3D television is the Next Big Thing — at least if you believe television manufacturers like Samsung, Sony and Panasonic, which are bringing a range of 3D TVs to market in coming months. Not all 3D televisions are equal though, with manufacturers releasing both plasma and LED 3D TVs. Then there's the matter of the active shutter 3D glasses, 3D Blu-ray player and 3D Blu-ray discs required to round out the whole package. We've put together an overview of the current state of 3D technology, to help you decide whether it's time to upgrade from your 2D TV.
If you're picking out a new television and want to work out what's best for you, read through our LCD vs LED vs plasma TV buying guide. Confused about the difference between HDMI and DVI, component and composite? Our giant cable buying guide will set you straight.
Regardless of whether a 3D TV uses an LED-backlit LCD or a plasma panel, it must be able to display video at a high frame rate. Samsung and Sony's 3D televisions use either a 200Hz or 400Hz frame interpolation mode, while Panasonic's plasmas have a higher 600Hz refresh rate due to the characteristics of plasma TVs. This high frame rate is important because 3D video footage is made up of two separate 2D video streams shifted slightly from each other when displayed on-screen.
The only special feature that 3D televisions have that's not available in normal televisions is the ability to display video content at an extremely high frame rate. The television decodes the specialised video stream from a 3D Blu-ray disc and displays each frame in synchronisation with its bundled pair of "active shutter" 3D glasses.
3D televisions are also able to display regular video just like 'normal' plasma, LCD and LED screens. They're actually even better at it than most TVs — all the tricky modern circuitry and high frame rate display abilities mean they're able to display video smoothly and without flickering.
So far, 3D televisions are looking surprisingly cheap. Sony hasn't announced pricing for its HX900, HX800 and LX900 LED televisions but Samsung's 3D LED television, the 40in UA40C7000, is only $2899. The 50in PS50C7000 is even cheaper at $2499 (and it's a bigger screen)! Panasonic's 50in VIERA TH-P50VT20A plasma will cost $3299 when it hits store shelves in June.
If you watch 3D video without a television's bundled active shutter glasses on, you'll only see a blurry and indistinct mess. What 3D glasses do is to block the vision from each of your eyes when alternating frames are shown on the television — when the 3D television displays a frame that's intended for your right eye, the 'active shutter' in the lens of the 3D glasses will close and block the vision from your left eye.