With Super Bowl XLVII only a week or so away, you might be looking for a new big-screen TV that can do the game justice. But getting the right TV isn't as simple as just finding the right price. That's because sporting events like the Super Bowl can really bring out the best—and worst—in an HDTV by pushing it to its performance limits, revealing flaws that might go unnoticed with less-demanding types of content.
If you're looking for a last-minute bargain, though, we're not seeing a ton of super deals, especially on our top-rated TV models. This year, price cuts in the 5- to 10-percent range seem to be the norm. That's because when TV sales were sluggish last year, manufacturers cut back on production, so there aren't a ton of TVs languishing in the pipeline. But we have noticed some significant price differences among retailers, so it pays to look at several stores or online outlets to get an idea of the best price, and see if a local retailer will match.
Still, the good news is that prices are already significantly lower than they were last year. There are a few 60-inch HDTVs priced under $1,000 in our TV Ratings, and we expect prices on the 2012 sets we recommend below to fall even lower over the next few weeks as retailers start to clear out inventory to make room for 2013 models.
Before we get to our "can't miss" recommendations, here are a few things to consider if you're looking for a last-minute TV. Plasma TVs tend to do great with sports, with virtually no motion blur during fast-moving scenes and unlimited viewing angles. But they may not do as well in a very bright room.
If an LCD TV is on your list, consider a model with 120Hz or 240Hz technology to reduce motion blur, and one with a wide viewing angle, especially if you'll have the gang over to watch the game. All the LCD TVs we recommend have energy-efficient LED backlights that contribute to their slim designs.
And even though the game isn't being broadcast in 3D this year, don't rule out a 3D LCD or plasma model: Many 3D models in our Ratings are among the best TVs we've tested for regular 2D programming. And you shouldn't have to pay very much extra to get that feature.
Here are our quick recommendations for some top-performing sets and lower-priced picks that can still deliver a big-screen picture worthy of a big game for those on budget.
As we noted, these are all 2012 models that will be replaced in coming weeks by 2013 sets, so quantities may be limited and prices could drop even further the longer you wait. Detailed information about all the sets we mention—including specific model numbers, picture-quality and sound quality scores, viewing angle assessments, and a complete list of features—is available to Consumer Reports Online subscribers.
Super Bowl XLVII TV finalists
Panasonic Viera TC-P65VT50, $3,700
This 65-inch, 3D-capable 1080p plasma TV (right), a flagship model, was our top-rated set in 2012, with excellent high-def picture quality, very good 3D performance, and even very good sound. It's also loaded with features, including access to online content. (The VT50 sets will soon be replaced by VT60-series models.) We've seen this model as cheap as $2,600 at some retailers.
Samsung PN60E8000, $2,300
A 60-inch, 3D-capable 1080p set in Samsung's flagship plasma series, this TV is highly rated, with excellent high-definition picture quality, very good 3D performance, and very good sound. The smart TV is loaded with features, and can be controlled using voice navigation and gestures. (For 2013, Samsung's new flagship 1080p plasma series is the F8500, while the top-of-the-line non-Ultra HD LCD sets are in the F7500 and F8000 series.) Note that we've seen this model available for about $1,900 at several retailers.
There are several other flagship models in our TV Ratings that are worthy of consideration. For example, a 60-inch 3D-capable plasma model from LG, selling for about $1,800, delivers very good HD picture quality, plus very good 3D performance. It's also loaded with features, including LG's smart TV platform.
For those looking for an LCD TV, we also really liked a 55-inch Sony XBR-series set, a feature-laden model with excellent high-definition picture quality (including great black levels for an LCD set) and very good 3D performance that's selling for about $3,000. Also in the running is Panasonic's top-tier set--a 55-inch model selling for about $2,300—that boasts excellent HD picture quality, very good sound, and a fairly wide viewing angle or an LCD TV. Befitting its flagship status, it's loaded with features.
Of course, these sets are top-of-the-line models with price tags nearly as big as their screens. Listed below are a few more affordable options that all earned a CR Best Buy designation. Most are plasma sets, which still offer a lot of bang for the buck.
Samsung PN60E550, $1,300
This is a 60-inch, 3D-capable 1080p plasma TV (right) that delivers excellent HD picture quality, very good 3D performance, and very good sound. It also has a surprisingly robust set of features for the price.
LG 60PM6700, $1,250
It's a feature-laden 60-inch, 3D-capable 1080p plasma TV from LG with very good HD picture quality and 3D performance. The TV comes with LG's gesture-based Magic Remote.
Also on our radar as great Super Bowl TV picks is a 55-inch 3D-capable Panasonic plasma ($1,300) that delivers a lot of what we liked in the flagship model—excellent high-def picture quality, very good 3D, and very good sound—but at a fraction of the price.
For less than $1,000, we like a more basic 60-inch plasma from LG that while light on extra features, delivers the essentials with excellent HD picture quality. We've seen it selling for about $900 recently.
And for those who march to the beat of a different drummer, consider a unique ultra-wide 58-inch set from Vizio. This TV, which has a wider 21:9 aspect ratio instead of the 16:9 dimensions of most 1080p TVs, can display movies shot in wider theatrical formats without black bars appearing above and below the image. It's not for everyone, but it has excellent HD picture quality and its price continues to fall—we've seen it as low as $1,330, down from its $2,500 initial price.
If you're in the market for a big-screen TV, any of the recommended sets in our TV Ratings is worth considering—especially if you can find it at a great price.
—James K. Willcox