HDTV’s just keep improving — and now retailers are going out of their way to make them more affordable than ever. Go ahead, you know you want one. Here are 21 of the best LCD and plasma HDTV’s in a variety of sizes.
Update, December, 2010: See my latest post on the best plasma and LCD televisions you can get now (plus blu-ray players), including the best of all current televisions, the Panasonic Viera TC-PVT25 series.
While LED and Plasma HDTVs keep getting better, prices relative to quality are dropping. These reviews cover some of the best deals out there — top-rated sets at the lowest prices I can find from reputable dealers. Have you checked out the latest in HDTVs? Nowadays, the best televisions will cause you to exclaim in ecstasy and wonder as you behold what appears to be a window into a more vivid version of reality (especially when you’ve got a Blu-ray player playing a hi-def movie). (Kind of like Scrat, the squirrel in Ice Age, when he finds an acorn.) Your favorite TV shows and sports are scrambling to provide the crispest, most colorful, most realistic images ever. With the jaw-dropping performance now available for reasonable prices, there has never been a better time to be a TV shopper. Check out the following sets in a variety of sizes and prices. Get one for yourself. And maybe for someone else. But for yourself, definitely. We’ll begin with LCD HDTVs…
Best Deal Overall (55-inch set)
The Toshiba Regza 55-inch 1080p LCD HDTV (55ZV650U) was rated as a best buy by Consumer Reports. Its ClearScan 240 technology combines 120 frames-per-second with advanced backlighting for excellent rendering of motion (creates a 240 Hz effect). Consumer Reports cited its picture quality, which features a wider viewing angle and less motion blur than many other LCD sets, as well as its very competitive price for an HDTV of this size. PCMag also recommended the Regza model as a good choice. You can click to see spec’s at Buy.com and order for much less than the $2,599 suggested retail.
The Sony Bravia XBR 46-inch 1080p 120 Hz LCD HDTV (KDL-46XBR8) was also rated at the top by Consumer Reports (CR). PCMag put this set through a battery of tests and came away impressed, stating that the “picture quality is second to none.” Its dynamic LED backlight produces a dynamic contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. (That’s quite good.) It’s got 4 HDMI inputs, 2 HD inputs, and a PC input. Its built-in digital amplifier features a Dolby Digital decoder for great sound. And there’s a whole host of other features. Out of 18 reviews on Amazon, 14 are 5-star and 3 are 4-star. There are 5 customer reviews on Best Buy and all gave it 5 out of 5 stars. One concern of early professional reviewers was the price. That is really no longer an issue, because you can find it here for about half off.
CNET’s editors rated the Samsung UN46B7000 46-inch 1080p 120 Hz LED HDTV “excellent,” and CR chose it as one of their top buys. CNET’s extensive review praised its deep black levels (a dynamic contrast ratio of 3,000,000:1), accurate color, sleek styling (only 1.2 inches thick), extensive feature set (including network streaming), and extreme energy-efficiency, while stating that the set did not receive perfect marks due to the cost, poor off-angle viewing, the shiny screen, and the fact that not everyone liked the red-edged frame. (I think it looks cool myself.) The price has since come down, and this set is still one of the best HDTV’s you can buy. All the reviews on Amazon but one (which did not seem credible) were glowing in their praise, using words and phrases such as “stunning,” “best set ever,” etc. The 27 reviews on Best Buy (for the UN46B7100) averaged 4.7 out of 5. (Note: the Samsung UN46B7100 46-inch HDTV at Best Buy is a retailer-specific version with a gray frame instead of red.) If you get this set, check out CNET’s recommended picture settings.
We pause in our TV review to ask: do you need a Blu-ray player? Here are 3 good ones for low prices…
Of course, to get the best out of your new 1080p HDTV, you’ll need to hook up a Blu-ray player. A couple of good, inexpensive players are the Panasonic DMP-BD60K (an up-converting player that is highly rated by Consumersearch) and the Sylvania NB530SLX. If you would like a higher-end Blu-ray player, one that can do just about everything except wash your dishes, the Panasonic DMP-BD85 has come out this year and, as of today, is well under $250 here.
