When I went to college, not that long ago, I searched high and low for an affordable way to connect my PC and game consoles to the same screen. There weren't many options, because computers' VGA cables and televisions' RCA and S-Video jacks didn't get along well. I ended up carrying two CRTs to university, and separate speakers too. I could only dream of something like the PlayStation 3D Display, on sale today, for my dorm room.
Today, of course, HDMI is all but the de facto standard for high definition consumer connectivity, and just about any full-featured monitor will work. But with a 24-inch 240Hz 3D LCD screen, active shutter glasses, and dual HDMI 1.4a inputs, Sony's jonesing to scratch your stereoscopic 3D itch at the same time it declutters your dorm. For $500, Sony even throws in a game. But does the PlayStation 3D Monitor do the job for both work and play?
Hardware / design
Yes, it looks just like a flattened PSP Go
Yes, it looks just like a flattened PSP Go, and we never really cared for that device, but if you look past the disappointments of that handheld game system, the PlayStation 3D Monitor is moderately stylish. The entire panel's just over an inch and a quarter thick, and you won't have any trouble hefting it into your car. The screen only weighs about twelve pounds, and there are handy grips on either end. The matte plastic stand is passable, with metal reinforcements to keep the monitor in place, a token 15-degree tilt backwards and a quick-release button to detach the panel, but don't go looking for a swivel or height adjustments. The IR emitters for the shutter glasses are neatly integrated into the glossy piano black bezel — we count nine infrared LEDs in all — and you'll find all the ports facing out to the right, including both HDMI sockets, five RCA sockets for component video, and a 3.5mm jack for your headphones. A standard two-prong detachable power cord plugs into the back as well. Despite the thin panel, Sony managed to fit the entire power supply inside the monitor shell.
Sony doesn't bundle a remote control
The back is also where you'll find the display's controls, six long buttons for power, input select, volume up and down, opening menus and changing between 3D modes respectively. Since the power button is larger than the others, and the volume up key has a raised dot, they're not too hard to figure out in the dark, and there are on-screen visual cues too. There is one annoying problem, though — when pressing them, your fingers occupy the same physical space as the HDMI cables. I'm not sure why Sony decided to have everything on the right and leave the left rear side entirely blank, but the result is that you'll have to cram your fingers in every time you want to adjust volume, brightness or switch between your console and computer. The power button's a likely candidate, too.
The PlayStation 3D Display doesn't seem to have a typical standby mode; it turns off whenever it doesn't detect a connection, but not vice versa, so you'll be hitting that power key every time your PC or PS3 wakes up. Would now be a good time to mention that Sony doesn't bundle a remote control?
Update: If you turn on "Quick Start" in the settings menu, the monitor will wake up when it detects a video signal. Thanks, All4Fun!
What the 3D Display does come with is a pair of Sony's new universal shutter glasses, and we have to admit, they're really good as such things go — lightweight, fairly unobtrusive, fairly solid and durable. They also seem to be circularly polarized, as we were able to block our secondary computer monitor even with the glasses turned off. We were pleased with the wireless sync too. Whenever we were within a line-of-sight of the emitters, even at extreme angles, the glasses would stay in sync, and you'll never need to switch the glasses completely off unless you're putting them away. As long as they're in idle mode, the infrared signal will automatically turn on the shutters when 3D content begins, and turn them off again afterwards. Unfortunately, we weren't able to test the glasses with any rival manufacturer's televisions during the review period, but Sony says they work with Samsung, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, and Sharp IR emitters as well.
Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Let's start with the good: in a dark room, from a slight distance, with the 3D turned off, Sony's 24-inch LED-backlit 1920 x 1080 screen is bright without being washed out, fairly pretty and displays loads of detail. In a world where even large televisions max out at 1080p, those pixels look great crammed into a 24-inch display at the distances you'll likely be sitting when playing home consoles. The colors aren't incredibly vibrant, but the blacks are decently dim, and I truly enjoyed watching a few Blu-rays and playing a wide variety of titles on it. There also doesn't seem to be much noticeable input lag — my Street Fighter IV playing buddy had no trouble pulling off FADC Ultra combos.
Now for the bad: if you don't have a mirror in your dorm room, the PS Display will happily serve that purpose too. The screen is so painfully reflective that in a moderately lit room, the glare can interfere with your game. The screen's bright enough to work pretty well in a fairly dim man cave, but if there's any chance your roommate will insist on opening the window across from your dorm room desk, you might as well give up on the PlayStation 3D Display.
Does your dorm room need a mirror?
As you might imagine, the glare problem is exacerbated by Sony's 3D shutter glasses, which (by definition) filter out a significant amount of the screen's light to do their thing leaving less to penetrate the glare, and it doesn't help that the glasses themselves are also highly reflective. If your head isn't wide enough, you can see what's behind you as if you had a pair of car side mirrors attached to your skull, and it can be distracting to have that in your peripheral vision while you're trying to concentrate on a game. In short, 3D is only a compelling option when the lights are off.
