3-D Video Reaches Out To Grab Consumers

Fritz Nelson takes a look at some 3-D smartphones currently on the market and evaluates their performance.

YouTube has witnessed a steady uptick in 3-D uploads since HTC's EVO 3D phone hit the market. Soon LG's Thrill will join the 3-D party. This might not necessarily spawn a 3-D Hollywood shot-by-cellphone revolution, but putting 3-D technology into the hands of consumers certainly can't hurt. Besides, even without the 3-D part, these phones are both worth having.

In the first part of this story, I talked about the impact of 3-D phones on 3-D adoption. Here, we'll dive a bit deeper into the phones, but don't mistake this for a full review of either phone. For that, check out the HTC EVO 3D review here.

The HTC EVO 3D started shipping in late June, and it's available on Sprint's WiMax (4G) network for $199.99 with a two-year contract. It is a 4.3-inch qHD 3-D phone, powered by Qualcomm's 1.2GZ Snapdragon dual-core processor. It has dual 5-megapixel cameras. It runs the Gingerbread version of Android (v 2.3), with HTC's Sense user interface layered on top. For an extra $29.99 per month, the phone can serve as a Wi-Fi hot spot, supporting as many as eight devices.

The EVO 3D includes a Micro USB port, but no mini HDMI. Instead, its Micro USB port serves as a mobile high definition link (MHL) port. MHL is a standard for 1080p HD video and audio out, but you'll need a separate cable to use it. The EVO 3D supports DLNA to stream content (in 2-D, 3-D and HD) to other DLNA devices on a wireless network--from TVs to DVD players to game consoles and more.

LG's Thrill will run on AT&T's 4G network. It is powered by TI's OMAP 4430 dual-core processor, running at 1GHz, but LG touts its dual-channel RAM as the real speed enhancer. It has a 4.3-inch capacitive touch screen, and dual 5-megapixel cameras. Like the HTC device, the LG Thrill runs Android, with LG's Optimus user interface on top. It includes HDMI out and DLNA -- both help make it possible to stream 3-D content to other 3-D-capable devices.

I didn't test the streaming capabilities of either phone.

It's a bit unfair to compare these phones because the Thrill (known previously as the Optimus 3D) is what LG called an Alpha version, and the HTC EVO 3D is shipping and fully polished. However, since these will be the first major 3-D phones on the market, it's instructive to make some general observations.

First, any time I demonstrated the 3-D capabilities of either of these phones, people were in awe. It's not quite like the first time you saw HD, because most people have, in fact, seen 3-D movies for years. But to see it on a phone and without glasses--it's a bit stunning at first. I shot video at the beach, photos during parties, and more video during meetings. It probably wasn't all necessary, but it sure was a crowd pleaser.

I didn't perform any painstaking series of benchmarks. I didn't compare the quality of the video experience down to the pixel level, nor did I do any kind of controlled battery tests. I used these phones just as a consumer would, and got very similar experiences, both in terms of performance and quality. I uploaded videos to YouTube (the 3D channel), and played the videos shot by each on the other phone--again, from YouTube, because emailing or downloading 3-D images or short 3-D video clips didn't seem to work properly when exchanging the data between phones. I used all of the capture control functions and features like the photo amateur that I am.

You can also use TeamWin's TwinPic 3D (an Android app) to text or e-mail 3-D images to others with 3-D phones. I was unsuccessful in my attempts to get TwinPic 3D to work between these two phones. I did have success testing it between two HTC EVO 3D phones.

Extended 3-D use got me a bit dizzy at times. Other people who used the phones got dizzy right away. Still others weren't bothered at all. The LG phone actually warns users before a 3-D application starts; that is, it tells you that if you get dizzy, stop! While it might seem an obvious instruction, I still find it effective to warn people, especially with games where it might not just be a single player. It is vital, then, that HTC and LG retailers and partners are prepared to encourage customers to play with the phones for a while before buying--lest they deal with an onslaught of returns. While you can certainly just keep these phones in 2-D mode, what customer would want to pay a premium for 3-D only to find it a useless feature?

By the way, you can capture 3-D content and down-convert it to 2-D; the image programs prompt you to do so when appropriate--say, when you go to share the content on a social network or a photo upload service. On the LG phone, you can actually record in 2-D, but save or upload as 3-D; this isn't a magical process, it's just that the LG records the video with both cameras, so you still have the 3-D option if you want it.

The HTC EVO 3D will ask you if you want photos and videos converted to 2-D before sharing them. Unlike the LG phone, 2-D images cannot be converted to 3-D because in 2-D mode, the EVO's second camera is turned off.

Gameloft's 3-D Let's Golf!, Asphalt (a racing game) and an Ultimate Spider-man game all took the playing experience to a new level. I tried to get a sense of how much 3-D game playing might drain a battery. My experience was that a couple of solid hours of pure 3-D was enough to pretty much drain the phone. All of these phones use chipsets that are extremely efficient with battery life, so occasional 3-D use shouldn't be a concern.

LG's phone will be able to do much more than the one I tested. For example, I couldn't use the camera flash while capturing either 3-D photos or video; the HTC's flash worked fine for 3-D.

Both phones provide some adjustments for features such as focus, 3-D depth control, contrast, exposure, and white balance, including the ability to just rely on automatic settings. The HTC EVO 3D lets you auto white balance for environmental conditions, such as incandescent or florescent light, daylight or cloudy days, and so on. The HTC EVO 3D also lets you apply special effects to your images, such as sepia tone, negative, solarize and even aqua filters.

The truth is, while both phones did an adequate job of letting me capture, share and consume 3-D content, I was hard-pressed to find anyone to communicate with. I'm not a big game player, so while those were a fun novelty, they certainly wouldn't be my personal reason to buy a 3-D phone. I kept thinking how great it would be to share a 3-D video clip on YouTube, only to realize nobody I knew would be able to see it.

Captured images and videos were sometimes fuzzy at the edges on both phones, and unless I made some manual adjustments to lighting and contrast settings, the experience was poor. But with the right adjustments, the quality of the 3-D experience was decent. After all, I didn't expect to make incredibly detailed 3-D video. Most of the content I consumed, particularly games and movies, looked brilliant. There are some 3-D test videos on YouTube that are spectacular, especially the 3D Waltz of the Flowers. However, I'm not sure I want to watch a full-length feature film, no matter how high the quality, on a mobile phone. Maybe that's just me.

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