In 2010, 3D made the leap from the big screen to the TV screen, as the first high-definition televisions with 3D capability hit the American market. The 3D televisions now available are top of the line models that offer many other features, such as Wi-Fi connections. The 3D is optional, so you can use them as an upscale 2D set if you prefer. Just like the movies, watching 3D television requires you wear 3D glasses. Toshiba has come out with a no-glasses 3D set for Japan, but it isn't available in the United States.
The biggest drawback to buying 3D now is that there's not much to watch. As of early 2012, 3D Blu-ray discs are the main source of 3D content for the home, but there are only a limited number of 3D DVDs available. Three-dimensional video games are another entertainment option. Sony has released firmware that will let you play them on PlayStation 3 but again, the range of titles is small. ESPN has a 3D channel available on some carriers, and other channels emphasizing documentaries and nature shows are also available. If you hook your TV to the Internet, you can find 3D material on YouTube and 3D streaming movies on Vudu. Some TV manufacturers claim their sets will convert 2D to 3D but CNet says the three-dimensional look is inferior to a true 3D film.
What You Need
Your 3D TV actually sends two slightly different two-dimensional images to your eyes that your brain combines into one three-dimensional picture. HD 3D televisions refresh the picture on screen at least 120 times a second, alternating frames set for your left and right eyes. That's why you need a new television for 3D -- older sets don't have the software to break 3D signals down into separate images. In addition to the set itself, you'll need a 3D Blu-ray player if you want to watch DVDs and a pair of 3D glasses for each user. You also need cables that meet the HDMI standard for 3D technology. If you're connecting devices to your TV with less than two meters of cable, HDMI cables rated for 1080p video will handle the signals.
Three-D television sets and the glasses that come with them are either active or passive. Active glasses use liquid crystal displays in the lenses to control which eye can see the screen. An infrared or Bluetooth emitter in the television syncs with the two 3D signals so each eye sees a different frame. Passive glasses are polarized so that each lens screens out a different portion of the image. Passive glasses are lighter and more comfortable to wear, but active lenses offer a better picture. You have to eventually replace or recharge the battery for active lenses. Active lenses can't work on passive sets -- televisions without an emitter -- and passive lenses don't pick up signals from active sets. Passive lenses are interchangeable; active lenses are manufacturer specific, but some will work on more than one brand of television. Manufacturers announced a universal active-lens standard for 2012.
In 2011 Panasonic's 50-inch 3D ST30, at $1,300, was approximately $400 more than the Panasonic 2D S30. CNet states that you'll pay at least $200 more for a 3D set than an otherwise comparable 2D model, but that will eventually become irrelevant: You find 3D on high-end models and manufacturers are moving to make all such models either 3D ready or 3D capable. The 3D-capable sets don't have an infrared connector built in so you'll have to buy one to control your active glasses. Other costs include a pair of glasses for each viewer, which typically cost more than $100 a pair in 2011. Some manufacturers provide free glasses with each set and Samsung cut the price of its glasses in 2011 to $50. Three-D cable or satellite service adds to the cost. DirecTV, for instance, says pay-per-view movies will have an additional charge in 3D but other 3D channels won't cost extra.
Three-D television tricks our eyes into seeing depth that isn't really there, and sometimes our eyes don't like it. It's a bigger problem for television or videogames than films because at home we sit closer to the screen, which makes our eyes strain harder to make sense of the images. Panasonic recommends a minimum distance of three times the screen height -- roughly six feet for a 50-inch screen -- but CNet says that depending on the particular 3D effects in the image you're watching, that's still close enough to cause headaches. Many films position 3D effects close to the surface of the image to minimize problems.
If you intend to buy an HDTV and can afford a top-of-the-line set, looking for a 3D-ready or capable set makes sense: The 2D quality and other features are first rate and you'll be able to take advantage of 3D as Hollywood provides more content. If you want a smaller set or your budget is tight, you can still enjoy great high-definition 2D images on a lower-cost model without 3D. CNet recommends you experience 3D on a TV at the showroom or take in a couple of 3D movies. Decide how much you like it and whether you think it's worth paying for a 3D-compatible set.