The 3-D Television Buying Guide

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These days, it seems like every company is trying to turn out a 3-D version of their product. Google is allegedly working on a 3-D tablet, Playboy’s next issue will feature a 3-D centerfold, Nintendo is releasing 3-D games and, of course, James Cameron is perfecting the art of the 3-D movie, re-releasing Titanic in 3-D after the phenomenal success of Avatar in 3-D.

However, beyond all of that, 2010 may go down as the year of the 3-D television. There are a growing number of 3-D televisions coming onto the market in the U.S. and abroad. No, they aren’t exactly cheap, but then again neither were HDTV’s at first. So even if you have no intention of buying one right now, it’s good to get a sense of what’s out there, and where the market will be heading.

What You Should Know Before Buying

As you might have guessed, 3-D televisions are more expensive than most other TVs on the market. The average price for the televisions we found was in the $2,000-$3,000 range, with some running more than that. Then again, many shoppers were willing to pay upwards of $10,000 last decade to get their hands on the new Plasma TVs.

Putting aside the price, most of the models that are on the market now require you to wear special 3-D glasses. Now, these are not your standard movie theater variety glasses. According to ArsTechnica, these glasses employ “active shutter” technology which block out one of your eyes on each alternating frame in the movie. The downside is that these glasses generally aren’t included with the TV and they can be pretty expensive (on average, about $150 a pair). The whole 3-D television experience is apparently so intense that some have issued vague health warnings about headaches and disorientation. Those that don't use glasses do require you to tilt the television to a certain angle in order to get the 3-D effect.

Not surprisingly, there is an ongoing debate about whether the world really needs or wants to upgrade to 3-D TVs right now. After all, wasn’t it just a couple of years ago that we were introduced to HDTV?

The biggest issue this time around seems to be the scarcity of content that would appear on a 3-D TV. It’s only a distinct minority of movies that are actually in 3-D and so far, only a handful games have been converted into 3-D. Yet, if history and the iPad are any indication, consumers are not opposed to buying technology for which they have no immediate use, so long as that technology looks cool enough. And whatever the flaws of this technology may be, there’s no doubt that it’s pretty cool.

Panasonic

Panasonic (Stock Quote: PC) is one of the two giants of 3-D television in the U.S. right now. (The other is the next entry on our list.) While most companies are still in the developing stages, Panasonic already has a competitive model in the U.S. market. Their Viera 3-D plasma HDTV went on sale in March exclusively in Best Buy and different sized models will be coming out this month and next. So far, it’s the only 3-D plasma TV on the market.

Right now, you can get the 50-inch model for $2,600 and the 54-inch model for $3,000 at Best Buy. The television has four HDMI inputs and can be connected to the Internet so you can stream movies and shows.

Samsung

Samsung is currently fighting with Panasonic for front-runner status in the 3-D market. The company offers multiple models including an LCD variety that comes in sizes ranging from 40 inches ($1,800) to 55 inches ($3,000), and a 58-inch plasma model that is now on sale at Best Buy for $2,700. Like the Panasonic, each of these TVs has is a 1080P and the ability to connect to the Internet. You can also find a nice deal at Amazon where you’ll get a 46-inch LCD TV with a 3-D Blu-Ray player included for $2,878.

Ultimately Gizmodo declared that Panasonic was the better buy, partly because they noticed a “ghost image” pop up “around the edges of objects” on the television, which didn’t happen on the Panasonic. Consumer Reports also declared Panasonic to be the better buy, but noted the Samsung TV “provided excellent picture detail, with satisfying colors and contrast.”

LG

Next up is LG, which is trying to enter the 3-D TV world with a bang. The company is rumored to be releasing the world’s first LED 3-D TV sometime this month (although there’s only so many days left in May. According to Best Buy, the 1080P, 47-inch TV will list for $3,500. LG also recently partnered with Microsoft (Stock Quote: MSFT), who is working on making 3-D versions of Avatar, Batman and other games for the Xbox. The two companies plan to cross-promote their 3-D devices.

Sony

Sony (Stock Quote: SNE) is slated to start selling 3-D televisions in Japan in June and will likely begin the distributing the TVs globally sometime during the summer. The company announced that the TVs will range in size from 40 inches to 60 inches, with the smallest one costing $3,200 and the largest going for twice that price. In the meantime, CNET reports that Sony is working to produce 3-D games for its Playstation console in the hopes that this might boost demand for the eventual release of their 3-D TVs.

Philips

Philips revealed its first 3-D television back in 2008 and nearly blew peoples’ minds with one feature in particular: The TV didn’t require 3-D glasses. Not only was it 3-D, but it was also a high definition TV. Yet, it’s nearly two years later and there’s still no Philips TV on sale (with the exception of one third-party seller who was eventually barred from selling the device by the company). According to BusinessInsider, one Philips executive sent a memo to his staff last year explaining that the public was just not ready yet for a 3-D TV without glasses, despite the fact that it’s awesome.

Toshiba

Toshiba’s first 3-D TV is scheduled to come out this summer. According to CNN, Toshiba’s model, which will come in 55-inch screen and 65-inch models, is unique in that it will be able to convert normal 2-D videos into 3-D. Toshiba also claims their televisions will have more processing power than the others on the market and will be able to stream videos from the Internet or store them on a special hard drive in the TV itself. More recently, Gizmodo reported that the company is also working on a smaller 21-inch 3-D TV that won’t require you to use 3-D glasses. No word yet on the prices for these televisions, but if Toshiba’s descriptions actually turn out to be true, their televisions could definitely have an impact on the market.

Mitsubishi

While Panasonic and Samsung may be getting most of the press right now, Mitsubishi has actually released more 3-D TVs over the years than either of them, and will soon turn out its fourth generation lineup. As Gizmodo points out, this time around, Mitsubishi seems to be competing by producing larger televisions, including a 73-inch model and an 82-inch model. Watching a movie on one of these TVs will probably be the closest you get to watching it on a proper movie screen. The 82-inch television is 1,080 pixels, has an HDTV tuner and is currently $3,439 at Amazon.com

Sharp

Last month, Sharp announced that it will start selling 3-D televisions in Japan this summer and to the rest of the world by the end of the year.  Not much is known about what their television will look like yet, but Sharp has announced that they are aiming to be the first to have a 3-D TV that uses four-primary-color technology. (Essentially, that just means the picture will be more vivid and prettier.)  Also, their televisions won’t require glasses.

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