Would it still be Black Friday without the cheap HDTVs? Nearly every major store -- including some, like Kohl's, that don't even typically sell TVs -- will be offering flat-panel displays at rock-bottom prices this week, all in an attempt to aggressively court bargain hunters.
But, though the deals may appear enticing (who doesn't want a 32-inch flat-panel for less than $100?) buyers are better off saving their money for a different day. More often than not, the TVs sold on Black Friday are flawed in some major way; given how much time the average American spends watching TV, consumers shouldn't waste their money on Black Friday TV "bargains."
Most Black Friday TVs are terrible quality
For starters, most of the TVs sold on Black Friday are off-brands. Top TV-makers are in short supply; instead, mostly no-name manufacturers like Funai, Element, Magnavox, and Apex are offered. None of these brands have been particularly well-reviewed -- CNET's list of top-rated TVs is dominated by sets from established brands like Samsung, Panasonic and Sony (NYSE:SNE).
There are many Vizio-made sets on sale next Friday; Vizio has become somewhat of a rising star among TV manufacturers, posting massive sales boosts, despite offering TVs of questionable quality. HD Guru criticized Vizio's sets as "disposable TVs," noting that many of Vizio's TVs are difficult (or even impossible) to repair once the warranty has expired.
Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD) is offering a couple of ultra-high-definition, 4K TV sets for less than $1,000, a shocking price point given how expensive most 4K TV sets are. Sony's cheapest 4K set costs $2,999, for example -- Samsung offers one near the same price point. But Sears isn't selling 4K sets made by these manufacturers; instead it's offering 4K sets made by a company called Seiki.
As one might imagine, Seiki's sets have been heavily criticized. CNET compared Seiki's 50-inch 4K set to a $500 budget Samsung Plasma -- Samsung's set had the better picture.
Don't be fooled by the name brands
"That's fine," you might think. "There are lots of name-brand TVs on sale too! I'll just get one of those."
Not so fast. While there are a handful of critically acclaimed TVs on sale, simply buying a name-brand is not enough. On Black Friday, buyers should be sure to carefully check the model number on any TV before plunking down their hard-earned cash.
In their quest to attract shoppers, stores will partner with big-name manufacturers to create "derivative models" -- stripped-down versions of pre-existing TVs. These TVs, made specifically for Black Friday, are often not as good as the model they're based on: The picture may be lesser quality, or the warranty may be altered. There could be some missing features or components. In short, that 42-inch Samsung TV you buy on Black Friday might not be as good as a 42-inch Samsung bought back in October.
One TV in particular stands out this year: Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) will sell a 55-inch LG LED for $499. It seems like a hot deal, but I would have to urge caution. LG isn't the most respected brand, but it's considered fairly reputable. That TV in particular, however, appears to be a derivative model. That specific model number, 55LN5100, isn't available at any other retailer -- it seems to have been made by LG just for Best Buy, with the intention of attracting attention to the retailer.
Comparing its specifications to a similar LG set, the 55LN5200, a few things stand out. Most notably, Best Buy's model lacks smart TV features, and doesn't offer as many settings: It has just two different aspect ratios to choose from, while the non-Best Buy-specific version has six.
To be fair, nondiscriminate buyers might not notice or care about these features, but consumers should at least be aware of what they're purchasing.
You watch almost five hours of TV a day, why buy a bad set?
The typical American spends about 34 hours per week -- nearly five hours per day -- watching TV. That's more than half as much time as they spend sleeping, and five times as much as they spend commuting to and from work. In fact, given that the average American works about 4.6 hours per day, many spend more time with their TVs than they do at their jobs.
Although TV replacement cycles have shortened recently, TVs still last a fairly long time, about six to eight years. Over its life, a single TV will get watched for thousands of hours -- why waste all that time with an inferior set? Resist the siren's song -- stay away from cheap TVs on Black Friday.
Fool contributor Sam Mattera owns shares of Best Buy. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.