Top TVs of 2011

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The 5 Best 3D TVs of 2011

Yes, 3D is here, and it’s better than ever. Between live broadcasts and 3D Blu-ray discs, much more 3D content is available now than last year, and most TVs priced above $1000 come with 3D technology built in. What’s more, this year’s 3D tech is cheaper and easier on the eyes than last year’s, so give these sets a chance and you might be pleasantly surprised.

To produce a 3D image, last year’s 3D TVs relied on active-shutter glasses, which many TV viewers dislike: The glasses are heavy and pricey, and some people have experienced headaches and eyestrain from using them. Active-shutter glasses have gotten better in all respects since they debuted, but you also have the option now of passive 3D TVs, which use the same light, cheap polarized glasses that 3D movie theaters hand out. So far, LG and Vizio are the only major manufacturers that have released 3D TVs based on passive 3D technology (LG continues to produce active-shutter 3D TVs as well).

Active-shutter glasses consist of a pair of small LCD screens that alternately block out the image in the left lens and in the right lens in sync with the TV. The effect is to show your eyes slightly different images. Your brain reassembles the images to create the illusion of depth—but if your TV and your glasses don’t synchronize perfectly, you may see ghosted, blurry images or experience double vision (called “crosstalk”), which can be distracting and fatiguing to your eyes. The required gear isn’t cheap, either. Early versions of active-shutter glasses cost around $150 per pair, though re­­cently prices for current versions have fallen to as low as $50.

Polarized 3D glasses work by blocking out light in different ways for each lens, causing each eye to receive a different half of the image and produce the 3D illusion without depending on any electronics in the glasses. The glasses are light and inexpensive, but the effect comes at a cost in image quality: Each lens blocks out half of the detail in the image, meaning that a 1080p image comes in to each eye at 540p.

Manufacturers of active-shutter 3D TVs argue that passive 3D TVs look far worse because they prevent you from seeing a true 1080p image. Passive 3D makers counter that your brain still receives a 1080p image (since the composite image from both eyes is 1080p). When we tested the two technologies side-by-side, we didn’t find a noticeable difference in im­­age quality between the two—and since the polarized glasses are cheaper and more comfortable to wear, we’d recommend getting a passive 3D set if you plan to watch lots of 3D movies.

Following is our ranked list of the best 3D TVs we've seen recently. For an interactive, linked version of this chart see "Our Favorite HDTVs for 3D Viewing."

PCWORLD 3D HDTV CHART

LG’s Infinia 47LW6500 impressed our testers with excellent 3D depth and crisp image quality. If you doubt the image quality of passive 3D sets, watch the 47LW6500 side-by-side with an active-shutter TV before buying. The 47LW6500’s biggest flaw is that dimly lit scenes tend to look too bright, so consider turning down the brightness level prior to watching 3D content.

The Samsung UN46D8000 active 3D set finished a close second to the LG Infinia 47LW6500 in our testing. It has good 3D depth, though the depth it conveys is slightly subtler than that of the Infinia 47LW6500 or the Infinia 50PZ950.This set excels at creating 3D effects without sacrificing color or contrast. Dark scenes that tripped up the other sets in this lineup looked splendid on the UN46D8000. Other sets might make you think “Wow, this looks 3D,” but the UN46D8000 is a rare set that can convince you this 3D thing isn’t just a marketing gimmick.

The LG Infinia 50PZ950 is a fine example of this year’s improved active-shutter 3D sets. The difference between foreground and background was pronounced yet not overdone, extreme foreground effects (like the floating seeds in Avatar) popped very well, and we saw little crosstalk. The 50PZ950 skewed slightly bright in darker scenes, like the LW6500, so keep this in mind if you’re thinking about calibrating your set yourself. If you’re going to buy an active 3D TV, the 50PZ950 makes a very compelling case for going for a big, pretty plasma set.

Sony’s active 3D Bravia 46HX820 performed very well in our tests, showing good depth. In some instances, the 46HX820 picked up 3D details that the other sets missed entirely. For example, the floating mountains in Avatar typically don’t look especially three-dimensional because they appear as big landscape shots with little in the foreground. But on the 46HX820, details like the smudges on the helicopter cockpit were more visible, giving the scene depth that many other TVs did not.

Compared to the other TVs on the list, the Vizio XVT3D650SV had slightly less depth; and subtle foreground effects (the rain during the introduction to Resident Evil: Afterlife, for ex­­ample) looked less crisp on this set than they did on the others. The XVT3D650SV still looked good, however, and considering what you get, it’s a bargain. This 65-inch LED-backlit 3D television can be had for about $2600. If you want to create a cinematic 3D experience in a large living room but you don’t have a big budget, this is the set for you.

Vizio 3D HDTV
The Vizio XVT3D650SV is a big (65-inch-diagonal screen) LED-backlit passive-3D HDTV set that is perfect for home movie screenings and carries a relatively low price for the features and image quality it provides. (Photograph by Robert Cardin)

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