HDTV Buying Guide

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HDTVs: What you get at each price

Sharp's 90-inch Aquos LC-90LE745U has the biggest screen and the biggest price ($11,000) on the market.

A new 1080p HDTV will cost you anywhere from $500 to $11,000. In some cases, spending extra cash will go towards obvious differences: A much-larger screen, a slicker design, and built-in streaming services. In other cases, you'll be paying for marketing jargon or features that you'll never use.

There's no easy way to learn what you'll pay for, so I went ahead and did it the hard way. I examined the prices and specs for 124 sets from the largest screen sizes available to the 42-inch class, a pool of HDTVs that comprises the 2012 lineups for seven of the biggest HDTV manufacturers (LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba, and Vizio). I looked at the features found at each price level, noticed a few similarities and differences, and came up with some guidelines on what to expect at certain prices.

Note: The prices in this story reflect the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for each set. In many cases, you'll find these sets on sale for significantly less than the MSRP.

Pick a price range

What you get for $5,000 to $11,000

What you're always getting:

  • The highest-end LED sets
  • The largest screen sizes in each series (65 inches to 90 inches)
  • Built-in Wi-Fi with streaming services
  • Refresh rates of at least 120Hz

What you're sometimes getting:

  • Full-array LED backlighting
  • 3D playback
  • Gesture- and voice-control features
  • Built-in Web browser

Summary of your options in this price range: This is a big chunk of change. If you have this much cash to spend, you'll be able to buy the highest-end LED HDTVs at the largest available screen sizes from Samsung, Sharp, and Sony. Any set in this price range will be loaded with all the latest technologies, including built-in Wi-Fi with services such as Netflix and Pandora, refresh rates of at least 120Hz, the highest contrast-ratio claims of any set in the company's lineup, and 3D viewing (well, except for Sharp's 80-inch LC-80LE632U).

To achieve the best picture quality in the realm of LED TVs, the majority of sets in this price range feature full-array LED panels (where a grid of LEDs placed directly behind the LCD illuminate the screen) rather than edge-lit LED screens. Usually, that translates to sharper contrast and darker black levels than an edge-lit LED TV—especially if the set features local-dimming technology, which is found in the Sharp Elite series and Sony XBR series. A TV with local-dimming technology will turn off some of the backlighting LEDs in darker areas of the picture to improve contrast and make those dark areas appear pitch-black. At $5,000, the 65-inch Sony XBR HX929 costs around $3,000 less than the 70-inch Sharp Elite set, making it one of the better values in this astronomical price range.

If you're not looking for sheer size, Sony's 65-inch, LED-backlit XBR HX929 may be the best value in this price range.

Differences at this price: When a set in this price range doesn't feature a full-array LED panel with local-dimming features, you're generally paying for either a huge screen or fancy extras.

For example, Sharp's LC-90LE745U ($11,000) is a 90-inch-diagonal behemoth with a 120Hz full-array LED panel without local dimming. The 80-inch Sharp LC-80LE844U is a 240Hz full-array set (no local dimming) with Sharp's Quattron technology, which adds a yellow subpixel to the usual trifecta of red, green, and blue subpixels.

There are two odd ducks in this price range: Samsung's 65-inch UN65ES8000F and Sharp's LC-80LE632U. The 240Hz Samsung UN65ES8000F is at the top of the company's LED lineup, but it's an edge-lit LED set; it will likely have lighter black levels, less-impressive contrast, and a less-uniform picture than the full-array LED-backlit sets in this range. That said, it's thinner than the full-array LED sets at this price, and even though it's an edge-lit panel, Samsung's 8000 series has fared extremely well in PCWorld Labs' testing. It's unique in other ways, with a built-in camera and microphone for Skype calls and futuristic controls that include Kinect-like motion/gesture controls, voice controls, and facial recognition that's used to enforce parental controls and log into social networks.

Sharp's LC-80LE632U is the lowest-priced 80-inch set in the company's lineup, with a 120Hz refresh rate, no 3D playback, and no Quattron technology. Based on the price differential between this set and the other 80-incher, Sharp is essentially charging $1,000 for the combination of 3D viewing, Quattron technology, a 240Hz refresh rate, and a Web browser.

