Best TVs – Feb 2013 (Part 2)

3/7/2013 9:30:53 AM

Prices are usually lowest in February and March, when manufacturers start shipping new models and retailers cut prices to move old ones. We don’t expect to see compelling new features on mainstream 2013 sets, so don’t rule out a top-rated 2012. You might get one at a killer price.

Now’s a great time to buy

Now’s a great time to buy

Sizing up TV performance

You have to look hard to find great sound. It’s often middling at best.

If a TV can’t display satisfying picture quality, it’s pretty much a dud, no matter what else it offers. Luckily, lots of TVs can do just that. More than 100 of the models in our Ratings had very good or excellent picture quality that should satisfy most viewers. Critical viewers would probably be happiest with excellent picture quality that delivers razor-sharp detail; vivid, accurate colors; and natural-looking images. There’s not much reason to settle for a TV with a good or fair picture-reflecting some problems with detail, color, contrast, or other critical attributes – when much better sets sell for about the same price.

You have to look hard to find great sound

You have to look hard to find great sound

You have to search harder to get great sound. Many TVs have sound we judge good. That’s OK for most content, but it’s unable to do full justice to movies or music videos. There’ not enough bass and depth to add impact to soundtracks, and you might hear distortion when you pump up the volume. In some cases, that could be a result of slim cabinets that don’t have room for speakers with large drivers.

A number of TVs especially smaller ones, had fair or poor sound, with such noticeable flaws that you might wince even when listening to a talking head. The worst ones sounded alarmingly like AM radio, as reader Roger Malson, of Grovelan, ill., found. “We bought a small TV for our kitchen, and the sound is terrible, much tinnier and cheaper-sounding than on the tube TV we had before, “he said.

If you’re connecting your TV to a sound bar or other external speakers, its sound isn’t a major concern. Otherwise look for a TV with at least a good sound score. For the most satisfying audio, opt for one of the two dozen or so sets with very good sound.

3D is another area in which we see varying performance. Many TVs do a very good job presenting convincing 3D, but some still have viewing-angle limitations or struggle with ghosting, which refers to double images you see even when wearing 3D glasses. TVs that use avtive-3D technology present full 1080p resolution but tend to have a somewhat dim picture in 3D. TVs that use passive-3D glasses usually have brighter 3D images, but they don’t present full resolution, so you lose detail. Many viewers might be OK with that because brighter images are easier on the eyes. There are enough TVs in our Ratings with very good 3D performance to skip those with lower scores.

TVs also vary in their features. Expect to pay more for models that have all of the lasts features. If you don’t want the extras, you can often save a bundle buying a more bare-bones set that provides great performance. Two 60-inch plasma TVs from LG illustrate the point. The 60PM9700, which has 3D, Internet services with Wi-Fi, and a Web browser, sells for $1,800. The 60PA6500, which has comparable scores but none of those features, sells for $900.

 “Bargains” can be risky.

A bargain price is always appealing, but thinks twice about super-low-priced sets, especially from lesser-known brands. Our experience is that the lowest-priced TVs aren’t always the best deals. Some of the lowest-rated sets in the Ratings- with below-average scores for picture, sound, or both-include TVs from Coby, Element, Haier, TCL, and Westinghouse.

The lowest-priced TVs aren’t always the best deals.

The lowest-priced TVs aren’t always the best deals.

Another point to consider with such brands is how easy it will be to get the TV repaired. Major brands usually invest in parts and service networks, so the likelihood that you’ll be able to get the TV serviced by an authorized repair center is greater. Also, the manufacturer’s warranty on some sets from less familiar grand might be shorter than the average on-ear coverage for most sets. Coby and RCA have three-month labor warranties.

Consider a brand’s repair record.

In the event you’re thinking about buying a TV we haven’t tested, you can glean some guidance from our brand histories, which cover reliability and performance.

To gauge reliability, every year we ask readers about their TVs. Our latest survey, which covers about 216,000 LCD and plasma TVs purchased between 2008 and 2012, shows that most major brands had an overall repair rate of only 4 percent during the first four years of use.

Fifteen of the 16 LCD brands covered in our current survey had comparably low repair rates. Those brands, in alphabetical order, are Dynex, Insignia, JVC, LG, Manavox, Panasonic, Philips, RCA, Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, Sony, Sylvania, Toshiba, and Vizio. Westinghouse was the most repair-prone of the LCD brands covered. In the plasma category, Panasonic, Samsung, and LG were generally reliable, with a low rate of repairs.

When TVs had problems, they often occurred early – 57 percent of reported repairs were made in the first year of ownership, a period usually covered by a standard manufacturer warranty. That reinforces our advice that extended warranties aren’t a good investment for most users.

Check out performance.

Quality of TV performance has been more of a mixed bag. A few brands stand out as solid choices based on our tests over the past few years, but other makes have had higher-and lower-scoring sets.

LCD TVs form LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony have consistently been among the best performers in our Ratings. Plasma TVs from Panasonic have been tops, followed closely by Samsung and LG. Given their solid track record over a few years we believe other TVs from those brands are likely to do as well-reassuring if you’re considering a TV we haven’t tested.

LCD TVs form LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony have consistently been among the best performers in our Ratings

LCD TVs form LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony have consistently been among the best performers in our Ratings

Vizio, Sanyo, and Sharp LCDs have delivered generally strong performance that should satisfy all but the most demanding viewers, a track record that suggest other models will follow suit.

Other brands have had less consistent performance. Some LCD TVs from Insignia, JVC, Philips, and Toshiba did quite well, but others had lower scores. We have less confidence that an untested model from those brands will match the performance of its best siblings. Magnavox and Westinghouse LCDs have had lower over-all scores than most over the past few years, but some new TVs have done better. With all of those brands, your safest choice is a tested model from our Ratings.


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