Super Bowl HDTV sales kick off: Fumbles or touchdowns?

As the final four NFL playoff teams were preparing for today's conference championship games, retailers were starting to kick off HDTV deals to take advantage of the two weeks until the Super Bowl. It's the last major selling window for home theater products until the holiday season many long months from now.

As the final four NFL playoff teams were preparing for today's conference championship games, retailers were starting to kick off HDTV deals to take advantage of the two weeks until the Super Bowl. It's the last major selling window for home theater products until the holiday season many long months from now. Are the specials worthy of the Pro Bowl or should they be put on waivers?

Target actually sent out a press release about the TVs it's put on sale starting today, though that only takes up a single page in its Sunday circular. The biggest set is the Magnavox 47MF439B/F7 47-Inch 1080p LCD, which is priced at $897.99—$200 less than at Amazon.com. On the other hand, the Sony Bravia KDL-40S5100 40-inch 1080p LCD, priced at $699.98, is actually $30 cheaper from J&R.com, though it's not a bad deal if you're at the store. If you want a smaller screen with a brown bezel to match your particular decor, the 32-inch 1080p Vizio VL320M LCD is $478, which is about what you can get it for from Dell.com.

Bundles are the name of the game elsewhere. Sears has a pair of Samsung 1080p LCDs available with a free Blu-ray player. Prices ($969.99 for the 46-inch LN46B550 and $1,119.99 for the 52-inch LN52B550) match those online, so the free Blu-ray player is a decent incentive. Best Buy has a similar Samsung pairing—the 46-inch 240Hz LN46B750U with a Samsung Blu-ray player is $1,529.98, while the 52-inch version is $1,879.98 with the same player. Online these sets can be found a little cheaper, so they're only a good deal if you don't own Blu-ray already. A better Best Buy bundle comes in the form of the 46-inch 240Hz Sony Bravia KDL-46XBR9 and Blu-ray player for $1,799.98, which is the price you can find the set for online.

A few Super Bowls back, it seemed pretty unlikely that plasmas would someday be selling for well under $1,000, but there are several for sale under $700 these days. Sears has the 42-inch 1080p TC-P42S1 for $699.99, or if you want to go larger but settle for 720p, you can get the 50-inch TC-P50X1 for the same price. The former is a bit more competitively priced than the latter. Meanwhile, Best Buy has a pair of 42-inch 1080p Panasonic plasmas on special, with the TC-L42U12 for $699.99 and the TC-P42U1 for $799.99. (The difference in price owes to the U1's superior contrast ratio and 600Hz sub-field drive instead of a 60Hz one.) Best Buy appears to be the only retailer around selling the U12, while the U1 is $50 cheaper than at Buy.com; the price is the same at TigerDirect.com, but you pay a decent amount in shipping ($79 to my zip code).

There's about a week before online retailers can no longer guarantee delivery before the big game (unless you want to pay a lot in shipping charges), so we'll see if they step up their HDTV deals this week. And will next weekend yield better deals from brick-and-mortar stores before the long off-season?