TORONTO - Early adopters can buy a new 3D TV by the end of the month, Samsung said Wednesday, although it remains to be seen how many consumers will be willing to pay a premium for a technology in its infancy.

Samsung is the first major manufacturer to announce plans to launch the new technology in Canada and will sell five LED models of 3D TVs starting on March 26. LED TVs are thinner and more energy efficient than the LCD and plasma models most consumers are familiar with, Samsung says.

The first wave of TVs range in size from 40 to 55 inches and in price from $2,500 to $4,000.

About a week after the LED launch, Samsung will start selling 3D plasmas, including a 50" for $2,400 and a 63" for $4,100. By May, Samsung expects to have two 3D LCD models on the market, a 46" for $1,900 and a 55" for $2,800.

But the costs go up from there. Samsung's 3D glasses retail for as much as $250 a piece, plus consumers need a 3D-compatible Blu-ray player (Samsung's is $400) and a new cable.

Despite the costly initial outlay, Samsung's director of marketing for consumer electronics says he's confident about the products' launch.

"Our original expectation was that this would be a fairly modest launch, just because the retail price points we were talking about ... generally makes it a smaller market," said Robert Gumiela.

"But the response we've received from our retailers, the orders we've received, have greatly exceeded our expectations and I think a lot of that has been based upon (retailers') communication with their own customers and clientele saying, 'This is what I want."'

While the lack of 3D content currently available is another challenge for TV manufacturers - Future Shop and Best Buy currently only offer two 3D Blu-ray titles, "My Bloody Valentine 3D" for $35 and "Under the Sea 3D" for $38 - Gumiela said the Samsung TV's can convert any image into a 3D version.

"It won't be the same quality as a native 3D-authored Blu-ray image but we've demonstrated it and it is a very exciting visual impact," he said.

Future Shop said it's also optimistic that consumers are eager to buy 3D products.

"I think it's going to be a pretty broad spectrum of customers who will ultimately buy these things, they are ultimately at a higher price point but we've got to remember these TVs are in their own right premium televisions, they're top of the line TVs," said Eric Stockner, director of home theatre merchandising.

He expects prices will come down as more competition hits the market. He said a few more models, made by different manufacturers, should be in stores by June.

Sony was the first major manufacturer to announce its global plans for 3D TV but has only set June as a target date for the sale of units in Japan. A Sony spokeswoman could only say that the 3D TVs will be available in Canada sometime this summer.

Panasonic announced a partnership with Best Buy to start selling its 3D TVs in the United States starting Wednesday. No Canadian plans have been revealed.

As far as TV broadcasters jumping on the 3D bandwagon, Gumiela isn't too optimistic due to technical limitations.

The amount of bandwidth needed to transmit a high-definition 3D signal into the home is "virtually impossible to do at this time until a new compression architecture is developed," he said.

David Purdy, vice-president of Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B), is more confident that 3D programming can be beamed into home but concedes it'll only be in "half-resolution" and not full HD to start.

Purdy said he's been following 3D technology for about three years and is a believer.

"We don't have specific timing yet although we absolutely want to make sure our customers get the latest and greatest television entertainment products as soon as they come on the market," he said.

"I believe 3D is going to revolutionize the way people watch movies and sports at home, it's going to be a really compelling experience ... and I think customers are going to be blown away."

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