Eye Candy Galore: Best HDTVs of the 2013 Holiday Season
Buying an HDTV is often like a buying a car, where you find yourself overwhelmed with choices and confronted by salespeople and/or friends and family trying to steer you this way and that. But if you go in with a game plan based strictly on your needs, you can’t go wrong with one of these stellar TVs below.
Five of the seven HDTVs here are smart TVs with built-in Wi-Fi to stream content from the internet, like Netflix or Hulu Plus. However, if you have a set-top box like a Roku or Apple TV or PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One, it’s not a big deal, though it does free up an HDMI port. So while SmartTV is the big buzzword this season, it’s a lot of sound and fury signifying…not much.
What about 4K Ultra HDTVs? We’re still a year or two away from 4K HDTVs being a worthy buy. There’s no content to watch yet, and they’re absurdly expensive for the most part. But if you really must dip your toes, try the off-brand Seiki 4K HDTV below as an ad hoc—albeit surprisingly capable—computer monitor/TV combo.
Let’s check out our picks for the best HDTVs of the 2013 holiday season:
Buy This for the Videophile Without Breaking the Bank
Panasonic VIERA TC-P50ST60 50-inch 3D Smart Plasma HDTV (2013)
Let’s get this out there right away: Panasonic will no longer be producing plasmas by spring 2014. It’s sad, I know, because plasma HDTVs are great. Until OLED comes along, plasma TVs have the best picture quality, no question. Burn-in, short lifespan, ambient light washout haven’t been issues for years. Panasonic will continue to honor warranties and support their existing plasmas, but this TV represents the end of the line.
Oh, yeah, about this TV: the Panasonic TC-P50ST60 has one of the best PQs (picture quality) of any HDTV, and you can find it for under $1,000. The critical and customer reviews do not lie. This TV will satisfy the videophile’s insatiable need for a pristine picture.
Random spec geekout: Infinite Black Pro panel, Active 3D, DLNA support, Smart VIERA apps, glossy screen, 96Hz, 60Hz, 48Hz refresh rates.
MSRP: $1,150 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $930
- Pros: Superb black level. Fantastic viewing angles. Accurately handles 1080p/24 content (i.e. movies). PQ will satisfy all but the very pickiest of TV buyers. Also available in 55-inch, 60-inch and 65-inch models. Includes two pairs of active 3D glasses.
- Cons: 3D picture is not the best, if you care. High input lag so it’s not suitable for heavy gamers.
Buy This for the Smartypants With Good Looks and Money to Spare
Samsung UN46F8000 46-Inch 240Hz 3D Smart LED HDTV (2013)
Samsung still leads the pack with its highly intuitive and powerful Smart TV user interface and web browser. (There’s a quad-core processor under the hood.) As I mentioned above, if you already have a set-top media player, this is not a selling point. But if you don’t and still want streaming content, choose a Samsung.
The UN46F8000 is sleek and razor-thin at just under 1.5 inches, and the bezel is only a quarter of an inch wide, which gives it the “floating picture” look. The design is awesome. As a bonus, the black levels—the holy grail of picture quality—are as good as you’re going to find on an LED panel (only plasma is better).
Random spec geekout: Edge-lit LED with local dimming, Active 3D, DLNA support, Smart TV apps, glossy screen, built-in (pop-up) camera.
MSRP: $2,500 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
- Pros: Both design and picture look awesome. Great touchpad remote. Good sound. Excellent Smart TV UI. Accurately handles 1080p/24 content (i.e. movies). Includes four pairs of active 3D glasses (universal standard). Also available in 55-inch, 60-inch, 65-inch and 75-inch models.
- Cons: Super pricey. Viewing angles are decent but not great. Motion control with built-in camera is still spotty.
Buy This for the Gamer or Lifelong Sony Buyer
Sony KDL-55W900A 55-Inch 240Hz 3D Internet LED HDTV (2013)
While Sony’s TV rep has gotten some hard knocks in the Samsung era, the venerable and iconic company is still capable of knocking it out of the park every once in a while. The KDL-55W900A has an outstanding picture. You really do have to see it in person to appreciate it. The black levels (thanks to local dimming) and color reproduction (thanks to the “TRILUMINOS” technology) are best in class.
For gamers (especially FPS enthusiasts), this is the HDTV for you. The input lag (the time between a signal reaching the TV and appearing on the TV) in Game Mode is around 17ms, which puts it among the very best of any HDTV out there. Hook up that PS4!
Random spec geekout: Edge-lit LED with local dimming, DLNA support, Active 3D, TRILUMINOS display (wide color gamut), Internet TV apps, glossy screen.
MSRP: $3,300 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
- Pros: Outstanding color and black levels. Great for gaming due to low input lag. Two remotes (one Bluetooth). Good sound. Accurately handles 1080p/24 content (i.e. movies). Includes four pairs of active 3D glasses (universal standard).
- Cons: Not cheap, although Sony did drop the price under $2k. 3D is just decent, if you care. Only available in the 55-inch size.
Buy This for the Sports Fanatic
Vizio E601i-A3 60-inch 120Hz Razor LED Smart HDTV (2012)
If you’re looking to get the biggest bang (display) for the buck, the VIZIO E601i-A3 is a solid performer. It may lack the PQ sizzle of the models listed above, but Vizio has earned a reputation for delivering very good quality at a good price. The TV is also relatively attractive for a budget set—thin and compact for its size (just under 2″ deep).
Even better, this model, which is normally found for a grand, will be just $688 at Walmart on Black Friday. It was this price last year for just a few hours, and it’s seriously the best value for a TV you’re going to see this year, too.
Random spec geekout: Edge-lit LED, 1080p resolution, DLNA support, VIA Smart TV apps, matte screen.
