Last year in early February we answered the question "Is now the best time to buy a TV?" with a resounding "probably."
Now the answer is closer to "probably not." This year I haven't seen the same kinds of drastic post-holiday price drops as TV makers sell off their 2011 stock to make room for 2012 TVs. Most of best prices for 2011 seemed to have came around Black Friday and the holidays, and those fire sales mean some 2011 TVs are already sold out completely.
That said, there are still a few great deals to be had if you're looking to scoop up a 2011 TV now. No matter what, you'll definitely save a few hundred or more over the 2012 models, and most of the time the picture quality is just as good.
Even if I do end up proclaiming the Panasonic ST50 much better than the already excellent ST30, for example, you should still take solace in saving $500 or more over the ST50's list price. If that sounds like small consolation, then do yourself a favor and wait until the 2012 reviews are out and, if you can, until prices begin to fall in earnest again next November.
The following five TVs are listed in descending order of bang-for-buck, and unless otherwise noted, prices are current at Amazon as of press time. To qualify for this list the TV had to have earned a "6" or higher in picture quality from a CNET review last year.
Panasonic TC-PST30 series
The sub-$1000 50-inch version is sold out most everywhere, but you can still get the 55-inch ($1,138) and 65-inch ($1,925) sizes for a great price. Better still is the amazing price on the 60-inch ($1,199) from Costco--a discount that's worth the membership fee by itself. Read the full review.
LG LW5600 series
Both the 47-inch ($1,099 from Dell) and the 55-inch ($1,327) are solid bargains still, and although their prices haven't moved much since the holidays, their very good picture quality and features mix keeps them ahead of the next three. Read the full review.
This 46-incher ($1,139) is just as good a bargain as the LG 47LW5600 above, although the much more expensive 55-inch ($1,596) and 60-inch ($2,349) members of the series spoil the value proposition. All three, however, still cost $690, $1,023, and $930 less (respectively) than the 2012 UNES6500 models, the UND6400's successor judging from features. Read the full review.
Sony KDL-EX523 series
There aren't any 2012 Smart LED TVs we've seen under the $1,000 mark that the 46-inch ($989) currently occupies. The 40-incher ($808) is also priced well, but at that size, competition is tighter from cheap no-name sets. Read the full review.
Sony KDL-BX420 series
The Sony is a great choice for a no-frills LCD TV thanks to it decent picture quality. The 46-inch ($693) is a better deal than the 40-incher ($569), but both deliver fine value--while they last. Read the full review.
Looking for more specs and pricing? Compare these TVs head-to-head. Click through to the reviews for additional screen sizes.