Viewing 3D Movies on a Mac Without a 3D Display

There are a lot of 3D SBS or side-by-side movies on the Web, but is it possible to enjoy them without springing for a 3D monitor? The short answer is yes, and the only thing you will need apart from your Mac that you might not have is some cheap cardboard red/cyan 3D glasses. Even cool plastic ones are available very cheaply.

In this article we cover using free software like VLC and Bino on the Mac along with red/cyan anaglyph glasses to view 3D content without expensive equipment.

3D is back and in a big way. A lot of 3D technologies have been tried along the way, but the most persistent, and one of the oldest technologies, was the red/cyan anaglyph glasses method which was very popular when 3D was a big deal the first time around in the 1950s.

If you don’t have any kind of 3D display, it is a little bit annoying to be surrounded by so much 3D content that you can’t access. But with a little effort you can at least have a taste of the 3D experience without shelling out for a lot for expensive new equipment.

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Take a pair of paper red/cyan glasses and get ready to convert any side-by-side or SBS 3D movies you find into something you can view on any monitor.

The two main problems you will face as a budding 3D converter is that:

  1. they are SBS or side-by-side videos. Left and right eyes side-by-side in the frame, and
  2. most SBS videos are designed to be watched on 3D TVs, so they are anamorphically squeezed. The TV usually takes care of squishing them back into proper aspect ratio widescreen images.

So in order to view these SBS files on a normal monitor we need to process them in the way a 3D TV does.

Converting movies from SBS to an integrated format like red/cyan involves considerable loss of quality plus TIME because it takes ages to process. But the good news is the software out there helps you view these videos without conversion.

The is one you probably already have. That useful little cross platform workhorse, VLC, is a common video viewer program, and hidden away in one of its configuration menus is a method for displaying 3D videos in an anaglyph or red/cyan format.

To load a video directly from YouTube, find the video you want, like this LG 3D TV Demo, and copy the URL with “Command + C.” To open a network stream, choose “File -> Open Network” or “Command + N” and paste the URL into the field with “Command + V.’

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Next go to “Window -> Video Effects” or “Command + E.” On the Miscellaneous tab, check the Anaglyph checkbox. The movie is now in red/cyan 3D, ready to be viewed full screen on your monitor with the red/cyan glasses.

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Sadly, there are no options for monochrome or other colour adjustments, but it’s a good basic anaglyph treatment for SBS videos peeled right off the Web without any download.

Okay, the quality is also a little reduced from the processing, and there is a microscopic delay between eyes sometimes, and yes if the source has a lot of red and blue you get some very disconcerting differences of opinion between eyes. But it’s 3D, and it’s free.

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By far the best tool in the Mac user’s arsenal for 3D video is the Bino viewer which allows you to switch on the fly from SBS to red/cyan or even amber/blue 3D in real time, allowing you to show your 3D movies on any kind of display and directly out of the Mac, no conversion or processing required.

The drawback is that although Bino has a URL Open function like VLC, it’s not able to open YouTube videos, so if you want to view SBS videos, you have to download them. It’s not impossible to download YouTube videos; it’s just difficult, and that’s perhaps a talk for another time.

Once you have your SBS video, load it into Bino, and then you have a lot of drop-down menus to adjust how Bino processes the images. The best settings for input are “left/right half width” for the side-to-side video, and you can choose from the colour processing options below for output.

Red/Cyan glasses, monochrome

Best quality and least crosstalk because the only colors present are the anaglyph separations for left and right eyes.

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Red/Cyan glasses, half colour

Second best quality, same as above, but a little color added back in to suggest the colors of things.

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Red/Cyan glasses, full colour

Worst quality – all the color but more crosstalk. Use if you want the color and don’t care about weird color clashes.

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Red/Cyan glasses, Dubois

A compromise of color and 3D with muted colors which maximize color and minimize crosstalk.

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There are also options for green/magenta, amber/blue and red/green if you have those kinds of glasses.

The drawback to both of these programs is of course the processing time, and on a reasonably new Mac, the delay is small, but it’s just enough for you to get a tiny bit of lag between eyes. Also, if there is a lot of processing going on, there can be a slight delay between sound and picture. These things don’t add up to a great lack of enjoyment, but they mean the red/cyan glasses are not a full quality replacement for real 3D monitors or projectors; they are merely a stopgap free solution until you can afford a better one.

Tip: Obviously the best sort of 3D movies to do this with would be black and white movies, as this is what the red/green format was designed for. Color movies suffer from a LOT of “crosstalk,” that is to say color disturbance between the left and right channels. But they are good enough. If you are going to watch 3D movies, it is preferable to make them black and white for the best effect.

So enjoy your free 3D movies, and let us know how you get on in the comments below.