MSRP: $1,300 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $688.
- Pros: Great value (incredible value on Black Friday). Thin bezel. Remote with QWERTY keyboard. Good rendering of 1080p/24 content (i.e. movies). Available in gigantic 70-inch size.
- Cons: Above average, but not great, picture. Smart TV interface is nothing special. No 3D, if that matters to you. Last year’s model.
Buy This for Someone Who Doesn’t Get Out of Bed
Sony KDL-32R400A 32-Inch 60Hz 720p LED HDTV (2013)
Generally, bigger is better in the world of HDTVs (at least 42″ and above). But there are times when a smaller set is appropriate, such as a second TV for the bedroom, kitchen or bathroom (kidding?). The Sony KDL-32R400A fills that niche with a solid but not outstanding picture plus good sound for its diminutive size. A bedroom TV’s sound quality is actually important since it’s less likely to be accompanied by a home theater system. The KDL-32R400A is also a decent gaming display when you want to fire up the gaming console.
A few caveats: If you’re planning to watch Netflix in bed, you’ll need a set-top box with this set since it does not have built-in Smart TV. It’s also 720p and not 1080p, but don’t let that deter you: despite what the salesperson tells you, the difference between 720p and 1080p is not visible to the human eye on a 32″ TV.
Random spec geekout: Direct LED lighting, 720p resolution, 60Hz refresh rate, glossy screen.
MSRP: $400 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
- Pros: Good picture, especially black levels and viewing angles. Very good sound. Good for gaming (low input lag). Accurately handles 1080p/24 content (i.e. movies).
- Cons: Direct LED lighting is not as good as edge-lit LED. No Smart TV apps. No 3D. Does not support DLNA streaming devices.
Buy This for Someone Hooked on Giant Robots in 3D
Vizio M801d-A3 80-Inch 1080p 240Hz 3D LED HDTV (2013)
If bigger is better for HDTVs, then ginormous is perfection. You’ll just have some ‘splainin to do if you bring this behemoth home. The VIZIO M801d-A3 is one of just two mass-produced HDTVs at this size; the other is Sharp’s higher-priced Quattron 80-incher. Vizio has done a nice job on the design of this set with its super thin bezel and profile, although some may not like the open square stand. Vizio also improved its Smart TV platform with the new VIA Plus, an improvement over the previous iteration, featuring full-screen browsing and mobile device streaming.
We always regret that we didn’t get a big enough TV. No such problem here.
Random spec geekout: Edge-lit LED with local dimming, 1080p resolution, Passive 3D, 240Hz refresh rate, glossy screen.
MSRP: $4,000 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: N/A
- Pros: Ridiculously huge. 3D rendering is really good. Classy design. Improved Smart TV interface. M-Series is available in other, more “sensible” sizes like 50-inch, 60-inch, 65-inch and 70-inch.
- Cons: Ridiculously huge. Remote control has response issues. Reflective screen.
Buy This for the Computer Jockey With a Crystal Ball
Seiki SE39UY04 39-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz LED TV (2013)
Now is not the time for 4K “Ultra” HDTVs. But if you can’t help yourself and your 30″ computer monitor seems too small, then the Seiki SE39UY04 makes the ultimate computer monitor / HDTV combo. Japanese TV maker Seiki is known as a budget off-brand, but its 4K HDTVs are getting rave reviews as… computer monitors. Why? For starters, it has an eyeball-popping 3840 by 2160 resolution; by comparison, the 27″ Apple iMac has 2560 by 1440 resolution. Pfft.
HDTVs typically don’t make the best monitors, particularly with text, but the Seiki SE39UY04 renders text very well, although not as razor-sharp in all conditions as a dedicated PC monitor. However, the quality of performance will vary depending on GPU and drivers; powerful discrete graphics will handle this super high resolution a lot better. Also, at this resolution, it’s not for gaming unless it’s dialed down to 1080p.
Random spec geekout: Edge-lit LED, 3840 by 2160 resolution (4K UHD, 16:9 aspect ratio) @ 30Hz, glossy screen.
MSRP: $699 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $500
- Pros: Cheapest 4K HDTV by a long mile. Capably does double-duty as a huge computer monitor. Available in 50-inch and 60-inch sizes.
- Cons: 30Hz refresh as PC monitor, but differences from typical 60Hz monitor are mostly not noticeable. Picture uniformity is decent but not great, as expected for budget brand. Does not tilt or swivel on the supplied stand, but can be mounted for monitor use. No Smart TV or DLNA support. Requires firmware update to fix input lag issue.
Buy This for Someone Who Thinks Out of the (TV) Box
BenQ W1070 3D Home Theater Projector (2012)
OK, it’s technically not a TV, and it doesn’t have an HDTV tuner. But if you think 80 inches isn’t gonna cut it, what are you gonna do? The BenQ W1070 can project a screen size up to 235 inches although 100 to 150 inches is probably more realistic (unless you live in a big cave). You need a separate screen and darkened room for a projector, but if you’re already going this route, then that’s expected. Because home theater projectors (and screens) can get crazy expensive, the BenQ W1070 is reasonably priced for its solid performance, plus 3D capability.
Random spec geekout: DarkChip 3 DLP by Texas Instruments, 1920 x 1080 resolution, UHP lamp, 2000 lumens, Active 3D.
MSRP: $1,000 | Lowest Price on Ben’s: $800
- Pros: Can project HUGE images. Good value. 3D is very good. Relatively low input lag for gaming purposes. Front and back adjustable legs. Small footprint. Serviceable 10W speakers.
- Cons: Needs a darkened room and strict light control. Need a separate screen (a wall isn’t ideal). The lamp must be replaced every 5,000 hours (or about every two years) and costs $219. 3D glasses are not included ($100). Fan can be noisy.