Dear Big Picture Big Sound,
I've been hearing a lot (and seeing a bunch of ads) about the new 3D TV technology. I'm in the market for a new HDTV but I'm on the fence about 3D. Do you still need to wear the glasses all the time? And what happens if I just want to watch regular TV shows and sports? I'm looking for a new TV that does Netflix but I'm not so sure about 3-D. Any suggestions? Any bargains out there on 3D TVs right now for Cyber Monday or are they all super-expensive?
-Dimensionally Challenged in Delaware
We've heard this question a lot from readers and from friends and family. The TV manufacturers are pushing 3D big time, but is it really something you need? Maybe, maybe not. But there are some good reasons to consider it, if you're buying a new TV.
It's a Feature
First of all, 3D TV is not really a whole new category or class of TVs, it's a feature. And like most any other feature, it can be turned on or off. When not watching 3D content, all 3D-equipped TVs function like regular 2D TVs. In fact, for a TV to properly support 3D, it will usually meet higher specs (higher refresh rates, better motion reproduction, better contrast). It turns out that it's actually pretty difficult to produce a clean crisp 3D image, so improvements had to be made to plasma, LCD and LED technology in order to support 3D. These performance improvements carry over to the set's 2D performance. Samsung's highest performance LED TV models all include the 3D feature as do those from Panasonic, LG and Sony. So if you're shopping for the best HDTV you can buy, chances are good that it will also include 3D capabilities.
I Stream, You Stream
You mentioned Netflix. This is only one provider in a new set of features referred to some as IPTV, Internet TV or "Smart TV." Basically it entails the ability for a TV to connect to the internet (and in some cases, the home network) to deliver content to your TV. Advancement in broadband services at home have enabled providers like Netflix, Amazon VOD and VUDU to deliver high definition movies to your TV instantly, in some cases in 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus surround sound. These internet features vary from provider to provider, but are usually available in only the higher end models. These models also normally include 3D. So if you're looking for streaming and excellent picture performance, the 3D feature may just come along for the ride.
Welcome to the Future
While it's true that there isn't much native 3D content today (although DEG has promised that we'll see at least 40 Blu-ray 3D titles by the end of the year), more titles should be released in 2011 and beyond as the 3D TV models make their way into consumers' homes. Avatar, the top grossing film of all time is coming to Blu-ray 3D on December 1, though it will be an exclusive for Panasonic 3D TV owners at first. Also, 3D channels and shows are making their way onto more and more cable and satellite providers' channel line-ups, so the content is coming, albeit slowly. And since a 2D TV cannot be upgraded to support 3D, purchasing a set now that includes 3D capabilities is a good hedge for the future to keep your set upwardly compatible. When you're not watching 3D content, just store your glasses on a shelf somewhere and enjoy watching TV in standard 2D mode. And as for affordable large screen 3D TVs without glasses, the major manufacturers all agree that these are at least 5 to 10 years away.
OK, well not free, but the incentives and bundles on 3D TV models are pretty compelling. If we compare two comparable 2010 model year high performance 50-inch 1080p HDTV models, Panasonic's TC-P50G25 and TC-P50GT25, where the only major difference between the two is the 3D feature, we'll see that the price discrepancy is not that significant. The 2D-only TC-P50G25 is currently selling on Amazon for $1059.93*. The 3D-enabled TC-P50GT25 is currently selling for $1599.98, but for this price you also get a 3D bundle that includes a DMP-BDT100 Networked Blu-ray 3D player, two pairs of 3-D glasses and Avatar on Blu-ray 3D Disc. This little bundle of goodies is worth over $600 at retail. So, with the bundle, we're seeing that the cost of the TV itself is not much more than the 2D only version. And Panasonic is not the only manufacturer offering this type of bundle. In fact all of the major TV manufacturers are offering similar bundles. See our list of current 3D TV bundles for more details.
Update: The 3D-ready TC-P50GT25 is now being sold on Amazon without the bundle for under $1000 delivered, making this 3D TV an even more compelling deal.
Of course, there are less expensive models available, some of which include Internet streaming features, but getting 3D today is a good way of making sure that you're ready for the future. And it's a fun way to make movie night at home a bit more special.
Hope that helps,
*The TC-P50G25 currently comes with a free soundbar on Amazon, but the price was approximately the same before this bundle was offered.