With its lavish pop-up-book-like images and photorealistic special effects, 3DTV technology has truly arrived. But with compatible 3D shows and movies currently limited to a few DirecTV/ESPN broadcasts and a handful of films like Alice in Wonderland, Monsters vs. Aliens and several new IMAX Blu-ray titles, it's best to budget accordingly.
But contrary to popular belief, watching penalty kicks leap from the screen or the Cheshire Cat's disembodied head haunt your living room needn't require rethinking college, or fasting every odd Sunday. Pick up the following value-minded models, an antidote to typical $2,000+ sets, and you won't just have a ready excuse to make neighbors' jaws drop. You'll also have plenty of scratch left over to invest in "extras" like the mandatory 3D active shutter glasses, specialized cable box, custom Blu-ray player, HDMI cables and 3D-enhanced discs needed to enjoy them. (Note: PlayStation 3 owners can save by simply downloading a software update to enable free 3D Blu-ray playback.)
Still, no miracles here. We said "3D sets you can afford," not "ways to keep significant others from going apeshit when they figure out how much an actual home theater upgrade costs."
XVT3D424SV ($1249.99, Vizio)
Available via Amazon.com, Target and other online outlets, this snazzy 42-inch model offers LED backlighting (for better picture contrast), lightning-quick 480Hz refresh rates (effectively eliminating motion blur) and wireless Internet connectivity (via 802.11n WiFi). Compatibility with online downloadable apps that let you access Facebook updates, Pandora radio streams and films from Netflix and Vudu simply makes a nice added bonus.
PN50C490 ($899.99, Samsung)
This set maxes out at 720p, not 1080p resolution (the current best for Blu-ray releases), and lacks bells and whistles like Internet connectivity, but delivers true 3D images and solid picture quality for a strikingly low price. Some vendors are even [throwing in two pairs of 3D glasses http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/searchtools/item-Details.asp?EdpNo=6 700950&sku=S222-5050%20A&srkey=Samsung%20PN50C490] with purchase, while bonuses like three HDMI ports, an integrated USB slot and PC video input make it easy to screen photos, digital videos and games as well.
WD-65638 ($799.99, Mistubishi) This colossal 65-inch rear-projection model offers numerous inputs for A/V accessories and works well with both 2D and 3D video feeds, making it a welcome fit for any man cave. While not as splashy as higher-end LCD, LED or plasma units, it promises full 1080p high-definition output, and gets the job done for considerably less, without compromising Type A personalities' potential bragging rights.