Sizes go up, prices fall. These are the two hallmark rules of the TV land. Just a few years ago, $800 couldn’t buy you a screen much larger than a postage stamp. Now, they can get you 50 inches or more — and from a reputable brand, no less. Here's what we'd choose if we couldn't spend more than $800 on a set.
(Note: TV pricing is always subject to change, so you may see different pricing than the market prices we've listed here. However, these sets probably aren't going to go up in price, not this close to Black Friday.)
Panasonic TC-P50UT50 50-inch 3-D plasma
Why we like it: Panasonic has a long track record of making some of the best looking flat panels on the market. This mid-range plasma may not have the black level and contrast ratio of its upmarket brethren, but that doesn’t mean it’s a slouch. Excellent picture quality, none of the viewing angle issues of LCDs, and excellent motion resolution make this an excellent choice for just about every room.
Samsung PN51E450 51-inch plasma
Why we like it: A 51-inch TV for under $600? Sign us up. It’s one of the cheapest 50-inch TVs around, yet still has great picture quality. The downsides? With a resolution of 1,024 x 768, it’s not 1080p "full" HD, and it only has two HDMI inputs. However, it’s one of the best TVs you can get for this price. There’s even a 43-inch version that’s under $450.
Sony KDL-42EX440 42-inch LED LCD
Why we like it: Sometimes, you just need the extreme light output potential of an LCD. Sony’s offering is 1080p and features LED edge-lighting. It doesn’t have the contrast ratio of the plasmas mentioned above, but offers decent black levels and color for a very low price.
Toshiba 46L5200U 46-inch LED LCD
Why we like it: Color accuracy isn’t this TV’s strong suit, but its brightness and contrast are good compared to other LCDs in this range. Unlike most of its competitors, the 46L5200U is 120Hz, which will help to minimize the motion blur seen most commonly in cheaper LCDs.
LG 42LM6200 42-inch 3-D LED LCD
Why we like it: The LM6200 from LG has a full suite of Smart TV features, and has an in-plane switching LCD panel for viewing angles almost as good as a plasma. It's the only passive 3-D TV on our list. Passive 3-D uses cheaper lightweight glasses (and this TV comes with six pairs of them!). Bear in mind, there are pros and cons with all of the different 3-D methods. The main downside with passive is that the resolution isn't as good, but you may not notice from where you're sitting.
Geoff Morrison writes about TVs for HD Guru and other publications. His novel "Undersea" is now in paperback.
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First published November 17 2012, 2:33 PM