Dual-lens 3D cameras and camcorders: Currently there are four major options for fixed-dual-lens, "3D-first" models. All of them capture traditional 2D images, too, but they're designed primarily as 3D cameras and camcorders.
The most advanced compact camera in the 3D realm is the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3 ($500), the company's second-generation 3D snapshooter. The W3 has two 3X optical zoom lenses and two 10-megapixel sensors, plus a lenticular display that lets you see 3D effects without having to wear special glasses. The W3 offers manual controls for each lens, as well as some advanced 3D shooting modes that separate it from single-lens 3D cameras; you can also use manual controls to tweak the 3D effect of its 3.5-inch display. It shoots 3D stills in .MPO format, and 720p 3D video in 3D-AVI format. Playback works well when the camera is connected to a 3D TV via HDMI, but no existing 3D TV natively supports the 3D-AVI format.
Announced at this year's CES, JVC's dual-lens 3D camcorder, the JVC GS-TD1 ($2000), has two ultra-bright f/1.2 lenses in front of two backside-illuminated CMOS sensors that capture 1920-by-1080-resolution full-HD footage out of each channel in AVCHD (.MTS) format; the camcorder also snaps .MPO-format 3D stills, using its two 3.3-megapixel CMOS sensors. You can view 3D footage as you capture it without glasses, thanks to an adjustable parallax-barrier 3.5-inch LCD screen, and the camcorder supports 3D playback at full resolution. According to JVC, video playback is officially supported only when you use the camcorder as a playback device, connected to a compatible 3D TV set via HDMI.
Sony is another major player in the 3D camcorder realm, with a high-end full-size camcorder and a 3D-capable pocket camcorder on tap for 2011. The Sony Handycam TD10 ($1500) captures left-channel and right-channel 1920-by-1080 MPEG-4 MVC video, displayed in full 1080p resolution during playback. Instead of using "side-by-side" 3D technology, the TD10 uses "frame-packing" 3D, which displays full-resolution video captured from each lens. It has a 3.5-inch glasses-free 3D display that uses parallax-barrier technology, and it handles 3D video playback by using the camcorder as a playback device, connected via HDMI to a 3D TV.
The pocketable Sony Bloggie 3D ($250) has two lenses and two CMOS sensors; 3D shooting requires tilting the camcorder to landscape orientation while recording. The Bloggie 3D shoots 1920-by-1080-resolution MPEG-4 video through each channel, as well as 2-megapixel 3D still images. Video playback uses the side-by-side 3D display method, so 3D video clips lose a bit of resolution. The pocket camcorder has a glasses-free 2.4-inch LCD display for viewing 3D footage on the device; playback on a 3D TV requires connecting the device to a set via HDMI.
File types and playback differences
The only foolproof way to display your own 3D photos and videos on current 3D-capable sets is to connect your camera or camcorder to the set via HDMI and then use it as a playback device. In general, native file support in today's 3D TV sets is iffy, but .MPO still images are well on their way toward achieving mainstream native support. What's more, you should be able to resolve most current native-playback issues via future firmware updates for each set.
Overall, .MPO is establishing itself as the standard for 3D still images. CIPA (the Camera and Imaging Products Association) supports the file format, which is the 3D still-image file type that most mainstream 3D-capable cameras use. Also, Panasonic Viera 3D sets natively support .MPO. Using the Panasonic Viera TC-P42GT25, we had no trouble viewing .MPO images directly from the TV's SD Card slots and USB-in ports.
3D video files are much trickier to work with, because of divergent file types and codecs. JVC and Panasonic capture 3D video as AVCHD-format .MTS files, Sony will use a to-be-determined MPEG-4 MVC codec, and Fujifilm uses a 3D version of the .AVI file format. In our testing, no Panasonic or Samsung 3D TV set natively supported any of these file types, but connecting the capture devices to any 3D-capable set via HDMI should let you play back 3D videos on the big screen properly.
You should keep a few things in mind before you shoot the next family moment in 3D. First, whether your TV uses active-shutter glasses or passive polarized glasses, your 3D videos and photos should work: File types don't depend on the tech used to create the 3D image, so you don't have to worry about a 3D Blu-ray disc working on one kind of 3D TV but not on another.