But why buy just a Blu-ray player when you can get a PlayStation 3 that is one of the better Blu-ray players around and does so much more (like, play games)? For a limited time, Best Buy is offering a great deal on a Sony system with a PS3 and an HDTV: buy a Sony 120 Hz or 240 Hz HDTV 46″ or larger, a PS3, a game, a movie and save $789 – 1,118 on the whole package. See details here. (If you select the Sony Bravia XBR8 described above, for example, you can get the whole package from Best Buy for about $1,960. No, that is not a typo!) On most HDTV purchases of $999 and up, Best Buy also offers delivery, hook-up, and recycling of your old set at no extra charge, plus free shipping. (Limited-time offer. If you miss it, keep checking back to see other great deals at Best Stuff for Men!)
40 – 42-inch Sets
Another model in Samsung’s 2009 line-up of ultra-thin LED-backlit LCD TV’s , the 40-inch UN40B6000 1080p 120 Hz HDTV is the least expensive of the bunch. The TV is sleek, technically sophisticated, and green (minimal energy consumption). CR rated it a top buy and CNET rated it “very good.” CNET praised its black levels, accurate color, dejudder processing, and extensive picture controls. They were less sanguine about the uniformity of its screen performance, backlight fluctuation, and slight blue tinge to dark areas of the picture. Everyone — televisioninfo.com, youreviewelectronics.com, reviewed.com, etc. — was impressed by the ultra-thin styling. Hang it on your wall and it’s thinner than a traditionally-framed painting (1.2 inches). But you get so much more performance for your money (than the painting). It’s got a bevy of those elaborately-named functions — Wide Color Enhancer Pro, Auto Motion Plus, Picture-in-Picture, SRS TruSurround HD for virtual surround sound, InfoLink for Internet news, weather, and sports, and so on. This is a good set for a slightly smaller room, such as a bedroom, family room, den, or apartment living room. CNET thought this set held its own with respect to color accuracy and video processing when compared to the more expensive models in the Samsung line-up. You can find it at Buy.com with free shipping.
The JVC LT-42P300 42-inch 1080p LCD HDTV is another good example of how sets are improving and prices are dropping. If this TV was a tennis player, it would be Jim Courier — not superlative in any one area, but does everything well. And at less than $800, its performance (rated as a top buy by CR) is readily accessible. Actually, this set does have one claim to fame that many of its owners rave about — it will dock with your iPod or iPhone and play back downloaded video content as well as music and photos. And it will charge the device as long as it’s docked. CNET called it “the most Apple-friendly TV available today” and gave it an overall “good” rating. It’s also economical in that it doesn’t use much energy. Click here for detailed spec’s and to purchase.
The Samsung LN37B650 37-inch 1080p 120 Hz LCD HDTV got one of the higher scores in Consumer Reports’ ratings, and CNET rated it “very good.” CNET stated: “While not up to the picture quality of Samsung’s topflight models, the feature-rich, uniquely styled LNB650 series still outperforms most LCDs on the market.” On Best Buy, 94% of the set’s owners would recommend it to a friend. One customer with a rather different perspective chose it as a good TV for its size, performance, and ruggedness for his RV. Some customers noted that the rear-mounted speakers leave a little to be desired with respect to sound quality and recommend adding external speakers. Try it first with the onboard speakers and see what you think. Also note that the optimum viewing distance for a screen this size is about 5 to 9 feet. Originally listed at nearly $1,150, you can now get it for a good discount here.
Panasonic’s Viera TC-L37S1 is part of their mid-range line of LCD televisions introduced in 2009. Unlike the top-of-the-line G1 series, the 37-inch TC-L37S1 1080p HDTV has a 60 Hz refresh rate rather than 120 Hz. However, it does share the IPS panel technology with the G1 — which features an impressive 178-degree viewing angle — and a Game Mode so you can hook your PS3, Xbox, or other game console to this set and expect impressive image quality. It also has a slot for an SD card, making it easy to present an instant slide show with your digital photos. The audio quality was also praised by reviewers. CR rated it a top buy. On Amazon, 52 out of 54 reviewers rated this set highly. And now you can get it for 25% off.
