When the new crop of TVs are announced each year at CES, it's the end of the line for older models. Late winter and early spring is the best time to be a late adopter, but the trick is to figure out which deals represent a true bargain, and which deals to avoid. However, this is unique in television history, and dedicated videophiles need to take notice.
Curved OLEDs were plentiful at CES 2014, while plasmas were nowhere to be seen
For 2014, some of the biggest news for late adopters is that Panasonic is discontinuing its top-rated line of plasma TVs. Plasmas offer the best image quality for the dollar, and the 2013 Panasonics were praised for raising the bar in that regard. Because they are so well regarded, it's unlikely that you'll find a new one on clearance—but when it comes to open-box units, there are bound to be some bargains.
The first thing to consider is open-box versus clearance items. Clearance sales are self-explanatory; you get a new-in-box item for a good price, end of story. Open-box shopping is a bit more of an art, but the rewards are potentially greater, if you know what you are looking for and how to look for it. For example, there are open-box units that were returned by customers, and then there are the store-demo units. Often, the very best deals are store-demo units, but each store usually only has one, so you have to be savvy and act quickly.
At some point, last year's TVs will come off the walls. Often, they will be missing the remote and TV stand. Just as often, those TVs represent the best bargains you'll find, because the extra savings factored into the open-box price because of those missing items can go directly toward a good wall mount and a programmable universal remote control.
Although you will find open-box merchandise at numerous retailers, I often find myself relying on Best Buy for the majority of my open-box A/V purchases. The company website recently added a feature that lets you search for open-box and clearance merchandise within a certain number of miles of a zip code—that's the key to tracking down the best bargains. If you are willing to drive an hour or two to get a great deal on a TV, you could potentially save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
When buying a plasma that served as a store-demo unit, the main thing you should look out for is burn-in. The lifespan of modern plasma panels is such that a year in a store display is not a big deal. In fact, I would argue that most electronics either break early on, or they last for a long time. A TV that has lasted a year in a store is probably going to last a few more years in your home. Regardless, make sure that the TV you buy comes with a warranty.
You might be asking, why buy an antiquated technology like 1080p plasma when there are new 4K/UHD TVs on the market? And what about OLED?
Panasonic's VT60 comes very close to OLED image quality at a fraction of the price
CES 2014 saw the introduction of many new OLED TVs as well as LED-lit LCD UHDTVs. Still, there is a strong argument for buying a 1080p plasma. UHD/4K content is relatively rare, and upsampling has no tangible effect on image quality—a great HDTV looks just as good as a brand-new and much more expensive UHDTV when playing a Blu-ray. Dark-room viewing on a premium plasma can look quite exceptional—in fact, the best plasmas come rather close to achieving OLED image quality, at a fraction of the price for the same-sized screen.
As far as timing goes, it's going to be another two months before Panasonic officially ends sales of plasma televisions—March 31 to be precise. Until then, I don't expect to see too many discounts on the better models, including the ST60, VT60, and the ZT60 series.
Videophiles who have followed the saga of the Pioneer Kuro know all too well that plasma image quality does not always win out over the public's perception of plasma's pitfalls. For various reasons that do not necessarily relate to image quality, LED-LCD televisions rule the flat-panel market. However if you want to watch all of the currently available content out there in the best possible quality on a flat-panel television, you can't do better than a Panasonic plasma.
AVS forum has a Great Found Deals category for plasma TVs that includes dedicated threads for each model. A quick glance shows that there are already some good deals to be had at various Best Buy/Magnolia locations. The last of them will be on sale soon enough. Do you think it's worth buying a plasma in 2014? If so, is it worth waiting for clearance sales and store-demo units or is now the time to buy?
Edited by imagic - 1/25/14 at 3:32pm