Lots of great choices for new AV gear this year, but it's also easy to get suckered into getting more than you need.
Check out these tips and tricks to save yourself some big money this holiday season.
I know everyone loves waiting in line and dealing with holiday traffic and people's pleasant holiday demeanor, but if you skip the store, you can save some money. In most cases, online retailers will have lower prices on the same products. Many stores offer free shipping, an added bonus for big items (like TVs) that likely won't enjoy the ride from the store to your home.
Avoid expensive add-ons
No matter where you buy your new gear, chances are the retailer is going to try to get you to buy something else during checkout. This makes sense, as there is almost no markup on that new TV (even at over $1,000, amazingly). The way stores make money is through add-ons like cables and extended warranties.
Personally, I'm not a big fan of extended warranties. LCDs and plasmas have been found to be extremely reliable. Receivers and speakers rarely break, unless your kids have a party. Blu-ray players are practically disposable at this point. Sure you'll hear stories like, "Well, I know someone who met a guy whose TV broke," but statistically speaking, your TV is likely to last you decades with no problems. So if you still want a warranty, go ahead, get the peace of mind, just know it's probably a waste of money.
And DON'T buy cables at a store. HDMI cables shouldn't cost you more than $5. Check out my article trilogy Why all HDMI cables are the same, Why all HDMI cables are the same, Part 2 and Still more reasons why all HDMI cables are the same. Keep in mind the "cheap" HDMI cables in most stores are $20, and this is way too much.
Avoid floor models and 'doorbusters'
Check out the comments on the "Should I buy a floor-model TV?" article. TVs in stores are left on all day, most all night as well. All TVs lose brightness over time, so if they've been on 24 hours a day for three months, that's several years' worth of normal viewing. That means the TV will be dimmer, sooner, and will likely last less time. So are you really saving money?
Doorbusters, like $200 TVs, are worth what you pay for them. They aren't going to have the picture quality of name-brand TVs. If your goal is to just get a TV, then go for it. If you're looking for something good, these aren't a good deal, they're just cheap.
LED vs. plasma
Most TV manufacturers are pushing their LED LCD TV models, most of which are more expensive than their non-LED and plasma counterparts. It's worth noting that there's no such thing as an "LED TV," per se. This isn't a new type of television, it is an ordinary LCD TV that uses LEDs as its backlight instead of CCFLs. Generally, LED LCDs are brighter and more energy-efficient than "regular" LCDs and plasmas, but rarely is this extra brightness needed in a home. They'll look amazing in the store, but when you get them home, they'll be far too bright until you turn down the backlight, and then they're no brighter than the other TVs.
And as far as energy efficiency goes, you'll never make up the price difference in energy savings. All TVs are now required to show an Energy Guide label, just like refrigerators. Look at a similarly sized LED LCD and a plasma, and the difference per year is just a few dollars.
For even more info, check out LED LCD vs. plasma vs. LCD.
Pretty much all Blu-ray players have built-in Wi-Fi, 3D, and Internet streaming.
Not all Internet streaming suites are the same, though. All will have Netflix, but not all have VUDU and Amazon Instant Video. If your goal is to get access to the most online content, VUDU and Amazon are vital. Here's the thing, though, if you already have a Blu-ray player, media streamers like Roku and the Apple TV offer the same streaming services, if not more, than a new Blu-ray player. Speaking of which...
Media streaming boxes
Web streamers like the Apple TV and Roku offer the potential of nearly unlimited content thanks to iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video. Of course, they don't play discs like a Blu-ray player. So $100 for a new Blu-ray player with Amazon Instant Video, or a $100 Roku box with Amazon Instant Video and dozens of other content services. A tough call.
On the other hand, if you just want to add streaming to your current system, streaming boxes are really cool.
This goes for all product categories: if a deal seems too good to be true, or offers a product at a price way below its competition, there's a catch. There's always a catch. Look very closely at the fine print. Rarely is a superspecial offer actually for a good product. It's just there to get you to come to the store so they can sell you something else. Just because something is cheap, doesn't mean it's a good value.
Got a question for Geoff? Send him an e-mail! If it's witty, amusing, and/or a good question, you may just see it in a post just like this one. No, he won't tell you which TV to buy. Yes, he'll probably truncate and/or clean up your e-mail. You can also send him a message on Twitter: @TechWriterGeoff.