If you're a fan of 3D movies in the theater and want a gift that will bring an undeniable wow factor, a 3D HDTV will deliver. You'll pay a premium of at least $300 over a non-3D capable, you will wear dark glasses indoors and you'll be limited in entertainment, but 3D is the ultimate new TV feature.
If the TV has 3D capability, it will also have the full complement of TV extras, including Internet connectivity, HDMI ports, full HD and a super-fast 240Hz refresh rate. A 3D TV may also offer 2D to 3D conversion, so an ordinary program gets the 3D treatment. Don't expect the bounce-in-your-face effects as made-for-3D content for converted content, but it will be noticeable.
3D TVs are available from Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, LG, Toshiba and Vizio. Sizes begin at 40 inches. Smaller 32-inch and 37-inch sets will be available from Samsung next year, despite the company's statements that when it comes to 3D, bigger is better.
On the other end of the size spectrum, Panasonic has announced a 103-inch 3D TV priced at around $112,000, but a 55-inch model is the size most audiovisual enthusiasts recommend for 3D home theater. Expect to pay around $2,000 for a Vizio at Sam's Club and up to around $2,600 for a Sony Bravia at Best Buy.
Plasma's edge over LCD
Plasma technology has never suffered from the lags and judder associated with LCD TVs, which makes it better suited to 3D imaging.
"Plasma TVs are better at displaying 3D images than LCD sets, primarily because they exhibit less ghosting, or double images that appear even when wearing 3D glasses," according to tests conducted by Consumer Reports.
And, like their 2D counterparts, plasmas are simply less expensive. What you might sacrifice in weight and a super-slim profile can be made up with better performance and lower price.
For instance, a 50-inch 3D plasma from Samsung is priced at $1,439 compared to a 46-inch 3D LED LCD from Samsung at $2,000. Both are available at Best Buy.
The 3D chain
Just like HDTV, every component in the 3D chain must be 3D compatible. Along with a 3D capable TV and compatible glasses, you'll need a 3D Blu-ray player to watch movies in 3D and you'll need 3D content from your cable or satellite provider. Each component must be connected with the newer 1.4a HDMI cables.
If you own one of the 39 million Sony PS3 gaming consoles sold to date, you've got a 3D compatible Blu-ray player. Sony's October firmware upgrade included compatibility with new 3D standards, making it the only Blu-ray manufacturer to update its equipment.
Don't expect big discounts on 3D TVs over the holidays, though. Retailers will take a loss on older products to make room for 2011 inventory, but they can pass through 3D goodies from manufacturers to their customers and still retain their margins. Look for free add-ons with the purchase of a 3D TV, which can add up to $400 or more in savings.
Panasonic's "Avatar" 3D promotion launches Dec. 1. Buy any size Panasonic (plasma) Viera 3D TV and receive "Avatar" in 3D and two pairs of 3D glasses.
Now through Dec. 4 at Amazon.com, buy a qualifying Samsung 3D HDTV and Amazon will throw in a free Blu-ray 3D player plus Samsung's 3D Starter Kit, complete with two pairs of glasses and "How to Train Your Dragon" on Blu-ray 3D Disc.
Also from Amazon, buy a 46-inch or 55-inch Sony Bravia 3D TV and receive a 160 GB Sony PS3 gaming system/3D Blu-ray player and Sony's starter kit with two pairs of active glasses, a 3D transmitter and a copy of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" in 3D. Ends on Nov. 20.