiding these problems altogether.

I have not tested anything with Android devices in this sense, so while in theory this should work, there is no guarantee.

And let us not forget that even if you have one of these devices, you will still need the 3D Video Wizard system regardless. Unless you bought an Android TV Box, where you just need to buy some 3D glasses for your 3D videos.

3D, 2D, 1D NoD
So, that is how you can get the cheapest possible 2D-to-3D conversion possible for your TV. I did not want to spend hundreds of dollars getting a 3D setup for something that is on its way out the door, but I would like to be able to use 3D whenever I feel like it. And if 3D is really coming to an end, 3D Blu-ray discs should become cheaper and cheaper (except for Disney movies, they always take forever to drop in price!).

On the flip side, even if you set this up and hate it, you have not wasted that much money. The devices listed have multiple purposes, which means you would really just spend a bit of cash on the 3D Video Wizard and (possibly) some movies.

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