The television-manufacturing industry operates on an annual cycle that begins with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This year, Sony, LG, Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, Panasonic, and a number of Chinese manufacturers all had a major presence on the show floor. More importantly, many of those companies announced plans to ship their new televisions during the first quarter of 2014. Presidents Day weekend presents an opportunity for HDTV retailers to clear out old inventory to make space for the new.
Presidents Day coincides with the product cycle of the TV industry
If you resisted the temptation to buy a new TV over the holiday season, but you are in the market for one, the time has come to look at the options. Presidents Day sales are only a week away, and the month that follows is prime time for open-box and demo-unit shoppers. Whether you plan to take advantage of a sale on a new item, or you are shopping for a deeply discounted open-box item, there are many factors to consider before taking the plunge.
When shopping for a TV, one major consideration is the choice between HD and UHD resolution. Currently, UHDTVs command a significant premium over their HD counterparts. At the same time, the majority of UHDTVs released in 2013 lack features such as HDMI 2.0 that are needed for forward compatibility with higher frame rates at UHD resolution.
UHDTVs were ubiquitous at CES 2014
I can't predict what will happen to last year's crop of UHDTVs when they go on clearance, but I would expect to see prices that are a mere fraction of the original MSRP. Even if 2013's UHDTVs go on clearance, it might not represent a good deal when compared to the 2014 models that are coming out. Vizio and a number of Chinese manufacturers are going to put tremendous pricing pressure on the Japanese and Korean TV makers. For now, I would recommend that bargain hunters stay away from 2013-model UHDTVs altogether.
As most AVS members know, 2013 was a rough year for plasma-television fans. Panasonic abandoned the category altogether, despite the accolades its plasma panels garnered in the press. One thing you are not likely to see this Presidents Day is a plethora of Panasonic plasmas on clearance. The majority of those are already gone. However, LG and Samsung still sell plasmas, and LG in particular announced new models at CES—including the 60-inch P6900, a 3D-capable model. Although LG doesn't make a reference-level plasma, the models it does offer possess the qualities that draw videophiles to the original flat-panel technology such as deep, uniform blacks and wide viewing angles. Since new models are on the way, keep on the lookout for deals on 2013 models—plasma is a mature technology. From a technical standpoint, there is not going to be much difference between 2013 and 2014 plasmas.
Samsung's F8500 plasma is reference quality and still in production
Although Samsung did not present any new plasma panels at CES 2014, the company is on the record stating that there will be new models introduced later this year. More precisely, Samsung says it will introduce a lower-cost variant of the award-winning F8500 plasma, an HDTV that deserves the "reference" moniker. Unfortunately, the CES-based product-release cycle doesn't apply to Samsung's plasmas. On the other hand, if you find a really good President's Day deal on a 2013 model such as the aforementioned F8500, it might be worth the investment. Dollar for dollar, plasma panels still beat anything else out there in terms of ultimate image quality in a dark-room environment. There's no telling how much longer either LG or Samsung will continue to make them, it's not likely that prices are going to drop much lower, and there will most likely be no major advances in the technology itself. Unless you're dead set on buying a UHDTV, you need something really bright for a sunroom or kitchen, or you need a screen size above 65 inches, you should seriously consider this Presidents Day as a prime opportunity to pick up a new plasma.
There will be plenty of sales on LED-lit LCD HDTVs. Pricing pressure from Chinese manufacturers means that even high-end models are already relatively affordable. Still, there are several things to consider when hunting for a bargain on LCD-based HDTVs.
One of the most interesting news items to come out of CES 2014 was Vizio's abandonment of support for 3D throughout all of its television lines. The company will continue to sell the 2013 M-series (50 inches and up) alongside its new 2014 M-series, but there is no telling how long that will last. The 2013 M-series featured some of the best passive 3D that I've seen on a 1080p HDTV. If you see a 2013 Vizio M-series on sale this Presidents Day and you are a fan of 3D on a budget, this might be a good time to snag one.
Vizio's 2014 M-series eschews 3D but gains a backlit local dimming LED array
Most major manufacturers refreshed their 1080p flat-panel lineups for 2014 by adding improved smart features. However, the majority of those features duplicate what is offered by set-top boxes such as Apple TV, Roku, and Chromecast as well as connected Blu-ray players and game consoles. There are literally too many different models of LED-LCD HDTVs out there to discuss them all, but the general approach I suggest is to look at the specs and compare the 2013 and 2014 models. If a model is only receiving a cosmetic refresh, then buying the 2013 version of that model is likely to be a good deal.
The month following Presidents Day weekend is probably the best time of the year for hard-core TV bargain hunters. It's the time when the previous year's models come off the walls of brick and mortar stores. Because TVs are big-ticket items, it can be worth driving a few miles for a good deal. Best Buy even lets you search stores within a certain radius to find all the available open-box and clearance items.
Here is one rule of thumb when shopping for the best bargains: The more that's missing from the original box contents, the lower the price. A TV that comes without a stand is perfect for a wall-mounted installation yet can cost hundreds less than the same TV on clearance that includes a stand.
If you go bargain hunting at brick-and-mortar shops and are planning on buying an open-box or store-demo unit, you also need to plan on testing it in the store. For plasmas, it's more-or-less mandatory that you test the screen on-site. Remember that plasmas are relatively fragile and susceptible to burn in and image retention. No matter what kind of TV you're buying, if it's an open box or store demo, you'll also need to bring something like a big blanket or other padding with you to protect it for the ride home.
It's worth noting that AVR manufacturers generally follow the same refresh cycle as the TV industry, so keep your eyes open for deals on 2013 units while you're out TV shopping. That's how I found the Pioneer Elite SC-55 receiver I currently use—I was shopping for post-Presidents Day TVs. It is one of many A/V items I've bought on clearance over the years, usually for less than half of retail.
One more bargain-hunting tip—extended warranties typically charge according to the retail price of the item. If you buy an extended warranty for a TV that is on clearance at half price, the extended warranty will also cost less. Still, I never buy extended warranties, and I've never had a piece of open-box or store-demo gear fail on me, but it's worth remembering.
Do you have plans to shop for a deeply discounted TV this Presidents Day? Are you planning to pounce when the 2013 models come off the store display walls? Or are you willing to wait for the 2014 models to arrive?
Edited by imagic - 2/10/14 at 10:39am