3D TV Viewing Angle Explained

Viewing angle refers to the angle (off the axis of the TV screen) at which you view your television display. With the advent of 3D HDTVs, many of you have been wondering how the viewing angle of 3D TVs will affect their ability to deliver a realistic 3D experience. This guide, along with our article on the appropriate viewing angles for 3D TVs will help answer your questions regarding viewing angles with regards to 3D flat panel displays. Since the advent of LCD TVs, viewing angle has been a concern for consumers as lower end LCD flat screen panels are notorious for having poor viewing angle specifications. In these TVs, at oblique viewing angles the colors tend to desaturate, contrast is drastically affected and the screen brightness also changes thus giving pictures a very washed out appearance. Higher end LCD panels use newer flat panel technology to improve the viewing angle for these LCD TV giving them a total viewing angle of around +/- 45 degrees.

In direct ‘contrast’ (pun intended 🙂 ), Plasma HDTVs benefit from extremely good viewing angles. In most of the top-tier plasma flat screen TVs, the viewing angle is pretty much a full 180 degrees (i.e. +/- 90 degrees). This is primarily due to the manner in which the pixels or plasma cells are lighted up in plasma flat panel displays as compared to LCD displays.

LCD TVs use a backlight to light up each pixel and this backlight is directional, with the maximum intensity achieved when viewing the TV from a perfectly perpendicular position (0 degree viewing angle). However, as you move away from this axis of the TV, less and less of the TV backlight reaches your eye, thus diminishing the contrast ratio and picture quality at oblique angles. To counter this, LCD manufacturers try to use diffuse scatterers at the screen so as to make the backlight less directional. While this does help, it doesn’t completely alleviate the issue for LCD HDTVs.

In the case of Plasma flat panel TVs, phosphors on the surface of the plasma screen are excited by UV light and they radiate red, green or blue light (depending on the phosphor) uniformly in all directions. Thus, in the case of Plasma HDTVs the light from the screen is distributed in a much more uniform manner in all directions thus allowing it to achieve excellent viewing angles. The flip side of this is that Plasma panels in general are not as bright as LCD panels as they distribute their light in a wide arc. However the latest generation of Plasma 3D TVs such as the VT25 Series from Panasonic are able to achieve a substantially brighter display by using new phosphor technology and enhanced onboard circuitry.

How does viewing angle affect 3D Displays?

This is a common question that needs answering before you decide on buying a new 3D HDTV for your home. The short answer is that viewing angle is far more important in the case of 3D TVs as compared to your regular TVs for 2-D content. This is for a couple of reasons:

When viewing 3D, each eye receives a different image. If you are sitting at an angle to the TV, then each eye is viewing the HDTV at a slightly different angle. If there is a significant difference in the image quality that each eye perceives, the viewer can have a very underwhelming 3D viewing experience.

3D Glasses tend to block some of the incoming light thus lowering the contrast and brightness of the content that you are viewing. While manufacturers have adjusted 3D flat panels to counter this, if you get substantially lower contrast and image brightness at 20+ degrees of viewing angle you will probably dislike the quality of the 3D content.

So does this mean that LCDs are a terrible choice for 3D TVs?

In truth, as far as 3D content goes, both technologies will be pretty evenly matched when it comes to viewing 3D material. This is explained in more detail in our article that explains what the best viewing angle for a 3D TV is. The short answer is that for 3D content, you will not want to view your 3D screen from large angles as the 3D experience will deteriorate due to your eyes perceiving a front view of a 3D scene even when you are viewing the 3D scene at an angle. It is important to note that this effect has nothing to do with the quality of the TV or the 3D technology, but rather, it has to do with how our brain perceives 3D scenes.

Ultimately, both LCD and Plasma 3D flat screen TVs will be well suited for viewing 3D content when it comes to viewing angles. Plasma 3D TVs definitely retain the upper hand in the battle of viewing angles and will allow larger viewing angles when viewing regular 2D content on these 3D capable HDTVs.