Best Time to Buy a TV: Super Bowl or Black Friday?

Lifestyle and BudgetConsumer Reports

For many of us, getting the absolute best deal on a TV has become a national pastime, fueling the type of adrenaline rush you usually only get from contact sports. (And if you shop in stores on Black Friday, it can actually be one.)

But when, exactly, is the best time to get the top TV deals—during the traditional Black Friday shopping period, or the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl?

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To answer that question, we worked with Chicago-based market research firm Market Track to monitor TV prices on the models we listed in both our "Best TVs for the Super Bowl" and "Best Bargains for a Super Bowl TV" posts from early October through this past weekend. (Make sure you also check out our most recent post on the best last-minute Super Bowl TV deals.)

What we found was that for those looking for top TV deals, Black Friday is generally the better time to buy a lower-priced TV at an especially great price, while the Super Bowl is a better opportunity to get a better-performing set at a discount. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule.

"From our review of pricing on key holiday items like TVs over the past few years, the goal for retailers [at Black Friday] is to get shoppers to their websites or into their stores with shockingly low prices," says Ryne Misso, director of marketing at Market Track.

Misso points to Black Friday deals such as a 49-inch Toshiba TV for $150, or a 55-inch Westinghouse set for $250, as Black Friday examples. "No, they weren't top-of-the-line models, but they were eye-catching prices for TVs of those sizes."

But if you're buying a TV to watch the big game, you're probably looking for a set that's not only going to do a good job showing the game in all its high-def glory, but provide satisfying picture quality over the next several years.

"For the Super Bowl, TV quality enters the equation—consumers want big, high-quality TVs to optimize their viewing experience," Misso says, adding that shoppers will find these bigger-and-better-TVs at or below their Black Friday prices. "A consumer buying a TV during [Black Friday or] a holiday is OK taking a slight hit on picture quality because the price is so low."

Promotions Can Vary by Brand

Another reason why you may get a better deal on a step-up or flagship model is that the Super Bowl is closer to the end of a TV's life cycle. At this time of year, retailers are preparing for the first 2016 models to start arriving in late February or early March, so the Super Bowl provides a great promotional opportunity to move out remaining 2015 sets. Better TVs are typically higher priced, so there's more room for price cuts, which are the most effective way to entice consumers to buy.

But there are a few exceptions. One is that some TV brands may choose to focus more on one of these promotional opportunities than another. For example, Samsung was extremely aggressive during Black Friday this past year, and we saw the lowest prices on several of its sets during Thanksgiving week.

Market Track's survey showed that four of the six Samsung TVs we followed were cheapest during the Black Friday shopping period. As just one example, a 60-inch 1080p smart TV, the Samsung UN60J6200, was selling for about $850 just before Black Friday, when it dropped to just under $700. Its priced jumped back up to $850 in December, and it's currently selling for anywhere from about $850 to $1,000 right now. This model, which is in our full TV Ratings (available to subscribers), had very good HD picture quality.

Based on the models we tracked, LG is being more aggressive around the Super Bowl, perhaps because this year it's a Super Bowl advertiser. But TVs we tracked over the three-month period from both LG and Samsung showed some pretty big differences in price, depending on the month and even week.

By contrast, the three TVs we tracked from Vizio showed less price volatility, as well as less seasonality. Perhaps because its TVs are already priced fairly aggressively for their size and features, prices didn't move all that much, either for Black Friday or leading up to the Super Bowl.

Can You Wait a Month?

But if you're not buying a new TV specifically to watch the Super Bowl, you may be able to get an even better deal on a TV if you're able to wait another month, when the first 2016 sets start arriving in stores. This is when manufacturers and retailers really start clearing out leftover inventory in earnest.

If you're considering one of last year's models, especially a 4K UHD set, just make sure the TV will support some of the new features we'll hear more about this year, such as high dynamic range (HDR), if that's of interest to you. For example, many 2015 UHD TVs sets have HDMI 2.0a inputs, which are required for HDR capability.

One final note: If you are buying a TV in the next week or so, see if it's covered by a retailer's 30-day price match policy. At this time of year, when pricing is volatile, it's a nice hedge against big price drops after you've made your purchase.

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