Now is a good time to shop for the highest-rated, best-performing HDTVs of 2010; prices are dropping.
We all know that men are visual creatures. After all, it was men who were busy inventing television in the 1920s while women were, well, dressing in flapper outfits (except Amelia Earhart).
Today, we are enjoying the evolved fruits of the labor of those pioneering TV engineers — the best contemporary televisions produce picture quality that can inspire near-religious awe (in human males, at least) while at the same time being sold for continually-declining prices (browse the top-rated retailers referenced in this post).
There are not just 5 or 10 but dozens of models of HDTVs that are worth your consideration, depending on your viewing habits, budget, room size, and technical preferences (for example, do you only watch the evening news or are you an omni-viewer that wants to stream video from the Internet and watch in 3D?). There is no doubt that we are in a golden age of television technology — one that shows no signs of abating. The competition is fierce and the engineers are just as clever 80 years later.
As the holiday season — and the year — comes to a close, prices are being reduced on many of the great televisions listed below. So now is a good time to shop. Especially online, retailers are reducing prices and offering perks like free shipping and free recycling of your old TV. Below are 10 superior models (and 3 blu-ray players) that will supply superlative viewing experiences. Heck, your wife or girlfriend might even be impressed as she views the intricate detail of the products on QVC.
But you know what the good prices mean, don’t you? Do Not Wait! When these deals are gone, the next-gen models will be taking their place…
Plasma or LCD?
When I wrote my post on HDTVs last year at about this time, I began with LCD televisions and moved to plasma. This year I’ll begin with plasma, because the best plasma sets still tend to outperform the best LCD sets with respect to picture quality. Not that there’s a huge difference, but still, it’s noticeable. Of course, nowadays whether you prefer plasma or LCD/LED depends largely on your taste. The picture on an LCD HDTV tends to be a bit brighter, a bit more dynamically vivid, color-wise, than the picture on a plasma HDTV, which is more subtly textured, not quite so punchy, but with greater depth. The black levels on the best plasma sets still out-shine (if that’s the right term) those on the highest-quality LCD sets, and plasma sets also have wider viewing angles and generally better gaming performance.
On the other hand, LED/LCD sets use less power. Really, when it comes to the most competent models, you can’t go wrong with either plasma or LCD. Both produce stunning results, particularly with blu-ray discs. Streaming Internet video has also come of age. And to add to the mix, 3D capability has been added this year on both high-end plasma and LCD sets.
I’m not going to go into all the technical details that I did in my post last year. The bottom line is that the 10 HDTVs covered below are the best televisions money can buy. If you want more in-depth technical discussion, there are plenty of AV forums to check out. You can also study the detailed spec’s from the retailers to which I’ll be referring. Just begin with this post, order the TV that most appeals to you (or a sibling in the same model designation from that manufacturer), and you’ll find satisfaction. Heck, if it’s been some time since you bought a new TV, you might even be blown away. All of the retailers to which I refer below are reputable, reliable, and have good prices. To find the current best deal, click through the various image or text links.
The plasma HDTV model that received the most lavish praise this year is the Panasonic Viera TC-PVT25, a 3D-enabled platform of visual gorgeosity. It is CNET’s Television of the Year for 2010, and the reviewing editor wrote, “It’s the second-best HDTV of any brand or technology I’ve ever reviewed” (behind the legendary 2008 Pioneer Kuro). At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), critics were almost unanimous in selecting the TC-PVT25 as the best 3D TV. Since it is also a superlative performer in 2D, you get the best of both worlds. In September, 2010, Value Electronics, an independent home theater retailer in New York, assembled an audience comprised of executives and engineers from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), National Association of TV Broadcasters, and major TV manufacturers for an “HDTV Shootout.” The distinguished audience unanimously selected the Panasonic TC-PVT25 as the winner, particularly when it came to picture quality. Its image is THX-certified. And, unlike 3D TVs from certain other manufacturers, a set of 3D glasses is included when you purchase this set. Its black levels are incredible, and CNET’s initial concern about black levels fading over time has been addressed and deemed not to be a problem — they would not have named it Television of the Year otherwise. LCDTV Buying Guide selected the Panasonic Viera TC-PVT25 as the best movie-viewing TV, the best sports-viewing TV, and the best gaming TV. It comes in 65-inch (TC-P65VT25), 58-inch (TC-P58VT25), 54-inch (TC-P54VT25), and 50-inch (TC-P50VT25) sizes. See the 65-inch model at BestBuyP.C.S., Butterfly Photo and Best Buy. Get the 58-inch model from J&R Computer/Music World with a special 3D bundle that includes a 3D-ready blu-ray player. You can also find the 58-inch model at BestBuyP.C.S, Butterfly Photo and Buy.com. You can get the 54-inch model from Buy.com, BestBuyP.C.S., Vann’s, and OneCall. You can get the 50-inch with an attractive 3D bundle from J&R Computer/Music World. You can also find the 50-inch, which is a good size for many rooms, at BestBuyP.C.S., Vann’s, Best Buy, Butterfly Photo (for a killer price as this is written), Buy.com, and OneCall.
