HDTV holiday deals
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If you or someone you know is among the stragglers still struggling with their old standard-definition boxes, there's no better time than the upcoming holiday season to finally get with the times by getting an HDTV.
High-definition televisions make excellent gifts, and declining prices mean they're not as extravagant a purchase as they once were.
Still, if you're the kind of person who absolutely must have the latest, greatest, and yes, most expensive features available, you're in luck. The market is full of variety, with barebones budget sets, well-featured mainstream models and cutting-edge HDTVs letting consumers of all types enjoy high-definition television however they want.
The best-selling LCD brand in North America is a little upstart named Vizio, whose creative marketing and dedication to low prices have put a serious dent in the bottom lines of electronics mainstays like Sony (nyse: SNE) and Samsung. The Vizio VO32L is a prime example of why they've been so successful. This 32-inch LCD television isn't packed with unnecessary features or luxury options; it's merely a great, 720p high-definition television with an affordable $649 price tag. This is the kind of TV most likely to be part of a deep discount on Black Friday, so that price might drop even further.
If you can't quite part with the comfort and security of a known brand name, the 32-inch Sony KDL-32L4000 is only $50 more than the VO32L, though it has one less HDMI input, which might cramp your style if you're looking for enough room to hook up HD accessories. Even with that caveat, the KDL-32L4000 is a capable and reliable HDTV that won't disappoint when it comes to picture quality.
Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't enjoy a truly tremendous big-screen. The Panasonic Viera TH-50PX80U is a stunning, 50-inch high-definition TV that retails for just under $1,400 but can be found much cheaper online and that price is sure to drop as the holiday draws closer. Like all affordable HDTVs, the TH-50PX80U features 720p resolution, which is typically recommended for televisions under 50 inches. In this case, the extra savings may be worth sacrificing a few pixels, as 720p resolution should still provide an excellent viewing experience.
This year's mainstream, moderately priced HDTVs all offer 1080p resolution, a feature which used to be reserved for the high-end but has now become much more reasonable in price. They also put a greater emphasis on specifications like response time and contrast ratio, as well as the overall style and appearance of the set.
The Philips 42PFL5603D ($1,249) is an exceptionally sleek television, featuring invisible speakers that provide powerful sound without being an eyesore. It boasts superior image quality, and though the 1080p resolution is slightly excessive for a 42-inch display, those extra pixels could come in handy when used with Blu-Ray players or next-generation videogame consoles like the XBox 360. The 42PFL5603D is also energy efficient, drawing only 75 watts when in use, greatly reducing your monthly electric bill.
Like the 42PFL5603D, the 46-inch Samsung LN-46A550 has a response time of 5 milliseconds, meaning it's more than capable of handling high-motion scenes like action movies and sporting events without blurring or otherwise distorting the image. Both TVs also have extraordinarily high contrast ratios for LCDs, finally delivering the deep, dark black tones that have made plasma televisions stand out for years. These TVs are well-rounded and replete with worthwhile features without going overboard. If overboard is where you're looking to put your money, however, then you may wish to select something a little flashier.
This year's cutting edge HDTV technology can be found in sets with refresh rates of 120 hertz. Much like 1080p in years past, the value of 120 hertz--that is, whether it's worth the significant price premium that accompanies it--is primarily in the eye of the beholder.
It does have technical benefits: The 120-hertz refresh rate allows a TV to handle the differing frame rates of television shows and motion pictures without having to add to, delete from or otherwise tamper with the source video signal. By eliminating the need to process the video signal, the TV can then present the image as it was intended, with previously unattainable smoothness and clarity. Some viewers can see the difference in quality quite clearly, while others may not feel that whatever perceived difference there may be is worth tacking a few hundred dollars onto the bill.
Whatever your opinion, there's no question that TVs featuring 120-hertz refresh rates are the current pinnacle of HD technology. The Samsung LN-52A650 and Sony KDL-524100 are perhaps the best examples of this. Both TVs are stuffed with upper level specifications, and both cost around $2,799. They also have immense 52-inch screens with 1080p resolution and 120-hertz refresh rates, and are roughly on par in terms of image quality.
But Samsung and Sony distinguish themselves with ancillary benefits. The Samsung LN-52A650 positions itself as the HDTV of the future, with a built-in Ethernet port for connecting the television to your home Internet network. At present, the TV can only access informational feeds with news and weather reports, but there's no telling what this kind of connectivity could lead to in the future.
By contrast, Sony KDL-524100 emphasizes "anti-judder" technology, which uses the 120-hertz refresh rate to smooth out roughness in films and provide what it considers to be a heightened cinematic experience.
If you're looking for the best deals on these HDTVs, it's important to remember that timing is everything. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is typically regarded as the best time to pick up discounts on big ticket items like high-definition televisions. While there will be plenty of great deals that day (primarily on models from budget brands like Vizio), most of the major retailers and manufacturers will be competing against one another well into December. If you're looking for a great price on a mainstream or high-end television, don't jump the gun. Keep an eye on things in the weeks following Black Friday and you'll most likely find the deal you're looking for.
First Published November 3, 2008 12:00 am