To hear the chorus of tech companies at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, 2011 was going to be the year 3-D TV went mainstream. And here the year has come and gone and the 3-D boom was more of a bust. Or, well, not, depending on who you talk to. Industry sources like to point out that in terms of sales, 3-D TVs are already moving faster than HDTV or Blu-Ray did when they were launched. However skeptics insist that little stat damns by faint praise, since despite the hype a total of just a few million 3-D TV sets have been sold in the US since 2009—or a measly few percent of households. And according to the analysts at NPD Group’s DisplaySearch, it’s not clear whether those people are even watching 3-D content on their new sets anyway — for example, AT&T says it dropped ESPN 3D from its U-Verse channel lineup last summer due to weak demand.
Another way of looking at it though is that the arguments over 3-D’s success or failure are moot: within the next few years, 3-D capabilities will be baked into every new TV like it or not as a standard feature. In the meantime, there happens to be a perfect storm of factors for the next few weeks making it quite possibly the best time to buy a new TV for the foreseeable future. In a nutshell: electronics companies vastly overproduced inventory this year, and not only did demand for 3-D sets not meet expectations, people weren’t buying regular HDTVs either so supply far outweighs demand. And in order to make room for all the 2012 models coming soon to a store near you, prices are at or near historic lows — for the next few weeks anyway.
So if you’re in the market for a set, or think you will be in the near future, consider the following. Look for sets that were near top-shelf last year, and thus are feature-rich and less likely to be obsolete next year. You want an LED or plasma set with quality guts that’s 3-D ready, has smart-TV capabilities for accessing Internet content, and comes with a nice remote. We particularly like LG’s 3-D sets, which use less distracting and cheaper passive glasses: The 55LW5600 is a 55-inch LED that’s first-rate in every way, and at around $1,300 is about half its original price. For a plasma set, you’d be hard-pressed to beat Panasonic’s TC-P50ST30 for just a little less. If that’s still to rich for your blood, look for feature rich sets below the still-big 46-inch size; for the first time ever, the average price of sets in that class are below a grand, often far below. It’s a great time to be a TV watcher — not so much a TV seller.