A bonus with Panasonic 3D HDTVs: you can get the 3D Avatar blu-ray disc with them. Several stores have Panasonic 3D bundle deals, which includes Avatar and two pair of 3D glasses. You can get the bundle at Vann’s, Butterfly Photo, Buy.com (for a discount, as this is written), OneCall, Best Buy, and Sears. (Click the preceding links to see who’s offering the best deals now.) By the way, looks like you won’t be able to get Avatar in 3D blu-ray from anyone but Panasonic until 2012.
So, if you want the best, get the amazing Panasonic Viera TC-PVT25 by clicking here or via the other links above.
Update in summer, 2011: For a limited time (until 8/31/11), get $100 off a Panasonic TC-P50VT25 at BestBuyPCS.com using code “Summer100” at checkout! Click here or on the banner below. BestBuyPCS is one of the premier online high-end electronic stores, known for excellent customer service and good prices.
The next recommended plasma HDTV is Samsung’s flagship model — the Samsung PN50C8000. This is also a 3D-capable set with many sophisticated features. CNET rated it “Excellent,” and said it was one of the best-performing TVs this year, with deep black levels, good viewing performance in brightly-lit rooms, superior color, and excellent video processing. It offers 2D-to-3D image conversion. But, unlike the Panasonic set above, you have to buy the 3D glasses separately. The Samsung also offers more streaming-video options than any other Internet-enabled TV — and all of this at an attractive price. When you consider that CNET rated this television second only to the Panasonic Viera TC-PVT25 above, the price becomes even more of a draw. PCMag tested this set and recommends it as a “luxury tech gift.” But hey, luxury is in the eye of the beholder — you personally might call it a “necessity tech gift” after you see the picture. It comes in 63-inch (PN63C8000), 58-inch (PN58C8000), and 50-inch (PN50C8000) sizes. In addition to Vann’s, you can find the 50-inch Samsung PN50C8000 at BestBuyP.C.S., Butterfly Photo, Buy.com, OneCall, Best Buy, and Newegg (click the links to see the best price now, as all these retailers have good service; some are also offering accessories with a Samsung purchase). You can get the 63-inch at Vann’s, Butterfly Photo, Buy.com, Best Buy, and Newegg. You can get the 58-inch at Vann’s, Butterfly Photo, Buy.com, OneCall, Best Buy, and Newegg (and, as long we’re here, check out the products at Newegg awarded the Customer Choice Award).
A brief digression: 3D-capable Blu-ray Players
Of course, if you’re going to get a 3D television, you may as well get a 3D-capable blu-ray player. Here are two of the best. First, the Samsung BD-C6900. CNET chose this 3D-compatible player as the #1 blu-ray player this year. Of course, it handles 2D blu-ray discs just fine, too. And its Internet -streaming capabilities are second to none. Click the following links to see detailed spec’s, customer reviews, and to purchase: BestBuyP.C.S., J&R Computer/Music World, Vann’s, Comp-U-Plus, Circuit City, and Butterfly Photo (for an excellent discount right now). The second recommended player is the Sony BDP-S570 (pictured at right). Actually, various reviewers traded off naming either the Sony BDP-S570 or the Samsung as the best this year. Either should fit the bill. The Sony BDP-S570 is a solid 3D performer with a number of cool additional features, particularly Wi-Fi. You can find it at Vann’s, J&R, OneCall, and Butterfly Photo.
