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A Glance at 2010's 3-D TVs (No Dumb Glasses Required)

If you paid any attention to the news coming out of this year's CES, you heard about, and possibly already condemned, the multitude of 3-D televisions to be released in the coming year. Instead of playing blackjack or pigging out at the buffet, we spent our days in Vegas running from one end of the Convention Center to the other, only stopping to don funny glasses and dodge flying cartoons.

Reviewing those TVs was no simple task. For one, as Engadget explained in depth, the very nature of "3-D" has not yet been determined, nor met any sort of industry consensus. And since there are no definitively "3-D" Blu-ray discs, for instance, it's hard to peg the definitively "3-D" TV. In a word, our experience watching one of those demonstrations hinged as much on the TV as it did the Blu-ray player as it did the Blu-ray disc as it did the movie, itself.

Regardless of what we thought about it, though, 2010 will see 3-D come to the living room (or somebody's living room, anyway). So, relax. Accept it. Take comfort in the fact that we've compiled this detailed list of the major manufacturer's offerings. While we aren't hopping on the bandwagon quite yet, we are optimistic that, over the next year or so, 3-D television will become well worth wearing those silly spectacles.

Mitsubishi

Well ahead of the pack, Mitsubishi has been touting its WD-82737 3-D-ready television for months now. It's been available to anyone with $3,300 to spare, but -- until now -- hasn't been able to deliver the 3-D it's promised. Enter the 3DC-1000 3-D converter. Powered by RealD technology, the converter presented us with powerfully immersive 3-D images. Scenes from Disney's 'A Christmas Carol' were beautifully detailed, yet still had enough of that jump-out quality to keep things exciting. We didn't get a chance to see any live action footage on the set, but the CGI animation was among the best we saw.

Date of availability: Available now (WD-82737); TBA (3DC-1000)
Price: $3,300 (WD-82737); TBA (3DC-1000)


Toshiba

What appeared to be a small, futuristic village on the CES floor was, in fact, the display for Toshiba's new Cell TV. Running 3-D at 1080p HD, the set delivered both 'How to Train Your Dragon' and Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' in brilliant color and dramatic 3-D, thanks to Toshiba's BDX3000 3-D Blu-ray player. While the 3-D elements of the CGI 'How to Train Your Dragon' were nicely detailed, 'Alice' did suffer from some of the layering that plagued so many of the live-action demos we watched. In what we're calling the pop-up book effect, the movie's 3-D landscape seems to be occupied by 2-D characters and objects. For example, Johnny Depp might appear to be standing out in front of a forest, but his outstretched arms don't appear to be out in front of his torso.

The Cell TV also offers upconversion, by which it converts traditional 2-D media into 3-D, but here another problem arises. We've dubbed this one the shelf effect. Here, the TV seems to, as a rule, make the bottom quarter of the screen jut out at you. As a result, perspective inconsistencies abound. For instance, if an actor happens to be partly above the quarter-screen line and partly below it, his body will appear misshapen. It seems that Toshiba has quietly acknowledged this shelf effect, as the finale of its upconversion demo reel was footage of -- believe it or not -- a store shelf. At its best, though, the Cell TV delivers CGI films in vivid, naturalistic 3-D. Plus, it's able to stream video via a wireless connection, and correct the image so as to make all your favorite YouTube videos noticeably less grainy and pixelated. It's a strong candidate.

Date of availability: TBA (Cell TV); Third quarter (BDX3000)
Price: TBA (both)

Sony

More than any other manufacturer, Sony dove into 3-D at CES. The coming year will see the release of five Sony 3-D products: three Bravia TVs (two of which will require a separate 3-D infrared emitter), one Blu-ray player, and a PS3 firmware update. While the two Bravias in need of the emitter (the XBR-HX800 and XBR-HX900) were not showing 3-D at CES, Sony's top of the line XBR-LX900 was. As 'Polar Express' poured out of Sony's BDP-S770 Blu-ray player and into the LX-900, we sat transfixed. Platters of food flew across the dining car, and we ducked; cups of soup soared through the air, and we squirmed. The details were stellar and the 3-D dramatic. Unfortunately, our experience with live-action clips, like one from 'Final Destination 3-D,' was not so remarkable. Much as it was with the Cell TV, the pop-up book effect was strong here, and the 3-D's treatment of a crowd scene distracted us from the film much more than it pulled us into it.

