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Passive 3D TV Buyers Guide for 2012

By Rachel Cericola

Last year, consumers were introduced to an entirely new category of TV: passive 3D TV. While 3D TV in general wasn't exactly taking the tech world by storm, passive 3D set out to solve some of the technology's shortcomings.

A major complaint about active 3D technology has been those glasses. They're heavy, they pinch, and they never seem to be charged when you need them. Well, passive 3D TVs operate differently and have different glasses as well.

The tech used in passive 3D TVs is called Passive Pattern Retarder (PPR) or Film-Patterned Retarder (FPR). It's actually a filter in front of the TV's imaging panel which "polarizes" the image, with each alternate line of the image polarized in opposite directions (clockwise or counterclockwise).  Passive polarized glasses then decode that polarized image so each eye only sees what it is supposed to in order to create the illusion of 3D.

These polarized glasses are easy on your face and your pocketbook. They are very inexpensive and because they don't use internal or external batteries, they're very light. They also don't block the light as much as active 3D glasses, which means a slightly brighter image. Ever checked out a 3D movie at your local Cineplex? Then you've probably already used polarized 3D glasses.

Those same polarized Cineplex 3D glasses are also interchangeable with passive 3D TVs. In other words, if you buy passive 3D glasses, you can also use them at most 3D theaters.* On the other hand, why buy them when they come "free" with that inflated 3D movie theater ticket price?

LG-LM8600.jpg
Only four companies, including LG (pictured), are manufacturing passive 3D TVs this year.

Unfortunately, comfort (and being a cheapskate) comes with a price. Passive 3D TVs have yet to achieve the same picture detail seen on active 3D TVs. Active 3D boasts a full resolution image to each eye. Passive 3D TVs split that resolution, sending half to the left eye and half to the right. You may be willing to sacrifice some of that quality on a 1080p HDTV, but a 720p passive 3D set may not look as pretty when viewing 3D content.

Companies are working on improving the technology. For instance, LG is planning a 4K TV with passive 3D at some point (it was shown at CES). This higher resolution panel should look very nice in 3D mode as it will still have better-than-1080p resolution to each eye.  Until then, you may need to sacrifice a bit of picture detail for the convenience (and lower cost) of passive 3D glasses.  It is important to note that passive 3D TVs maintain full resolution in standard 2D mode, which is probably where you'll be doing most of your viewing anyway.

One other interesting difference between the two technologies lies in the viewing angles. Passive 3D TVs can be a little restrictive with vertical viewing angles. If you don't have access to the sweet spot, you may be disappointed in the 3D effects. That said, if you like to walk around while watching TV, you'll be happy to know that horizontal viewing angles are just fine.

Even though passive 3D glasses are cheaper than active, the TVs are priced about the same. Also know that even though passive and active 3D TVs operate differently, they do work with the same sources. All Blu-ray 3D players, all 3D-capable set-top boxes and all 3D-capable game consoles work with both passive and active 3D TVs.

Once you've decided on going passive, you're going to need to pick a brand. Know that the process isn't as daunting, because there are fewer brands to choose from, compared to active 3D technology. Currently, only four manufacturers are offering passive 3D TVs. Don't let that deter you; the technology is progressing. (Panasonic added a vote of confidence, announcing its first passive 3D models this year.) And hey, if it's good enough for James Cameron, it should be good enough for you.

Before you start shopping, let's take a peek at the passive 3D TV models, features and prices that manufacturers are offering for 2012.


LG

LG-LM9600_1.jpg
The LM9600 is LG's only NANO LED model.
LG has been backing passive 3D since its inception. The company has plenty of active 3D plasma TVs, but passive fans will want to check out one of the company's five 3D LED lines for 2012.

At the top is the LM9600 Series. This is the company's only NANO LED model, which includes a 1080p 2D image, full array backlighting, TruMotion 480Hz technology, built-in WiFi and four HDMI inputs. A huge hook is that it also provides access to LG's Smart TV platform, which features all sorts of web-based videos, apps, music, a web browser, and much more.

Everything above can be found in three separate screen sizes. A fourth LM9600 model is an 84-incher, which has LED Plus, an edge-lighting technology with local dimming. However, it's not that perk that will set this model apart, but a 4K resolution. That's 3840 x 2160 pixels for your eyeballs! It also means that the 3D mode will be 1080p -- something we have yet to see from any passive 3D TVs.