If you want a good blu-ray player that doesn’t need to handle all the latest capabilities of 3D, get the Sony PlayStation 3 160GB Slim. In addition to gaming and Internet connectivity, it is great at playing blu-ray disks. And it will play 3D blu-ray discs in 3D when it has firmware version 3.55 (update released Dec. 7, 2010); it just can’t output high-res audio (e.g. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master) at present, instead it reverts to regular Dolby Digital or DTS when a 3D blu-ray disc is played. If the audio limitation is not a big deal to you, the PS3 Slim is an excellent multi-purpose, multi-fun solution. In addition to the preceding links, also find it at Butterfly Photo and Newegg.
Back to Plasma TVs…
Another plasma set in the 50-inch class that is highly rated is the LG Infinia 50PK750. Consumer Reports gave this non-3D set its “Recommended Buy” designation and CNET rated it “Good,” citing its combination of style, features, and price as “compelling.” One interesting factor about this set is that customer reviews tend to be very enthusiastic, even more so than the professional reviews — probably in large part due to the performance you get for under $1,000 (when you can find it discounted, as I’ve done here). PCMag reviewed its 60-inch sibling (60PK750) and rated it “Good,” though, like CNET, they noted that the set’s black levels are not as impressive as higher-end plasmas and, in some cases, are not quite as good as top-of-the-line LCD/LED sets. Still, the 50PK750 was praised for its accurate color rendition and wide viewing angle. If you want a good-performing, attractively-priced plasma HDTV, which offers a beautiful design that will look great in whatever room you put it in, consider this model from LG. In addition to Vann’s, you can get it discounted from Butterfly Photo, Buy.com, and Newegg.
Consumer Reports also rated the LG Infinia 60PK950 as a “Recommended Buy.” And CNET suggested that plasma shoppers not overlook this “gem,” which is LG’s best-ever plasma TV. For a few hundred dollars over the 60PK750, the 60PK950 adds a “Magic Wand” remote (that works similar to the Wii remote), a “TruBlack” filter, which helps preserve the screen’s black levels in brightly-lit rooms, and LG’s Wireless Media Box option that allows you to connect HDMI devices and other accessories wirelessly. And its display is THX-certified.
Finally, for those seeking a slightly smaller plasma HDTV, the 42-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P42U2 is also recommended by Consumer Reports. ZDNet rated it “Very Good,” with a score of 8.8 out of 10. This set has been praised for its superb motion clarity, vivid color, reasonable connectivity, and superb gaming performance. Where it really shines is in customer reviews, which are quite positive, especially in relation to performance versus price (for example, on Best Buy, reviews average 4.8 out of 5, and 95% of buyers would recommend this set to a friend). While not the best performer in the marketplace, it’s a very good “entry-level” plasma. This Energy-Star Qualified set will give higher-priced LCD sets a run for their money, picture-wise. You’ll want to consider an external sound system with it, as the built-in audio is only fair. In addition to Butterfly Photo and Best Buy, Newegg has it in stock, too.
The Vizio XVT553SV is the LCD HDTV that the television editor of CNET would buy if he were going to buy a TV. It received CNET’s Editor’s Choice Award for 2010 for the best LCD HDTV. PCMag gave it 4 stars and stated: “The Vizio XVT553SV offers top-notch HDTV tech, wireless and wired connectivity, loads of web apps, and very good HD picture quality.” Televisioninfo.com stated that this was the first set from Vizio ever to impress them — they particularly raved about its color performance. Other reviewers have stated that this is probably Vizio’s best set ever, especially when considering value for the money. Using LED technology that incorporates local dimming (to enhance black levels), the 55-inch Vizio XVT553SV has the most extensive non-3D features on the market, and includes a Bluetooth remote with a full QWERTY keyboard, built-in Wi-Fi, and a broad and useful selection of television app’s. CNET’s reviewing editor stated that if he could spend any amount on an LCD television, he would still buy the Vizio XVT553SV. In the XVT3SV model line-up, in addition to the 55-inch, there are also 47-inch (XVT473SV) and 42-inch (XVT423SV) models, all equally good. You can get the 55-inch set for a good price from Buy.com. Along with Buy.com, you can find the 47-inch at Target (online only). The 42-inch set is available from Buy.com. (By the way, if you click the links for one of the XVT3SV models here and find it out of stock, please be aware that holiday sales decimated the inventory of this TV at every reputable retailer. This is one of Vizio’s most popular models ever, so presumably they will be re-stocking it — at least, according to my source at Vizio. Some retailers offer an email notification service for when a product becomes available. Or, if you’re interested in this model, try checking back weekly to see when it’s available again.)
