HDTV deals: Watch for doorbuster specials and “derivative” models

Consumer Reports News: November 09, 2009 04:27 PM

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We’re always excited in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, the traditional three-day shopping period right after Thanksgiving. It's become almost a sport seeing how low prices on TVs will go—and what "doorbuster" deals we'll miss out on when we decide that it’s just not worth getting up before dawn to try for one of the limited-quantity offers.

Although it’s still early in the deal-hunting season, several Black Friday sites, such as BlackFridayInfo and GottaDeal, have already posted what they claim are Sears’ and Kmart's Black Friday ads. Walmart also jumped the gun with a series of weekly specials leading up to Black Friday. Amazon's now also doing something similar (in its Gold Box), apparently matching some of Walmart's deals.

A quick review of the promoted models we've seen so far doesn’t reveal any “gotta have” deals. But we have noticed some nice price cuts on several major-brand models, which this year dominate the Sears ad, for example.

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Even Samsung’s 6000-series LED-backlit LCD TVs are making an appearance in Black Friday ads.

For example, a 42-inch 1080p Panasonic plasma, the TC-P42S1, s listed in the Sears ad at $650, or $150 less than in our plasma TV Ratings. An LCD set,  Samsung's LN46B650, which is priced at $1,450 in our Ratings, will be on sale for $1,310. An LED-backlit model, the Samsung UN40B6000, which is listed at $1,500 in our Ratings, is sale-priced at $1,400 in the ad. We're all about saving a hundred dollars or more, but it’s not the kind of savings that would drag us out of a warm bed on a cold morning—especially knowing that everyday TV prices seldom rebound to pre-Black Friday levels once those sales are over.

In fact, Kmart's ad has Panasonic' s TC-P42C1 set, a 720p model, listed at $550. That's the same price I saw the TV this weekend at Target as part of a "pre-holiday" sale.

Not surprisingly, though, the best deals we've seen are on sets designated as “doorbuster specials,” which are typically available only in very limited quantities, and sell out very early in the day, often before the store's usual opening time. More interesting—to me, at least—are the special “derivative” models listed in the ads. These are one-off TVs with unfamiliar model numbers usually designed to be sold for a limited time, such as Black Friday, or though special distribution, such as mass merchants (like Walmart, Target) or warehouse clubs. Usually these sets have a few less features than standard models, so they aren’t directly comparable.

In Sears’ ad, we came across a few models from Samsung and Sony that appear to be derivatives. For example, LNB500-series LCDs, in 40- ($600) and 46-inch ($900) screen sizes, can’t be found elsewhere. There are also B400- (PN42B400, $500) and B430-series (PN50B430, $700) plasma models. Sony’s LCD lineup in the Sears ad includes a 32-inch L504 (KDL-32L504, $380) set and 40- and 46-inch S504 models (the $665 KDL40S504 and the $855 KDL-46S504) that are derivatives of the company’s L5000 and S5100 lines. All are designated as doorbuster specials. These models could be enticing, as they come from trusted major brands that have typically done well in our TV Ratings. But we can't be sure how these sets stack up against standard models, since we haven't tested them or even seen full specs.

Obviously we can’t make predictions based on the limited number of Black Friday ads we've seen, but it looks to me that $500 will be a key entry-level price for a 42-inch 720p plasma TV, while major-brand models designed to be sold through mass merchants will be priced $50 to $100 higher. I think 40- or 42-inch LCD models will also be priced similarly, though you’ll likely get a 1080p set for the money.

If you're looking for an even bigger set, the 50-inch category could be a real LCD/plasma battleground by the end of the year, as prices for even major-brand entry-level 720p plasma models edge down below $700. But if major-brand 1080p plasmas sets hit that price, even I might wake up early this year and take my place in line. Maybe I'll see you there?James K. Willcox

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