By Troy Wolverton
San Jose Mercury News
These days, the good news is that shoppers can find jumbo-sized television sets with compelling features at prices that a couple of years ago would have been unthinkable. Some 60-inch TVs, for example, cost less than $750.
The bad news is that you’ll still have to pay a pretty penny for the largest TVs or those with the newest capabilities.
You may want to wait because the discounts generally are only on last year’s models, and this year’s versions will start hitting stores soon, now that the Super Bowl is over.
With that in mind, here are some tips on picking out your next TV:
1. Features to pay for: The most important is screen size. In general, the larger the screen, the more immersive the experience. And thanks to declining prices, you may be able to afford a very large television. Sixty-inch sets now cost about what a 46-inch television did two years ago. And 55-inch sets cost even less, as little as $600 in some cases.
Another key feature is the refresh rate, which is the frequency at which the images are redrawn on a television’s screen. LCD televisions — of which so-called LED TVs are a subset — tend to have a problem displaying fast-moving images, such as those that happen during a football game. The faster the set’s refresh rate, the less likely you’ll run into so-called motion blur. In general, you should look for sets with a 120 Hz refresh rate or faster.
Jim Wilcox at Consumer Reports suggests paying extra for a set from a major brand. While you can find decent sets among secondary and off-brands, the picture quality of those televisions is much more inconsistent than Sony, Samsung or LG products.
2. Less important features: If a set you like includes 3-D viewing, great. But don’t pay more to buy a set with the feature. The technology still faces many of the same problems that have plagued it all along. There’s little content available, and to enjoy a 3-D experience, everyone in the room has to be wearing the silly-looking glasses, which can cost as much as $50.
You shouldn’t pay extra to play apps or access Internet content, features generally referred to collectively as “smart TV” capabilities. Many of the same features — and often access to more content — are on digital media adapters such as Google’s Chromecast and Apple TV. Such devices cost anywhere from $35 to $100; if you spend more than that for a smart TV, you’ve spent too much.
3. The best bargains: The best-priced televisions are generally those that are 60 inches or smaller. While you won’t find many 60-inch models for less than $800, you’ll find a wide selection for under $1,000, and high-end models, with smart TV features, a 240 Hz refresh rate and 3-D viewing capabilities, can be as little as $1,300.
Prices get better as you go smaller. A few 46-inch models from secondary brands are less than $400, and quite a few mainstream models are less than $600.
You’ll find really good deals on plasma TVs. While many cinema buffs love the picture plasma TVs offer, the sets long ago lost out to LCD TVs and are being phased out. Thanks to that, many are dirt cheap.
4. Giant size equals giant price: As you go up from 60 inches, TVs start to get really pricey. While I found a 65-inch television model for around $1,000, that was an exception. Most of them start around $1,300 or $1,400 and go up rapidly from there. And 70-inchers and above are even pricier. In fact, you can expect to pay $500 to $1,000 more for a 70-inch model than a comparably equipped 60-inch.