When it comes to technology "buys" for Black Friday, the dam is breaking a little early this holiday season. (Wasn't Halloween just yesterday?) In any event, the last few days has seen the highly-anticipated circulars from Best Buy and Walmart find their way on line -- and unlike previous years, when what's appeared this early has been unofficial, these look to be the real deal. We'll be picking apart the offerings over the next little bit to find the best deals for those willing to go stand in line before going to bed as both stores are putting their electronics on sale at midnight (and Walmart is opening its doors at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night). Let's start out with a look at the best TV deals we've spotted -- at least so far.
Bargains big and small
Whether you are looking for a small 19-inch screen for a dorm room or a kitchen counter, or a massive 65-inch flat screen that needs the right-sized room to not look out of place (or downright ridiculous), there's something for everyone in the Best Buy and Walmart circulars. While there are lots of okay deals, we did see a few that rise a bit above that.
For those with small budgets, or those wanting only a small screen, the biggest bargain is the 24-inch Dynex DX-24L200A12 for $79.99. It's the least expensive screen of any size we've seen to date. Dynex is Best Buy's house brand and has a mixed track record, and there's no track record at all for this TV as of yet. Still, for a penny under 80 bucks for a 24-inch screen, there's not a ton of downside as long as your expectations are reasonable. The story is similar for the 19-inch Sansui 19SL410U offered by Walmart for $98. Like Dynex, Sansui sets, which are actually made by Orion, are budget sets that perform not much better than their price tags. Still, as long as expectations are again in line, you can't go too far wrong.
Our take? Unless a 24-inch screen is too big for your space, head to Best Buy and pick up the 24-inch Dynex DX-24L200A12.
At the other end of the spectrum, for those that want the biggest screen they can get for the least amount of money, it's hard to miss Best Buy's offer of the 60-inch Sharp LC60E79U for $799.99. This TV looks to be a Best Buy exclusive, and the Black Friday price is a $200 savings over the store's typical "sale" price for the TV (and a nominal $300 less than its "regular" price). Features are limited, but you do get an enhanced refresh rate (120 Hz) to minimize motion blur. Feedback is also limited, but there are a dozen or so owner reviews at BestBuy.com, most of which grant the LC60E79U a positive recommendation.
If 60 inches is just too small for you, Walmart captures the king-sized TV crown thus far with its offer of the 65-inch Toshiba 65HT2U for $998 (but don't line up at midnight for this one as the price becomes effective on Friday at 8 a.m.); that's about a $500 savings over the best everyday price we've seen for it, but availability right now is extremely limited and "sale" prices should be lower once that changes. A quick look reveals that the two sets are similar in capabilities, but there is no feedback on the 65HT2U.
Our take? Unless you feel that too big isn't big enough, we lean toward the Sharp LC60E79U.
While lots of the action revolves around LCD TVs, there are a couple of bargains to be had among plasma TVs as well. We especially like Best Buy's offers of the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50S30 at $599.99, and the 46-inch Panasonic TC-P46X3 for $399.99. Both of these are entry-level plasma TVs, and the TC-P46X3 is only 720p resolution, but both have built up a nice record of expert and user satisfaction, and the Black Friday prices represent a good savings over the best everyday pricing we have seen (about $200 in each case). Both sets deliver picture quality that's a noticeable step above their price class and even include some extras -- such as good though not great Internet streaming. Both sets are addressed in our report on Plasma TVs, so be sure to check that out for more information about them.
Our take? A smaller set in this series, the 42-inch TC-P42X3, earns Best Reviewed honors in our plasma TV report. However, in these larger screen sizes, the higher resolution of the TC-P50S30 can make a difference to some. Either way, both are excellent sets that should outperform others that are similarly priced.
While the plasma TVs above offer some Internet streaming, if you want a TV with all the high-tech trimmings this holiday season, head over to Walmart for the 42-inch Vizio M3D420SR, which goes on sale on Friday at 8 a.m. for $598 -- $300 below the best pre-Black Friday price we spotted. This set is similar in capabilities to TVs in Vizio's E3D0VX series, covered in our report on LCD TVs, but is brand new. The major difference is that the standard backlight of the E3D0VX is replaced in this TV by an edge-lit LED backlight for a "Razor" thin profile and likely better blacks, while the refresh rate has been doubled to 240 Hz to, theoretically, reduce blurring even more. What stays the same is Vizio's passive 3D technology, which has drawn plenty of praise, but also some caveats from picture-quality purists. Four pairs of 3D glasses are included and extras are relatively inexpensive. Streaming is on board, and the content line-up is pretty good.
Our take? Though were not sold on this whole 3D thing, especially in a 42-inch screen size, the M3D420SR looks like a solid value at its Black Friday price.
And that barely scratches the surface of what is shaping up as a fairly merry shopping season for those looking for a new TV. We'll be back with other hits -- and most likely some pretty big misses -- as more circulars come on line.