LM9600 Series:

  • 47LM9600 47-Inch 1080p Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP: $2899.99) - Buy it on Vanns.com
  • 55LM9600 55-Inch 1080p Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP: $3599.99) - Buy it on Amazon
  • 60LM9600 60-Inch 1080p Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP: $4199.99) - Buy it on Vanns.com
  • 84LM9600 84-Inch 4K Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon

LG will offer plenty of other LED Plus models this year, under the LM8600, LM7600 and LM6700 lines. Each series will have 47- and 55-inch sizes, a 1080p 2D image and Smart TV features.

The LM8600 is a bit of a standout, thanks to LG's Dual Core chipset and the new 4-mode Magic Remote. Other features include built-in WiFi and Mobile HD Link, which can connect portable devices to the TV. Also know that each of these sets comes with six pairs of 3D glasses, so larger families can enjoy a 3D movie night right out of the box.

LM8600 Series:

  • 47LM8600 47-Inch 1080p 240Hz Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP: $2299.99) - Buy it on Amazon
  • 55LM8600 55-Inch 1080p 240Hz Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP: $2899.99) - Buy it on Amazon

Like the models above, the LM7600 and LM6700 Series have the six pairs of 3D glasses and the built-in WiFi. Other features include four HDMI inputs and three USB ports on each, as well as the addition of the 3-mode Magic Remote.

LM6700 and LM7600 Series:

LG is pushing the LM6200 Series as its "value" line. Even though it has a lot of the perks mentioned above, the one thing is missing is the Magic Remote. If you want to add that in, though, it can be purchased as an optional accessory.

LM6200 Series:

  • 32LM6200 32-Inch 1080p 120Hz Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP: $649.99) - Buy it on Amazon
  • 42LM6200 42-Inch 1080p 120Hz Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP: $1299.99) - Buy it on Amazon
  • 47LM6200 47-Inch 1080p 120Hz Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP: $1499.99) - Buy it on Amazon
  • 55LM6200 55-Inch 1080p 120Hz Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP: $2099.99) - Buy it on Amazon
  • 65LM6200 65-Inch 1080p 120Hz Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP: $3599.99) - Buy it on Amazon

If you're looking to add the power of Google into your TV watching, LG has two Google TV models in the G2 Series. Both of the 47- and 55-inch sizes have 1080p, 120Hz TruMotion technology, built-in WiFi, four HDMI inputs and three USB ports. Each one also comes with a remote with a QWERTY keyboard and six pairs of 3D glasses.

G2 Series, Featuring Google TV:

  • 47G2 47-Inch 1080p 120Hz Cinema 3D LED HDTV with Google TV (MSRP: $1699.99) - Buy it on Amazon
  • 55G2 55-Inch 1080p 120Hz Cinema 3D LED HDTV with Google TV (MSRP: $2299.99) - Buy it on Amazon

LG has dropped the Smart TV features in the LM5800 Series. Each one of these models does have a 1080p image, 120Hz TruMotion technology, DLNA support, three HDMI ports, and one USB port. If you want one of these, though, it may be a bit of a wait. At press time, there were no prices or release dates available.

LM5800 Series:

  • 32LM5800 32-Inch 1080p Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon
  • 42LM5800 42-Inch 1080p Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon
  • 47LM5800 47-Inch 1080p Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon
  • 55LM5800 55-Inch 1080p Cinema 3D LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon

Panasonic

Panasonic-ET5.jpg
The ET5 is Panasonic's first passive 3D TV.
This year, Panasonic is dipping into the passive 3D pool, with the ET5 Series. All three sizes will have the company's new advanced LED IPS (In Plane Switching) panels, which promise better black levels and off-axis viewing. Other features include 360 backlight scanning, built-in WiFi and VIERA Connect with a web browser. Also, each of these sets will come with four pairs of 3D glasses.

ET5 Series:


Toshiba

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Toshiba's L7200 Cinema Series LED.
Toshiba is putting all of its 3D eggs into the passive basket this year. To entice viewers, there are a few other features, such as the ePortal and MediaGuide, which includes Rovi data and programming metadata. There's also a new SearchAll feature that allows users to search for content across TV channels, streaming services and the home network, via any keyword. Last, but not least, Open Browser allows users to tap into any website and has bookmark features. Both of the new lines also have features like built-in WiFi, MediaShare, and Tablet Remote App Capability (TRAC).

