Americans who are in the market for a new TV will find models that are bigger, better, smarter and cheaper, according to the latest Consumer Reports TV tests.
"If you're thinking about upgrading your TV, or if you're one of the holdouts planning to buy your first flat-panel TV, you'll find plenty of great models in our latest Ratings -- many at prices that will put a smile on your face," said Jim Willcox, senior editor for electronics.
Consumers should be heartened to know that TV prices are usually lowest in February and March, when manufacturers start shipping new models and retailers cut prices to sell off the old ones. Compelling new features on mainstream 2013 models aren't expected, so consumers shouldn't pass up great deals on top-rated 2012 sets.
However, some TV bargains can be risky. Super-low priced sets, especially from lesser-known brands, aren't always the best deals. Some of the lowest-scoring sets in CR's Ratings -- with below-average marks for picture, sound or both -- include TVs from Coby, Element, Haier, TCL and Westinghouse.
LCD TVs from LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony have consistently been among the best performers in the Consumer Reports Ratings. Plasma sets from Panasonic have been at the top, followed closely by Samsung and LG.
The Consumer Reports Ratings include more Smart TVs, or TVs that can connect to the Internet to stream video from various online services, putting on-demand movies and TV shows at viewers' fingertips.
A growing number have full browsers for surfing the Web, built-in Wi-Fi and access to an apps market. In addition to streaming video services, most Internet-capable TVs let you connect to a music service such as Pandora, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and even eBay.
Things to consider
Buying a new TV is a big investment for many consumers. Here are basic questions to consider when shopping for that new set:
What screen size? Don't think small and regret it for the life of the TV. If you sit 6 to 8 feet from the TV, get at least a 40-inch set, but consider a 46- to 50-incher to get a more immersive experience.
Plasma or LCD? Many of the highest-scoring models in our Ratings are plasma TVs, which have several advantages over LCD TVs. Plasmas, which come in 42-inch and larger sizes, tend to cost a bit less than comparably sized LCDs, especially those using LED backlights. The best plasmas can provide rich, movie-like images with deep blacks that add depth and dimension. Unlike most LCD models, they have blur-free motion and unlimited viewing angles.
1080p or 720p resolution? Most new TVs have 1080p (full HD) resolution, but some smaller sets and low-priced 42- and 50-inch plasmas still have 720p. A full HD model can display finer detail than a 720p TV, but more detail doesn't always result in better picture quality. Some 720p models had very good picture quality. In general, CR recommends a 1080p set if price isn't a top concern, but consider 720p for top value.