I'm a skeptic who's seen every consumer-grade 3D TV in existence from manufacturers like Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony. I've seen OLED 3D, plasma 3D, LCD 3D and LED LCD 3D. And I've finally made up my mind on the matter.
Even though every technology coming to market this year requires glasses, even though 90% of 3D implementation is unwatchable, even though the tech will inevitably be dated within the next few years...
I would buy a 3D TV this year.
(Now realize there are about a thousand caveats to that statement, which is what this entire piece is really about.)
There is only one TV I've seen—out of very, very many—that captivated me like Avatar on IMAX. While most of the time I couldn't wait to pull the glasses off my face, LG's 60-inch plasma prototype, slated to be a real product later this year, sort of rocked my world with nearly flicker-free performance. Panasonic's Viera V Series TVs, using similar methods on paper (plasma with shutter glasses), was a close second, as it strobed more. And I'm still curious as to why that was the case—whether it was shutter glasses, the lighting environment, the source material (the LG showed more animation, which looks great in 3D) or the display itself that made the difference.
Not trusting my own eyes, I sent two other members of Giz to look at each set as well. They didn't see a difference. So I'm willing to call Panasonic and LG a tie.
As for OLED and LCDs—what you see from companies like Sony, Toshiba and Sharp—the image strobes AND the motion is choppy (imagine a low frame rate video game on top of flickering film). Those techs are a complete pass. (I know, OLED is supposed to be great. In 3D, it most certainly isn't.)
Without fail, the bigger the 3D, the better the illusion. Anything under 50 inches is basically a joke, unless it's your computer monitor or something. And I will say, even though Vizio's XVT Pro television wasn't my favorite experience (it's an LCD and thereby less smooth), the fact that it was 72-inches meant that a plane's wing almost hit me in the nose.
LG told me that the 3D-capable version of their plasma set will only be a $200 premium over the non-3D version. I'm willing to pay that extra cost as an idiotic early adopter, knowing that the television is a nice HDTV when it's not showing 3D. Of course, to be completely fair, that $200 premium applies to a premium set to begin with, not a bargain bin TV that many of us settle for out of sanity.
Even in some content utopia where I could watch everything I ever wanted in 3D (right now, we're limited to promises from Blu-ray, select broadcasters and some DirecTV), I wouldn't choose to with the current glasses/TV setup. Even the best experience I had was tiring, and unless I'm really getting something special from meticulously produced media (like movies, or maybe even video games), I'm going to do what I do best when watching television: be lazy. For hours. Eye strain is a major concern.
Back to that content point for a moment, every movie that Pixar is making from here on out promises to be in 3D. Video games should be somewhat turn-key to make the 3D transition as they'd like. And Hollywood is definitely pushing 3D. But within 2010, it's tough to envision a lot more than extremely limited broadcast and yet another viewing of the inevitable Avatar Extra Special Edition Blu-ray.
If I weren't looking for a new TV already, 3D alone wouldn't sway me to plop down a few grand—at least not today—a decision influenced by both the imperfect experience and the limited media. It'd be nice to have, sure. But most people can and will wait, I'd bet.
One manufacturer let me in on a secret—the LCDs on the CES show floor are mostly refreshing at 4ms. But by the time these TVs ship, they'll be refreshing at 3ms, thanks to an industry-wide chemical-based update in LCD panels. Plasma is on top for the moment, but 3D LCDs shouldn't be quite as bad by the time the TVs actually ship in Q3. (Though, they may still be noticeably inferior to plasma.)
So that's my view. Go ahead, heckle me and my glasses that will look stupid and dated, well, they look stupid and dated today. But watching the best 3D TVs—namely, top tier plasma—is actually a pretty amazing experience...one that might be worth the sometimes literal headaches.
And these chicks in bikinis totally agree with me.