TVs for the budget buyer Use our recommendations to find a set that suits your style and budget
Illustration by Koichi Fujii
With prices down sharply across the board, buyers in search of an HDTV that will be easy on the wallet, whether for their main set or a second or third, will find choices galore this year. For as little as $800 to $1,000, you can buy a very good 40- or 42-inch LCD TV or a 42-inch plasma set, a good size for a main TV. LCDs with 32- and 37-inch screens, better for secondary sets, sell for a few hundred less.
Some lower-priced sets have 720p resolution, others have 1080p. Either can have excellent picture quality and great detail, especially on sets smaller than 50 inches.
Consider TVs with very good picture quality scores as well as those judged excellent. The differences between very good and excellent images can be hard to perceive with typical TV programming, and you'll have a wider choice of sets and a better shot at finding a real bargain.
You'll find plenty of brands in the budget class. Major TV makers have come out with lower-priced lines such as Samsung's A450 sets and Sony's M- and L-series sets, which are sold at mass merchants such as Walmart and Target and warehouse clubs such as Costco, and in electronics stores. Budget sets we've tested have fewer features than mainstream models but many have done quite well in our tests.
Look for up-and-coming brands such as Vizio and store brands such as Best Buy's Insignia. Those might include more features than a similarly priced major-brand model. Some lower-priced sets have done well in our Ratings. Also, you can keep the cost down by sticking with mainstream features, such as two HDMI inputs rather than three or four, or an LCD set with a 60Hz refresh rate rather than 120Hz.
Smart choices include the Vizio VW32LHDTV (shown) 32-inch LCD, $450; Panasonic TC-26LX85 26-inch LCD, $550; Sony Bravia KDL-32L4000 32-inch LCD, $600; Insignia NS-LCD37-09 37-inch LCD, $650; Panasonic TH-42PX80U 42-inch plasma, $900; and Sharp Aquos LC-42D65U 42-inch LCD, $1,100.
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