Cigar Aficionado

Panasonic 3-D TV

So there I stood, a pair of silly-looking glasses perched in front of my regular specs, totally immersed in the spectacular three-dimensional artistry of James Cameron's Avatar... on a TV set. The public's embrace of 3-D movies has coincided with the development of television technology that can deliver really convincing 3-D effects to create a whole new way for well-heeled couch potatoes to spend money. Most major consumer electronics companies are promising 3-D television sets for 2010, with a few already on store shelves. The best we've seen so far come from Panasonic, largely as a result of its reliance on plasma rather than LCD technology.

To enjoy high-quality 3-D TV at home, you typically start with a new monitor (only a handful of existing rear-projection sets will be eligible for an upgrade). Here Panasonic's stubborn fealty to plasma was a good bet: you need a screen that can quickly display separate high-definition images for your left and right eye, and plasma refreshes fastest.

You need 3-D glasses-electronic ones-not the polarized types used in movie theaters. Each electronic lens blinks sequentially, in perfect sync with the separate on-screen images, so your right eye sees the right eye picture and vice versa.

Finally, you need 3-D content. The prime resource here will be 3-D Blu-ray discs, which require a new Blu-ray player (unless you happen to own a Playstation 3, which will be upgradable via software to play 3-D discs). The other major 3-D programming source on its way comes from DIRECTV, which promises three channels (one free, one paid, one pay-per-view) later this year.

The out-of-pocket bottom line? With the first Panasonic 3-D TV package, $3,400 gets you the 50-inch TC-P50VT20 TV (sold only at Best Buy) and the DMP-BDT300 Blu-ray player and one pair of glasses. If you don't live alone expect to pay $150 each for additional specs.

The performance bottom line? It can vary widely. Animated movies look great. Action movies and TV shows are a mixed bag. Sports are a particular promotional focus. Football footage looked terrific. A clip from NASCAR left me flat (so to speak). And I'm waiting eagerly to see what game developers will make of what should be a perfect marriage.

True early adopters as well as soccer fans (ESPN plans World Cup 3-D coverage) can be forgiven for jumping in now, even with limited programming. The rest of us can expect to see 3-D available in most high-end TVs-with the glasses offered as an option. After all, for 3-D TV, the future's so bright, we gotta wear shades.