Sets examined in this price range: Sharp 90-inch Aquos LC-90LE745U ($11,000), Sharp 70-inch Elite PRO-70X5FD ($8,000), Sharp 80-inch Aquos LC-80LE844U ($6,000), Samsung 65-inch UN65ES8000F ($5,100), Sony 65-inch XBR HX929 Internet TV ($5,000), Sharp 80-inch Aquos LC-80LE632U ($5,000).

What you get for $4,000 to $5,000

What you're always getting:

  • A high-end 60-inch LED set
  • Built-in Wi-Fi with streaming services
  • Refresh rates of at least 120Hz
  • 3D playback

What you're sometimes getting:

  • Full-array LED backlighting
  • Gesture- and voice-control features
  • Built-in Web browser

Summary of your options in this price range: You'll get the highest-end LED HDTVs from Samsung and Sharp at 60-inch screen sizes, as well as Samsung's biggest LED set in its second-level lineup. All HDTVs in this price range have built-in Wi-Fi and 3D playback, as well as refresh rates of at least 120Hz.

Differences at this price: The 60-inch, 120Hz Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD is the only backlit-LED set in this price range, although you will find smaller backlit-LED HDTVs at lower prices (Sony's 55- and 46-inch XBR-H929 sets, for example).

Samsung's UN60ES8000F ($4,400) is the 60-inch version of the company's highest-end LED set.

Samsung's 60-inch UN60ES8000F and UN60ES7500FXZA are both edge-lit LED sets. They offer 240Hz refresh rates, Web browsers, and built-in cameras and microphones for Skype calls and voice/gesture control. The main difference between the ES8000 and ES7500 series is a purportedly higher contrast ratio and smoother motion-handling in the ES8000 series; although both sets offer a 240Hz refresh rate, the ES8000 series has a "Clear Motion Rate" of a simulated 960Hz, while the ES7500 has a "Clear Motion Rate" of a simulated 840Hz.

Samsung says that the "Clear Motion Rate" numbers are calculated using a combination of the panel's refresh rate, the set's image-processing speeds, and the rate at which the set's backlight technology turns on and off. Your own eyeballs will have to be the judge of how well it works.

Sets examined in this price range: Sharp 60-inch Elite PRO-60X5FD ($4,800), Samsung 60-inch UN60ES8000F ($4,400), Samsung 60-inch UN60ES7500FXZA ($4,000).

What you get for $3,500 to $4,000

What you're always getting:

  • A screen size of 55 to 70 inches
  • Built-in Wi-Fi with streaming services
  • Built-in Web browser
  • 3D playback

What you're sometimes getting:

  • The highest-end plasma sets with 64- and 65-inch screens
  • The highest-end LED sets with 55-inch screens
  • Full-array LED backlighting
  • Gesture- and voice-control features

Summary of your options in this price range: Your options at this price are the highest-end plasmas at the biggest screen sizes offered, the highest-end LED sets with 55-inch screens, and second-notch LED sets with screen sizes of 60 to 70 inches. All HDTVs in this range offer the full range of whistles and bells, including built-in Wi-Fi with a Web browser, 3D playback, and fast refresh rates for LED sets.

Differences at this price: High-end plasmas enter the mix at this price point, and a plasma set is likely to be your best value at this price if you value fast-motion handling (read: watching sports) and deep black levels. Panasonic's top-of-the-line, 65-inch VT50 plasma and Samsung's 64-inch PN64E8000GF plasma are both available for less than $4,000; the latter is a full $1,000 less than Samsung's highest-end LED set of the same size, which has identical specs other than the display technology.

You can also find a couple of LED-backlit sets in this price range: Sony's 55-inch XBR HX929 and LG's 55-inch LM9600, both of which are the 55-inch models in each company's highest-end LED series. The LG set offers a couple of fancy extras, such as a voice- and motion-controlled remote and a 480Hz refresh rate. Samsung's highest-end 55-inch LED TV, the edge-lit ES8000F with gesture/voice controls, Skype, and a Web browser, also falls in this price range.

Sharp's 70-inch LC-70C8470U is the largest HDTV in this price range.

If you want an LED set with a bigger screen, there are several options in this price range, too. For sheer screen size, the 70-inch Sharp LC-70C8470U is the leader in this price category. It offers the company's Quattron "yellow subpixel" technology and a 240Hz refresh rate.

