Panasonic, Best Buy Double Down on 3D TV

Panasonic has announced its first 3D TV bundle available exclusively at Best Buy stores, featuring a plasma TV and 3D-compatible Blu-ray player. The bundle will cost $2,900 for a 50-inch TC-P50VT20 TV (a $2,500 value by itself) and 3D-compatible DMP-BDT300 Blu-ray player ($400), and also include one pair of 3D glasses (model TY-EW3D10U, $149). The Panasonic bundle and TVs will be "sold exclusively at select Best Buy stores via Magnolia Home Theater," according to Panasonic. The 50-inch model will be followed by 54-, 58-, and 65-inch versions later this year, though pricing has yet to be determined.

If the TC-P50VT20 sounds different from the TC-P50VT25 model that was CNET's Best of CES pick earlier this year, that's because it is--albeit just slightly. The two models are nearly identical: the VT25 has minor external styling differences (different color bezel) and includes an RS232 port and ISF calibration mode not found on the Best Buy version, but it's slightly more expensive. (See an early hands-on evaluation here.)

To drum up excitement for the 3D launch, the companies held a joint press event at the Best Buy store in Manhattan's Union Square. Immediately following the press conference, the first bundle was sold to customers Brad and Ashley, a couple from Manhattan's Upper West Side. (The timing of the sale had been pre-arranged by Best Buy beforehand.) With New York sales tax, the total came to about $3,100. Immediately afterward, they were bombarded by questions and interviews from the large group of media who had shown up to document the event.

In the end, despite the hype, this wasn't the first 3D TV actually sold in 2010. Samsung has also launched a 3D bundle in partnership with Best Buy. Its models have already begun popping up in showrooms around the country, and they've been available via Amazon for several weeks. Still, the event was another reminder that 3D products are real, not vaporware.

But if the hardware's here, finding 3D content to watch still remains a challenge. Wednesday's media event also included representatives from DirecTV and Fox Home Video, both of whom insisted 3D content is in the pipeline. DirecTV pledged that the first of its three promised 3D channels would be online by June, and dropped a teaser that this year's baseball All-Star Game would be broadcast in 3D. Fox's Mary Daily, meanwhile, announced that "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" will soon be coming to 3D Blu-ray. However, she couldn't provide any details as to when Fox's "Avatar," the 3D standard-bearer, would be available for home viewing in 3D.

In the meantime, Brad and Ashley--and anyone else who purchases a 3D TV and 3D Blu-ray player--won't really have any 3D content to watch. (Panasonic may be including a 3D demo reel with the Blu-ray player, but unlike Samsung--which is bundling "Monsters vs. Aliens"--there won't be any theatrical feature included.) Titles will be trickling out as the year progresses, but many of them will be animated movies targeted at children.

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