Big Savings on Big-Screen TVs
How to score a great deal on a jumbo TV during the fall shopping season
Like a lot of people this year, Chrissy Knapp and her family have been spending more time at home. So it was particularly annoying when their 10-year-old TV went on the fritz. Knapp, a tax compliance officer now working from her home outside New York City, started searching for a replacement. And like many people, she decided to go big this time around, shopping for a set measuring 55 inches or more. (A 55-inch screen used to be considered pretty big, and 65-inch sets were a rarity. But nowadays those sizes are mainstream.)
The toughest part, it turns out, was deciding how long to wait for a great deal. “I’ve literally been moving TVs in and out of my online shopping carts since the summer, wondering if it was the best time to buy,” Knapp says.
Don’t Be Afraid to Go Big
In the past few years, prices have been falling for all large sets, but the steepest declines have been on the very biggest. Add in this year’s holiday discounts, and 2020 looks like a good year to indulge in a jumbo television.
“We don’t expect enormous price changes on TVs over the holiday, but the biggest price cuts will be on more expensive larger-screen TVs 65 inches and over,” says Stephen Baker, vice president for industry analysis at the NPD Group. In contrast, he says, “we expect very little price movement with TVs 50 inches and under.”
Some of the biggest, most expensive sets will not only see a price drop but also will be bundled with a gift card, making the deals even more appealing.
The average price of a 55- or 65-inch set during the holidays will be 18 to 20 percent lower than last year, according to Paul Gagnon, senior research director at the market research firm Omdia. And the true giants, sized 75 to 86 inches, could be 35 percent cheaper than in 2019.
Some 65-inch sets are already selling for below $500, surprisingly low for a set that size. “And we expect to see more during the holiday season this year,” Gagnon says.
Check Online First
Great deals on big, bright TVs are proven champs at pulling shoppers into stores each November. But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic may lead retailers to offer fewer in-store promotions that could attract crowds and risk spreading the illness. “Since the shift to online shopping has been so successful,” Gagnon says, “I expect many retailers to double down on that strategy and offer promotions throughout the whole month, essentially turning Cyber Monday into a Cyber November.”
More online shopping could mean more great deals on large TVs. Retailers are constantly changing prices on their websites to compete with one another, so you may find new deals popping up through the whole holiday shopping period. Whenever you buy, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get free delivery or shipping to a nearby store for curbside pickup.
This year several major TV retailers—including Best Buy, Target, and Walmart—have already announced that they’ll be closed on Thanksgiving. If you do go shopping in stores, expect most to have COVID-19 safety protocols in place, possibly with mandatory mask requirements and limits on how many people they’ll let in at one time.
Stores may look for creative ways to limit crowds. Target has announced that it will spread out its sales instead of packing them into the Black Friday weekend. Other retailers are hinting they’ll do the same, says Michael Bonebright, an analyst at DealNews.com. “This is great news for shoppers,” he says, “as it looks like we’ll have fewer time-sensitive doorbusters and more opportunities to score great deals.”
Analysts we spoke with agree that shopping early is a good strategy in 2020. That’s because deals are kicking off sooner, and hot products could sell out or, if you order online, fail to arrive in time for the holidays.
“Shoppers who do all their purchasing before Black Friday are more likely to find items in stock, and they have the best chance of getting their purchases shipped in a timely fashion,” Bonebright says. “Plus, many retailers will extend their Black Friday deals throughout November, so you might not actually miss Black Friday deals if you shop early.”
Pay Attention to HDR Scores
Now that you know when to shop and where, how can you pick the right TV for you and your family? Picture quality is the most important attribute, encompassing everything from accurate, realistic colors to the sharpness of the images. In our ratings, that’s reflected in the HD and UHD picture quality scores.
But there’s another factor to consider, one that may not have existed the last time you bought a TV: high dynamic range, or HDR, which now has its own column in our ratings charts. A growing number of movies and TV series take advantage of HDR technology. And when a TV does a good job showing this content, the result can be higher contrast, and brighter and more colorful images—in short, something closer to what we experience in real life.
We’ve found that HDR performance varies widely. Many sets, especially lower-priced models, can’t deliver a satisfying HDR experience, mainly because they lack sufficient brightness.
Shop the Middle of the Ratings
Many of the top-rated sets in our ratings are also the highest-priced. But those aren’t the only great TVs we’ve tested. If you’re on a tighter budget, consider models farther down in the ratings chart that still deliver solid picture quality.
Some of these sets lag in the ratings because of attributes that may not be as important to you, such as sound quality or viewing angle. For example, a TV with not-so-hot sound could be a good bet if you’ll be using a sound bar instead of the model’s built-in speaker. And one with a narrower viewing angle could work if everyone in your household can sit right in front of the TV rather than off to the sides.
Also, don’t be afraid to consider TVs from an emerging brand, such as Hisense or TCL. Their top-tier models may be priced well below those from well-established brands such as Samsung and Sony, and do as well or better in our ratings. (Check the predicted reliability ratings along with the lab results.) Take a look at the TCL 65R625, for instance, a 2019 model that costs just $800 for the 65-inch version, and the Hisense 65H9G, a 65-inch 2020 set priced at $950. They don’t make CR’s recommended cutoff, but both offer satisfying picture quality plus effective HDR, something few sets in this price range can match.
Skip 8K Sets
Only in the past couple of years have you been able to assume that a new, decent-sized TV would have 4K resolution. Meanwhile, the programming you get from most cable companies is still just HD, which doesn’t fully exploit that 4K capability. Yet that’s not keeping manufacturers from now promoting 8K TVs.
These sets have more than 33 million pixels, or four times the 8 million or so tiny dots that make up a 4K TV’s picture. That means they’re capable of producing sharper, more detailed images. But we don’t think an 8K set makes sense for most people right now. At normal viewing distances, you’ll notice all that detail only in the biggest screen sizes—say, 75 inches and above. The sets are also very pricey: Samsung’s least expensive 75-inch 8K set, for example, costs almost $4,000. And there will be very little native 8K content for the foreseeable future.
Don’t Settle for Low Quality
Sets that are super-low in price can be very alluring, especially in the heat of the Black Friday season. But they might not be worth it. You’ll probably be watching your new TV for a number of years. If you’re not happy with its features or picture quality, you could regret not spending an extra 50 or 100 bucks to get something better. Also, those bargain TVs, often called loss-leaders, are usually at their rock-bottom prices, meaning you won’t be able to negotiate a better deal. A retailer may have more wiggle room on a step-up or flagship model.
And that brings us to a final tip about getting a big TV at a low price: Don’t hesitate to haggle, whether it’s in person or through an online chat box. CR’s member surveys have found that you can often get a better price, free shipping, or another perk if you ask.
Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the December 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.