Samsung has several big-screen LED options in this price range, all of which are a step below the company's highest-end ES8000 line. The major differences are lower contrast-ratio ratings and "Clear Motion Rates" than the company's higher-end sets. They also lack the voice- and motion-control features of Samsung's higher-end HDTVs. The 60-inch Samsung UN60ES7100F has a 240Hz refresh rate, while the 65-inch UN65ES6550F has a 120Hz refresh rate, and it's slimmer than the otherwise identical 65-inch UN65ES6500F.

Sets examined in this price range: Samsung 64-inch PN64E8000GF plasma ($3,950), Samsung 65-inch UN65ES6500F ($3,900), Samsung 60-inch UN60ES7100F ($3,800), Samsung 65-inch UN65ES6550F ($3,800), Samsung 55-inch UN55ES8000F ($3,750), Panasonic 65-inch VT50 plasma ($3,700), Sharp 70-inch LC-70C8470U ($3,700), LG 65-inch LM6200 ($3,600), LG 55-inch LM9600 ($3,600), Sharp 70-inch Aquos LC-70LE845U ($3,600), Sony 55-inch XBR HX929 Internet TV ($3,500).

What you get for $3,000 to $3,500

What you're always getting:

  • Built-in Wi-Fi with streaming services
  • Built-in Web browser
  • 3D playback

What you're sometimes getting:

  • 60- to 65-inch plasmas
  • 55- to 70-inch LED sets
  • The highest-end 46-inch LED sets
  • Gesture- and voice-control features

Summary of your options in this price range: At this price, your options start expanding quite a bit. You'll find 60- to 65-inch plasma sets and 46- to 70-inch LED sets. In general, if you pick a smaller screen size at this price, you might be getting the company's highest-end set. If you pick a larger size, you'll be getting a model from each manufacturer's second- or third-level lineup.

Differences at this price: 3D viewing and built-in Wi-Fi are the norm in this price range. The main differences between the sets will be the screen sizes, the display technologies (plasma vs. LED), the contrast ratios and motion-processing features touted by each manufacturer, and fancy extras such as voice/motion control and Skype calls.

At $3000, Panasonic's 65-inch GT50 plasma looks like one of the best options in this price range.

As usual, Sharp has the biggest LED sets available at this price, with two edge-lit 70-inchers, both of which lack the company's Quattron yellow-subpixel technology. The Aquos LC-70C7450U has a 120Hz native refresh rate with an "Aquomotion" feature that purportedly simulates a 240Hz refresh rate, while the LC-70LE745U is practically the same set without the Aquomotion feature for $200 less.

In this price bracket, Panasonic offers its highest-end LED set, the WT50, at a 55-inch screen size. It's an edge-lit, 240Hz HDTV with a touchpad-controlled remote, as well as all the 3D and connected features that you'd expect at this price.

Samsung offers seven sets in this price range, including two of its highest-end HDTVs: the 60-inch PN60E8000GF plasma and the 46-inch UN46ES8000F edge-lit LED. Both of those sets offer voice/gesture controls via built-in cameras and microphones, as well as the ability to make Skype calls.

The slightly lower-end 55-inch Samsung UN55ES7550F edge-lit LED also has voice/gesture/Skype features, and it comes with a wireless keyboard that can be used with the set's built-in browser. Compared to the higher-end 8000 series, it has a lower "Clear Motion Rate" number (840 vs. the 8000 series' 960), even though both sets have the same native refresh rate of 240Hz. The 55-inch UN55ES7500F looks like it's practically the same set, minus the built-in Skype.

Two bigger-screen plasma sets are available in this price range, too: Panasonic's 65-inch GT50 set and Samsung's 64-inch PN64E7000FF. Compared to its higher-end VT50 line, Panasonic's GT50 has fewer picture-calibration options; compared to Samsung's higher-end E8000 plasma line, the E7000 lacks voice controls, gesture controls, and Skype capabilities.

Sets examined in this price range: Samsung 64-inch PN64E7000FF plasma ($3400), Sharp 70-inch Aquos LC-70C7450U ($3400), Samsung 55-inch UN55ES7550F ($3380), Samsung 55-inch UN55ES7500F ($3380), Sharp 70-inch Aquos LC-70LE745U ($3200), Samsung 60-inch UN60ES6500F ($3180), Samsung 55-inch UN55ES7100F ($3150), Samsung 60-inch PN60E8000GF plasma ($3080), Panasonic 65-inch GT50 plasma ($3000), Panasonic 55-inch WT50 ($3000), Samsung 46-inch UN46ES8000F ($3000).

