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Innovation

Holiday Gift Guide 2009: Top Five HDTVs

Whatever the size of your wallet, every living room should have a respectable television set. Good news: HDTVs are cheaper, bigger and better than ever.
Written by Sean Portnoy, Contributor on

Whatever the size of your wallet, every living room should have a respectable television set. Good news: HDTVs are cheaper, bigger and better than ever. Here are my top five picks for this year.

Splurge: Samsung UNB8500 Series

If you don't need to wait for a full economic recovery to hit before you can afford a new top-of-the-line HDTV, then consider the Samsung UNB8500 sets (either the 46-inch or 55-inch model), which feature LED backlighting and 240Hz refresh rates. Our CNET colleagues found that the series has the best black levels of any TVs outside the fabled (and sadly discontinued) Pioneer Kuro plasmas, and corresponding excellent color reproduction. If you can set it up to minimize off-angle viewing, and you can swallow the high price, this will make quite a present—maybe for yourself most of all.

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Budget Splurge: Vizio VF551XVT

If those Samsung sets on the previous page are inspiring lust, but your bank account is telling you otherwise, this Vizio is a great compromise. A 55-inch LED-backlit HDTV for half the price of the equivalent Samsung UNB8500 set, the VF551XVT still delivers superior black-level performance for an LCD, as well as great connectivity (five HDMI ports, anyone?). Want to be even more connected? Wait a couple more weeks until Vizio is expected to release the XV552XVT, which adds built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi to handle Internet services like Netflix and Amazon's on-demand video offerings.

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Perfect Plasma: Panasonic TC-P54G10

Ok, so maybe this 54-inch set isn't perfect, but it's really close, especially given its roughly $1,500 price point. You get the great plasma advantages—awesome black levels and super-saturated colors—with excellent 2009 features, like THX mode auto-calibration and reduced energy consumption. The VieraCast Internet features aren't the most robust on the market, but for this price, who cares?

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$1,000 Choice: Sony Bravia KDL-40W5100

A couple of years ago, you wouldn't dream of getting a Sony HDTV for $1,000, especially a 1080p set. Now, you can get this 40-inch 1080p Bravia with four HDMI ports and an Ethernet port for Sony's Internet TV features for that price. You'll also get better-than-average image quality and the ability to access Yahoo Widgets like Amazon Video On Demand streaming service.

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Two-in-One: Insignia NS-LBD32X-10A

TVs with built-in DVD players were generally the domain of third-tier brands offering them at bargain prices. As a result, you could be forgiven for questioning the video quality from your DVDs available with these sets. It's a different story now that manufacturers are starting to ship HDTVs with built-in Blu-ray players: You know they won't offer the excellence of a great standalone player, but it's still Blu-ray. Under its Insignia house brand, Best Buy is offering a 32-inch 1080p HDTV with a Blu-ray drive built in for $700, an intriguing option if you're in the market for a space-saving video solution.

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