Based on the latest TVs we've been testing in our TV labs, some of the things we didn't especially like in some of last year's models—such as fair or poor sound quality and bulky, costly active 3D glasses—are no longer as big an issue with some manufacturers.
For example, most of the major brands that offer active 3D TVs, which use battery-powered active-shutter glasses, have replaced the bulky designs we saw in earlier generations with lighter, sleeker glasses. Several of the 3D TVs in our latest TV Ratings now come with these sleeker models, which our testers have found be much more comfortable to wear, especially for extended periods of time.
Another beneficial trend: Cheaper active 3D eyewear. Though it's still possible to pay as much as $150 for a pair of active glasses—a common price even a year ago—most companies now offer less expensive models. Samsung's latest TVs offer the least-expensive 3D glasses, at $20 per set. Also, active 3D glasses from Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony—as well as those from Xpand, a third-party supplier—now conform to a single 3D standard, so they're interchangeable. That means you can grab your Samsung glasses and bring them over to a friend's house and use them on his or her Panasonic TV, provided it's also newer model. Unfortunately, last year's glasses don't conform to this new 3D standard.
Another positive development we've seen with some Samsung models is improved sound quality. One consequence of ever-thinner sets has been that sound quality on many TVs has suffered, but several new Samsung sets—including the PNE8000- and PNE550-series plasmas, and UNES6500- and UNEH5300-series LCDs in our latest Ratings—deliver very good overall sound while retailing their sleek profiles.
Other trends, such as more TVs with the ability to access online content—including streaming movies and TV shows—continue. We're also seeing more sets with built-in Wi-Fi, making it easier to connect to home networks, and more with full Web browsers. Of the 11 newest models in our Ratings with Internet capability, nine offer a full Web browser, which was something of a novelty just a year ago.
We're also seeing more sets with larger screen sizes. Our TV Ratings now have 11 60-inch sets (from LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony), plus a 70-inch LCD TV from Sharp (which just announced a 90-inch model).
If you're in the market for a new TV, let us know which features you're considering, and the size of the set you most desire. We're also interested to know if a 3D TV is on your radar, especially since there will be 3D broadcasts of some of the upcoming London Summer Olympics.
—James K. Willcox