Don't you want someone you love to be able to watch It's a Wonderful Life on a bigger, better and smarter television this year? (Maybe that someone is you.) Good news: Prices for flat-panel HDTVs continue to plummet, and you'll get more bang for your buck than ever before.
Here are our top choices for full-featured 55-in. LCD models, 55-in. plasma models and, for the budget-minded, some 42-in. bargains that deliver solid features without breaking the bank. (Not sure what kind of set to get? See TechHive's in-depth HDTV buying guide for everything you need to consider.)
55-in. LED LCD HDTV: LG 55LM6700
"Full-featured" means no compromises. For a 55-in. LCD HDTV, that means an LED edge-light for a sexy, thin panel and frugal energy consumption. It also means Smart TV functionality that connects to the Internet for streaming content, plus Wi-Fi support so the data can flow without wires.
While we're at it, let's throw in 3D support using the same lightweight, passive LCD glasses that you enjoy in your local cinema (six pairs included with the TV, please), along with an internal controller that can convert standard 2D content to 3D on the fly if you want. And, of course, it has to work great as a standard 2D set, showing full 1080p HD with a 120Hz refresh rate to reduce motion blur.
The set we picked for all these features and more is the LG Electronics 55LM6700, which Digital Trends called "one of the best edge-lit LCD panels we've seen yet." (Read the full review.) Its eye-catching design features an exceptionally narrow bezel, so the image appears to float in the air.
The set also comes with LG's Magic Motion remote that lets you literally point and click, similar to using a Nintendo Wii controller. Gamers will enjoy the Dual Play technology that lets each player wearing special glasses (purchased separately) see a full-screen image from their own point of view, without being able to peek at their opponent's screen.
Although LG lists it for $2,300, the 55LM6700 is widely available in the $1,220 to $1,500 range, making it a good deal to boot.
You might also like: Going high end? Samsung's $3,378 UN55ES7550 offers similar features to the LG but relies on active 3D glasses. Its dual-core processor enables multitasking and speedy Web surfing, and it comes with a wireless keyboard and an innovative touchpad-based remote that supports voice commands. Moving down the price scale, the Vizio M3D550KDE is a passive 3D model like the LG, offers an array of solid features and has a list price of just $1,150.
-- Alfred Poor
55-in. plasma HDTV: Panasonic Viera TC-P55GT50
If you've got a taste for the best image quality you can get, and you're willing to dim the lights and pull the shades to get it, then a plasma HDTV may be what you want. Plasma TVs are not as bright as LCD sets and they use more energy than LED edge-lit models do, but they have velvety blacks that look as though you could just dive into deep space and swim among the galaxies.
Our pick comes from the leader in plasma: Panasonic. The Viera TC-P55GT50 is a 55-in. beauty with all the trimmings. It has Smart TV functions including Skype built right in (requires a separate camera accessory), as well as a Web browser.
It supports 3D using active glasses (sold separately), it can convert 2D to 3D on the fly, and it is THX certified in both 2D and 3D modes. A clever speaker array with eight drivers delivers rich sound in a compact form factor.
CNET praised the set for its "outstanding overall picture quality, characterized by exceedingly deep black levels with great shadow detail." (Read the full review.) And thanks to the continued drop in flat-panel television prices, you don't have to pay an arm and a leg for top-of-the-line performance; this looker is on sale for about $1,600 from Panasonic and even less at other retailers.
You might also like: The Samsung PN51E8000GF is only 51 in., but has a list price of just $1,300. (The 60-in. model lists for $2,440.) It has active 3D support, Wi-Fi and a full Web browser, plus a remote control that lets you use voice and gestures to make your TV do your bidding.
-- Alfred Poor
Value 42-in. LCD HDTV: Vizio E3D420VX
Not so long ago, $530 for a top-name 42-in. LCD HDTV would be one of those "too good to be true" deals, even at a discount retailer. Today, that amount will buy you a set directly from the manufacturer. But this is no stripped-down, "transportation special" product; it's the E3D420VX from Vizio. It comes with premium features such as 120Hz refresh rate, three HDMI ports and a screen that automatically adjusts the brightness in response to changing room lighting conditions.
The features don't stop there. The set is 3D-capable and uses the same lightweight passive glasses that you'd use at a local cinema. You get two pairs bundled with the set, and you can buy additional two-packs of the glasses for $15 from Vizio. The E2D420VX is a Smart TV complete with Wi-Fi connectivity, and it comes with a handy two-sided remote that includes a QWERTY keyboard on one side.
As a result, you don't have to give up much to get a full-featured set at an attractive price. (The 47-in. model is priced at only $70 more.) As Andrew Robinson from Home Theater Review wrote, "I'd be a fan of the E3D420VX at its asking price even if it didn't feature 3D display capability." This model is not one of the newest, and it uses a fluorescent backlight instead of LEDs so it's not quite as thin as the more expensive models, but it's a true bargain for a set with the works.
You might also like: The Insignia NS-42E480A13 from Best Buy is a 42-in. LCD HDTV that sells direct for $450. It has an LED backlight and 120Hz refresh rate to reduce motion blur; other than that it offers basic features at an attractive price.
-- Alfred Poor
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