One of the allures of Black Friday is getting best deals of the year, especially on large-ticket items such as TVs. We've now had a chance to scan most of the major Black Friday ads—from retailers such as Best Buy, Kmart, Sears, Target, and Walmart—to pick out some of the best deals so far.
But getting the best deal doesn't necessarily mean buying the lowest-priced set you can find, especially if you're shopping for a main TV for your family. Often the least expensive TVs advertised during the Black Friday shopping holiday are from lesser-known brands that don't always perform well. And many are so-called "doorbuster" specials, which are generally available in very limited quantities and for very short durations, so most people won't be able to get one. That's why in many cases, we believe it makes more sense to look for a discounted major brand-brand TV that will perform well and is backed by a record of reliability.
Still, it's hard not to be enticed by low-ball TV prices, especially if you're looking for a second or third set for your home. If price is your primary—or even sole—consideration, here are some of the cheapest TV prices we've seen:
- a 32-inch Funai at Walmart for $98
- a 39-inch Insignia 1080p LCD TV at Best Buy for $180
- a 40-inch Westinghouse 1080p LCD TV at Target for $200
- a 40-inch Element LCD TV for $178 at Walmart
- a 50-inch Element 1080p LCD TV at Target for $230
- a 50-inch 1080p LCD TV from Emerson for $288 at Walmart
- a 50-inch Seiki Ultra HD LCD TV for $750 at Sears
- a 55-inch Seiki Ultra HD LCD TV for $850 at Sears
- a 60-inch Westinghouse 1080p LCD TV for $588 at Kmart
Clearly, these are very low prices for TVs in their respective sizes. But most, if not all, are doorbuster specials, and you have to show up in person to claim one, if one is even still available.
Perhaps more important, few if any of the TVs we've reviewed from these brands have been top performers in our TV Ratings. For example, despite having a higher-resolution Ultra HD screen, the 50-inch Seiki Ultra HD set (SE50UY04) had only good high-definition picture quality, worse than all sets this seize except for a 52-inch LCD TV from RCA (model LED52B45RQ), another brand we've seen in advertised doorbuster specials. RCA sets, and Element and Insignia TVs, have had inconsistent picture quality, with some models doing OK but others ranking among the poorest performers in their respective screen sizes. Generally you don't have to spend much more to find a model that offers better picture quality.
That's why our top picks for Black Friday TVs aren't the cheapest TVs, but the ones that deliver a winning combination of price, performance and features. And not surprising, they're from better-known brands.
So without further ado, here are top picks for the best in-store deals we've seen so far.
- a 46-inch Samsung smart LED LCD TV (UN46EH53000) for $480 at Best Buy, $498 at Walmart, $500 at Sears
- a 51-inch 720p Samsung plasma TV (PN51F4500) at Walmart for $428, at Sears and Kmart for $430
- a 55-inch LG 1080p 120Hz LED LCD TV (55LN5100) for $500 at Best Buy
- a 60-inch Vizio 120Hz 1080p LED LCD TV (E601i-A3) for $688 at Walmart
- a 65-inch Samsung 120Hz 1080 LED LCD TV (UN65FH6001FXZA) for $1,000 at Best Buy
- a 70-inch Vizio 120Hz 1080p LED LCD TV (E701i-A3) for $998 at Walmart
Samsung is typically among the best-performing brands in our TV Ratings. We tested the UN46EH5300 model, which had excellent picture quality and very good sound, plus Samsung's smart TV platform. The more bare-bones PN51F4500—one of the few plasma TVs we've seen advertised this Black Friday normally sells for about $70 to $80 more than its price here, and has very good picture quality.
Samsung's FH-series models, such as the 65-inch set above, appear to be Black Friday specials, so we haven't reviewed any. But it looks like you'll save about $500 on this model—a fairly basic 120Hz set—compared to its current price. Note that it has only two HDMI inputs, though, fewer than most sets this size.
LG and Vizio TVs have also done well in our Ratings, typically earning very good or excellent scores for picture quality. We haven't reviewed the 55LN5100, which also appears to be a Black Friday special. But the company's 55LN5400 set had very good picture quality and a wide viewing angle for an LCD TV, though we can't guarantee this will be true of the LN5100 set.
We did get our hands on Vizio's 60-inch E601i-A3 set, part of the company's new entry-level E series. The TV had excellent high-definition picture quality and the company's smart TV platform, though its viewing angle was on the narrow side. We didn't test the 70-inch model in the same series, but would expect it to perform similarly. The 60-inch set is selling for about $1,000 now, while the 70-incher is going for about $1,700, so the Black Friday savings is significant—if you can get your hands on one.
We've already published our list of the Top 10 Black Friday shopping tips to help you get the best deal on the right TV during the shopping event. One of the suggestion is to see whether the retailer's typical 30-day price-match guarantee will be in effect for Black Friday deals, which can help protect your purchase if prices drop even further in December.
And we believe that's likely to happen with a number of TVs this year, given the competitive retail environment and sluggish economy. So if you don't manage to snag that TV you want during Black Friday, keep monitoring prices as we get closer to the end of the year. We've often found that TV prices are even lower closer to Christmas than they were during Black Friday.
—James K. Willcox
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