What you get for $2,500 to $3,000

What you're always getting:

  • Built-in Wi-Fi with streaming services

What you're sometimes getting:

  • A higher-end 55- or 46-inch LED set
  • A higher-end 60- or 55-inch plasma set
  • A mid-range 60- to 70-inch LED set
  • 3D playback
  • Gesture- and voice-control features

Summary of your options in this price range: Decisions, decisions... This price range includes the best deals you'll find on everything from huge-screen sets, backlit-LED HDTVs, high-end plasmas, and a few more interesting options.

There are a few notable "last calls" hidden in this price range. It's the lowest price point for a 70-inch LED set: Sharp's 120Hz, edge-lit Aquos LC-70C6400U for $2800, which doesn't offer 3D or the company's Quattron "yellow subpixel" technology.

It's also the lowest price point for a full-array LED-backlit set with local-dimming features, in the form of Sony's $2500 46-inch XBR HX929. The Sony set comes with all the latest fixins, including 3D playback, Wi-Fi with a Web browser, a 240Hz refresh rate, and a full-array LED backlight that should translate to better contrast and deeper black levels than your average edge-lit set.

It's also the lowest price range in which you'll find Panasonic's highest-end, highly touted VT50 plasma set. It's available in a screen size of 55 inches for $2500, it has a THX mode for reproducing the intended look of a film, and it offers granular calibration controls.

Do not adjust your set: Vizio's 21:9 CinemaWide TV is built for widescreen movies.

But wait, there's more: Vizio enters the picture in this pricing tier with a set built for watching movies. The company's new 58-inch XVT 3D CinemaWide LED set ($2500) has a screen aspect ratio of 21:9. It looks longer and thinner than your average HDTV, and it's meant to replicate the experience of watching a film in a widescreen theater.

Differences in this price range: There are other notable sets in this price range, especially if you want a big-screen plasma or motion- and voice-control features.

On the plasma side of the fence, $2600 will get you Panasonic's 65-inch ST50 plasma, which has 3D playback and a Web browser but lacks the THX mode and some of the aspect and picture controls of the company's higher-end sets. For around $2500, you can get Samsung's 60-inch PN60E7000F plasma set, which lacks the Skype and voice/gesture-controls of the company's higher-end series.

Four edge-lit LED sets in this price range offer the ability to control the TV using your voice, motion, and gestures. LG's 240Hz, 55-inch LM8600 ($2900), has a Web browser, 3D playback, and a Wii-like remote that includes a built-in microphone for voice input. The lower-end LG LM7600 ($2,550) lacks the voice-control feature but shares most of the same features. Samsung's 240Hz, 46-inch UN46ES7550F ($2600) comes with 3D playback, a browser, a wireless keyboard, and a top-mounted camera and microphone for gesture/voice control and Skype calls; the similar 46-inch Samsung UN46ES7550F ($2600) lacks the built-in Skype.

You'll also find four big-screen, edge-lit LEDs in this price range that offer 3D playback, browsers, and 240Hz refresh rates: Sony's 65-inch HX729 Internet TV ($2900) and three sets from Sharp that include the company's Quattron technology. The Sharp Aquos LC-60C8470U ($2700) has a "Aquomotion" motion-enhancing feature; the Aquos LC-60LE847U ($2700) is essentially the same set without the Aquomotion enhancements; and the Aquos LC-60LE845U ($2600) is a similar set with a lower contrast-ratio rating, no Aquomotion, and no 3D-depth controls.

Sets examined in this price range: Sony 65-inch LED HX729 ($2900), Samsung 60-inch UN60ES6100F ($2900), LG 55-inch LM8600 ($2900), Sharp 70-inch LC-70C6400U ($2800), Sharp 60-inch LC-60C8470U ($2700), Sharp 60-inch LC-60LE847U ($2700), Panasonic 65-inch ST50 plasma ($2600), Sharp 60-inch LC-60LE845U ($2600), Samsung 46-inch UN46ES7500FXZA ($2600), Samsung 46-inch UN46ES7550F ($2600), LG 55-inch LM7600 ($2550), Samsung 60-inch PN60E7000F plasma ($2530), Samsung 55-inch UN55ES6500F ($2520), Vizio 58-inch XVT 3D CinemaWide ($2500), Panasonic 55-inch VT50 plasma ($2500), Sony 46-inch XBR HX929 Internet TV ($2500).

