With Super Bowl XLVI now just days away, you might be looking for a new big-screen TV that can do the game justice. But getting the right TV isn't as simple as just finding the right price. That's because sporting events like the Super Bowl can really bring out the best—and worst—in an HDTV by pushing it to its performance limits, revealing flaws that might go unnoticed with less-demanding types of content.
If you're looking for a last-minute bargain, though, we're not seeing a ton of super deals this year. Price cuts in the 5- to 10-percent range seem to be the norm. That's because when TV sales were sluggish last year, manufacturers cut back on production, so there aren't a ton of TVs languishing in the pipeline.
Still, the good news is that prices are already significantly lower than they were last year. We're seen several 60-inch LCDs priced at $1,000 and even less. And we're just weeks away from model-changeover time, so you should start seeing price drops in three or four weeks, as retailers start to clear out 2011 models to make room for this year's sets.
Before we get to our "can't miss" recommendations, here are a few things to consider if you're looking for a last-minute TV. Plasma TVs tend to do great with sports, with virtually no motion blur during fast-moving scenes and unlimited viewing angles. But they may not do as well in a very bright room.
If an LCD TV is on your hit list, consider a model with 120Hz or 240Hz technology to reduce motion blur, and one with a wide viewing angle, especially if you'll have the gang over to watch the game. And even though the game isn't bring broadcast in 3D this year, don't rule out a 3D model: Some of the 3D models in our Consumer Reports ratings are among the best TVs we've tested for regular 2D programming. And you shouldn't have to pay very much extra to get that feature.
If you're looking for a new TV for the Super Bowl, here are some quick recommendations. And for those on a tighter budget, we also offer a pair of lower-priced picks that can still deliver a big-screen picture worthy of the big game.
Super Bowl XLVI: Top TV picks
Panasonic TC-P55VT30, $2,100
This 55-inch 3D-capable 1080p plasma TV, a flagship model, is a top-notch set that delivers excellent high-def picture quality as well as very good 3D performance. It's loaded with features, including Wi-Fi (via an included adapter), an SD card slot, and access to online content, including streaming movies and TV shows. Note that this is a 2011 model—the VT30 sets get replaced by the VT50 models in a few months—so expect prices to fall as the 2012 models start to reach retailers.
LG 55LW6500, $1,900
This 3D-capable 55-inch 1080p LCD TV offers excellent picture quality with regular programming, and it was very good in the 3D mode. (It's a flagship "passive" 3D TV series that works with lightweight polarized glasses.) It's also loaded with features, including built-in Wi-Fi (via an included adapter), an edge LED backlight with local dimming, 240Hz technology, and access to a lot of online content, including streaming movies and TV shows. And it has a wider-than-average viewing angle for an LCD, a plus for those watching the set at an angle.
Samsung PN59D7000, $1,800
This 59-inch 3D-capable 1080p plasma TV from Samsung is among the best TVs we've tested, period. It has excellent picture quality and delivers some of the best 3D performance we've seen. Like the LG and Panasonic sets, this is a flagship set with tons of features, including built-in Wi-Fi; access to online content, including streaming TV shows and movies; and Samsung's app market. The TV is already a few hundred dollars cheaper than it was a month ago, but if you don't need this set for the game, monitor its price over the next several weeks, as it will be replaced by the E7000-series in early spring.
LG 60PZ950, $1,600
Another big 1080p 3D-capable flagship plasma that's been around for a while, this 60-inch LG model has excellent overall picture quality, very good 3D performance, and a lot of features, including Wi-Fi (via an included adapter), LG's Smart TV platform with online content including streaming movies and TV shows, and access to an apps market. Current pricing for this set seems to vary greatly, but P.C. Richard currently has it for just $1,400.
Vizio XVT553SV, $1,200
This 55-inch 1080p LCD TV from Vizio, one of the few new sets we've seen with a full-array LED backlight, delivers excellent performance, a wider-than-average viewing angle for an LCD, and a lot of features for the money—including 240Hz technology and access to online content, including apps and streaming TV shows and movies. This model is being discontinued, and I've seen prices as high as $1,600, but if you act fast, Sam's Club currently has it for just under $1,200.
Panasonic TC-P60S30, $1,000
If 3D doesn't ring your bell, this 60-inch 1080p set in Panasonic's entry-level 1080p S30 plasma series might. It has excellent picture quality and a decent number of features, including access to the company's Easy IPTV online service, which includes streaming movies and TV shows. It's Wi-Fi ready, but you'll have to spring for the optional adapter. If 3D capability is important, the 3D version with similar features—the TC-P60ST30—costs $400 or $500 more. But this 2011 model doesn't have a direct replacement in 2012, as Panasonic has only one non-3D plasma in 2012, the U50 series.
Looking to watch Big Blue without spending a lot of green? Consider these two more basic sets that provide a lot of big-screen bang for the buck, though you'll have to live without feature such as Internet connectivity and 3D.
Sanyo DP55441, $800
This 55-inch 1080p LCD manages to deliver very good picture quality and a wide viewing angle for an LCD at an unusually low price. It has very few extras—it does have 120Hz technology, but no LED backlight—and its remote control is only middling, but you'll save enough to buy a universal remote that can control all your gear. Just act quickly, as we don't know how much longer this set will be around.