Dream HDTVs on a budget

September 15, 2009
By: Michael Patrick Brady
Canoe Technology

Even in tough economic times, the desire for entertainment is strong and the pull of those dazzling high-definition screens can lead consumers to spend when they should save. If you find yourself about to plop down a wad of cash for a new HDTV, make sure you've done your research first. High-end features and impressive displays aren't always outrageously expensive. There are relatively affordable options that can provide a viewer with the luxury they crave and still leave their bank accounts solvent.

A great way to save money on a cutting-edge television is to opt for a smaller screen. Sony, Sharp and Vizio all have reasonably sized 32-inch options in their high-end LCD lines that offer surprisingly advanced features at a low cost. The Sharp LC32LE700UN is perhaps the most appealing of these deals. This 32-inch LCD television utilizes an LED backlight, which is capable of displaying deeper contrasts and more vivid colors than the traditional fluorescent backlights found in older LCD TVs.

The LC32LE700UN is the current pinnacle of high-definition display technology, but it's available at a bargain basement price, just around $750, at select online stores. The Sony KDL-32XBR9 and Vizio SV320XVT are also similarly priced, and represent the entry-level models of their respective brand's high-end series, the well-regarded Sony XBR line and the all-new Vizio XVT line.

The idea of Vizio offering a high-end line might seem like an oxymoron. The brand has become synonymous with bargain televisions--but its reputation for good quality and low prices has made it one of the most popular LCD TV manufacturers in North America.

The majority of Vizio's success, however, comes from the sale of smaller-sized TVs like the 32-inch SV320XVT. When it comes to larger screens, consumers tend to flock toward the more familiar brands like Sony and Samsung. The XVT line is Vizio's attempt to broaden its portfolio to include both itself low-cost, smaller-sized LCDs and luxurious, big-screen TVs with cutting-edge features. At the same time, Vizio seems to be successfully keeping its costs down and its screen price tags low.

The Vizio SV422XVT is set to debut this November and could very well be a watershed in the evolution of high-definition television. For only $1,199 (a suggested retail price that is sure to drop upon its actual release), viewers can take home a 42-inch LCD display with all the fixings, including full 1080p resolution and the much-talked about 240Hz refresh rate, which eliminates blur and allows for super-smooth images.

That price tag is more than reasonable but it seems like Vizio is really aiming to launch a shock and awe campaign: The SV422XVT will be part of its "connected" series of Internet-enabled televisions. These models will connect to your home network wirelessly and be capable of streaming online video content directly to your TV screen. For now, Vizio has entered partnerships with Netflix, Blockbuster and Showtime, among others, to serve up on-demand video to its XVT-series televisions. Though other brands, particularly LG and Panasonic, have introduced online connectivity in their televisions, none have yet matched Vizio in the breadth and scope of available content.

Plasma televisions have always been a great way to save money without sacrificing quality. Compared with LCD televisions, plasma screens allow for larger screens and lower prices. According to a recent report from Quixel Research, consumers have been flocking to plasma televisions in recent months, pushing second quarter sales of plasmas up 42% over the first quarter of 2009.

When you look at a television like the 42-inch Panasonic TC-P42G10, it's easy to see why. With a price tag around $1,000, this Panasonic (like the Vizio SV422XVT) is a connected HDTV, though its online abilities are still limited to a handful of sites like YouTube and Amazon On Demand. Nevertheless, the cinematic experience of plasma, coupled with such alluring low prices, make this a hard to resist buy for smart, frugal consumers.

Other manufacturers are getting creative in their efforts to help consumers save money and make their products more attractive. Rather than try and sell shoppers separate high-definition TVs and Blu-Ray disc players, Sharp has simply combined the two in a convenient, low-cost alternative. The Sharp LC46BD80U is a 46-inch LCD television with full 1080p resolution and a snappy side-loading Blu-Ray disc player. Originally priced at $1,799, it can be found at more competitive stores for around $1,300. It saves you money and space as well, by eliminating the need for a separate media box.

Just because budgets are tighter doesn't mean you can't enjoy the finer things in life. A good, high-performance high-definition television is still attainable and smart consumers who know what to look for and are conscious of how to find the best deals can enjoy them without worrying about the creeping pangs of buyer's remorse.