What you get for $2,000 to $2,500

What you're always getting:

  • Built-in Wi-Fi with streaming services

What you're sometimes getting:

  • A second-generation Google TV
  • Higher-end 51- and 60-inch plasmas
  • Higher-end 47- and 55-inch edge-lit LED sets
  • Mid-range 60- to 65-inch edge-lit LED sets
  • 3D playback
  • Built-in Web browser
  • Gesture- and voice-control features

Summary of your options in this price range: There's quite a bit of variation in this price range, as well as a heaping helping of the same-old same-old. You can expect a 51-inch or 60-inch plasma HDTV in the top tier of each vendor's lineup, a 47-inch or 55-inch set in the top tier of each vendor's edge-lit LED lineup, or a larger set from the second- or third-level line of each company's edge-lit LED offerings.

Almost all the sets in this price range have 3D playback; Samsung's 55-inch UN55ES6100F LED set is the lone exception. All but one of them have built-in browsers; Vizio's 65-inch M3D650SV LED set is the odd one out. That Vizio set is the largest-size LED set in this price range, as well as the highest-end "traditional" HDTV in the company's lineup (the 21:9-aspect-ratio CinemaWide set sits above it in price). The M3D650SV offers 3D viewing, Wi-Fi, a 120Hz refresh rate, and an edge-lit LED screen for $2200.

LG's 55-inch 55G2, a second-generation Google TV set, is one of the more interesting options in this price range.

There's also a second-generation Google TV in this price range, LG's 120Hz, 55-inch 55G2 Google TV LED set ($2300). Along with the ability to run Android apps, the set has a Google Chrome browser, a Google search interface for finding content across cable listings and Web-based providers, and a motion-sensitive remote control that hosts a QWERTY keyboard and a microphone for voice-to-text entry.

The higher-end 47-inch LED sets in this range are LG's 47LM8600 set ($2300), which has a 240Hz refresh rate, 3D viewing, Wi-Fi, and voice/gesture controls; and Panasonic's 47WT50 ($2300), which has a 240Hz refresh rate, 3D viewing, Wi-Fi, and a touchpad remote.

If you prefer the price, size, and motion-handling benefits of a plasma TV, there are three higher-end sets in this price range, as well. Samsung's 51-inch PN51E8000GF from its highest-end plasma line has 3D playback, Wi-Fi, a browser, voice and gesture controls, and a camera/microphone for Skype calls. Panasonic's 60-inch GT50 plasma ($2340) offers 3D, Wi-Fi, and a browser. LG's PM9700 ($2400) has all those options plus a motion-sensitive remote.

If Wii-like remote controls sound like they're worth the asking price, LG has two more 55-inch LED sets in this price range with those features: the LM6700 ($2300) and the LM6200 ($2100). The main difference between the two sets is that the LM6700 offers a slicker "Cinema Screen" design that has a very thin, nearly invisible bezel.

Beyond that, this price category is full of edge-lit LED models with very similar feature lists. The only thing that will vary spec-wise is the size of the screen (46 inches to 60 inches), the refresh rate (120Hz sets and 240Hz sets), the physical designs, and proprietary motion-processing technologies that are hard to evaluate without seeing them in action. It's best to get some eyes-on time with any of these models to see how they compare in the real world, because they're practically carbon copies of one another in terms of specs.

Sets examined in this price range: LG 60-inch 60PM9700 plasma ($2400), Panasonic 55-inch DT50 ($2400), Samsung 46-inch UN46ES7100F ($2400), Samsung 55-inch UN55ES6550F ($2400), Sharp 60-inch LC-60C7450U ($2400), Sony 55-inch LED HX850 Internet TV ($2400), Toshiba 55-inch 55L7200U ($2400), Panasonic 60-inch GT50 plasma ($2340), LG 55-inch 55G2 Google TV ($2300), LG 55-inch 55LM6700 ($2300), LG 47-inch 47LM8600 ($2300), Panasonic 47-inch WT50 ($2300), Samsung 51-inch PN51E8000GF plasma ($2200), Samsung 55-inch UN55ES6100F ($2200), Sharp 60-inch LC-60LE745U ($2200), Vizio 65-inch M3D650SV ($2200), LG 55-inch 55LM6200 ($2100), Toshiba 55-inch 55L6200U ($2100), Samsung 50-inch UN50ES6500F ($2080), Sony 60-inch EX723 Internet TV ($2000), Sony 46-inch LED HX850 Internet TV ($2000).

