Technology

The Best Time to Buy an HDTV

Now might not be the best time to buy and HDTV.

Forget what you've heard: The weeks leading up to the Super Bowl are not always the best time to buy a big-screen TV.

True, retailers have splashy sales to entice you to splurge on a plasma or LCD model, but savvy shoppers wait until March or April to score the best deals. Simply put, the laws of supply and demand are working against you. "If you're a retailer, you should not have your best deals in January and February, when people want TVs the most," says Daniel de Grandpre, chief executive of Dealnews.com, a bargain-hunting site. Look for a dip in prices in early spring, says de Grandpre, when manufacturers close out older models to make room for new sets they launched at the Consumer Electronics Show, in January.

THE POST-HOLIDAY FACTOR

Holiday sales also play a role in pre–Super Bowl bargains. If retailers sell a lot of sets for Christmas, their January specials aren't so hot. If they didn't, however, "that's when you tend to see a lot of spectacular deals," says analyst Paul Gagnon, of DisplaySearch. This year? The specials aren’t as great as last year's because holiday sales were better.

If you really, really want a TV now, the sweet spot for brand-name sets is just under $1,000. You'll find 46- and 47-inch LCD sets, as well as 50-inch plasmas, from such top vendors as Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp and Sony in that range. Still too pricey? Top-tier 42-inch TVs are going for $700 to $800. Other possibilities: Target is selling a Magnavox 42-inch LCD HDTV for $499, which is $180 off the regular price. And Wal-Mart has a 55-inch Vizio LCD for $1,298, which is about $200 cheaper than competing prices.

"I recommend the 46- to 47-inch range," says de Grandpre. "That's the most bang for your buck. As a rule of thumb, you should buy a TV that's bigger than you think you need. You never regret a big TV. You always regret buying one that’s too small."

WHAT'S NEW

HDTVs keep getting better. The latest LCD models are stunningly thin, including the Samsung LED 9000, a 55-inch set with the thickness of a pencil (0.3 inch). But before buying an LCD TV, make sure its refresh rate is at least 120 hertz or higher. Basically, 120Hz sets do a better job of displaying fast motion, such as sporting events, than the older, 60Hz LCD TVs.

Another trend is LED backlighting on LCD sets, which conserves energy and reduces bulk. (It’s LEDs that make those incredibly thin sets possible.) And Internet-ready TVs, which offer wired or wireless connections to home broadband routers, are becoming popular. They allow you to watch movies from Netflix or other online video services on your TV and also provide access to popular Web services, such as Facebook. Plus, you won’t pay a lot for these upgrades. A $900 47-inch LCD TV is likely to refresh at 120 Hz, says de Grandpre.

SAY NO TO 3-D

De Grandpre strongly advises against buying a 3-D TV, "unless you’re very rich or would be very dissatisfied not having the absolute newest gadget available." There's little programming available in the format, and the technology will likely add hundreds of dollars to the cost of an HDTV, especially if you factor in the cost of 3-D glasses, which can run $200 to $300 a pair.

Although 3-D at home may seem like a novelty now, don't count it out. The popularity of 3-D movies, specifically Avatar, may soon whet consumers' appetites for 3-D in the living room, says Paul Gagnon.

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