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Is now the time to buy a 3DTV?

The first sets are crazy expensive and there's not much to watch yet.

By Karen Datko Mar 15, 2010 10:10AM

This Deal of the Day comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.

 

Consumers in search of TV bragging rights are checking out the first 3D-ready TVs. But while the technology is stoking interest, the price tags are budget-busters and the content sparse for early adopters.

 

The first 3D-ready TVs from Panasonic and Samsung went on sale last week, just a few months after the technology drew crowds at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January, and more models are expected in coming months from LG (May), Sony (June) and Vizio (August).

 

Why the rush? Manufacturers and retailers are eager to capitalize on the success of 3D theater hits such as “Avatar” to push 3D technology into the mainstream for home theater. The digital transition prompted many consumers to buy a big-screen HDTV, so sellers have become reliant on features -- including 3D but also Internet connectivity and apps -- to continue selling sets, says Michael Gartenberg, a partner at technology consulting firm Altimeter Group in San Mateo, Calif. Also, 3D is likely to boost Blu-ray player and disc sales.

 

A January study from Deloitte found that 38% of consumers would like to watch 3D content at home, and 26% would like to play video games in 3D. But it is unclear how many will feel the urge to become early adopters. “For a lot of users, the critical mass isn’t there yet,” says Paul Semenza, a senior vice president with DisplaySearch.com, a consulting subsidiary of market research firm NPD Group. As with most emerging technologies, 3D devices will get better and cheaper with time.

Aside from price tags that top $3,000 in some cases, the other limitation with the first wave of 3D-ready sets is content. Broadcast providers and movie studios are still figuring out how to move into the field (and profit). 

 

Your TV-watching habits are likely to be the prime factor in deciding if and when to make the 3DTV switch. Here’s what to consider:

 

TV needs. 3D isn’t just pricey because it’s new technology. Most manufacturers are introducing it in models on the high end of their TV lineup, says David Wertheimer, executive director of the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. For now, only consumers already in the market for a new $2,000-plus TV may find the 3D future-proofing premium palatable.

 

For example, Best Buy has two 55-inch LED-LCD Samsung sets (1080p, 240Hz), both Energy Star-qualified with Internet connectivity, picture-in-picture capability and a range of apps including YouTube and Blockbuster on demand. The standard version is $2,500, recently knocked down from $3,800. The new 3D-ready set is currently on sale for $470 more -- $2,970 instead of the regular $3,300.

 

Content. “To go out today and buy a 3D-ready TV, there’s not a lot of content available,” says Michelle Abraham, a principal analyst with the digital entertainment group at In-Stat. DirecTV and ESPN plan to offer some broadcast content starting in June, about the same time Sony is expected to release a 3D firmware update for the PlayStation 3. Until then, buyers are limited to a handful of 3D movies, including “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “My Bloody Valentine.” Early adopters who are also avid gamers, sports fans or DirecTV subscribers may get more bang for their buck. Most broadcasters are still figuring out the business model for 3D, so bear in mind that you may need to pay extra, she says.

 

Viewing experience. Make sure the 3D experience is one you won’t get sick of -- literally. Some viewers find the 3D glasses uncomfortable. In some, the viewing prompts nausea, eye strain and headaches. Take advantage of in-store displays to try before you buy, Gartenberg says.

Number of viewers. The downside of a 3D-ready TV: Everyone wants to watch. That means purchasing enough of the pricey glasses for your family and guests, Semenza says. (Without them, the picture is unwatchably blurry.) Right now, glasses aren’t cross-compatible with other manufacturers' TVs, so factor in the cost for the total number needed when comparing sets. Panasonic, for example, includes one pair per TV and charges $150 per additional pair. Plasma screens may also be a better deal for large groups than LCD because the wider viewing angle lets people who aren’t sitting directly in front of the set enjoy the 3D view.

 

Related reading at SmartMoney:

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