What you get for $1,500 to $2,000

What you're always getting:

  • Built-in Wi-Fi with streaming services

What you're sometimes getting:

  • A second-generation Google TV
  • A 47- to 55-inch edge-lit LED TV
  • A 50- to 60-inch plasma HDTV
  • 3D playback
  • Built-in Web browser
  • Motion- and voice-control features

Summary of your options in this price range: Open the flood gates. With 21 models in this section, there are more new HDTVs in this price range than in any other.

There are plenty of full-featured sets in this price range, as the majority of HDTVs in this section offer 3D playback, built-in Web browsers, and refresh rates of 120Hz or 240Hz. For the most part, the main differences between these sets and higher-priced HDTVs are the reported contrast ratios, the proprietary motion-enhancement technologies, the picture-calibration options, and fancy extras such as voice-control and built-in cameras for Skype.

The best bang for the buck in this category comes in the form of plasma sets, with LG, Panasonic, and Samsung all offering some compelling options.

LG's 50-inch 50PM9700 ($1700) is from the company's highest-end plasma series, and it offers a THX-certified playback mode, 3D, Wi-Fi, a browser, a motion-controlled remote, and advanced picture-calibration options. The lower-end 60-inch LG 60PM6700 ($1800) is compatible with LG's motion remote, but you'll have to buy it separately. Compared to the PM9700, it has a thicker bezel, a lower reported contrast ratio, no THX mode, and no anti-glare coating on the screen.

Big-screen plasmas, such as the 55-inch Panasonic Viera 55GT50 ($1900), are some of the better deals in this price range.

Panasonic offers four plasmas in this price range, and if the company's past plasma HDTVs are any indication, they should all be excellent performers for the price. The highest-end sets are the 55-inch Viera 55GT50 ($1900) and the 50-inch 50GT50 ($1600), both of which are THX-certified. The GT series sits one notch below Panasonic's flagship VT50 line, lacking a few of the picture-tuning options of the higher-end VT sets. The other two Panasonic plasmas in this price range are 60-inchers. The Viera 60ST50 ($1800) lacks the THX mode, some of the aspect controls, and the PC-input options of Panasonic's higher-end sets. The Viera 60UT50 ($1500) is similar to the ST50, but it lacks a Web browser, doesn't have a built-in subwoofer, and only has two HDMI inputs as compared to the ST50's three.

Samsung's plasma at this price is the 51-inch PN51E7000FF ($1650), which offers 3D playback, Wi-Fi, and a Web browser. It's similar to the company's highest-end E8000 plasma series, but it lacks a built-in camera/microphone for Skype calls and voice/gesture controls.

On the edge-lit LED side of the equation, there are some compelling sets for this price, as well. The 47-inch version of LG's second-generation Google TV set, the 120Hz 47G2 Google TV ($1700), has 3D playback, a Google Chrome browser, and a voice- and motion-controlled remote with a QWERTY keyboard built into it. LG's 47-inch 47LM7600 ($1750) is a 240Hz set that lacks the voice controls and Google-branded features.

Sony has two well-equipped 240Hz LED sets in this price range, both of which look like solid deals: the 55-inch LED HX750 Internet TV ($1900) and the 46-inch LED HX750 Internet TV ($1,500). They both offer Wi-Fi, built-in browsers, and 3D playback. The 55-inch LED EX640 Internet TV ($1500) ditches the 3D playback and has a 120Hz refresh rate, but it's one of the biggest LED sets available at the lower end of this price range.

Toshiba has a 47-inch version of the company's highest-end edge-lit LED at this price, the 47L7200U ($1900), which offers 3D playback, Wi-Fi, a Web browser, and a 240Hz refresh rate. Samsung's 50-inch UN50ES6100F ($1730) is the company's highest-end set that doesn't support 3D playback, which can save you a bit of money if you don't care about watching Avatar but want a big-screen, edge-lit LED. It's a 120Hz set with Wi-Fi and a browser.

