Final pre-Christmas HDTV deals from Best Buy, Sears, and Target: How good are they?

With Christmas less than a week away, retailers only have a few more days to make holiday sales before they have to deal with the post-Xmas shopping letdown. Best Buy, Target, Sears, and the like have to put their best deals on HDTVs out there now—right?

With Christmas less than a week away, retailers only have a few more days to make holiday sales before they have to deal with the post-Xmas shopping letdown. Best Buy, Target, Sears, and the like have to put their best deals on HDTVs out there now—right?

Stuck inside like many thanks to the blizzard hitting the East coast, I've had ample time to check out all the Sunday circulars to find out if those advertised deals on TVs are as good as we might hope. Let's take them one by one.

Target — This one is easy, as the retailing giant is only promoting a handful of deals. (While it's increased its selection of HDTVs, Target hasn't given them the same emphasis as rival Wal-Mart.) The 32-inch 720p Philips 32PFL3504D/F7 LCD is $399.99, which is better than $431 at Amazon.com and $499 at Philips' own online store, while Philips' 47-inch 1080p 120Hz 47PFL5704D LCD is $1,049.99, which is $100 more than at Amazon and Wal-Mart. The 42-inch 1080p Westinghouse 42F810G is widely available online, but seems decently priced at $597.

Sears — With stores like Circuit City shuttered, Sears has become one of the bigger HDTV brick-and-mortar alternative to 800-pound gorilla Best Buy. It's selling the Sony KDL-40S5100 40-inch 1080p LCD for $749.99, though several online retailers, including Amazon, Dell, and Wal-Mart, have it for $30 less. There's also a pair of 46-inch 1080p Sony LCDs on sale—the 120Hz KDL-46V5100 for $1,199.99 and the 240Hz KDL-46XBR9 for $1,759.99. The former is not only $60 cheaper at Amazon, but also at Sears.com, whereas the latter's price is inline with those at Amazon and BestBuy.com.

Three Samsung 1080p 120Hz LCDs from the same line are advertised: the 40-inch LN40B650 for $1,099.99, the 46-inch LN46B650 for $1,399.99, and the 55-inch LN55B650 for $2,199.99. Again, Sears.com offers a far better deal on the LN55B650, selling it for a whopping $400 less. If you're looking for a plasma, Panasonic's 42-inch 1080p TC-P42S1 is $699.99—$80 less than through Amazon or Wal-Mart—and LG's 50-inch 720p 50PQ30 is $734.99, about $30 cheaper than Amazon's price.

Best Buy — Obviously, this chain offers more HDTV deals in its weekly circular than anyone else, so I'll just try to hit the notable prices, for good or ill. First, while the prices on Samsung sets are completely in line with online competitors, you do get a free gift card for $100 (for the UN46B6000 46-inch LED and the PN50B550 50-inch plasma) or $75 (for the LN40B630 40-inch LCD). However, the 32-inch Samsung LN32B360 called out as the "Hot Deal of the Week" for its $399.99 is no cheaper than at Sears.com, though it's about $30 less than through Amazon.

Like Sears, Best Buy is offering a 1080p 42-inch Panasonic plasma for $699.99, but it's a Best Buy exclusive (TC-L42U112) and doesn't offer the 600Hz sub-field drive that supposedly enhances motion resolution. The 58-inch Panasonic TC-P58S1 plasma for $1,899 is priced essentially the same as at Wal-Mart.com, but for an extra $100 Best Buy throws in a 7.1-channel Blu-ray home theater system (Panasonic SC-BT200).

Similarly, the store offers some tempting bundles on Sony Bravias. The KDL-46XBR9 that costs $1,759.99 at Sears is just $1,704.97 at Best Buy including a Blu-ray player (BDP-S360) and 5.1-channel home theater system (HTS-S360). You can get the same add-ons with the 40-inch 240Hz KDL-40XBR9 for $1,244.97.

My paper also came with a thin insert from Best Buy's premium home theater shop-within-a-shop, Magnolia. Its "deals," however, aren't so premium. The Sharp Aquos 52-inch 1080p LED is priced at $1,999, but you can get it for $300 less through Dell. Likewise, the 65-inch Sony KDL-65W5100 is listed for $4,499.98, but you can save $400 getting it through Buy.com (which includes free shipping). Even its less expensive sets are overpriced: The 32-inch Sharp Aquos LC-32LE700UN LED is on sale for $949.98, but you can get it for just $739.99 online at B&H Photo-Video-Audio (including free shipping and no tax), while the 40-inch sibling (LC-40LE700UN) is $1,039 at B&H (again including free shipping and no tax) compared to $1,349.98 at Magnolia.

As always, the moral is to always do some comparison shopping online before making a buying decision at a brick-and-mortar store. You'll need to balance your instant gratification and lack of shipping charges against lower prices and possible avoidance of sales tax when you buy on the Web. And if you don't need to buy a new HDTV for Christmas day, waiting until after the holiday may yield even better deals.

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