Smart choices

TVs getting better, cheaper

How to choose the right model at the right price

Consumer Reports / December 12, 2010

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Mainstream LCD and plasma TVs are adding features, such as streaming movies and Wi-Fi capability. There’s also an exciting new option that wasn’t around this time last year: 3-D TVs.

Here’s Consumer Reports’s advice for finding a TV with the features you want at a price you like.

Plasma TVs deserve a look. It’s worth considering over an LCD TV. They often cost less than comparable LCD sets, especially in 50-inch and larger sizes, and they have a few performance advantages. More important, a plasma’s almost unlimited viewing angle means the picture looks the same from any angle.

LCD TVs improve. Many new LCD TVs with 120Hz or 240Hz technology have little or none of the motion blur that’s often seen on models with a 60Hz refresh rate. It’s now common to find 120Hz on all but the cheapest LCD TVs; 240Hz is mostly on pricier sets, including 3-D TVs. CR’s advice: A 60Hz LCD set should satisfy casual viewers. But consider a 120Hz model if the price is right or a 240Hz set if you’re a critical viewer.

More 3-D TVs. The big news this year has been the arrival of LCD and plasma TVs that can display lifelike 3-D images when you view content from 3-D Blu-ray discs or broadcasts while wearing special 3-D glasses. Of course, they also display regular (2-D) content, which doesn’t require you to wear the glasses. Most 3-D TVs cost $2,000 and up, but watch for lower-priced sets, including the Samsung PN50C490 50-inch plasma (which CR hasn’t tested yet).

Mainstream models get Web access. The ability to access online entertainment streaming-movie services, YouTube, photo-sharing sites, and more directly from a TV was once limited to high-priced sets. It’s now available on many TVs, including midpriced models. You can connect an Internet-enabled TV to an Ethernet jack, but if that requires running a cable to another room, consider a TV that also has Wi-Fi, either built in or via an external adapter.

TVs get slimmer. Whoever thought a 4-inch-deep TV would look bulky? The slimmest LCD and plasma TVs are just an inch thick, and ever-thinner bezels make a screen look bigger.

Power consumption is declining. With Energy Star 4.0 in effect, many new TVs are more energy efficient. Don’t expect huge savings, but whatever you save is a bonus and good for the environment.

CR’s TV Ratings For LCD TVs, recommended 52-inch and larger models include the Sony Bravia KDL-52NX800, $1,900; the Sanyo DP52440, $1,000, a CR Best Buy; and the Vizio VF550M, $1,300, another CR Best Buy. For 46- and 47-inch models, CR recommends the Samsung LN46C630, $990, also a CR Best Buy.

For 60- and 63-inch plasma TVs, CR recommends the LG Infinia 60PK950, $2,800; for 54- and 58-inch models, the Samsung PN58C550, $1,600, a CR Best Buy.

CR Best Buy Sanyo DP52440 $1,000