HDTV holiday pricing: How low can it go?

Missed out on HDTV Black Friday door buster deals? It's not too late to get a great deal. HDTV prices are dipping even lower in the run up to Christmas as retailers try to extend the Black Friday shopping frenzy.

Right now, Tiger Direct has a 32-inch Toshiba LCD 720p HDTV for $380, or try a 32-inch 720p Honeywell Altura from NewEgg for $300. Not to be outdone by the little guys, Amazon has a Samsung 32-inch 720p LCD TV for just $400. Wal-Mart is offering a 1080p 32-inch Vizio HDTV for $400 (currently Wal-Mart says the model is out of stock).

Those are some tempting offers, and the prices look great, but the truth is not all HDTVs are created equal. There are tons of things you should consider before buying including resolution, contrast, video cables, refresh rate and more. You can learn everything you need to know about HDTVs from PC World's HDTV buying guide and shopping tips. But I've assembled a quick HDTV primer below, as well as some great deals on bigger and better HDTVs.

720p versus 1080p

High-definition video is all about the resolution, which is determined by the number of pixels your set can fit onto the screen. The higher the number, the clearer the resolution. Most high-definition content is displayed at 1080p resolution (including Blu-ray discs), not 720p. So 720p televisions have to scale down your television image from 1080p resulting in a picture that is not as sharp, and may include imaging artifacts (boxy-looking pixels).

The best price I saw for a 50-inch 720p 60Hz set was $698 at Wal-Mart. But as you'll see below, you can get a 50-inch 1080p set from Wal-Mart for just $200 more. The whole point of getting a high-def television is for the image quality, so why not fork over a little extra cash for a 1080p set?

Refresh rate

Another thing to consider in buying an HDTV is the refresh rate for LCD TVs. This is the number of images the television displays per second. The standard refresh rate is 60Hz or 60 images per second. But once you increase that number to 120Hz or more the TV images get much clearer, and usually motion blur (unnatural, jerky movements on screen) is less of a factor.

[see related: Does 120hz or 240hz Really Make A Difference?]

Shipping

Make sure you also check out shipping rates to ensure you're getting the best deal possible. Most sites are offering free or almost-free shipping at this time of year, especially for high-end purchases like HDTVs. Don't settle for anything less. One common Web shopping gotcha is a site charging a low upfront cost on a product and charging an exorbitant amount for shipping.

Searchers beware

It's easy to find cheaper prices than those detailed below just by searching for them with your favorite search engine. But this is an easy way to get into trouble. Sometimes those deals will come from sites you've never heard of, and when you get there you may find the promised product is out of stock.

You should also keep in mind that lower-priced sets might be used or refurbished. That's not necessarily a bad way to pick up some tech on the cheap, but usually these products come with limited warranties or no warranties at all. You may also come across televisions that are being sold for parts, so make sure you don't buy a non-functioning set by mistake.

Trust your brand

There are lots of no-name televisions out there being sold for a very cheap price, but often these devices are poorly made or destined for the trash heap within 12 months. When it comes to televisions, it's worth it to go with a brand name you know and trust.

HDTV options

An LCD TV that has a refresh rate of 60Hz is the easiest class of 1080p television to find, and there are lots of good buys to be had for these specs. But remember that motion blur problems could be more prominent on this type of HDTV. Even if you buy online, it may not be a bad idea to slip into a retailer and see a similar set in action before you commit to your purchase.

A Samsung 46-inch 1080p HDTV for $869 on Amazon.
Wal-mart has a 52-inch RCA LCD TV for $898. You have your choice of 97-cent shipping to your home or free site-to-store (store pick-up) shipping. Depending on your location, this item will ship to your home on or before December 24.

Amazon also has a Samsung 46-inch set for $869 in this HDTV class that includes free shipping.

1080p, 120Hz LCD Now we're getting serious, with a television refresh rate that should decrease motion blur and give you a better image overall. Again, you might want to experience the difference between a 60Hz and a 120Hz set in the retail showroom before buying.

Amazon is selling a 42-inch set for $838, but a third-party vendor not Amazon is selling this one so make sure you're comfortable with the retailer before buying. Best Buy is selling a Sony Bravia HDNA 52-inch for $1,300 that includes free shipping, and Target has a Philips 47-inch HDTV for $950. Finally, New Egg has a 55-inch 1080p, 120Hz wireless set for $1,700; 'wireless' means you connect all your devices to a connector box instead of directly to the television. This has its advantages if you can't keep your television and other home theater equipment together, or you want to achieve a cleaner look by keeping all your components out of sight.

1080p, 240Hz This is where the prices start to really increase, but you can still find some good deals. Head over to Amazon for 40-inch Sony Bravia for $1,119. Wal-Mart has a Vizio 47-inch for just under $1,197. The best price you'll find at Best Buy is an LG 47-inch for $1,300.

1080p Plasmas Plasma sets tend to be a bit cheaper than their LCD counterparts, and there are definitely some good deals to be had. Best Buy has a 50-inch Panasonic Viera 1080p for $900. Wal-Mart is offering two good prices on Panasonic Plasmas. You can get a 42-inch set for $778, or grab the 46-inch model for $788 (while supplies last).

Now, I know you're probably wondering why you should bother with a set for $800 or more, when you can just grab that 32-inch HDTV for $400. But think about what you're getting if you invest a little more: a set from a brand that's just as recognizable, a larger screen size and far better display resolution than 720p. Consider that many of these 1080p televisions are typically priced well over $1,000, and you're still saving at least a few hundred dollars or more on the higher-end 240Hz sets. So why not take advantage of the low prices, and invest a little bit more money in a television that can really show off that new set of Blu-ray discs you've got your eye on.

Do you know of any other great deals? Let us know in the comments.

[Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).]

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