Since last year's guide, prices for LED-backlit LCDs have dropped, Google TV has been unveiled, and 3D HDTVs have been on the market for several months. Still, the basic questions remain: Plasma or LCD? How much set can I get for the least amount of money? We're happy to give you a handful of choices however you answer those questions while shopping for HDTVs this holiday season.
The first Google TV sets, introduced as the Sony Internet TV lineup, should be among the holiday's hottest sets. Of the four models Sony just started offering, the 40-inch NSX-40GT1 may be the most intriguing of the lot in terms of price and screen size. For $999, you get LED backlighting, built-in Wi-Fi, and, obviously, the Google TV interface and feature set. That includes streaming media apps from Netflix and Pandora and Android Market apps starting next year. The GT1 also comes with Sony's combo keypad and mouse interface to aid Google searches and Twitter posting.
3D TVs were introduced with a bang earlier this year, but a lack of 3D content has made them a niche purchase thus far. But if you're looking for a future-proof gift, the Viera TC-P50VT25 is the best 3D model available, thanks to its Panasonic plasma pedigree. You get superior 2D image quality, and the Viera also ably tackles 3D sources. Features include THX mode, support for VieraCast Internet apps, and, of course, a pair of active shutter 3D glasses. (Additional pairs could make good stocking stuffers.)
Despite offering generally superior image quality to LCDs, plasmas still have their skeptics who are concerned with burn-in or their power-hungriness. For those of you in that camp, meet the Vizio XVT553SV, a 55-inch LED-backlit LCD whose image quality rivals that of plasmas with fine black levels and good color saturation. With built-in Wi-Fi and a remote control that includes a QWERTY keypad, the set is well-prepared to handle Vizio's selection of streaming Internet apps, and, like most Vizios, it isn't priced out of the stratosphere.
Smaller, value-priced sets like the 32-inch KDL-32EX500 may not elicit "oohs" and "ahhs" like their bigger brethren, but they are priced right for this economy and can serve either as a primary set in a smaller living room or as a second set in a bedroom or office. Sony's smaller LCD lacks features like LED backlighting and Internet connectivity, but offers surprisingly decent image quality, 1080p resolution, 120Hz refresh rates, and solid energy efficiency for around $600.
Looking for a solid plasma that doesn't cost a lot and isn't saddled with bells and whistles you don't want? The 50-inch 1080p PN50C590 doesn't offer wireless Internet connectivity, and the streaming services that go with it, but the stylish set does provide color saturation and black levels that most similarly priced LCDs can't match, and does throw in an Ethernet port if you want to connect to your home network to stream media files from your PC(s).