Top TVs for football season

Big screens don't always come at big prices

Published: September 18, 2013 03:45 PM
Big TVs like the Vizio 60-inch M601d-A3R can bring excitement home (photo: Vizio)
Photo: Vizio

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If you're a football fan, it's time to admit that it's hard to watch a big game on a small TV. Thankfully, larger-sized TVs continue to drop in price. A quick look at our just-published TV Ratings (available to subscribers) shows that you can now get a 60-inch set with very good or even excellent high-definition picture quality for as little as $1,000.

Sure, the flagship models from the major brands tend to top our Ratings—but they typically carry defensive-lineman-sized price tags, and are often loaded with features you may not want and will never use. If you're watching your budget, consider a model in the middle of a company's lineup to get a nice balance of performance, features, and price.

Here are a few things to consider. Plasma TVs make great sports-watching sets thanks to virtually unlimited viewing angles and an ability to handle fast action without blurring. But plasma sets tend to be dimmer than LED/LCD TVs, and don't handle very bright rooms as well.

An LED/LCD set may be a better option for bright rooms, but check to make sure the TV has a relatively wide viewing angle if you typically watch the game with a room full of friends. Many LCD TVs have narrower viewing angles, which can make the picture looked washed out for viewers watching the game from an angle. Also, some LCDs can blur during faster-moving scenes, such as a quick sideline pass to a tight end. We've seen improvements from many TVs that have faster 120Hz or 240Hz frame rates, so consider a model with this feature.

See how well plasma TVs stack up against the best LED LCD models in our TV buying guide and Ratings.

Some quick picks

General buying advice is great, you say, but what about some specific picks? There are a few bigger sets in our Ratings that have impressed us with their combination of screen size, performance and price. For example, the Panasonic ST60-series plasma sets deliver a lot of what we like about the flagship VT60 models, at a considerably lower price. The 60-inch model, which doesn't skimp on any major features, sells for about $1,500, and the 55-inch version is a few hundred dollars cheaper. Its sound isn't so hot, so you want to consider adding a soundbar or other speaker system to convey the impact of a bone-crunching tackle.

LG cut back on its plasma lineup in 2013, but its 60-inch PH6700-series set, priced at just $1,150, had great picture quality and a lot of features, including the company's smart TV platform. We were similarly impressed with several models in Samsung's PNF5500 plasma series, especially the big 64-inch set, which had excellent picture quality, the company's smart TV platform, and an $1,800 sticker—a nice price for a TV this size from a major brand. The 60-inch version of this sets costs about $1,200.

Those looking for a big LED LCD TV should consider one of the new M-series models from Vizio, a company that's been aggressively pushing prices for big-screen, full-featured TVs ever downward. We reviewed the 60-inch M601d-A3R, which sells for $1,400, and came away impressed by its picture quality (excellent) and array of features, including Vizio's VIA smart TV platform. The company also has a less-fancy E-series, where you can get a 60-inch set (model E601i-A3) for less than $1,000 without sacrificing high-def picture quality.

Of course, not everyone has room for a 60-inch screen, and you can certainly trim the price tag by going smaller or choosing a more bare-bones model without features such as Wi-Fi and Internet access. We found models in the 46-inch to 51-inch screen size that we recommend starting as low as $600.

The bottom line is that if you're shopping for a new TV set for football season, even if you're on a budget, you won't have to sit on the sidelines. These days big screens don't always have to come with big prices.

—James K. Willcox

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