You did the research, read the ads, looked at the door busters, and made the big purchase, but did you really get the most bang for your buck on Black Friday? You might be surprised to find that the best high-end TV deals are happening just before the Super Bowl. Follow our guide below and you may just email us to let us know that we’re the real MVPs as you sit back and experience your glorious new 4K HDR LED LCD. Or OLED, if you’ve got that kind of game.
Here’s the deal: Black Friday is all about super low prices. Door busters are all about getting scores of people to, well, bust down those doors for obscene deals, and then, when those deals are gone, retailers are betting you’ll stick around and take advantage of the other ones… even if they aren’t for anything you originally wanted. This year, Best Buy had a Toshiba 49-inch 4K TV with Google Cast for $199.99. Walmart had two great looking deals in an Element 50-inch 1080p HDTV for $225 and a Hisense 40-inch 1080p HDTV for $125. For those really just looking to get into a large LED LCD TV, those will be more than sufficient. Heck, my current main TV was a Sears door buster I picked up years ago.
What you need to know is that the first quarter of every year is when TV manufacturers announce and release the latest TV sets. Black Friday and the subsequent holiday shopping season is when retailers get rid of late models to make way for the new ones. In other words, Black Friday deals usually apply to sets that aren’t state-of-the-art technology. Even the TVs that aren’t door busters are often entry and mid-range television sets.
That’s where the Super Bowl comes in. The sets on sale this time of the year are usually higher end and more feature-rich. If your budget allows for more than the $200-to-$500 LED LCD and you’re willing to spend more for that 4K UHD TV with HDR, this is the time to buy. As a matter of fact, we reached out to FatWallet.com, which tracks deals like these, to help us help you make the best decision to get the most for your money, and it turns out that more of you are actually holding off on those Black Friday sales to go for the 4K gusto. According to online shopping expert Brent Shelton at FatWallet.com, “Last January, 26 percent of Americans said they were going to buy a new TV in 2016 (that increases to 40 percent for those with children and 35 percent for those under age 30). Of those, 25 percent were targeting that TV purchase during Super Bowl sales, while only 18 percent said they’ll wait until Black Friday to buy a new TV. About half said they planned to purchase their first 4K TV.” I know — you’re thinking, “That’s great, but how do I wade through the sales stunts and marketing jargon to choose the best quality high end TV?” If you don’t know what to look for, I’m going to go through that below, as well as what is and isn’t marketing hype and a few shopping tips from the folks at FatWallet.
Let’s get right to the first thing most of you will see when you walk over to the TV section in any big box, and that’s resolution. You’ll see 1080p TVs and you’ll see 4K sets, and you’ll ask yourself if 4K is really worth it. I think the easy way to figure this out is to stand in front of a 1080p set and a 4K set and determine if you really see a difference. Most people probably won’t be able to, if they’re both set up properly. Technically, 4K offers four times the pixels of an HDTV, but 4K content isn’t as ubiquitous as HD programming just yet. Sure, the catalog of 4K Blu-rays and streaming content is growing, but the vast majority of content available to you still comes in a format suitable for your 1080P TV. That said, if you can go with 4K, do it. Since 4K is the newer technology, those sets will often have the latest features, including something very important: HDR.
What is HDR, or high dynamic range? This probably provides the biggest improvement you’ll see in picture quality between a 1080P set and a 4K set. Where 4K provides more pixels than 1080P, HDR actually improves those pixels. In the simplest terms possible, HDR is a standard which allows for the improvement of the contrast and color of images. It makes it possible for the brighter parts of an image to be brighter and the darker parts darker. It also increases the depth of the colors. Red, blue, green — all of the colors visible on your UHD TV are brighter, and that, along with greater contrast, will make your content look richer and appear to have greater depth.
You’re going to need three things to make this work, though: your TV set will need to have the HDR feature; whatever you’re watching will have to be HDR content; and the box you’re streaming or watching the content from, like a 4K Blu-ray player, will need to be at least HDMI 2.0a (or HDMI 2.0 with firmware upgradeable to 2.0a). Bottom line: if you’re choosing between two sets, go with the one that has HDR. There’s a minor impending format war over the HDR standard, but I think you’ll be fine buying today as long as you know that you’ll be an early adopter. Plus, that war is more like a skirmish. Because of something called HDR-10, more than likely no one will really lose out, but if these details intrigue you, we can wade into the deep end in the comments below. To keep it simple, look for a TV with the UHD Premium and/or the Dolby Vision logo to be sure you’re getting the full HDR experience.
