Frugal Shopping: The Best TV for the Best Price

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By Ed

Yeah, I know.  Our Frugal Shopping Steps (from our buying a dishwasher post) are normally geared towards replacing broken things.  Hence, I am stretching the bounds of frugal belief here - our basement tv isn't exactly broken (or broken at all, really).  It can still connect to a DVD player and our Wii for movies, fitness games and kid fun.  However, since we get our tv for free via over the air antenna, it can no longer tune channels for regular tv viewing.

This isn't the end of the world.  Our main floor tv is the one we use most frequently and the majority of time there is no overlap between when we want to watch something and when the kids want to watch something.  The basement tv is fine for passing the kids off for movies and Wii when we need the upstairs tv (typically for sports events).  But as the kids grow and/or when we want to have more than 4 people over to watch tv, the need for a backup is expanding.  Plus, I love big movie nights and football parties.

But can I convince Robin of this?  I think I can if I can demonstrate that I've done my research: the best TV for the best price.

That is what it is going to come down to too.  Can I make Robin see the light on this decision?

It will be tough sledding; she isn't a big tv fan to begin with and certainly can't see any reason to have a tv larger than our current main floor 32" Sony.

 So really it is two arguments- new tv and larger tv for media room in the basement.  This post represents the marshaling of all my debate and justification skills into a cohesive argument structured around the frugal buying steps.  So it begins...

Our Frugal Shopping Steps:

Can it be fixed?

In this case, there is a "fix" for the basement TV - pick up a digital converter box as outlined in TV for Free.  I have been kicking this idea around for a while, actually.  The easiest ones to find being at The Source.  But this is going to involve spending $50- $80 to update a TV that, itself, isn't worth that on Kijiji.
And then there is the issue of screen size.

Yeah, it has to go in a corner because it is deep. 

Have a look.  I loved this 25" TV in university.  It was ideal for my 8 X 10 living room where would huddle around and play Dr. Mario and Tetris.  The room it currently resides in just screams for a big TV hung on the wall - if for no other reason but to improve viewing angles and seating comfort.  But I digress.  In short - the TV can be updated for a moderate price, but the screen isn't getting any bigger.

What should it be replaced with? 

As Robin has pointed out in the past, Consumer Reports is a great source for objective information on just about anything - TVs included, and your local library may be a subscriber and have online login info.  I won't (and can't legally) post their summary table here, but a quick summary of it reveals all the brand names you'd expect: Samsung, Panasonic, Sony and LG all place a great number of TVs in the top ratings.  There are some surprises on the list too, including value brands Vizio and Philips, who I have a feeling might be sleeper candidates for Fugal minded TV buyers.

One of my other favourite sites for tech reviews is Cnet They are possibly less objective than Consumer Reports, but they are uber-tech nerds and really know their stuff.   Here is their LCD vs Plasma comparison page to give you a sense of how thorough they are.  They also have a great "TV Buying Guide", with a TV sizer and my favourite section: "Specs to Ignore" It is a less-than-5 minute read that will make you instantly spec-literate and if you are going TV shopping this weekend, it is a fantastic primer, even if budget is no object.

Another great site is Retrevo.  Again, advertising and eComm supported, so objectivity may be compromised, but lots of good info.  Some highlights include graphs that show where in the consumer life-cycle the product you are looking at is and "Value Picks" for budget minded people. 

Anyhow, after sifting stuff from all those sites, this is what I am after/ trying to convince Robin we need:
  • Screen size: at least 42"  (40-50 seems to be the range for the 9 foot viewing distance we have)
  • Brand: Panasonic, LG, Sony or possibly Vizio/Philips (Samsung* is likely out of the budget anyhow, but I have read/ experienced that their built-in digital tuners are hit or miss.  Pretty key for a free TV guy).  The other budget brands seem to have quality issues and reduced viewing angles - an important detail for our long/narrow media room
  • Type: LCD.  I have not sworn off Plasma, given that this TV will be for "Big" events like movies or sports - everything out there says it has the best pure picture of any HDTV - but the LCD just sounds more robust and I don't want to have to be nagging kids about turning things off so the screen doesn't burn in etc.  They are cheaper though...
* my Samsung exceptions are their 43 and 51 inch Series 4 (Entry level) plasma TVs.  If I wasn't so concerned about their ATSC (digital) tuners, I would likely be out getting one right now.  Either can be had on sale for under $500.

My feet enjoy being put up, but my eyes make a polite request for a bigger screen.

Can it be purchased used? 

The problem with this is the change of pace of both technology and price in HDTVs.  Someone who bought a 42" TV two years ago likely paid $700+ for it.  If they tried to sell it on Kijiji, they would likely figure: Two years old. Well cared for.  Nice big, newer style TV.  I'll only ask $450 for it.  My checks with Kijiji and Craigslist (barring the occasional "Moving this weekend, must go at a crazy low price) pretty much confirmed this line of thinking in today's sellers.

But while they did their calculation, they didn't actually check current prices - which have been falling faster than most people's depreciation adjustment.  Best Buy currently has a 42" Panasonic LCD for $499.  Why take the risk on used when you could get a new one with warranty and peace of mind for basically the same price?

The one area where there might be value is in Refurbished TVs.  I tend to believe that a refurbished product is one that someone else has already found out what was wrong with it and I get to have the benefit of them returning it for repair.  Now that thing shouldn't go wrong for me.  We have purchased several refurbished things over the years and had few, if any, problems.  A TV, however, would be the biggest Refurb purchase we've made, and it makes me a bit jittery.

Hmm, this wall needs something... a picture collage... some IKEA art... I don't know.

How do you find the best price for a new one?

In short: patience (waiting for the right deal) and research (checking the flyers and online).

I wish there was one standard place I could argue has the best price, but everyone seems to rotate sales:
  • I have noticed that Walmart's prices (except for very basic models) are not usually the best.  
  • Best Buy/Futureshop pretty much run the same deals, as they are the same store.  
  • Sears is usually slightly more expensive, but once and a while, they have a fabulous price.

My benchmark for this project will be 42" for under $400 before taxes.  Larger screens (43-50) would have a slightly higher benchmark of under $500 before taxes.  Those prices are full half what "Top of the Line" models currently run right now, so it will be an exercise in getting optimum bang for the buck.


If Robin is convinced.

Go back up and look at my basement shot.  Weigh in on what you think Robin should greenlight.


  1. Replies
    1. Good Question. LED TVs are essentially LCD TVs with a different (more energy efficient) form of backlighting. Traditional LCD uses CCFL backlighting - which has been around for awhile and is mature (and cheap!). LED TVs are the television equivalent of LED light bulbs - replacing CFL bulbs with greater energy efficiency, but more expensive due to relative newness.

      LED TVs can apparently show deeper blacks than their LCD forefathers, but other than being more energy efficient and more expensive, I can find few differences.

      At this point in my hunt, the energy savings difference between Plasma (worst), LCD (middle)and LED (best) isn't enough to justify the increase in cost. If I was looking at a truly gigantic TV (55"+), and I planned on using it as our daily watching TV, all of these considerations would get more priority.

      In short, if Budget was no object, LED would likely be my choice. But frugality rules here, so Plasma and LCD are the cheapest...



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