The PlayStation 3D Display is actually the second personal stereoscopic peripheral out of Sony this month, after the HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer I reviewed earlier this week. Though this monitor can't hold a candle to those zany $800 cyborg goggles when it comes to the third-dimension, it does indeed have a little less ghosting / crosstalk than some of the Sony 3DTVs we've previously seen. I had to turn down the effect pretty far in Uncharted 3 to keep Nathan Drake from having a yellow aura, and the same for our vehicles in the bundled MotorStorm Apocalypse. Meanwhile, the Shadow of the Colossus HD remake actually felt more detailed in three dimensions than in two... though that might technically have more to do with the fact that the game normally upscales to 1080p, while it plays at the crisper native 720p resolution in 3D mode.
Stereoscopic 3D is definitely still an acquired taste, and the flicker of active shutter glasses doubly so (even the minimal flicker on these 240Hz models), but I have to say that 3D really can add something to games if you like the effect to begin with.
Playing Child of Eden — a psychedelic rhythm-based shooter where you dive through a virtual reality destroying viruses — was a totally different experience in 3D mode, with a tremendous sense of depth and greatly heightened immersion as you fire beams of light deep into the background to destroy foes, and fend off glittering projectiles coming right for you. Killzone 3 initially suffers from an uncomfortably low resolution — jagged enough you could almost mistake it for a PS2 game — but there's something about lining up the front and rear sights of a 3D weapon (and better estimating where thrown grenades are going to land) that 2D can't replace. Admittedly, the PS3's library of 3D titles is still a little sparse, but it's growing fast, with many high profile titles getting the treatment and even a few older games getting patched.
SimulView and PC
While SimulView works great, there are loads of caveats
The shutter glasses also afford the PS Display another neat trick: SimulView. In compatible games, you can play a split-screen multiplayer session with a friend where each of you get the full screen to yourself and can't see what the other person is doing. How is that possible? It works the same way as 3D, with the television alternating left and right frame images, each of which get filtered appropriately, except with SimulView, one pair of glasses has *both* lenses set to the "left eye," and the other pair sets both to the "right eye," so you each see different things. You can even tap the power button on your glasses to quickly switch perspectives. Unfortunately, while SimulView works great, there are loads of caveats. You'll still need a dark room, and since the PS Display only comes with one pair of shades, you'll need to shell out $70 for a second set. Also, while it would be totally awesome to use SimulView to switch between two different consoles or your PS3 and PC, you can't do that here. Right now, it's restricted to Sony titles, and only Killzone 3, MotorStorm Apocalypse and Gran Turismo 5 support the feature so far.
Speaking of the PC, I spent a considerable amount of time with the PlayStation 3D Display as my primary computer monitor (I'm typing on it right now) but I wasn't universally impressed by the screen. Smaller fonts feel compressed, and viewing angles are not so great. Even if you're standing directly in front of the panel, if you get within two feet, you can see a shimmer on both the left and right sides of the screen and colors wash out slightly. It's not a big deal when watching video, but it's annoying. Also, fans of higher refresh rate monitors will have to look elsewhere, as neither Windows nor my ATI video could would let me push the monitor higher than 60Hz. 3D works fine, though, so long as you've got some PC drivers or a native HDMI 1.4a game, and I enjoyed the way Deus Ex: Human Revolution's weapons looked in three dimensions that way.
Audio quality is slightly above average for speakers built into a TV. They don't sound great. Sony advertises that the PlayStation 3D Display has a built-in subwoofer, but I put my hand against the frame while playing bass-heavy tunes, and I was hard-pressed to feel much of anything. Honestly, the sound's good enough for the dorm room, and clearer than I thought it'd be, but rather flat without the low frequencies and it can get harsh in the high range. Unfortunately, if you want better audio, you'd be better off intercepting it at the source then using the terrible headphone jack here. When I plugged in my Grados, I was greeted by constant white noise and an additional layer of muddiness in all my tunes. I copied the exact same files to my PC and used my built-in motherboard jack with the same headphones, and the music was much clearer.
The sound is good enough for the dorm room
If you don't love stereoscopic 3D, you might do better elsewhere
Sony's built a lot of value into the PlayStation 3D Display, and if you plan to take advantage of all it has to offer, $500 is a compelling price. If you don't love stereoscopic 3D, though, you might do better elsewhere. Today, you can get an IPS screen for less money, with HDMI and DVI inputs for your computers and consoles as well as creature comforts like an adjustable stand, and even if your heart's set on 3D, you can find 120Hz 3D monitors with shutter glasses and genuine HDMI 1.4 inputs for the same price Sony is asking here. If it had some of Sony's audio expertise, or a built-in TV tuner, or smarter design, it could be a must-buy. As is, it's a good pick for the 3D lover's comfortably dark den, but merely a decent choice for the rest of us.