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Archive for Wednesday, May 19, 2010

3-D TVs: Nice feature, but little content

May 19, 2010

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There's been a lot of hype surrounding the launch of 3-D TV, but is the new technology worth buying right away? Consumer Reports recently tested several new sets in its labs — the first hands-on evaluation outside the manufacturers' facilities — and found that the sets live up to their advance billing, but the average consumer shouldn't rush out to buy one.

The results of CR's tests of two Samsung LCD sets and a Panasonic plasma TV with 3-D capability are impressive. The 3-D images had excellent depth, color, and high-definition details, creating a compelling 3-D picture as good as you might have seen at a movie theater.

However, for consumers who are satisfied with their current HDTV and aren't burning to have the latest technology, CR recommends waiting to buy. The price of 3-D TVs and Blu-ray players is likely to drop, and there should be more 3-D content to watch in time.

What was tested

CR evaluated two 46-inch Samsung LCD sets with edge LED backlighting, the UN46C7000, $2,600, and the UN46C8000, $2,800, and the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50VT20 plasma set, $2,500.

The sets were connected to each company's new 3-D Blu-ray player, the Samsung BD-C6900 and Panasonic DMP-BDT300, each $400. Both Blu-ray players worked on all of the sets, but the glasses are brand-specific, and don't work with other TVs. CR testers watched the same Blu-ray 3-D disc on all three TVs.

What was found

All three sets delivered eye-catching three-dimensional effects in full 1080p resolution and they also provided an acceptably bright picture, important because 3-D glasses can make images appear dimmer. The Samsung LCD TVs displayed subtle ghosting of 3-D images to varying degrees in different scenes. Such ghosting, technically called "crosstalk," indicates that the images for each eye aren't being kept completely separate, as they should be. The ghosting was distracting when visible and it detracted from the 3-D effect. Also, when testers tilted their heads, as if lying on the couch, the picture dimmed a bit on both Samsungs.

On the Samsung 7000 model, testers also noticed some cloudiness caused by uneven backlighting in darker scenes, which was a bit distracting. Testers were able to minimize cloudiness on the 8000 by lowering the backlight and using the "smart LED" dimming feature. Like most LCD sets, both sets have a fairly narrow viewing angle, so picture quality degraded as the viewer moved off center.

Despite these minor glitches, CR found that the Samsung sets provided excellent picture detail and satisfying colors and contrast with 3-D and regular HD content. The glasses were lighter and more comfortable to wear than the Panasonic's.

The Panasonic plasma displayed negligible crosstalk and no cloudiness, adding to the realism of the 3-D effect. The viewing angle was virtually unlimited and testers saw no change in image brightness when they tilted their heads. Picture detail and black levels were excellent. The Panasonic model might have the best motion resolution of any flat-panel TV CR has ever tested. Detail remained sharp and clear even in test patterns designed to reveal blur in fast-moving images.

3-D TV fast facts

• Special glasses must be worn to watch 3-D programs. Without them, images will appear blurry (extra pairs run about $150).

• Regular programs can be viewed on a 3-D TV set without the glasses, just like any other HDTV.

• Prices range from $1,700 to $7,000 for a 3-D TV set.

• 3-D Blu-ray players are needed to watch 3-D movies at home.

• ESPN, DirecTV and Discovery Channel will soon offer 3-D programming.

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