Americans who are in the market for a new TV — perhaps in time for the NCAA basketball tournament’s Final Four — will find models that are bigger, better, smarter, and cheaper, according to the latest Consumer Reports tests.
Shoppers should be heartened to know that television prices can be lowest around this time of year, when manufacturers start shipping new models and retailers cut prices to sell off old ones. Compelling new features for 2013 models are not expected, so consumers shouldn’t pass up great deals on top-rated 2012 sets.
However, some TV bargains can be risky. Super-low-priced sets, especially from lesser-known brands, aren’t always the best deals.
Some of the lowest-scoring sets in Consumer Reports ratings — with below-average marks for picture, sound, or both — include TVs from Coby, Element, Haier, TCL, and Westinghouse.
LCD TVs from LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony have consistently been among the best performers in the ratings. Plasma sets from Panasonic have been at the top, followed closely by Samsung and LG.
Internet-capable TVs proliferate
The Consumer Reports ratings include more smart TVs, or TVs that can connect to the Internet to stream video from various online services, putting on-demand movies and TV shows at viewers’ fingertips. All tested TVs with this capability offer Netflix, but the availability of other services like Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and Vudu varies by brand.
A growing number have full browsers for surfing the Web, built-in Wi-Fi, and access to an apps market. In addition to streaming-video services, most Internet-capable TVs let you connect to music services such as Pandora, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and even eBay.
Four basic questions to consider
Buying a new TV is a big investment for many consumers. Here are four basic questions to consider when shopping for that new set:
What screen size? Don’t think small and regret it for the life of the TV. If you sit 6 to 8 feet from the TV, get at least a 40-inch set, but consider a 46- to 50-incher for a more immersive experience.
Plasma or LCD? Many of the highest-scoring models are plasma TVs, which have several advantages over LCD models.
Plasmas, which come in 42-inch and larger sizes, tend to cost a bit less than comparably sized LCDs, especially those using LED backlights. The best plasmas can provide rich, movie-like images with deep blacks that add depth and dimension. Unlike most LCD models, they have blur-free motion and unlimited viewing angles.
1080p or 720p resolution? Most new TVs have 1080p (full HD) resolution, but some smaller sets and low-priced 42- and 50-inch plasmas still have 720p.
A full HD model can display finer detail than a 720p TV, but more detail doesn’t always result in better picture quality. Some 720p models had very good picture quality. In general, Consumer Reports recommends a 1080p set if price isn’t a top concern, but consider 720p for top value.
3D or not? 3D capability is simply a feature on a regular HDTV, not a new kind of TV. Even if you don’t plan to watch 3D in the near future, don’t rule out a TV that offers the feature. Many are among the best HD sets tested.
And if you get a 3D-capable set, you’ll be good to go if 3D becomes appealing to you in the future.