HDTV’s in this size range are either intended for use in a small room or are considered by those who have budgeted less for a TV (or both). That does not mean that performance suffers. Good performance is what you get with the Samsung LN32B650 32-inch 1080p 120 Hz LCD HDTV. It’s got a 100,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, Samsung’s Wide Color Enhancer 3 technology, Auto Motion Plus (motion blur and image judder reduction), SRS TruSurround HD, 2 USB ports, 4 HDMI ports, an ethernet port that works with InfoLink to get online news, weather, stock quotes, and sports, a built-in digital tuner, a variable sleep timer, and a partridge in a pear tree. (No, no partridge — just seeing if you’re paying attention). This set tied for top score in Consumer Reports’ ratings of LCD TVs (with larger $3,000 Sony and $2,000 Samsung models). CNET rated it “very good,” and their bottom-line evaluation was: “While not up to the picture quality of Samsung’s topflight models, the feature-rich, uniquely styled LNB650 series still outperforms most LCDs on the market.” It used to retail for almost $1,000, but prices are down — find it here for a little over $800.
The Insignia NS-L322Q-10A 32-inch 1080p 60 Hz LCD HDTV was rated as a top buy by Consumer Reports. It is the house brand sold by Best Buy. Customer reviews on Best Buy tend to be quite positive. For the price, it’s a competent performer. Aside from watching television and DVDs/Blu-ray discs, it would also make a good, dedicated monitor for your gaming console. As of today, the price is less than $450. And it comes with a 2-year limited warranty.
Vizio has risen from a start-up company in 2002 to the #1 seller of LCD HDTV’s in North America in 2009, so they must be doing something right. The Vizio VO320E 32-inch 720p LCD HDTV is part of their ECO line of HDTVs. The company is committed to using greener methods to produce their products, and what this means regarding this set is that it exceeds current Energy Star guidelines by 15%, the User Manual and Quick Start Guide are printed on recycled paper using vegetable ink, and all packaging material is recycled. Aside from that, how does it work? Consumer Reports named the Vizio VO320E the best LCD TV under $500. Customer reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive. And at a current price of less than $400, you can hardly afford not to buy it. This set actually gives the Toshiba Regza at the top of this post a run for its money as “Best Deal.” Get yours now, because they’re going fast…
Most people are interested in a larger HDTV than this, but there are those who can use them so, for the sake of completeness, I will mention two that were rated as top buys by CR: the Sony Bravia KDL-26L5000 and the Insignia NS-L26Q-10A. As of today, the Insignia is under $300 at Best Buy. Click the links here to see spec’s and customer reviews (which are very positive for both sets), and to purchase.
And now for Plasma TVs
You didn’t think we were done, did you? For those who want the best video quality and performance, plasma HDTVs are still the way to go. The strength of plasma sets is their consistent picture, which does not exhibit color shifts, unsaturated colors, or reduced contrast when viewed from angles other than straight-on to the screen and, as PCMag so eloquently put it, “…plasma’s fast-pulsing pixels are inherently well-suited for minimizing detail loss when displaying motion video.” Though backlit LED LCD TVs are catching up, plasma TVs still look the best, especially in the larger screen sizes and with regard to rendering the deepest blacks. However, they are generally heavier and consume more electricity than LCD sets.
So which are the best?
The Pioneer KURO (“kuro” means black) plasma HDTV is legendary and if you want one, get it now, because they’re going away forever in March, 2010 (though you’ll still be able to get service for them). The remaining stock is dwindling so it may be harder to find one at a good price. I wrote extensively about this television in my post on “The Best Television in the World,” so check that out for more detail. Best Buy has one model left and it’s on sale — the Pioneer KURO PDP-6020FD 60-inch 1080p 60 Hz Plasma HDTV. You can get it for $500 off, which is a pretty good deal. And remember, if you’re a home theater afficianado, viewing the Pioneer KURO is close to a religious experience. Or even if you’re not. (If you click the link here and it’s gone, sorry — check here for more top-flight models. Or consider one of the top-rated plasmas below.)
