AH, THE IRONY. Just when you’d finally gotten around to upgrading to HDTV, they went and changed the channel. But just so we’re clear, let’s spell out the message in three dimensions: Honest-to-goodness 3-D TV is coming to living rooms across America this summer.Credit the success of high-tech juggernauts like James Cameron’s Avatar, which has raked in more than $1 billion at the box office. Alternatively, thank TV manufacturers desperate to rekindle excitement surrounding household sets, given that their bottom line is increasingly under fire from devices like smart phones , laptops and video game consoles (each of which fits modern shoppers’ increasingly hectic, mobile lifestyles). However you slice it, get ready, because the revolution is coming — and it’s going to be televised. ESPN’s 3-D network, featuring more than 85 live sporting events, debuts June 11 with the initial FIFA World Cup match, and DirecTV will start offering three dedicated 3-D channels that same month as well. Discovery, Sony and Imax are also joining forces for a 3-D broadcast venture launching in 2011.
The big question on everyone’s minds: Will audiences really tune in? Consider that supporting sets won’t just command premium prices; most will also require the use of cumbersome (and potentially cost-prohibitive) active shutter glasses, which create the illusion of 3-D content by alternately blocking the view through each eyepiece faster than the brain can process. Plus, enjoying 3-D Blu-ray movies requires purchasing a new player. (Bitter pills to swallow for the millions of buyers who just picked up HD sets within the last 18 months.) There’s also a dearth of must-see 3-D video content — unless, of course, you’re a huge fan of the animated features Monsters vs. Aliens and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Even so, with 3-D compatibility about to be built into high-end 2-D sets from nearly every manufacturer by default, the viewership question may be moot. Thankfully, as the following cutting-edge sets — among the first to champion this technology — illustrate, there are at least some upsides to exploring the wide world of sitcoms and movies from a whole new angle. Mum’s the word on pricing so far (we’re guessing they’re holding tight to having nothing on record because the launch of the technology category as a whole is so crucial), but rumor has it that sets will go for $2,000 to $3,500 or just a few hundred dollars more than current top-end models.
Toshiba Cell TV September/ October
Employs the same processor found in the PlayStation 3 to offer a staggering array of features, from pristine picture quality to 2-D/3-D picture conversion, streaming multimedia capabilities and videoconferencing . www.toshiba.com
Sony Bravia XBR-LX900 summer
Offers speedy refresh rates (240Hz) that do away with motion blur, plus integrated 802.11n wireless networking and compatibility with a range of online-ready entertainment services such as Netflix, YouTube, NPR and Amazon Video on Demand. www.sonystyle.com
LG Infinia LX9500 spring/ summer
Wows with its svelte dimensions (think .92 inches thin), lightning-quick 480Hz refresh rates and Wii-like motion-sensing remote; and support for online content, which extends to Skype videoconferencing, could potentially transform the set into a digital communications hub. www.lge.com
Samsung UN55C7000, $3,300 (available on Amazon.com)
An energy-efficient 55-inch beauty that couples the perks of high-end 2-D (1080p high-def video output and Real240Hz silky-smooth on-screen motion-blur-reduction technology) with 3-D viewing capability and Internet connectivity. www.samsung.com
Panasonic TCPVT25 spring
Takes plasma technology and 1080p viewing into the third dimension while adding Skype support and optional Wi-Fi access via USB port. Plus, it ships with an included pair of 3-D glasses. www.panasonic.com