The 50-inch, 1,080p Panasonic TC-P50ST30 is a 3-D plasma HDTV.
updated 11/22/2011 3:14:38 PM ET 2011-11-22T20:14:38

Ready to buy a new HDTV? Don’t! Well, at least not before reading these tips for Black Friday shoppers.

Are the TVs on sale really good deals? What about buying a no-name brand? Can you get the best TV from a doorbuster sale?

By planning your buying strategy, you can spare yourself time, money and grief.

Why leave the house?
Many of the lowest-priced Black Friday TVs are no-name brands we don’t recommend. If you’re looking for a name-brand TV on Black Friday sale, we found Amazon and others to be the same or only slightly higher priced. This is because they closely track major retailers’ pricing.

Keep in mind all brick-and-mortar stores collect sales tax, while (for now) most states don’t collect tax on many online retail sales. This may make up for any price difference, or even contribute to the savings. We urge readers to check online pricing before heading out to the stores on Thanksgiving or anytime after.

No-name brand service issues
In our no-name brands article we examined no-name HDTVs. These sets tend to be made in China, and are sold by marketing companies that license well-known brands.

These companies often have limited or no national service and parts networks. Often, TV owners need to pay to ship a defective set back to the company’s U.S. offices to receive a repair or exchange.

The price difference between a no-name brand and a name brand can be $50 or less, and we recommend buying the name brand product if you can afford it.

What are the store's return policies?
Return policies vary in length of the return window and possibility of restocking charges. Our store return policy article lists the normal return windows for Best Buy, Target, Costco, BJs, Walmart and Sam’s Club. In past years, a number of retailers extended returns to after Christmas. The new policies will probably be announced just before black Friday.

Beware: Sears' 30-day return policy states a whopping 15 percent restocking charge on all home electronics, including televisions, if the product was used. A salesman told us Sears says a device is “used” as soon as its box has been opened.

Many online TV sellers don’t accept HDTV returns, and the ones that do often have restocking charges. Amazon offers 30-day returns with no restocking fee on HDTVs and even pays the return freight. Check out all store return polices before buying, not after.

Don’t buy the accessories with the TV
All HDTVs require HDMI cables for HD connections to Blu-ray players, cable/satellite boxes and media receivers such as the Roku. HDMI cables provide digital audio and video signals over a single cable from source to display. There is no need to buy expensive HDMI cables, as we found in our recent test.

HDTV buyers should also use a surge protector to protect their TV and components against power surges from electrical storms. Even though most TVs today come with a microfiber screen-safe cleaning cloth, retailers push overpriced TV cleaning kits. Check out our review of a few of these.

Best Buy is offering a bundle with all three of these items in its upcoming Black Friday circular for $149.99, and makes it appear a good deal by stating a “minimum 5 per store.” Don’t believe it. This package is very profitable for BB and is not a good value. The regular prices for this 8-foot Monster HDMI Cable, surge suppressor and screen cleaning kit are sold separately for $99.99, $49.99 and $19.99, respectively.

Many online retailers, including Amazon and cheap-cable specialist Monoprice, offer better alternatives that perform just as well. Search for OSD 9 foot Hi-Speed HDMI Cable (we found it for $4.19); a Belkin 8-Outlet Home/Office Surge Protector costs $17.30; and CleanDr LCD/Plasma Screen Cleaner is just $6.69 online. Total price? $28.18.

Extended warranties
If you don't heed our warnings, and plan to buy a no-name TV anyway, we recommend an extended warranty, especially if you plan to keep the TV at least three or four years. Often the SquareTrade warranty is much cheaper than the one offered by Best Buy and other brick-and-mortar stores. So compare prices before leaving the house and save money. Our article covering extended warranties will fill you in on how to save by buying a third-party contract.

What to watch in HD?
If you use cable or satellite you will need a high-definition box to see a HD picture, so pick one up/order one before the new HDTV arrives. You also might want to consider a Blu-ray player with streaming, or Smart TV box such as Roku or Apple TV. Many TVs have streaming services built in, but some external boxes offer more features or better functionality. You’ll need a high-speed Internet for them to work properly. Here is a link to our Roku review and an explanation of streaming services and apps.

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