54 – 58-inch Sets
There are only three major players still committed to making plasma TVs — Samsung, Panasonic, and LG — and Samsung and Panasonic are duking it out for bragging rights in the larger screen sizes. The Samsung PN58B650 58-inch 1080p Plasma HDTV tied for top score of all plasma TVs reviewed by Consumer Reports this year and so is a top buy. CNET rated it “excellent,” stating: “The PNB650 series can’t quite match the best plasmas on the market, but it comes close enough to offer a viable alternative.” (Meaning it performs well for what you pay.) CNET praised its deep black levels, accurate color with superb saturation, its proper handling of 1080p/24 sources, extensive feature set with Yahoo widgets, solid connectivity options, and reduced power usage compared to other 1080p plasma sets. On the “con” side, they thought it was a bit expensive and found a glitch when trying to combine the Cinema Smooth mode in “Film Mode” with their preferred picture settings (it wouldn’t hold the settings and blacks became lighter). There has been a lot of discussion about that CNET report on AV forums — some customers did not have the problem CNET mentioned and some did, and some figured that CNET was not using Cinema Smooth correctly. Some reviews stated that Samsung’s firmware update in mid-October fixed the glitch. Another concern for some customers has been receiving sets that buzz enough to bother them (but most customers haven’t experienced this). Bottom line? This set is still one of the best. Read the customer reviews and decide for yourself.
Panasonic had two plasma models in Consumer Reports’ final cut for this size class and I’ll mention the one that got the best score and was chosen as a top buy: the Panasonic Viera TC-P54V10 54-inch 1080p 600 Hz Plasma HDTV. Besides CR’s recommendation, CNET rated it “excellent” and named it an “Editor’s Choice.” Their summary: “The high-end Panasonic TC-PV10 series of plasmas delivers the overall best picture quality of any flat-panel HDTV we’ve tested so far this year.” They also stated that it outperforms any LCD-based display they’ve ever tested, bar none. It’s got a THX-certified display; Digital Cinema Color; a slew of inputs; an SD card slot to display your photos; easy hookup (via Viera Cast) to the Internet for Youtube, Amazon OnDemand video service, and other content; simulated surround-sound speakers (though you will probably want to use your own home theater audio system); the capability to play back Picasa slide shows; etc. The life of the panel is rated at 100,000 hours. That should cover your viewing for awhile. (Plus it’s got the capability to upgrade its firmware over the Internet.) The panel is slim and has a striking “single sheet of glass” design. This is the first television I’ve ever seen on Best Buy where 100% of the reviewers would recommend it to a friend. I liked what one customer reviewer had to say: “HD channels like ESPN and Discovery look amazing and I find myself watching the most bizarre shows just to take in the amazing picture quality.” Customer reviews are almost uniformly positive. By the way, it has been rumored that a number of Pioneer’s former plasma engineers have been hired by Panasonic. So it will be interesting to see what plasma products they will be bringing to market in the next couple of years. For now, this may be the most affordable, high-end plasma model you can get. It’s not cheap, but a lot of happy customers think it’s worth it. (Best Buy is currently out of stock but has other Panasonic Viera models.)
The Samsung PN50B650 50-inch 1080p Plasma HDTV is the other plasma set that tied for top score (with its PN58B650 sibling above) in Consumer Reports’ review of plasma TVs. It shares almost identical appearance, features, and performance, which include 3,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, 600 Hz, Mega Dynamic Contrast, Wide Color Enhancer 3, 0.001 ms pixel-response time (I know I haven’t mentioned pixel-response time yet, but this set’s is extremely fast), Cinema Smooth, 4 HDMI ports, Energy Star qualified, Ultra FilterBright, DLNA comptatible (meets Digital Living Network Alliance guidelines), etc. And it’s even got a swiveling stand! As of today, get it for almost 30% off here. By the way, for what it’s worth, I’ve had a Samsung TV for years and it’s always worked well.
