Note: this is the third and final part of my TV buying guide, 2014 edition. In the first part, I talked about high definition options and 3D. In the second part, I discussed the pros and cons of smart TVs.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, if you’re buying a smart TV, make sure the user interface is easy-to-use and all the apps you want are available. You’ll want to try out your options in person, like in a store or at a friend’s house. As you do, I think you’ll find that the brand name makes a big difference.
The importance of the brand
The biggest brand names in the TV market these days are Samsung, LG, and Panasonic. These four brands make up the vast majority of Consumer Reports’ top 2014 TV sets.
Sony and Sharp are also very popular TV brands. Vizio is a newer, American brand that’s become popular by offering TVs with premium features with a lower price tag.
There are a few names, such as RCA, Philips, or Westinghouse, that are recognizable but still definitely budget options in the world of TVs. Other budget options include store brands, such as Best Buy’s Insignia line, and newer Asian brands, like Hisense and Seiki.
So what’s the difference between them?
In general, the picture quality of your TV depends more on the settings you select in the menu than the manufacturer of the TV. In fact, the LCD panels in many off-brand TVs are actually manufactured by big names like Samsung.
You’ll probably find that the menus and settings options are easier to use and understand on the higher-end brands. For example, many of their TVs come with “picture modes,” which can adjust the settings to various presets. I’d recommend looking for a Cinema or Movie mode.
If you’re upgrading from a TV that’s more than 5 or so years old (and especially if it’s the old tube-style CRT TV), you’re likely to see an impressive improvement in picture quality with a new TV from even the cheapest manufacturer.
When it comes to smart TVs, though, the brand name can make a HUGE difference. This is because the quality of your experience depends largely on the software the manufacturer has designed for the TV. The ease of navigation and search, plus the pleasantness of the visual layout, are very different between a top brand and a budget brand. There are certainly exceptions, which is why I recommend trying before you choose.
Looking through Consumer Reports’ 2014 TV ratings, there’s definitely a pattern: Samsung has by far the most recommended models (32), with Panasonic (18) and LG (12) coming in next. Sony (6), Vizio (4), and Sharp (4) are the only others with multiple recommended models. That’s pretty top-heavy, and if you know Consumer Reports, you know they don’t recommend products based on brand name but rather on testing the product itself.
In my limited experience, Samsung also leads the pack in smart TV features and ease-of-use. (Again, take that with a grain of salt and try them for yourself.)
Samsung is easily my top recommendation for a smart TV.
When to buy?
The most advertised TV sales are almost certainly during the week leading up to the Super Bowl and Black Friday. According to Consumer Reports, the best times to buy a TV include January (pre-Super Bowl) and November (Black Friday), but also March and December.
Why? December coincides with holiday shopping and the related sales. March is actually the time of year when many TV manufacturers release new models. So if last year’s model will suit your needs, you may be able to find the best deal in March (if you get to your choice before it sells out). Plus, you won’t have to wait in a crazy line for hours.
Keep in mind, though, that there are sales all year round, and if your research reveals a particular model that fits your needs and budget, you probably won’t have to wait months to find a deal on it. There are websites that can track the price of a certain product and notify you when it goes on sale.
Whether you buy in a physical store or online, you’ll more than likely be offered the chance to purchase an extended warranty or protection plan. I’ve previously discussed why I don’t feel these are worth adding on to your purchases, and my thoughts are no different on TVs. In fact, Consumer Reports’ research shows that most TVs encounter problems within their first year, or not until the end of their lifespan. The manufacturer’s warranty should be enough for you.
Deeper discounts available?
I mentioned earlier the best times of the year to get great TV deals, including March, when last year’s models go on clearance. Even deeper discounts can often be found in open-box items.
If you’re thinking about getting an open-box TV, make sure to check whether it was purchased and returned, or a floor model. If it was purchased and returned, feel free to buy it after checking the store’s return policy. The customer might have brought it home only to find it was too small or the wrong style for his living room. If by chance he wasn’t happy with the quality of the TV, you should have a chance to try it and return it if you’re not happy. With TVs, most manufacturing problems will be noticeable right away.
On the other hand, stay away from floor model TVs. The bulbs in a TV have an expected lifespan, and that floor model was probably running on full brightness for at least 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even with LED TVs, whose bulbs should last a long, long time, that’s a lot of time those bulbs have already been burning by the time you bring the TV home.
- As I mentioned in part 1 of this buying guide, look for an LED TV that’s 1080p HD if your screen size will be around 50″ or above. 720p is fine if your screen is smaller than that.
- Make sure it has enough ports for what you’ll connect, especially HDMI ports.
- In part 2 I explained why I’m skeptical of smart TVs’ longevity, but the newest and best TVs are all smart TVs. If you go with a smart TV, make sure to get a top brand with an interface that’s easy to use.
- Speaking of brands, Consumer Reports shows Samsung to be the best overall manufacturer, and LG or Panasonic look to be your other top choices.
- Avoid extended warranties and floor model discounts, but a great deal can be found in a clearance model from last year or a returned open-box TV.
Let me know if this helped. If you have other questions, please ask me below!
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