One of the features that irritates me to no end when it comes to watching anything but sports — and quite frankly I don’t watch much sportsball at all — is motion smoothing. Vizio calls it “Smooth Motion” and Samsung calls it “Auto Motion Plus,” for example, but they all have it, and for the most part, it’s a bunch of hooey. Most filmed content has traditionally been shot at 24 frames per second, but motion smoothing makes it look like that content was shot as high as 60fps. For an idea of what I’m talking about, you may recall that when The Hobbit came out, it was screened at a high frame rate, and a lot of moviegoers voiced their dissatisfaction with the viewing experience. That’s what this motion smoothing looks like on most modern LED LCDs. Ultimately it looks unfamiliar and artificial to many people. The good news is that with many of the feature-rich TVs you’ll find in Super Bowl sales, you’ll be able to turn the feature off, or at least turn it down. (One caveat to my disdain for the tech: For sporting events you may want to turn the feature on, as it adds to the lifelike image you’ll be viewing on your higher end sets. You’ll have to see it for that to make sense, but it does make sense, and the space I’d need to explain why is larger than the scope of this article.)
So, how much are you going to spend on a 4K TV this Super Bowl season? Bigger is definitely better. According to Brent at FatWallet, “For 2017 Super Bowl sales, expect $500-to-1000 savings on higher-end 55- to 65-inch 4K OLED, SUHD, and HDR models, with a few models coming down in price close to $1,200. Walmart and Best Buy will have the biggest selection, but Target and Sam’s Club will compete for better prices.”
Oh yeah, OLED. At the Consumer Electronics Show a few years ago LG gave me a tour of their OLED displays before they were widely available on the market, and I was blown away. Watching their 4K content on an 85-inch OLED was like looking through a window at a beautiful Italian vista. The depth and detail was so nuanced and layered, it was lifelike even without HDR. At that time, LG was still perfecting the manufacturing process, and OLEDs were prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthy, but as all things go, they’ve come down in price significantly. If it is within your budget, OLED is the best looking display, superior to LED LCDs, and at that price point, you’re going to get 4K and HDR.
FatWallet also has some other out-of-the-box advice: hit up Dell. “They offer great TV deals pre-Super Bowl and add bonus Dell gift cards up to $300 with your purchase. Target is another retailer that often adds gift card bonuses on TV purchases. And look for TV bundle deals, such as 4K TVs with gaming consoles or streaming media devices.”
I’ll make this brief: Get a smart TV. A “smart” TV is one that comes with an operating system like Android, Roku, WebOS, or Tizen baked in. Think of it as “TV meets your tablet or smartphone.” You’re going to get a TV which allows you to download and add apps to your TV watching experience. With a smart TV, you won’t need a standalone Roku box, Chromecast, or Apple TV. In most cases, you’ll be able to download just about anything you need, like Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, HBO Go, Crackle, or FandangoNow. In some cases, this will even extend the functionality of your TV, allowing you to use your smartphone or tablet as a remote for the TV and even connecting to the TV, allowing you to show pictures and videos from your smartphone or tablet on the TV itself over WiFi or Bluetooth.
In the end, whether it’s the big game or you’re looking for high end deals more so than bargain basement pricing, there’s almost no better time than Super Bowl sales. Brent says that, “Unlike scattered 4K TV door buster deals from Black Friday 2015, 2016 Super Bowl sales offered the first widespread price drops on 55-inch and up 4K UHD models from the major brands at big box stores, and some of the first discounting on a very limited selection of higher end OLED, SUHD, and HDR models.” Best Buy had these deals: A 55-inch LG 4K UHD smart TV for $699, a savings of $500; and $800 off a 60-inch Samsung 4K UHD TV, which was on sale for $999. So even if you’re not a huge sportsball fan, but want something that gives you the best picture quality for your dollar for all of your streaming, 4K Blu-ray, and 4K gaming needs, this is it. Game on!
Follow Tshaka on Twitter: @tshakaarmstrong