CNET also gave an “Excellent” rating to the LG Infinia 47LE8500 LCD HDTV, another LED backlit model with local dimming. It has an extensive feature set, including Internet streaming, streaming video and audio over a home network, extensive picture adjustment options (including two THX modes), and excellent energy efficiency, as well as sleek styling and some of the best picture performance ever tested by CNET. About the only thing this set lacks is 3D capability. LCDTV Buying Guide rated this set 91 out of 100, and was pleasantly surprised by its price, especially when compared with the price of competing Samsung models. You can get this all-around performer while supplies last from: J&R Computer/Music World, Vann’s (for a huge discount), Circuit City, Butterfly Photo (for an excellent discount), Buy.com (about $2,000 off right now), Sears, and Newegg. Click the links to see the current best price and/or special offers (such as free shipping).
One of the latest LCD TVs to receive PCMag’s “Editor’s Choice” award is the Samsung LN55C650 — a 55-inch, CCFL-backlit model that they named one of the 10 best HDTVs of 2010. While not 3D-capable, that didn’t matter to the testers at PCMag; they described its picture quality as “stunning,” with very deep blacks. In addition, its suite of web app’s came in for praise, and its audio performance (which includes SRS TruSurround HD) was rated as solid. All in all, the LN55C650 from Samsung was judged to be an excellent all-around performer for its price, along with its 40-inch (LN40C650 at Vann’s and Butterfly Photo) and 46-inch (LN46C650 at Vann’s and J&R Computer/Music World) siblings. Customer reviews for this set at CNET are all 5-star, and include comments such as “amazing,” “great,” and “one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.” You can get the LN55C650 from BestBuyP.C.S., Vann’s, J&R, Circuit City, Butterfly Photo, Buy.com, and Newegg.
Samsung’s LNC630 series (an LCD cousin of the LNC650) also came in for praise this year. Consumer Reports named the Samsung LN46C630 a “Best Buy,” and CNET stated that the picture performance of these CCFL sets “manages in some ways — chiefly screen uniformity — to produce a better image than the company’s edge-lit LED models.” This performance comes at a price generally lower than that of competing LED models. Check out the discounted LN46C630 at J&R, Vann’s, Butterfly Photo, Circuit City, Best Buy, and Newegg.
The Sony Bravia KDL-55HX800 is a 55-inch, 3D-ready, backlit LED HDTV that is part of Sony’s least-pricey line of 3D-capable TVs. While PCMag complimented this set for its solid 3D performance, its 2D performance was rated even better. As 3D content is still ramping up in the marketplace, the 2D picture-quality of the KDL-55HX800 is the chief reason to consider this set — that, along with a great suite of web app’s that includes more than 30 interactive channels. Earlier this year it was considered a bit expensive, but online retailers are starting to offer discounts, so now is a good time to consider the Sony Bravia KDL-55HX800. You can find it at Vann’s, J&R, Buy.com, OneCall, Best Buy, Sears, and Newegg.
As long as we’re considering Sony, you should also take a look at the Sony Bravia KDL-52NX800, an LED edge-lit model that was designated as a “Recommended Buy” by Consumer Reports. It was rated “Very Good” by CNET and “Good” by PCMag. One of the drawbacks that testers mentioned with this set was that, at $2,800, it was expensive for a non-3D TV — but now, at year’s end, the price has come down substantially, so this set has become a much better deal. Reviewers loved its beautiful, all-glass design, liked its competent HD picture, and appreciated its slew of web app’s. It also has built-in Wi-Fi, a feature that’s missing on many more expensive HDTVs and worth the price of admission to some. Overall, this is a well-executed television that has become attractive now that it’s cheaper. You can find good prices at Vann’s, Sears, Butterfly Photo, and Buy.com.
And that pretty much sums up the current best-rated HDTVs at good prices. Since it’s the end of the year, with product life-cycles being what they are in the electronics industry, your window of opportunity for grabbing one of these superior sets is not particularly wide. In other words, if you want a top-rated television that will give you years of enjoyable viewing for a good price, get one of these now. Take advantage of the good deals and you can be watching the NFL playoffs — or heck, PBS, or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs in 3D blu-ray — in a few days.