Why $1300 is exactly how much you should pay for a TV

Some of the best TVs you can get are surprisingly good value for money

If you’re planning on buying a TV any time between now and June, there is one four-figure number you should be putting away in your piggy bank. Years of price erosion, technological advances and stiff competition have all led to a very obvious sweet spot — $1300.

Panasonic's $1300 ST50A plasma TV.
Panasonic's $1300 ST50A plasma TV.

A brief history of TV prices

A 42-inch plasma TV cost $10,000 in 2002, and prices remained relatively stable until 2009 — the 60-inch best-TV-ever Pioneer KURO was $12,499. But in 2010, TV prices took a sharp downward turn as super-thin LED TVs disrupted the until-then stagnant LCD and plasma technologies. Within two years, you could buy a 50-inch plasma TV for $1000.

Even LED TVs started dropping in price steadily. When you could get a 55-inch plasma for the same price as a 50-inch LED TV, it didn’t make much sense to buy one unless you were unreasonably concerned about power savings or about aesthetics.

The first slim LED TV to be released in Australia has also been the most resilient in maintaining its price — Samsung’s 55-inch Series 7 LED TV was $4799 in 2010, $4099 in 2011, and $3999 in 2012. It’s an exception to the rule, though — most LED TVs have fallen in price by nearly a third of their value in the last three years.

You get what you pay for

Samsung's $4000 Series 7 LED TV.
Samsung's $4000 Series 7 LED TV.

TVs like the Samsung Series 7 and 8, the Sony HX850, and the LG LM9600 sit at the top of the market, innovating every year with features like voice, gesture, and motion control, exclusive Smart TV services, and ever-more-complicated display and back-lighting tech.

Because of this, they command a sizeable price premium over more reasonable TVs. Like the Mercedes S-Class, they’re the best of the best, but you have to pay significantly more, at a diminishing rate of return.

Similarly, there’s a lower threshold for the value of a TV. Walk the cheap sections in a JB Hi-Fi and you’ll see dozens of different brands — Japanese, Korean, and Chinese — at 32-inch sizes for as little as $200.

The technology in these TVs might be years old — no Smart TV or Wi-Fi, definitely — and they don’t look particularly stylish, but you still get a perfectly serviceable screen for digital TV or DVD or Blu-ray for a rock-bottom price.

There is a happy medium

LG's $1300 LM6410 LED TV.
LG's $1300 LM6410 LED TV.

What this means is that there is a spot in the TV market in between these two extremes, where you’ll get most of the features of a high-end TV, and most of the price erosion of the last ten years. And if you walk into your local Good Guys or JB Hi-Fi or Dick Smith or Harvey Norman with at least $1300 to spend, you’ve got a world of choice — big screens, Smart TV features, stylish designs, and class-leading picture quality. All in the one TV, if you’re lucky.

Samsung’s 55-inch Series 6 (ES6200) is $1300 at BigBrownBox, and around the same price wherever you look. It’s got the same four-legged stand as the Series 7, same Smart TV features (sans voice and gesture) as the Series 8, and has inbuilt Wi-Fi, 3D, 100Hz ClearMotion, and just as many HDMI and USB ports as any other Samsung. By making one relatively minor step down in specifications, you’re making a huge saving off the Series 7’s $2000 street price.

Similarly, LG’s 55-inch LM6410 is $1300 at JB Hi-Fi, similar at other retailers. You give up voice control, a shiny finish and a few sundries compared to the more expensive LM7600 and LM9600, but you’ve still got LG’s excellent Cinema 3D, all the Smart TV services, Wi-Fi, 100Hz TruMotion, and the same HDMI and USB and other connectors. The jump from the LM6410 to the step-up LM7600 is less steep than with the Samsungs — the LM7600 is $1600 — but there’s still significant savings for minor trade-offs.

It’s Panasonic’s 50-inch ST50 plasma that shows how perfect the $1300 price point is. It’s around that price at Dick Smith, and we’ve seen it cheaper elsewhere in the past. We picked it as our best TV of 2012, and we thought it was such good value that Panasonic might stop selling it. There’s very little that differentiates it from Panasonic’s best plasma TV, the $3200 55-inch VT50 — the same Smart TV features (which aren’t excellent, but they’re still there), the same excellent picture quality, a similar design, Wi-Fi, and just as many speeds and feeds.

This ultra-competitive, great value price point translates into other brands’ TVs as well. For $1300, you can get Hisense’s best 55-inch XT770, Toshiba’s top-of-the-line 55-inch VL900A, or Sony’s second-best 46-inch HX750. If you’re lucky you’ll find Sharp’s 52-inch LE840X. All of these TVs are strong performers, with good edge-lit Full HD LED panels, Wi-Fi, various Smart accoutrements, and other trimmings besides.

Start saving your pennies

These prices will likely remain mostly stable until April, when the yearly model refresh from all the big companies happens. We genuinely think that the $1300 price point is, with a few exceptions, where you’ll find all the best bang-for-your-buck TVs for the first half of 2013.

You can spend more money and get more — bigger screens, Smart-er features — but you pay increasingly larger premiums every time you want to add something on. Unless you know you need it (or at least want it), it looks like the $1300 mark is where you’ll get the best TV value right now.

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Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

PC World
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