It’s not easy to find a silver lining to the economic meltdown, but here’s one: inexpensive high-definition televisions.
Bargains on consumer electronics goods, especially TVs, have become a tradition for the holiday shopping season. But this year prices for HDTVs are expected to plunge.
Analyst Riddhi Patel of ISupply forecasts that prices of 47-inch liquid crystal display models will go as low as $800, 42-inch plasma sets to $500 and 32-inch LCDs to $400.
Those are examples of sleek, flat-panel models. If you don’t mind some depth on your HDTV, the bargains get even more fetching. You might be able to pick up a 64-inch, rear-projection, digital light processing, or DLP, model, for example, for less than $1,000.
“It’s a buyer’s market,” said analyst Richard Doherty of Envisioneering Group.
The very best prices probably will be available only during the traditional door-buster sale of the season – on the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday.
The one-day specials often are gone in a day, but HDTV prices probably will take a big dip for the entire holiday season. Patient shoppers might even get a second shot at Black Friday lows; if holiday sales are weak, as many analysts predict, merchants desperate to clear out inventory might slash prices again.
Don’t expect to find the lowest prices on name-brand, state-of-the-art models, but that’s not the barrier it once was. Whereas your grandparents might have demanded Zenith or some other prominent label of the day, consumers nowadays are more than willing to wander off the name-brand ranch.
Not only is the budget label Vizio the country’s best-seller, but some of its HDTVs have gotten solid ratings from reviewers for CNET ( www.cnet.com) and Consumer Reports magazine.
Other budget brands haven’t fared as well with reviewers, however, and consumers have claimed that it can take months to obtain repairs from some of the more obscure labels, even under warranty.
As for image quality, shoppers should be aware of two important factors.
The first is resolution. The most advanced HDTVs have a resolution of 1080p. The number stands for the number of digital lines that go into making the image – the more lines, the better the picture. The “p” stands for progressive scan, which delivers a better image than the other regimen in use, known as interlace (as in 1080i).
The next step down from the top resolution is 720p, which usually comes with a significant price break. That’s great if you use your TV to watch programming only from broadcast, cable or satellite sources. Those top out at 720p for the most part, so there’s little reason to get a set with higher resolution. Also, if you have a screen smaller than 40 inches, you probably can go 720p without sacrificing much if any quality.
But if you’re going for a larger set and plan to use it to watch high-definition, Blu-ray discs or play games capable of the top resolution, then spending the extra money for 1080p could make sense.
And here’s the second big factor: contrast. But on this you’re mostly on your own. There’s no standard rating for contrast, so comparing the statistics of two manufacturers is an apples-and-oranges game.
Just remember that the images on most HDTVs look good in isolation. It’s better to compare two or more televisions side by side, or at least within viewing distance of one another, on the showroom floor.
And don’t rule out the brands with major pedigrees such as Sony, Panasonic, Sharp and Samsung. They’ll probably be aggressively priced, too.