How to buy a 3D TV

With movies, sporting events and video games going 3D, the desire to upgrade is getting stronger. We explain what you need and who will benefit most.

By Heather Camlot

If you’re life is anything like ours, you’re likely surrounded by a lot of 3D talk. The little ones can’t get enough of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, your teens complain about how unfair life is because they can’t play Call Of Duty: Black Opsin its full glory and your husband still speaks about the hockey game last December between the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens that was broadcast in 3D – even though it’s now the middle of playoff season and both teams have been eliminated.

3D television may not yet be the home entertainment standard, but the hype is heating up. “With the increasing success of the 3D experience in movie theatres and with the tremendous support by Hollywood studios to deliver the best movie outing available, it was imminent that the 3D experience would find its way into our homes,” explains Manuel Briceno, associate product manager, Samsung.

Here’s what you need to know before you buy.

Choosing a 3D television

The first thing you’ll have to consider is the 3D television itself, which along with 3D content can also impressively broadcast 2D content. 3D TVs are available with both plasma or LCD screens ( for the latter, a 120 Hz refresh rate is the minimum, but 240 Hz will provide smoother imagery), and many offer various internet-connected services to stream movies, music, Skype and more.   You can also choose a 3D-ready set and upgrade at a later time by buying a sync transmitter and glasses. Cable providers like Bell and Rogers also provide 3D ready receivers so you only need the TV and the glasses.

Choosing 3D glasses

Along with the set, you’ll need special “active shutter” 3D glasses – not the same ones you use at the movie theatre. These glasses receive a signal from the television, which displays content at 240 frames per second, telling the lenses to alternate between eyes to trick your mind into thinking it sees only one image. Some glasses come with the set, others don’t; some are rechargeable, others battery-powered. You’ll have to pick up extra pairs if you plan to watch television as a family, and you’ll have to make sure that if you hit a friend’s house for the big game that your brand of glasses is compatible with his or her television. Third-party universal glasses have been coming on the market to help these issues along.

Putting it all together

To watch Blu-Ray movies on a 3D TV, you’ll need a 3D-capable Blu-Ray player as well as a high-speed HDMI cable. “HDMI 1.4 is the latest HDMI protocol that allows the full transmission of dual 1080p content for 3D television sets,” explains Briceno. 1080p is the highest standard right now for resolution. HDMI 1.4 is a nice to have, but you can get away with a generation earlier.

Being entertained

At the moment, there are a few dozen movies that can be experienced in 3D, including Despicable Me, Tron: Legacyand The Green Hornet, with another 70 expected this year. 3D TVs can convert 2D entertainment into 3D, but the quality is inconsistent. Broadcast-wise, there isn’t much choice yet:  Americans can watch ESPN 3D, n3D (DirecTV only), Xfinity 3D (Comcast only) and 3net (a partnership between Discovery, IMAX and Sony). In Canada, pickings are slimmer; Rogers has a dedicated 3D channel (channel 900) for previews and specials, while  Bell TV offers On Demand (channel 1000) and Pay-Per-View 3D movies. Then there is a smattering of specials, like Discovery’s Last Day of the Dinosaurs (which you can still catch in 3D online) and that hockey game in December.  Still, for sports fans and gamers, 3D may be worth buying sooner rather than later. “From a personal standpoint, I strongly believe that sports fans looking for new ways to immerse themselves in the game will find the 3D experience most gratifying,” says Brineco. “And as video game developers continue to push the boundaries, gamers will find 3D game play more exhilarating.”

Top 3D TV picks

When it comes to overall quality, you want a screen that offers great 3D effect (no ghosting/double images), HD picture quality and SD picture quality. Sound quality across almost all brands is about the same, as are extra capabilities, like internet connectivity.

Our Top 4 finds are:

  • Panasonic Viera TC-P58VT25. This 58-inch full-HD 3D plasma model blew away the competition in 3D effect, the only model tested that received an excellent rating during Consumer Reports’ testing. It also received top marks for HD picture quality, versatility and remote ease of use, and received an excellent rating from CNET for “best 3D picture quality of the year.” $4,000
  • Samsung PN58C8000. The PNC8000 is another beautiful 58-inch full-HD 3D plasma screen, earning top marks from technology journalists for its high-quality images and lower price. $3,600
  • Sony Bravia. When it comes to LCD 3D TVs, Bravia to date has received the most kudos – the Top 5 LCDs tested by Consumer Reports all went to Sony. For the best possible picture, opt for 240 Hz, as with the HX929, $4,000.
  • LG Cinema 3D. New to the market, the LG LW series promises flicker-free technology that pretty much gets rid of any feelings of dizziness or eye fatigue from wearing 3D glasses. The reason – theses glasses are passive (like those at the movie theatre), so there’s no buzzing electromagnetic waves, no recharging needed and no shelling out big bucks for extra pairs. This LCD screen may just give plasmas a run for their money.  Starting at $1,600

First published May 5, 2011, on


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