Beyond the HDTVs I've mentioned by name, this price category is a universe of sameness: edge-lit LED HDTVs with 120Hz refresh rates, built-in Wi-Fi, and usually 3D playback. Fret not, because there are a few excellent, distinguishable deals hiding in more-affordable price ranges.

Sets examined in this price range: LG 47-inch 47LM7600 ($1950), Panasonic 55-inch 55GT50 plasma ($1900), Sony 55-inch LED HX750 Internet TV ($1900), Toshiba 47-inch 47L7200U ($1900), LG 60-inch 60PM6700 plasma ($1800), Panasonic 47-inch 47DT50 ($1800), Panasonic 60-inch 60ST50 plasma ($1800), LG 47-inch 47LM6700 ($1750), Samsung 46-inch UN46ES6500F ($1730), Samsung 50-inch UN50ES6100F ($1730), LG 47-inch 47G2 Google TV ($1700), LG 50-inch 50PM9700 ($1700), Samsung 51-inch PN51E7000FF ($1650), Panasonic 55-inch 55ET5 LED ($1600), Panasonic 50-inch 50GT50 plasma ($1600), Toshiba 47-inch 47L6200U ($1600), LG 47-inch 47LM6200 ($1500), Panasonic 55-inch 55E50 LED ($1500), Panasonic 60-inch 60UT50 plasma ($1500), Sony 55-inch LED EX640 Internet TV ($1500), Sony 46-inch LED HX750 Internet TV ($1500).

What you get for $1,000 to $1,500

What you're always getting:

  • A refresh rate of at least 120Hz

What you're sometimes getting:

  • A 50- or 55-inch plasma HDTV
  • A 40- to 55-inch edge-lit LED TV
  • Built-in Wi-Fi with streaming services
  • 3D playback
  • Built-in Web browser
  • Motion-control features

Summary of your options in this price range: HDTV feature sets start dropping off dramatically at this price point, as many of the sets in this category lack 3D playback, Wi-Fi, and advanced picture controls. Yet again, big-screen plasma HDTVs are the standout bargains in this price range, thanks to a few models from Panasonic and LG.

Panasonic's 55-inch 55ST50 plasma ($1450) is one of the highest-end sets in this category, with 3D playback, Wi-Fi, and a built-in browser, and there's a 50-inch version of the same set available for $1200. For a bit less ($1160), there's also Panasonic's 55-inch 55UT50 plasma HDTV, which offers most of the same features. However, it lacks a Web browser, a built-in subwoofer, and it has two HDMI inputs instead of the ST50's three.

LG's plasma set in this price range is also fully loaded, with 3D, Wi-Fi, a Web browser, deep picture-calibration options, and a motion-controlled remote. The 50-inch 50PM6700 is priced at $1200.

The 55-inch Vizio M3D550KD's combination of size, features, and price ($1430) make it one of the better LED bargains out there.

If you'd rather opt for an LED set, Vizio has the best big-screen bargain in this price range with the 55-inch M3D550KD ($1430). It's a 240Hz edge-lit LED set with 3D playback and built-in Wi-Fi. Also notable is the 55-inch Vizio M3D550SL ($1380), a 120Hz edge-lit LED set with 3D and Wi-Fi.

There are quite a few sets in this price range with built-in Web browsers, as well, starting with LG's 42-inch 42LM6200, a $1300 edge-lit LED set with a 120Hz refresh rate and a full boat of features (3D, Wi-Fi, a browser, and a motion-control remote). Toshiba's 42-inch 42L6200U ($1400) is a very similar set, with 3D, Wi-Fi, a browser, and a 120Hz refresh rate, but it lacks the motion-control remote.

If you want a step up in screen size, Samsung's 46-inch UN46ES6100F ($1400) is another browser-equipped model. It's not a 3D set, but it's from Samsung's highest-end non-3D lineup, and it offers built-in Wi-Fi and a 120Hz refresh rate. Panasonic's 47-inch ET5 ($1100) is an edge-lit LED set with good features for its price, including 3D, Wi-Fi, a browser, and a 120Hz refresh rate.

And finally, if you don't want any whistles and bells but just want a big-screen LED set, Toshiba's 50-inch 50L5200U represents the largest LED set out there for its $1100 price. It's an edge-lit LED set with a 120Hz refresh rate, and that's about it; it may be a good option if you don't care about 3D viewing and you have a separate streaming box such as Roku or Apple TV.

