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How to Score Your Dream LCD TV on the Cheap for the Super Bowl

HDTVs have been around for a decade now, and, if you have the lucky pleasure of hosting this year's Super Bowl party and are without an HDTV, we assure you that now is the time to take the plunge. We've got the HDTV that'll score as high as your preferred team, and won't bust your bank account, either. HDTVs are a mature enough technology today that even average ones perform rather well, and all of them have the requisite connections and built-in technologies to last for a good long time. Unless, of course, this whole 3-D thing takes off... but we aren't holding our breath.

Super Bowl week happens to be a great time to buy an HDTV at a reasonable price, as long as you don't mind buying a slightly dated model. That's because CES, where everyone announced all their new models for the coming year, was a few weeks ago, and now much of the selection in stores is older stock. Before you go and spend the cash that is burning a hole in your pocket on the cheapest set you can find, we'd offer a few tips for getting the best bang for your buck, and which sale models are steals at three price points.

As always, we suggest that you actually go to a store to check out any set you plan to buy. Seeing is believing, and, all objective specs aside, intelligent people disagree on what they want their TV shows to look like. Check out the viewing angle (how far you can comfortably watch away from center, both vertically and horizontally), and whether or not a set displays black uniformly around the screen. Look for details in scenes with lots of shadow. And pay attention to fast-motion, and whether the picture gets pixelated or shows judder. When it comes to screen size, measure how closely you sit from the TV now, and then stand the same distance from the TV you're considering.

As for more techie stuff, LCD screens are cheaper and perform better in places that gets lots of light, but plasma is a bit better if you are going super big. Look for sets that have at least three HDMI inputs, as you'll likely want to connect at least a DVD/Blu-ray player and cable box, and perhaps a future gaming console or digital box like a Roku. If you're getting a set that's 37-inches or bigger, or will be sitting particularly close, you'll want a 1080p set. We were originally skeptical of sets boasting 120Hz refresh rates, but have come to appreciate how they can smooth out movies. Speaking of, if you're an avid Netflix user (or use similar services), you may be interested in a set that can be hooked directly to the Internet or that has built-in Wi-Fi. And, while we're still skeptical of 3-D TV's future, 3-D-capable TVs generally have far more powerful guts than their peers, and often offer top-shelf 2-D performance -- even if you never plan on donning a pair of goggles. If audio matters to you, see if the TV has optical or analog audio outputs that work with your home audio system.

Oh, and lastly, don't be a sucker and buy your HDMI cables for more than $10. Hit up, and buy 10 perfectly good ones for the price you'd pay for one overpriced one at Best Buy.

Here are the tubes we'd buy if we had the cash and inclination. Note that we've included links to the lowest current advertised prices, which will surely go up by game day -- so get 'em while you can!

Under $550: Panasonic TC-L42U25

panasonic tc-l42u25
This Panny has no business being this awesome for this cheap; in fact, it's nearly half off the normal asking. And it does our head in, considering that we paid about the same price for a mid-range, 32-inch Sony just a couple years ago. Sheesh. Simply put, this is a tremendous amount of TV tech for the price. Panasonic's 1080p, 42-inch LCD has a gorgeous screen, thanks to its IPS panel, which means the set has a wider viewing angle in any direction, without color fading or shifting. This model has a 120Hz refresh rate, which is great for movies -- although we've heard that, for some video sources, you'll want to turn off the Full Motion processing, or it can get occasionally glitchy. We do wish that the included stand would swivel (although the IPS screen is compensation), and an extra HDMI input from the included three (one of which is on the side) would be welcome. Still, unwrapping this set at this price means that, when you eventually die, you can go in peace knowing you got one over on the Man at least once.
Panasonic TC-L42U25, $549.98

Under $1,000: VIZIO XVT423SV

vizio xvt423sv
If you're unfamiliar with the pat storyline repeated whenever tech sites cover Vizio, indulge us. The company emerged as the scrappy underdog that used to make cheapo-but-better-than-bad sets, has since become a powerhouse, and now makes good-to-really great sets that aren't too pricey. Among its choicest bargains is the mellifluously named XVT423SV, a 42-inch LED backlit 1080p beauty. It fulfills our want list from top to bottom: 240Hz refresh (which is really 120 with some clever backlight doubling, but still); dual-band N Wi-Fi for blazing Internet access; a slightly bulky but awesome Bluetooth remote with sliding QWERTY keyboard; and a whomping five HDMI ports (one of which is on the side). We're fans of Vizio Internet Apps (or VIA), whose customized, on-screen options allow access a host of media streaming and social networking sites (e.g., Netflix, Blockbuster, Amazon, Vudu, Pandora, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) with a clean and snappy interface. Coupled with the remote and zippy Wi-FI, it's all the more enticing and useful, unlike some of the Smart TVs out there. If you can scratch up the cash, this TV covers all the bases brilliantly.
VIZIO's XVT423SV, $997.99

Under $1,500: Samsung UN46C7000

Samsung UN46C7000
Okay, we buckled. Samsung's ultra-thin -- the screen is a mere inch thick -- crazy-sexy showpiece is indeed a 3-D TV, and it's missing a couple features (such as built-in Wi-Fi and a quality remote). But, come on, this thing is a peach. As you'd expect, it's a 1080p with LED backlighting, and it has four HDMI ports, a pretty swivel stand, and optional 240/120Hz refresh rate. (We've heard the latter may be worth turning off for non-movie viewing, though, as it's a little over-aggressive). It also connects to the Net for use with a bevy of apps like Netflix, Blockbuster, Hulu Plus, Youtube, Pandora, Facebook, and the other usual suspects. Samsung's Smart TV system isn't as polished or friendly as Vizio's, but it works well. Although you'll have to pony up for active 3-D glasses, we like that the Samsung can convert 2-D programming to 3-D on the fly to surprisingly good effect. (Again, though, we're doubtful that 3-D will ever be anything other than an occasional indulgence). Overall, you're getting a high-quality, high-performance set with exceptionally sleek design at a price that's a grand less than when it first debuted.
Samsung UN46C7000, $1,439.18

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