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Black 'n' Blue Friday

This Thursday is the national pig-out known as Thanksgiving, followed by the national sellout known as Black Friday, the official start of the holiday shopping season. Retailers normally give thanks at this time for the sales that represent a major percentage of their annual business, but this year, they're likely to have much less for which to be thankful.

Of course, the reason for such pessimism is the tanking economy, leading many to predict far lower sales figures for Black Friday—and, indeed, the entire holiday season—than we've seen in many years. It will likely be just another turn of the screw as job losses beget less buying, which beget more layoffs, still less buying, and so on until capitalism collapses entirely.

On the other hand, those who still have a job—or are wealthy enough to weather the storm—will be looking for killer bargains more than ever. So I thought I'd share some of what I've learned about the deals to be had starting on Friday, November 28, 2008 (and even sooner in some cases as retailers try to entice consumers with early-bird specials).

I looked at three sites that list Black Friday deals—bfads.net, blackfriday.info, and blackfriday.gottadeal.com. All three sites let you search for types of products, retailers, etc. I looked for TVs, Blu-ray players, and Blu-ray discs.

There are plenty of HDTVs to be found, many with unknown names—unknown to me, at least—like Dynex, Insignia, Element, Sens, and AOC. Other brands are more familiar, though perhaps not for modern televisions, such as Sylvania, Memorex, and Audiovox. Then there are the heavyweights, including Samsung, Sony, Sharp, Panasonic, and Vizio. I generally recommend sticking with a well-known brand if at all possible because the build quality is probably better, as is the customer support.

Prices on 19-inch 720p LCD TVs are as low as $200 for a no-name brand, but I was more interested in the large screens we focus on at UAV. Perhaps the best deal I found in that regard is the 52-inch Samsung LN52A650 120Hz LCD TV for $2100 at Sears; it lists for $3200. (This set is one small step down from the LN52A750, which I like a lot.) Other great deals include the 52-inch Sony KDL-52W4100 for $2000 at Sears (list $2500) and 42-inch Panasonic TH-42PZ80U 1080p plasma for $900 at Circuit City (list $1300). Tom Norton reviewed the step-up 50-inch Panasonic TH-50PZ85U for Home Theater, and he liked it very much.

Many Blu-ray players are selling for under $200, the magic price point that many believe signals Blu-ray's entre into the mass market. Again, there are many no-name brands, which I prefer to avoid due to build-quality and customer-support concerns. Even so, the Magnavox NB500MG9—a rebranded Funai NB500—is fairly tempting for only $128 at Wal-Mart.

The Sony BDP-S350 is selling for $180 at Kmart and Sears ($300 list), though oddly, it's also at Best Buy for $250. The Samsung BD-P1500 is $200 at Best Buy and elsewhere ($350 list). Both are capable of conforming to BD-Live with a firmware update and 1GB USB memory module.

Bundles are big this year. For example, Circuit City is selling the 40-inch Sony KDL-40V4100 120Hz LCD TV and BDP-S350 Blu-ray player for a package price of $1200 ($1900 list) and the same bundle with the 46-inch KDL-46V4100 for $1500 ($2100 list). Samsung's HT-BD2ET home theater in a box—which includes a Blu-ray player, AVR, and speakers—is selling for $600 at Sears and Best Buy ($1000 list).

But perhaps the greatest deals of all are Blu-ray discs, which are selling for $10 to $20 instead of $25 to $35 each. If you already have a Blu-ray player—or you plan to put one under the tree—discs make great stocking stuffers.

I know times are tough, and there's a whole lot of belt-tightening going on. But if you're still shopping for a TV or other consumer electronics this holiday season, scour the Black Friday deals—you could end up saving enough to pay for your Thanksgiving dinner.

If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sourceinterlink.com.

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