The best (relatively) cheap 3D TVs

March 7, 2012 at 11:43 AM ET

Leading-edge technology nearly always carries a hefty price tag, and 3D TVs are no exception. A set with this capability can easily run well over $1,000 -- and most of the time that doesn’t even include the glasses. That said, these top picks from can satisfy early adopters as economically as possible.

  • The Samsung PND8000 (starting at $1,250 for a 51-inch) also comes in more expensive 59- and 64-inch models with the same technology and feature set. This plasma series earns praise in online reviews for its crisp, clear 3D display and minimal “crosstalk,” where an image intended for one eye appears in front of the other. (Where to buy)
  • The Sony Bravia KDL NX720 (starting at $1,080 for a 46-inch) is available in pricier 55- and 60-inch models as well. Experts and users aren’t effusive about this LED TV’s 3D performance but positively rave about the 2D picture -- something to consider, given that most of what you watch won’t be in 3D. (Where to buy)
  • The LG Infinia LW5600 (starting at $1,000 for a 47-inch) also comes in a 55-inch model and includes four pairs of 3D glasses. Experts admire the LED screen’s ability to render bright, accurate colors in both 2D and 3D. (Where to buy)
  • The Panasonic Viera TC-PST30 (starting at $1,200 for a 42-inch) is available in myriad other screen sizes: 46, 50, 55, 60, and 65 inches. The plasma display delivers solid performance. (Where to buy)

Plasma screens are a favorite of expert reviewers and generally offer excellent picture quality in both 2D and 3D, with very deep black levels. Low-cost LED TVs use light-emitting diodes around the edges of an LCD screen to improve black levels and color accuracy. Like other TVs with liquid crystal displays, these 3D TVs are best viewed straight on, rather than at an angle. To figure out how big a screen to buy, CNET suggests measuring the distance from your seating area to the designated spot for your TV and dividing by 1.5. For instance, if you sit 7 feet (84 inches) from your TV, look for at least a 56-inch screen.

Most of our picks use “active” 3D technology, which requires battery-powered 3D glasses that are typically sold separately for as much as $150 a pair. (Note that active 3D glasses work with only the corresponding brand of 3D TV.) The LG Infinia is a “passive” 3D TV that comes with four pairs of the not-so-heavy-duty glasses distributed at movie theaters. Viewers find that passive 3D generally delivers a more comfortable but less immersive experience.

All the 3D TVs on our list come with multiple HDMI ports for connecting Blu-ray players, video game consoles, and other devices. Component and composite inputs accommodate older DVD players and VCRs. PC, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and USB connectivity are also available.

A 3D Blu-ray player is perhaps your most reliable source of 3D content, which is still scarce on television. The good news is that 3D TVs boast some of the best 2D image quality you can buy.

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