Strongest in Sony's stable is surely the updated PS3. Compatible with any 3-D set, so long as it supports HDMI 1.4, the firmware update brought true-depth, highly detailed 3-D to 'Super Stardust HD.' The 3-D effects in that game, as well as those in a racing game, were the finest, most natural we saw at CES. We'll go ahead and say it now: if 3-D television winds up having any application, it will be for video games. And the PS3 looks like it will offer steep competition to other potential consoles.
Date of availability: Summer (all)
Price: TBA (all)

Panasonic

One of the four manufacturers on our list that called upon the firm RealD for 3-D technology, Panasonic stands apart from the other three. Although animation wasn't as exciting on Panasonic's Viera as it was on most of the other TVs, the Viera did treat live action footage better than any other set did. The same 'Final Destination 3-D' crowd scene that looked so bizarre on Sony's Bravia was considerably more natural on the Viera. By the same token, a stock car race was thrilling and realistic at the same time; while a head-on shot had the headlights nearer your face than it had the windshield, for instance, the distance between cars made good sense, too. We foresee the Viera as being a strong venue for sports programming.

Of course, before it can do that, it'll need good 3-D sports programming. Sadly, DirecTV doesn't seem ready to offer that quite yet. Although the Panasonic did display a DirecTV 3-D soccer match more naturally than did the Samsung, for instance, the broadcast's layering and perspective problems convinced us we'll be sticking with HD programming for a while.
Date of availability: Spring
Price: TBA

Samsung

Also employing RealD technology, Samsung will release three 3-D TVs in 2010: the 7000 series, the 8000 series, and the 9000 series. The 9000, Samsung's top of the line, boasts an extra-slim construction (0.3 inches deep, to be exact) and a proprietary 3-D processor. On Samsung's BD-C6900 Blu-ray player, CGI films like 'Shrek' were impressive with considerable depth. Meanwhile, the 9000's upconversion feature was the best we saw. It took a gentler approach to bringing 2-D into the third dimension, resulting in a more subtle 3-D with relatively little of the shelf effect. Again, as with Panasonic's Viera, DirecTV broadcasts looked pretty rough.
Date of availability: TBA (all)
Price: TBA (all)

JVC

Of all the TVs we watched, JVC's GD-463D10 (which also features RealD technology) was the only one to use passive glasses (the old-school, paper kind). It's also the only fully 3-D TV on our list that's currently on the market. (It can be had for *gulp* $9,153.) Sadly, the JVC was probably the bottom of our pile. While a looped demo of an aquarium scene did offer a very 3-D, very grabbable seahorse, it struck us as more gimmicky than anything else. Meanwhile, a 3-D rendition of a U2 concert was flat-out bad. The pop-up book effect was present in its most extreme form, resulting in bizarro-world perspectives. Although Bono was much nearer our nose than drummer Larry Mullen Jr., the latter was nearly the same size as the former, making the poor percussionist look like a giant.
Date of availability: Available now.
Price: $9,153

LG

Apparently competing with Samsung for the thinnest 3-D TV, LG will be shipping its 0.3-inch deep LE9500 this year. Unlike the Samsung, this model doesn't try to upconvert from 2-D to 3-D, but it is ready and willing to take a wireless broadband connection. (If 3-D TV is the big thing in television this year, streaming TV is second biggest.) Run through the LG Network Blu-ray 3-D player, the LE9500 displayed 'Cars' in vivid 3-D. In a way similar to the Panasonic, the LE9500 delivered strong, immersive 3-D without much of that jump-out-and-grab-you quality. That said, the LE9500 seems to be a contender, with the added bonus of its streaming abilities.
Date of availability: TBA
Price: TBA



Other


We saw more than just TVs, too. On one side of the spectrum was RealView's V-Screen, an overlay screen that claims to upconvert your regular old TV to full-on 3-D glory. Resembling nothing more than a bubble of Plexiglas, the V-Screen, when placed over your TV or PSP, makes it look like you're looking at your TV or PSP, well, through a bubble of Plexiglas. Better luck next year, RealView.






On the other side was the Alioscopy overlay screen and animation software, powered by the Intel Core i7. Together, they delivered powerful 3-D without those goofy goggles. The screen isn't geared toward consumers. In order to produce a 3D effect the source material must be specially rendered computer animation, but it does deliver what may be the most immersive 3-D we've seen. Since the unit's demo reel was made to be functional, not artistic, it's hard to tell just how amazing it could be in the right creative hands.

So, What's the Story?

All in all, 3-D has some significant hurdles to clear. Before they do anything else, manufacturers and developers need to come up with some good tailor-made content, decide on a normalized format, and clear up some of the visual weirdness that was all too common at CES. On top of that, they'll need to confront the fact that watching 3-D is physically painful for some viewers; at CES, we heard far too many reports of headaches and burning eyes. If and when those initial impediments are overcome, though, you can bet your HDTV that we'll put up with a little astigmatism for some true-depth 3-D football. Those smoky sports bars we frequent ain't comfortable for the eyes, anyway.

Tags: 3d-tv, 3dtv, features, televisions, top

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