If you want to spend a little less on a plasma TV but still get near-top performance, try the Panasonic Viera TC-P50X1 50-inch 720p Plasma HDTV (pictured at left), which was recommended as a top buy by CR. It’s got a 720p display that, combined with Panasonic’s 600 Hz Sub-field Drive, provides superb high-definition motion clarity. It’s got 3 HDMI slots, a Game Mode, and an SD slot that combines with Viera Image Viewer to display your own high-def images and videos. The panel is rated for 100,000 hours of service (that’s 8 hours of viewing per day for 30 years), and the panel is manufactured without the use of mercury or lead, making it more environmentally friendly when you finally recycle it. CNET praised its black levels, saying: “…the TC-P50X1 delivers the best black-levels-to-dollars ratio of any HDTV we’ve tested.” However, they thought its green and red primary colors were somewhat inaccurate and they noticed faint diagonal lines visible in lighter areas. 39 out of 44 reviews on Amazon are quite positive (and the 3 1-star reviews were, as often happens on Amazon, either irrelevant or bogus (e.g. one guy who said he had it for 27 months and it failed; he wrote the review in September and this set has only been available in 2009). The overall rating on Best Buy is 4.7 out of 5.
42 – 46-inch Sets
In this size range, Consumer Reports rated 5 Panasonic models at the top, followed by an LG. The best-rated overall was the Panasonic Viera TC-P42S1 42-inch 1080p 600 Hz Plasma HDTV. It offers full HD resolution at 1080p, 600 Hz Sub-field Drive, Anti-Reflective Filter, 2:3 pulldown with 24p playback for accurate reproduction of film-based sources, and many other features, some of which I’ve covered for other Panasonic models above. CNET rated it “very good,” summarizing their findings thus: “With deep black levels and generally excellent picture quality, the more eco-friendly Panasonic TC-PS1 series of plasma TVs strikes an appealing price/performance balance.” Customer reviews run very positive. Some have reported a problem with the power supply. Click here to get it.
The next best-rated set in this class was (surprise!), the Panasonic Viera TC-P46S1 46-inch 1080p 600 Hz Plasma HDTV. While there is a fairly large difference in price between this model and the 42-inch S1, the dimensions can make a difference when it comes to viewing distance. One customer had a good suggestion: make some cardboard cutouts to match the size of the various screen-sizes you’re considering — say, 42, 46, and 50 inches — and put them where you’d put your set. See which size appeals to you. Amazon generally has the actual product dimensions for each set in its “Product Details” section.
The least expensive Panasonic model highly-rated by CR was the Panasonic Viera TC-P42X1 42-inch 720p 600 Hz Plasma HDTV. This is known as a very good “entry-level” plasma television. It performs similarly to the 50-inch X1, meaning it’s got everything you’d want in a basic plasma model. Customers are enthusiastic about this set and its value for the price. There are 68 reviews on Best Buy and the average rating is 4.8. Remember, with Best Buy you can also order online and pick up the item at your nearest Best Buy store.
Consumer Reports’ sixth-rated plasma model in this size range — and still a recommended buy — is the LG 42PQ30 42-inch 720p 600 Hz Plasma HDTV. It’s got a Mega Contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1; Clear Voice II audio, which enhances and amplifies the frequency range of the human voice; sports, cinema, and video game modes; a USB port so you can import your own video and images; 3 HDMI ports; Intelligent Sensor to optimize the screen brightness for the room’s conditions; and an Energy Star rating of 3.0 (though some viewers like to turn off the energy-saving feature to enhance picture brightness). Customer reviews are positive — most people were very satisfied to get plasma performance of this quality for only about $700.
Remember when you order your LCD or plasma HDTV to order an HDMI cable or two with it.
That wraps up this review of some of the best-bang-for-the-buck LCD and plasma TVs available today. Among these 21 top-rated models, you should be able to find a set that will provide years of viewing pleasure. If you still have questions, or would like to broaden your search to other makes and models, Best Buy has an excellent guide to buying TVs on its website. All of Best Buy’s “Magnolia” category TVs are top-of-the-line, plus they include home theater options.
One more reminder… J&R Computer/Music World is a fine establishment (see their intro video on my Good Deals and Outlets page). Click the banner below to get the latest excellent deals:
If you support this site by buying a product through a link here — thanks! Please leave a comment below if you have a question or would like to share your own experience with any of the video technology discussed here. Happy viewing!
If you have found something interesting or useful here on Best Stuff for Men, please consider making a donation, so others can benefit, too. Thanks!