This article is designed to serve as a warning to all shoppers seeking the lowest priced HDTVs. The store’s bargain price leader may really be a poor quality high definition television making lousy pictures. The HD Guru looked for the stinkers that stood out at his local big box retailer. All the sets listed below were the worst looking HDTVs on the sales floor in the 27”-42” sizes. Every TV displayed the same store HD feed and all were in their respective factory default settings. Get ready to hold your nose.

Insignia 27” Flat Panel LCD model NS-27LCD $699.99

This LCD had some of the worst (as in the lightest) black levels of any HDTV viewed. A high def set should have deep dark black blacks and white whites. Moving slightly off center (off axis) produced lighter blacks and darker whites. A dark screen also produced a bright blue point shining at the HD Guru. This Insignia set had blue pixel(s) that were stuck, something the HD Guru hasn’t seen in many years. Stick a fork in this turkey. The Insignia 27” gets the HD Guru ♥ “Don’t buy it” rating

HP 32” Flat Panel LCD LC3260N $899.99

This panel is described as “high brightness”. It appears the copy writer left out the word “uneven” between high and brightness. In addition to the non-uniformity, the contrast ratio (the difference between black and white) was not favorable when compared to adjacent LCD flat panels, giving the picture a flat appearance. If this wasn’t bad enough, the demo set had an affinity toward green, an undesirable trait if you don’t care for light green skies and olive drab oceans. This HP LCD rates the HD Guru ♥ “Don’t buy it” rating

HP 37” Flat Panel LCD LC3790N $1299.99

Like the smaller HP model this 37” panel suffered from uneven brightness. Add uneven color across the screen. In addition the black level was poor, much lighter than the similar sized TVs surrounding this LCD TV. The LC3790N earns the HD Guru ♥ “Don’t buy it” rating.

Insignia 42” Plasma NS4PDP $1399

Viewing this panel was like time traveling back to the 2004 model year performance levels. The blacks were not dark and neutral as they should be, they appeared a murky green, giving the image a pea soup haze. Steer clear of this one. Chalk up another HD Guru ♥ “Don’t buy it” rating.

A Final Note

The “off brand” LCDs and plasmas tend to use earlier generation panels, with lower performance, to produce a less expensive product.

When shopping for a LCD panel (under 40” size class), the HD Guru recommends you stick with the major brand TV manufacturers, such as Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Hitachi and Toshiba . They offer the latest generation LCD panel technology. If you shop carefully, you will find their entry level models priced at a few dollars more than the off brand or non-TV centric manufacturer’s products. The store I visited had many to choose from and all made demonstratively better pictures than the “one heart” rated sets.

In above 40″ sizes the HD Guru recommends plasma for typical home lighting conditions (see LCD vs. Plasma post for more information). The HD Guru’s top rated plasmas are all made by Panasonic, Pioneer and Hitachi. With the huge recent price drops in plasma there is no reason to settle for a lower rated brand.

Copyright 2006 HD Guru (SM) All Rights Reserved