Cheaper off-brand TVs aren't always a great deal

Consumer Reports

Some TVs from lesser-known brands, such as the Haier LE55B1381, have not been top performers in our tests.

Some TVs from lesser-known brands, such as the Haier LE55B1381, have not been top performers in our tests.


If you're buying a new TV over the next couple of months, you can expect to see a lot of promotional activity focused on price—especially as we get closer to Black Friday. You may be tempted by a model from a lesser-known brand, especially if it's priced well below comparable major-brand sets. But getting the cheapest set for the money doesn't always turn out to be the best deal.

If you check out our latest TV Ratings, you'll see that the highest-rated sets in each screen-size category are almost always from one of the major brands. TVs from LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony have consistently earned an excellent score for HD picture quality; other models from these brands have been at least very good. Vizio TVs have also typically also done very well, with either very good or excellent picture quality and a lot of features for the price.

The new batch of Ratings also includes TVs from lesser-known brands, such as Coby, Haier, Insignia, Magnavox, RCA, Sanyo, TCL, and Westinghouse. Some of these brands—Insignia, Maganvox, and Sanyo, for example—have been somewhat inconsistent performers; some sets have done well enough to earn a Recommended designation, and a few have even been CR Best Buys. But other sets from these companies and other secondary brands haven't fared as well.

While few sets these days earn "fair" or "poor" grades for high-def picture quality, even a "good" score is below average, as most of the sets in our TV Ratings have very good or excellent picture quality. We believe the ability to deliver a consistently clear, sharp picture is one of the fundamentals for a TV that will serve as the main set for your family. It may not be as important in a secondary set for another room of the house, where it won't be watched as critically.

(See also: Is the iPad too heavy?)

Consider reliability and repair
There are some other things to consider with off-brand TVs. One is how easy it is to get the TV repaired in a timely manner. Major brands typically invest in parts and service networks, so there's a greater likelihood that you'll be able to get the TV serviced by an authorized repair center. (Try explaining to a seven-year-old that he can't watch "Pokemon" for a month, because the TV had to get shipped across the country for repair and wait for parts to arrive from China.)

Once again, most major brands do well in our surveys, with only 4 percent needing repair on average. Although some secondary brands had reliability records comparable to the major brands, one—Westinghouse—was considerably more repair-prone than most. But note that several off-brands brands simply don't sell enough TVs to get captured in these reliability surveys, so we can't report on their reliability.

Finally, consider the manufacturer's warranty, which could be shorter with an off-brand TV. Most of the TVs in our Ratings carry one-year parts and labor warranties. But a few secondary brands, including Coby, Magnavox, and RCA, have shorter 3-month labor warranties.

We all like to get a great deal when we buy something, and TVs are no exception. But getting the right TV for your needs will ultimately engender the greatest satisfaction, especially if you plan to own the set for a good number of years.

If you've purchased a TV from a lesser-known brand, let us know if you've been satisfied with your purchase, and whether it's been repair-free.

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.
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