HDTVs in 2011: 3D Is Coming, We Mean It

Big and small, active-shutter and polarized 3D, 3D TVs are here to stay--whether you like it or not.

Practically every HDTV manufacturer started their press conference by announcing that 3D is a big deal for them this year. However, different TV companies are planning to take their 3D emphasis in different directions. Read on for a look at how big 3D is going to be, and the different kinds of 3D TVs that will be showing up in 2011.

3D TVs Everywhere

For the majority of 2010, you couldn't buy a 3D TV without spending at least $1300 or so for a 40-inch set. 3D features were only implemented in the high-end and mid-range models, and between the 3D TV and the glasses, you might be looking and spending $600 more for a 3D than you would for a comparable 2D-only set. It wasn't until the holidays that we started seeing sub-$1000 3D TVs coming out.

In 2011, that's simply not the case. Panasonic, Vizio, Sony, LG, Samsung--all of them are releasing 3D TVs of all shapes, sizes, and price ranges upon the market this year. Even Sharp's TV lineup, which typically takes a different tack than the rest of the industry, includes a handful of 3D TVs. Even if you're a bargain-basement shopper, it'll be hard to buy a new TV that doesn't support 3D.

Active-shutter vs. Polarized 3D

3D may be big this year, but it's not necessarily the same kind of 3D you saw (and probably didn't really like) in 2010. Your new TV will either use active-shutter glasses or polarized glasses to produce a 3D image. Active-shutter glasses are the bulky, pricey 3D glasses that produce a 3D image by using LCD lenses to rapidly dim one lens, then the other, so your two eyes see slightly different images. Meanwhile, polarized 3D glasses are the kind you've seen in movie theaters: light, cheap, and somewhat similar to a pair of sunglasses. Polarized glasses don't have any electronics in the glasses themselves because the work is being done in the TV's filter, so they're easier and cheaper to manufacture and design.

Based on our hands-on with Vizio and LG's polarized 3D TVs, they're both serious contenders for the throne. Active-shutter 3D sets are often plagued by problems with flickering and "crosstalk"--images that don't seem to change quite like they should--which can make your eyes tired and make it hard to watch 3D TV for prolonged periods of time. So far, the polarized 3D sets look like the active-shutter sets without the annoying issues. Cheaper, lighter, and better-looking--what's not to like?

However, both of these technologies are still relatively new in consumer TVs, and it's entirely possible that the active-shutter glasses can come a long way yet. Also, until we see both active-shutter and polarized 3D sets tested with a wide range of commercially available content, we can't count out active-shutter glasses quite yet. After all, Sony and Samsung are both sticking exclusively to active-shutter 3D TV, and they're bound to bring plenty of improvements to the technology. Samsung is making a marked effort to make active-shutter technology more affordable, which could be just what it needs to compete with polarized 3D.

What's On In 3D?

Regardless of how nice your 3D TV is, it means exactly squat unless you have something to watch in 3D--and a few TV manufacturers are trying to help you find something to watch.

Sony and Panasonic are both pushing the 3D photo/video creation angle--For example, Sony's Bloggie pocket camcorder can do very impressive 3D video, and it's about the same size as a candybar cell phone. Both Sony and Panasonic also have high-end 3D camcorders coming out. Once people are making 3D movies and sharing them on YouTube, you'll never want for 3D content on your TV.

Sony is also leveraging their entertainment industry business experience to push for more 3D content. Besides producing movies like the Green Hornet in 3D, they've also announced that they're working on a 24-hour 3D channel with IMAX and the Discovery Channel, so you'll at least have something to watch besides a test pattern.

Check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2011.

This story, "HDTVs in 2011: 3D Is Coming, We Mean It" was originally published by PCWorld.

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