The 42-inch Vizio E3D420VX offers 3D capability.
By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
The college football national championship may be behind us, but the biggest game of the year is coming up on Feb. 5. Frugal football fans can watch the Super Bowl on a brand-new LCD TV for less than $600. LCD stands for liquid crystal display, technology that has allowed sleek, space-saving flat-screens to replace conventional cathode-ray-tube TVs. Brands including LG, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba offer budget models up to 42 inches.
Man cavers will no doubt want the biggest screen they can afford, but the picture will appear grainy and distorted unless there’s room to sit far enough away. Do a quick calculation to determine the maximum screen size for your space: Measure the distance between the seating area and the spot where the TV will go, then divide by 1.5. For instance, if your favorite recliner is only 48 inches from the wall where you want to mount a new TV, you should look for a 32-inch screen.
One of the most commonly cited specs on an LCD TV is the resolution. The best available is 1080p, which provides the sharpest, clearest high-definition picture. You can easily find a 1080p TV for less than $600. However, keep in mind that the images you see won’t be in high-def unless you have HD channels and/or a Blu-ray player as well.
A screen with 1080p resolution displays 1,080 rows of pixels from top to bottom. The “p” refers to progressive scan, which keeps the screen from flickering when the image refreshes. The refresh rate is measured in hertz, and even low-cost TVs have rates of at least 60 Hz. A higher refresh rate of 120 Hz, available on some budget models, reduces blurring when you’re watching a fast-paced sporting event or playing a video game.
While the best low-priced LCD TVs offer excellent viewing, they simply can’t match the deep black levels that make colors pop on more expensive screens. Pricier models have higher contrast ratios, which represent the difference between the darkest and lightest colors on the screen. Watch out for manufacturers who tout dynamic contrast ratios of 10,000:1 or 100,000:1. The number to look for is the static contrast ratio, which is much lower but more accurate.
Manufacturers often max out settings such as contrast and brightness so a TV will stand out on a retail floor. Factory settings aren’t optimal for a living room, however, so it's best to adjust them.
Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable LCD TVs.
- The 42-inch Vizio E3D420VX (starting at $560) boasts 3D capability, which is tough to come by in this price range but perhaps no surprise from a brand known for affordable, feature-rich TVs. This 1080p model has a 120 Hz refresh rate, and reviewers praise the color quality. (Where to buy)
- The 27-inch ViewSonic VT2730 (starting at $300) may not be a big-screen, but it’s inexpensive and ideal for a smaller space. Experts say the picture on this no-frills 1080p TV is sharp and accurate from almost any angle. (Where to buy)
- The 32-inch Sony NSX-32GT1 (starting at $498) incorporates Google TV, so you can browse the web and search for video. Reviewers recommend this 1080p model for the features rather than the image quality. (Where to buy)
- The 42-inch LG 42LK450 (starting at $579) dispenses with extra features but delivers solid performance. Experts appreciate the ability to finely tune each aspect of the picture quality on this 1080p TV. (Where to buy)