Now, let's get down to the actual TVs. At the top of Toshiba's 2012 crop is the L7200 Cinema Series LED. Available in two sizes, this line has a 1080p 2D image, ClearScan 240Hz technology, a bezel-less design, four HDMI inputs, two USB ports, and an HD PC input. Another nifty feature is that each model has two-way ported speakers with the Audyssey Premium Suite. Also, if you don't like fumbling through web features, this series adds in a wireless keyboard.

L7200 Series:

The other line, the L6200 Series, has a 1080p 2D image, Smart TV features, the Audyssey sound, and that bezel-less design. The big difference here though is that the ClearScan drops to 120Hz and the model drops the offer of a free keyboard.

LX6200 Series:


VIZIO

VIZIO-CinemaWide.jpg
The CinemaWide has an ultrawide 21:9 aspect ratio.
Like Toshiba, all of VIZIO's new models are passive 3D LEDs. Many of the new models aren't available just yet, but wow -- the company sure knows how to create some buzz.

Most of that buzz is hovering around VIZIO's CinemaWide HDTV line. New for 2012, this trio of TVs has an ultrawide 21:9 aspect ratio, which is almost as good as your local Cineplex. In other words, you can skip the black bars without skimping on the image.

For more fun with this wide screen, VIZIO is including an enhanced version of VIZIO Internet Apps (V.I.A.), VIZIO's web-based platform. Some of the available services include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Facebook, Twitter, VUDU, Pandora, among others. Having web goodies on the CinemaWide TV means a better view and the option to view apps alongside a full 16:9 HD image.

VIZIO is planning three models for this line. The 50- and 58-inch sets have VIZIO's Edge Lit Razor LED backlight LCD with Smart Dimming technology, with the 71-incher coming with VIZIO's Full Array TruLED backlighting with Smart Dimming. All three have built-in WiFi, a Bluetooth remote with a QWERTY keypad, and four pairs of 3D glasses in the box.

CinemaWide XVT CM Series:

  • XVT3D500CM 50-Inch 1080p 120Hz LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon
  • XVT3D580CM 58-Inch 1080p 120Hz LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon
  • XVT3D710CM 71-Inch 1080p 240Hz LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon

The R Series doesn't have an ultrawide image, but there are 47- and 55-inch models with 240 SPS technology and TrueLED and a 65-incher with Razor LED and a 120Hz refresh rate. All three have a 1080p 2D image, smart dimming, built-in WiFi, and web-based V.I.A. Plus services. Each model also comes with four pairs of 3D glasses. The 47- and 65-inch models throw in a 2-sided remote with a QWERTY keyboard, with the 55-incher packing a Bluetooth remote with a QWERTY keyboard and a touchpad.

R Series:

  • R3D470VS 47-Inch 1080p 240Hz LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon
  • R3D550VS 55-Inch 1080p 240Hz LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon
  • R3D650VS 65-Inch 1080p 240Hz LED HDTV (MSRP TBA) - Coming Soon

Available now, the M Series has three models with a 1080p 2D image, Razer LED technology, built-in WiFi and V.I.A. access. The 47-incher comes with two pairs of 3D glasses and a 2-sided remote with a QWERTY keyboard. The two larger models add in another two pairs, with the 55-incher throwing in Bluetooth and the 2-sided remote with the QWERTY keyboard. The 65-inch model, however, has an IR remote with a QWERTY keyboard.

The 47- and 55-inch models have 240 SPS technology and the 65-incher has a 120Hz refresh rate. All three sets have smart dimming, built-in WiFi, and V.I.A. access.

M Series:

Last for this year's offerings is the E Series. All three models include built-in WiFi and V.I.A. access, two pairs of 3D glasses and the 2-sided QWERTY keyboard. The 32-incher has a 60Hz refresh rate, with the other two clocking in at 120Hz.

E Series:


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* Note: movie theaters equipped with Dolby 3D do not use standard polarized 3D glasses but use a process called spectral filtering instead.

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