If you're out shopping for a flat-panel HDTV this holiday season, you're likely wrestling with which models and technologies offer the most bang for your buck. The chart below (after the jump) aims to help by grouping LCD TVs and plasma TVs, in two popular sizes, into value categories.
The chart uses a new tool called the Consumer Reports Value Index™, which we launched last week on our Money blog. Based on a survey of median online prices taken earlier this week, it plots price against overall Ratings score for LCD and plasma sets in two screen sizes: 40- to 42-inches, and 50- to 52-inches. It places the sets into one of three value zones—High, Medium, and Low—based on the price and performance of all sets in those categories. Products on the upper right side of the chart offer better values than those further to the left and bottom.
The upshot: The High and Medium values are all among the sets we recommend in our plasma TV Ratings and LCD TV Ratings (both available to subscribers). That's not surprising, since value factors heavily into those recommendations (also available to subscribers). The results also jibe with our general HDTV buying advice, including our updated video buying guide on TVs. (Click on the player embedded on the right to watch.)
Here are highlights of our advice on flat panels, with some specifics on how the chart's data reinforces these points:
Plasma often provides the best bang for the buck. That's especially true, we say, when it comes to screen sizes of 50 inches and up. LCDs are well-represented among the fine values. But, as expected, the sets with the highest values indexes of all—that is, those closest to the top right of the chart—are all plasmas (sets with that technology have a white dot on the chart). Two are 50-inch plasmas with a median price of $1,100 while two are 42-inchers that cost around $800 or so.
Don't rule out the best 720p sets. We recommend buying a set with 1080p, or so-called "Full HD," resolution, especially since the price premium for 1080p is shrinking. But we caution against ruling out TVs with 720p resolution, the best of which are fine performers that offer significant value. But thanks to both the growing number of 1080p sets, and the declining cost difference for that higher resolution, three of the five High-value models are Full HD sets. The Medium values also include many 1080p models. But the least expensive of the best values were all 720p models.
Select models from second-tier brands are outstanding values. Our analysis of brand performance (available to subscribers) over the years finds that even the lesser-known brands with the best track record have been less consistently fine in performance than the standouts among older, familiar TV brands. But the best newcomers are fine choices, indeed. The chart demonstrates that, with the High and Medium values including three Vizios, one Olevia, and one Insignia model.
You'll pay more for LCD sets with the fastest refresh rates. Among the latest technological enhancements to LCD TVs are screens that refresh more often, which can help reduce an LCD TV's tendency to blur when showing fast motion. But no sets with 120Hz refresh-rates figure among the best values in our chart.
That's not to say that such sets, or any other fine performers with high price tags, aren't worth considering. They just don't necessarily hit the sweet spot for value that you might be looking for, especially these days.
Each week throughout this holiday season, we'll be providing a Value Index™ for another product. This is a Beta, and we're working hard to improve this feature. If you have any feedback, please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.