With the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics just days or weeks away, this could be a great time to buy that new TV you've been thinking about, especially since prices are continuing to fall.
In fact, you may be able to find a set with a screen size ranging from 46 to 50 inches for as little as $600. The March issue of Consumer Reports includes ratings of over 130 LCD and plasma TVs and advice on what features are worth the price.
"Whether you're a first time buyer or you want to upgrade your existing flat-panel, TV prices have never been better and they continue to fall," says Paul Reynolds, electronics editor of CR. "It's not always best to go for the least-expensive model we've found that some features are worth the extra-cost."
Things to consider when making your purchase:
• Resolution: 1080p vs. 720p. 1080p resolution, called full HD, is now very common, but some 50-inch and smaller TVs still have 720p resolution. Salespeople may suggests that 1080p sets have better picture quality overall, but it's not always the case. Generally, a 1080p set does have the potential to display finer detail than a 720p because the screen has more pixels (the elements that make up the image). The price premium for 1080p has shrunk but still runs $100 to $200. Consumer Reports recommends buying a 1080p set if the TV is 50 inches or larger, and price isn't an issue.
• Less Blur: 120Hz & 240Hz. Ads make a big deal of 120Hz and 240Hz technologies, which promise to reduce blurring and the loss of detail that can occur when LCD TVs display fast-moving images. 120 Hz technology doubles an LCD TV's usual 60Hz frame rate, and 240Hz quadruples it. (Some models combine a 120Hz frame rate with a scanning, or flashing, backlight, to create a 240Hz effect.) Purchasing a TV with anti-blur technology can cost an extra $200 or more and results varied in the magazine's lab tests. A 60Hz set should satisfy most casual viewers, but it's worth considering a 120Hz TV now that the feature is available on lower-priced sets.
• Screen Size: Consumers in the market for a TV may opt for a smaller screen size to keep costs down. Consumer Reports suggests that consumers purchase the biggest screen their budget and space allow, rather than a smaller model with extra features that will be rarely used.
• High-priced HDMI cables: Retailers will try to talk consumers into spending $50 or more for an HDMI cable to use with a new HDTV. Consumer Reports recommends buying decent-quality cables with sturdy connectors, but not expensive ones. A 6-foot HDMI cable should cost $10 or so. Even so-called high-speed cables designed for 1080p throughput shouldn't cost more than $20 for a 3-to-6-foot cable. If low-priced HDMI cables aren't available at the store, look online.
Consumer Reports' Best Buys: HDTVs
Most of the TVs featured in Consumer Reports latest ratings have excellent or very good picture quality, so there are many fine choices. Below are is list of CR Best Buys which are mainstream values. (Sets are listed from largest to smallest screen size).
• Vizio VF550M, $1,400
• Toshiba Regza Cinema Series 52XV648U, $1,400
• Toshiba Regza 46XV645U, $1,000
• Insignia NS-L42Q-10A, $650
• LG 42LF11, $700
• Sanyo DP42849, $630
• Vizio VO320E (720p), $390
• Sanyo DP26649 (720p), $300
• LG 50PQ30, $800
• Insignia NS-P501Q-10A (720p), $650
• Panasonic Viera TC-42PX14 (720p), $550
• LG 42PQ30
No list, of course, is foolproof.
Melinda of Fredericksburg, VA, tells ConsumerAffairs.com. "After 1.5 years my 32 inch Vizio began clicking off and on, then eventually turned off for good. I have been doing some research and have found out that there is a problem with the power supply. This appears to be a defect. Vizio has not agreed to fix this, as of yet. 550.00 down the drain!"
From Ed of Los Gatos CA, "Purchased a new 42 in HDTV and within 30 days it went dead. Took it into their repair center and they have had it for 60 days with no resolve in sight. The warranty period is wasting away and I cannot get an answer on what they are going to do it anything. Help."
Maria of Joliet, IL, purchased a Panasonic HDTV last year and says the lamp has burned out. "I have checked the website," she writes ConsumerAffairs.com, "and see it cost over 200 for a replacement. I also see where this is a known issue to Panasonic about this defective lamp. I now have no TV and no money to get the replacement part. I am stuck with a $1,000 TV that we can not use because the lamp is burned out."
Tiffany of Albuquerque, NM tells us that she purchased a 37-inch Insignia TV and two days after the one-year anniversary it went dead. No picture sound or anything. "I watch TV probably 1-2 hours a day," she says. "Many calls to get help and guidance for this worthless TV and nothing. They said that since it was out of its warranty they would do nothing. I could either take it to a shop or throw it out."
The complete report, "Best TVs for the buck," is available in the March 2010 issue of Consumer Reports. The report includes buying advice, ratings of over 130 LCD and plasma TVs, best and worst brands, and six easy steps to get high-definition TV programming.
If you don't like anything you see on the list or in the stores, you can always take matters into your own hands.