Looking to buy an HDTV for the holidays? Now's a good time

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from PCWorld.com.

If an HDTV—for yourself or for some lucky gift recipient—is on your holiday shopping list, you're in luck: Experts say vendors and retailers eager to keep sales momentum going in a down economy are offering some very attractive discounts on prices that had already dropped steeply in the past year. (But as always with such big-ticket items, you still need to shop carefully.)

Paul Semenza of DisplaySearch, which tracks pricing and sales for all sorts of displays, says HDTV prices in the third quarter of 2009 were generally a whopping 20 to 30 percent lower than they were for comparable sets a year earlier.

"Prices have come down an incredible amount," Semenza said, adding that Black Friday shoppers will see even bigger cuts for some models. "There's always that doorbuster thing."

ISuppli TV analyst Riddhi Patel concurs, noting that HDTVs have continued to sell briskly even in the current recession, and vendors don't want to see the boom market slow down. What's more, she adds, aggressive prices won't be confined to no-name or low-end models: "You will see deals on premium brands and full-featured sets."

Also worth looking for, especially if you prefer to stick to name brands, are bundles, Patel said. For example, earlier this year some Sony sets sold with PlayStation 3 game consoles, and Samsung has had HDTV/Blu-ray player bundles. Right now, Sonystyle.com has deals on some HDTV models bundled with either a PlayStation 3 or a Blu-ray player.

What will have the best prices

Of course, the lowest prices will be for off-brand sets that don't have all the current bells and whistles—720p screen resolution rather than 1080p, and, for LCD-TVs, CCFL backlighting instead of LED and 60Hz refresh rates instead of 120Hz or 240Hz.

For these sets, Patel says to look for prices ranging from $250 for a 32-inch LCD set to $540 for a 50-inch plasma TV.

Semenza, meanwhile, notes that the spread of Black Friday prices between low and high-end sets can be enormous, especially for larger screen sizes. For example, he saw a Samsung 55-inch LED backlit 1080p set at Sears for $2469 (a good price for those specs)—and a 55-inch Vizio set with CCFL backlighting for $1249 at Costco (with a coupon).

Price spreads decline at smaller sizes—and Semenza has noticed that the trend to buying ever-larger flat screens has slowed down. "Most of the action will be at 32, 40, and 42 inches," Semenza said. "It's harder to get people into those big screen sizes. They're still relatively expensive." (Check out our lists of the best HDTV sets at 40 to 42 inches, and sets at 46-47 inches.)

While some observers suggest that Black Friday itself may not be the best day to shop for HDTVs, Patel believes prices will generally be good that day. But, she says, those who wait may still find deals—especially on larger displays; retailers tend to promote these big sets in the post-holiday weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, which is considered the end of the large-HDTV shopping season.

Semenza said retailers in general have been striving to make Black Friday a season rather than a single day, so those who don't shop right away may still find good sales. "We've seen a spreading out of this whole promotional cycle. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these [prices] persist."

Adds Patel: "You have an option of buying a TV today at a very good price—or you can wait and maybe get it cheaper."

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