During the Black Friday shopping season, those looking for a new TV might easily be overwhelmed at first glance by the literally hundreds of "deals" that can be found in the various circulars and sales posted at sites like BFads.net. Drill down a little further, though, and you'll quickly realize that many of these are the same exact set, often -- but not always -- being offered at the same exact price, give or take a dollar or two, at each store. Drill down further still, and it becomes clear that some of the bargains aren't exactly spectacular -- modest savings on modest sets from brands you've heard of, with deeper savings on sets from makers whose names aren't even remotely familiar. In other words, when it comes to snagging a deal on a TV, it's just a typical Black Friday. Or is it? Believe it or not, we actually spotted some deals that could be worth losing sleep over, along with some you can snag without losing much sleep at all. Read on for the details.
A big screen bargain
If you want a really big screen for under the tree this holiday season, we found at least one truly outstanding deal. Walmart will be offering the 60-inch Vizio E601i-A3 at $688 at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night. For those that don't want to skip out early on their relatives, BFAds.net is reporting that Amazon.com will be offering the same set at the same price on line -- with the catch being that the starting time of the sale is as of yet unreported.
Not only is the Vizio the least expensive 60-inch or larger set we spotted for Black Friday this year, it's a surprisingly good performer. Though only recently released, it's already earned fairly enthusiastic recommendations from CNET and HomeTheaterReview.com as a strong TV and a great deal even at its normal $1,000 price tag, though PCMag.com is a bit more reserved. Owner reviews reveal that most are pleased so far. In addition, this is not a stripped-down set. You won't find 3D, but Vizio's full line up of streaming offerings is on board. All-in-all, this is my favorite Black Friday TV deal for 2012.
Good sets, better deals
Not everyone wants a big-screen set, or has the budget for the Vizio E601i-A3. The good news is that we also saw a couple of Toshiba sets with smaller screens -- and much, much smaller price tags. The steal of the day could be the 40-inch Toshiba 40E220U priced at $179.99 as a midnight door buster at Best Buy. Like the Vizio, it, too, will be offered online by Amazon.com at the same price, though again at a date and time that's still not announced.
This is another set that's only recently attracted much in the way of attention from reviewers, but CNET and TelevisionInfo.com both say that it's a good no-frills choice with better than expected picture quality considering its regular selling price of around $480. At a penny under $180 on Black Friday, there's no other similarly priced, similarly sized (37 to 42 inches) set that I believe comes close in terms of performance or value. By the way, Kmart is also offering the Toshiba 40E220U as a Black Friday special but at pretty much its regular selling price of $380, so if you are in the store and spot it there, resist the urge to pick it up.
If you want a larger, 50-inch set, the Toshiba 50L2200U is also at the top of the charts in terms of good deals for Black Friday. This set is being offered by a couple of retailers, but Sears steals the crown with its best-of-the-season price of $299.99, though you'll need to be in the store at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving day to get this one. We see the 50L2200U regularly selling for as much as $800, though careful shoppers can also find it on occasion for as low as $500.
Again, though, at a penny under $300 it is among the least expensive 50-inch-class sets being promoted for Black Friday, and almost certainly a better performer than its like-priced competition, such as the 50-inch Proscan PLCD5092A being offered by Kmart as an 8 p.m. Thanksgiving day door buster for $288. While the Proscan set has received no professional reviews and only limited -- and mixed -- user reviews, the Toshiba 50L2200U has received a thorough going over by the folks at TelevisionInfo.com and a good grade as a basic but decent performing TV. User reviews, while limited, are also almost exclusively positive.
No, the Toshiba 50L2200U is not the best set in the world, but it's one of the top performers in its Black Friday price class. To do better, you'll need to spend a bit more -- say for the Samsung UN50EH5000, normally $1,000 but being offered for just under $700 at lots of stores, including Target and Walmart, for Black Friday; you can find our take on the UN50EH5000 here. Best Buy is the other retailer to have the Toshiba 50L2200U on sale, but at $100 more ($399.99); still a good deal, just not a great one.
This and that
For those that want a 32-inch set at a pretty good price, the Funai-made Emerson LD320EM2 for $148 at Walmart could be worth considering. It has no review track record, but the price for the screen size is pretty good, Funai has a decent and well-established reputation as as a budget TV maker, and Walmart is guaranteeing that everyone that shows up between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving night will get one. As an alternative, Best Buy and Amazon.com are offering the 32-inch Panasonic TC-L32C5 at $189 (it normally sells for around $300). CNET finds some positives in its review, but generally beats the set up pretty badly. However, user reviews, while not extensive, are actually fairly complimentary.
Among smaller screen sets, consider the Best Buy house-brand Insignia 26-inch NS-26E340A13, normally priced at just under $200, but being offered at $99.99 for Black Friday. This looks like a brand new model, but while Insignia sets are rarely world beaters, the brand has had an above-average track record among value TVs.
To be blunt, there are few other TV deals that get me very (make that at all) excited for this Black Friday. There are tons and tons of cheaply priced sets from little-known makers with no track record at all regarding performance or reliability. Some ads don't reveal the model number or even the maker. Most will probably be fine for very casual viewing in a bedroom, kitchen or dorm room -- just make sure to keep your expectations in line with the Black Friday selling price.
I also see lots of suddenly available sets carrying top names but mysterious model numbers (yes, I'm looking at you Samsung). Most are selling at the same price across the board in stores, and at only modest discounts over "standard" sets in the same series.
And, of course, the very best sets are seeing no discounting at all. Instead, you will likely see better deals on those better TVs later on during the holiday season, or early next year, right before the 2013 models are introduced.