Ready or not, 3D TV is here. Sets from Samsung and Panasonic (PC) are already arriving in U.S. stores, and Sony (SNE), LG, Vizio, and others will join the fray in coming months. Despite 3D's success in movie theaters, it will be a while before we know whether it turns out to be must-have home technology or just a fad.
On behalf of those with more curiosity than common sense—and we know who we are—I went to B&H, the landmark New York electronics store, to figure out the right questions to ask when you hit the stores yourself. My 3D sherpa was Kevin Landry, a B&H salesman who's so into this stuff he scored an early Samsung from Korea months ago, which he's been using to view content off the Internet. Here are some of the questions he's bracing for:
Do I have to wear the glasses? Yes, whenever you watch 3D content. And you can only use glasses made for your particular TV brand. The sets work by sending signals that control shutters in the glasses, and there's no standard yet for how that happens.
How big a screen do I want? Even more than with plain old high-definition TV, you don't want to sit too close. A rule of thumb is one-third the distance from which you'll view the set—say, a 50-inch screen if you'll be sitting 12 feet away. You also don't want to sit too far to the side because the signal between the set and the glasses may drop.
LCD or plasma? In Kevin's opinion, plasma, which has been losing ground to lighter, less expensive LCDs, yields a better 3D experience. With LCDs, including LED sets, he says you should pay attention to the refresh rate, the speed at which an image is redrawn. Look for at least 240 hertz.
What will I watch? Make sure you like the picture for 2D content, because for the near future there won't be much else. ESPN is launching a 3D sports service in June, and satellite and cable providers have plans to add content. Still, the pickings will initially be sparse. You'll want one of the new generation of 3D Blu-ray players; unlike the glasses, you won't have to buy the same brand of player as your TV.
How much will it cost? Lots. B&H is selling a 55-inch Samsung set with two pairs of glasses for $2,969. Add $250 to $400 for the Blu-ray; extra glasses will run $150 to $200 a pair.
Will it make me sick? Possibly. Samsung warned of potential side effects including seizures or strokes, and pregnant women, children, and teenagers should be especially careful. Some users may also experience headaches or nausea, though that may just be an adverse reaction to 3D's cost and complexity.
The smartest thing to do right now is wait and see how 3D plays out. The second smartest is to make sure that your electronics store has a good return policy.
3D Guide: Five Things to Watch
1. ESPN 3D, launching in June with coverage of FIFA World Cup.
2. N3D, a new DirecTV channel in partnership with Panasonic featuring content from other sources, including CBS, Fox Sports, and HDNet.
3. Discovery Communications' planned 3D channel, being developed in partnership with Sony and Imax.
4. Monsters vs. Aliens Blu-ray 3D, free with Samsung TV.
5. Trailers and short films from Yabazam.com, if you connect your set to the Internet.