BLACK FRIDAY

How special are the Walmart 'Early Bird' Black Friday deals?

With limited major brands and prices that don't scream 'buy me,' waiting until Black Friday makes more sense

Published: November 11, 2014 08:00 AM
We doubt that Walmart stores will be this empty after 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

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Although most stores hold back some pricing fireworks for Black Friday, for many retailers the former three-day shopping holiday has turned into a monthlong event. Walmart, which once again kicks off Black Friday on Thanksgiving, jump-started its holiday sales with a pre-Black Friday "Early Bird" online savings event, promising special prices on TVs, tablets, and other electronic items for as long as supplies last.

So how great are these early TV deals? We decided to find out by combing through all the listed items and comparing them to current prices when we could find them elsewhere. We also checked these sets to see if they've turned up in our Ratings.

Based on our review, we think that better deals await if you can hang in there a bit longer, as most of the deals were on lesser-known brands that for the most part haven't done very well in our Ratings. Sony and Vizio were the only bigger names in the sale, and even then, assortment was limited.

Major-brand models

Compared with secondary brands such as RCA and Sceptre, there were fewer major-brand sets in the Early Bird sale. We saw three TVs from Sony in the listing, though most are fairly basic models without many of the features you'd expect from the company. The cheapest is a 32-inch 720p model—the KDL32R300B—priced at $199, followed by two 1080p sets: the 40-inch KDL40R350B for $348 HDMI, and the 48-inch KDL48R470B, priced at $398. All are 60Hz models with 2 HDMI inputs. These models seem to be available mainly at Walmart, so it's hard to compare prices.

Two Vizio sets are featured, although one—the 60-inch E600i-B3, priced at $798—is already sold out. That leaves the larger 70-inch E700i-B3, which is priced at $1,498. That's about the same price we're seeing at several other retailers, including Amazon.com. The 60-inch model is priced about the same at several retailers, including B&H Photo and Dell. Unlike the Sonys, both are full-featured 1080p sets with full-array LED backlights and Vizio's smart TV platform, with access to online content, including streaming movies and TV shows from several services. Coincidentally, we just finished testing both models. Though each has its flaws, they both did fairly well in our Ratings, with either very good or excellent high-definition picture quality. But we expect them to be cheaper around Black Friday.

Find the best flat-panel TV for your needs and budget with our TV buying guide and Ratings. And find out the best places to shop with our electronics store buying guide and Ratings.

RCA and Sanyo

There are more RCA sets in the Early Bird sale than any other TV brand. (The RCA brand for televisions is licensed now by On Corporation, a Korean company.)  The largest, and highest priced, is the 65-inch LED65G55R120Q, a 120Hz 1080p set priced at $799, about $50 cheaper than it is at Best Buy right now. But we just finished testing this set, and it has among the worst picture quality of any set in our TV Ratings. Just below that is the 55-inch version, model LED55G55R120Q, also a 120Hz 1080p LCD TV selling for $478. We haven't tested that set.

For those looking for a midsized TV, there is a 50-inch 1080p LED50B45RQ LCD TV for $379—it's the same price at Sears, but a bit more elsewhere—and a 48-inch 1080p set, the LED48G45RQ, also priced at $379. (We could only find this model at Walmart). Both are 60Hz sets with two HDMI inputs. Just below those models in size and price are the 46-inch LED46C45RQ, for $299—the same price as at Best Buy, but about $80 less than at Sears—and the 42-inch LED42C45RQ, priced at $289. (It was, but is no longer, available at Best Buy.) Both of those sets are 60Hz 1080p LCD TVs with 2 inputs. A 40-inch 1080p model (LED40C45RQ) is $278.

Smaller-sized sets include a 24-inch 1080p model (LED24C45RQ) for $149, and a 20-inch 720p set (LED20G30RQ) for $118.

Based on our recent history, we wouldn't recommend many RCA TVs as a primary set, though some might be fine as a TV for a secondary room of the house if you're not a critical viewer and the price is low enough.

These days, Sanyo pretty much acts as a Walmart house brand, although we are seeing some of its sets elsewhere. The largest set advertised is the Sanyo DP58D34, a 58-inch 1080p LCD TV with 120Hz technology for $549. It's priced at $700 at H.H. Gregg, but $570 at BrandsMart. There's also a 40-inch 60Hz 1080p set—the DP40D64, priced at $279—that we don't see elsewhere. Sanyo TVs haven't fared so well in our most recent ratings, though we didn't test these sets.

Sceptre and Element

Sceptre is another secondary brand we've seen featured at Walmart during its Black Friday sales. There are several Sceptre-brand LCD TVs in Walmart's Early Bird sale, including a 50-inch 60Hz 1080p set (X505BV-FMQR) for $349, and a 40-inch 1080p model (X405BV-FHDR) priced at $249. Smaller models include a 32-inch 720p set (X322BV-HDR) for $169, and a 19-inch 720p LCD (E195BV-SHD) for just $98. These TVs don't seem to be available elsewhere, except via the Amazon.com marketplace, or sometimes on NewEgg.com, where prices are a bit higher.

There is just a single Element-brand TV in Walmart's Early Bird sale, the 42-inch ELEFS421A, priced at $299. Like most of the other secondary brand sets, this is a basic 60Hz 1080p model.

Given the limited number of major-brand sets, we don't see much in the way of TVs in Walmart's Early Bird sale that would compel us to jump into the Black Friday frenzy early. We feel pretty confident that the deals will get better as we get closer to the three- or four-day event. If you do intend to head out for Black Friday shopping, check out our Top 10 Black Friday shopping tips, and keep checking back for all our coverage of the best deals throughout the holiday season.

—James K. Willcox

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