Sets examined in this price range: Panasonic 55-inch 55ST50 plasma ($1450), Vizio 55-inch M3D550KD ($1430), Samsung 46-inch UN46ES6100F ($1400), Sharp 52-inch LC-52LE640U ($1400), Toshiba 42-inch 42L6200U ($1400), Toshiba 55-inch 55S41U ($1400), Vizio 55-inch M3D550SL ($1380), Sony 55-inch LCD BX520 Series TV ($1350), LG 42-inch 42LM6200 ($1300), LG 50-inch 50PM6700 plasma ($1200), Panasonic 50-inch 50ST50 plasma ($1200), Samsung 40-inch UN40ES6100F ($1200), Panasonic 55-inch 55UT50 plasma ($1160), Panasonic 47-inch L47ET5 ($1100), Toshiba 50-inch 50L5200U ($1100).

What you get for $1,000 or less

What you're sometimes getting:

  • A 42- or 50-inch plasma HDTV
  • A 40- to 47-inch edge-lit LED set
  • A set with a maximum resolution of 720p
  • Built-in Wi-Fi with streaming services
  • 3D playback
  • Built-in Web browser
  • Motion-control features

Summary of your options in this price range: This roundup concentrates on HDTVs from specific vendors with screen sizes of 40 inches and larger. It should be noted that you'll have no problem finding a set with a screen size smaller than 40 inches in this price range, as well as bigger offerings from vendors not covered in this story.

What you won't find is a small version of a top-tier set or a plasma HDTV with a screen smaller than 42 inches. These days, most manufacturers only offer higher-end sets at larger sizes; 50 inches or 47 inches is the smallest size offered in the top-tier TV lines. If you decide to go smaller and opt for a screen size measuring less than 40 inches, you should expect to get a set with fewer features and possibly a maximum resolution of 720p. However, at those smaller screen sizes, your eyes might not be able to discern the difference between 720p and 1080p. Generally, HDTVs in this price range will have fewer input ports, thicker bezels, and less-granular picture-tuning controls than a higher-end set.

LG's 50-inch PM4700 plasma ($900) is loaded with features, but its resolution maxes out at 720p.

There are some real standouts in this price range, both in terms of features and size. $900 will get you one of two 50-inch plasmas in this category: Panasonic's 50-inch 50UT50 set, which offers 3D and built-in Wi-Fi, or LG's 50PM4700 plasma, which has 3D playback, Wi-Fi, a Web browser, a motion-controlled remote... and a maximum resolution of 720p. While your eyes may not be able to see much of a difference between 720p and 1080p at a smaller screen size, this LG set has a sizeable 50-inch screen; if you want a 50-inch 1080p plasma HDTV, the Panasonic is the way to go. Both of these sets are also available in 42-inch versions within this price range (Panasonic's 42UT50 for $800 and LG's 42PM4700 for $700).

A couple of edge-lit LED sets in this price range also look like good bargains. Vizio's 47-inch M3D470KD ($1000) is the only LED set with a 240Hz refresh rate in this category, and it also features 3D playback and built-in Wi-Fi. Panasonic's 42-inch L42ET5 LED set has a 120Hz refresh rate, but it adds a built-in Web browser to go along with its 3D playback and on-board Wi-Fi.

If you're looking for a set with built-in Wi-Fi, there are a few more edge-lit LED options in this price range: Sharp's 46-inch LC-46LE540U ($1000); Sony's 46-inch LED EX640 Internet TV ($1000), which also offers a browser; Panasonic's 47-inch ($900) and 42-inch ($700) E50 sets; and Vizio's 47-inch M470SL ($880) and 42-inch M420SL ($780).

Sets examined in this price range: Panasonic 42-inch L42ET5 ($1000), Sharp 46-inch LC-46LE540U ($1000), Sony 46-inch LED EX640 Internet TV ($1000), Vizio 47-inch M3D470KD ($1000), LG 50-inch 50PM4700 plasma ($900), Panasonic 47-inch L47E50 ($900), Panasonic 50-inch P50UT50 plasma ($900), Vizio 47-inch M470SL ($880), Panasonic 42-inch P42UT50 plasma ($800), Vizio 42-inch M420SL ($780), LG 42-inch 42PM4700 ($700), Panasonic 42 L42E50 ($700), Sony 46-inch LCD BX450 HDTV ($700), Sony 40-inch LCD BX450 HDTV ($500).

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