Black Friday Cometh

I have little experience with Black Friday mania, having studiously avoided any contact with Best Buy, Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, or Targea on that frenzied day. Black Friday doesn’t mean a day of mourning, but is rather named for the day of the year when retailers anticipate their annual sales will finally go positive—out of the red and into the black.

And there’s no denying it to be an important day to people with plastic and a yearning for good stuff at fire-sale prices. For them it’s a Holy Day of Obligation. They line up outside at closing time on Thanksgiving (the day before the main event) to spend a cold night bundled up outside hoping to score that new flat screen TV (though Black Friday Vigil sales late on Turkey Day are now a thing).

Of course there’s more on sale than just TVs and other options in consumer electronics. You can score a new recliner, a multi-function exercise gym-erama (with some assembly required— consider that your first workout), a new mattress that comes in a box the size of a toothpaste tube and expands to fill your room (money back guaranteed, though you first have to put it back into the tube), or even a new car at prices the ads scream will never be better.

But our sights here are set on those flat-screen TVs. They’ll be offered everywhere, maybe even in Home Depot next to the extension cords. One wonders what Black Friday was like (or even if there was such a day) when a 32-inch TV weighed in at 200 lbs. That’s not so long ago, before plasmas and LCDs became affordable. My very first color TV was a 19-inch Zenith CRT that cost over $300. When I first moved to Florida, thinking that I might be without a television with my two flat screen reference plasmas in storage while shopping for a new house (no Black Friday sales on those, as far as I know), I bought a 32-inch Vizio for under $250. Now, four years later, that’s pricey.

Finding the Perfect TV Deal
But most of you will be looking for a bigger, more upscale model. So is Black Friday your best time to buy? There’s no easy answer to that. Each year most new TV models are introduced at the CES in January and show up in stores in March or April. While exceptions to this do happen (Sony’s 2019 Sony Master Series flagship sets were launched this past summer and appeared in stores this fall), for the most part it’s predictable. We run up against this every year in our review scheduling. Given the time needed to do a responsible review, plus the inevitable delays for editing and printing (the latter less so for a web-posting), any set we receive now for review will be old news by March 2019—or even sooner if you allow for reports from CES getting buyers juiced for the new models. Projectors operate on a different schedule: they’re typically launched at the September CEDIA Expo and often available for reviews a few weeks later.

The important point is that any TV you buy on Black Friday, with rare exceptions, will be a 2018 model scheduled to be pushed out of the market by the spring of 2019 (or even a 2017 model that’s been sitting in a warehouse for a year). That’s the main reason for Black Friday TV sales—clearing out the soon-to-be unsaleable models. And while TV prices are often even lower than on Black Friday just before the Super Bowl, a few weeks later, by then the selections of left-overs from Black Friday will be slimmer.

We won’t know how many rabbits the TV makers will pull out of their hats come the January 2019 CES, but if it follows the trend of the past few years the upgrades will be modest at best, though loudly trumpeted. Two significant technical developments, however, are coming. An advanced version of HDCP (copy protection) is in the works for higher resolution over the air broadcasting. There’s also HDMI 2.1, which among other things can carry 8K. But while the presence of either of these in upcoming 2019 sets is uncertain, neither will likely impact any available sources for some time, nor do anything to block (or improve) current source material.

Even more advanced display technologies are always in the labs, and their surprise introduction is always possible. But we don’t expect anything significant, such as the MicroLED shown by Samsung as “The Wall” at last year’s CES, to become widely available at consumer-friendly prices in the coming year.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be gradual improvements, such as increased brightness (for better HDR) and enhanced usability (better voice control, for example, for those who care more about gimmicks than basic performance). We might even see the addition of HDR10+ capability to more sets. But that HDR format isn’t yet widely available in either current displays or sources and its future is uncertain.

The bottom line is that if the savings are big enough on the TV you really want (rather than on a set you simply settle for at a great price—which seems to the goal of most Black Friday shoppers) then go for it. But trust good reviews; you can’t properly judge a TV’s picture in the store; it will invariably be set to Torch Mode to stand out in the store’s brightly lit showroom.

And once you get the set out the door, transport it home carefully. When plasmas ruled as the high-end TVs of choice, laying their shipping box on its side was a major no-no. Their glass screens were so heavy that they could crack if they weren’t transported in the same position in which they’d be used, upright. Today’s sets don’t appear to be quite as delicate, but I wouldn’t take a chance, particularly on screens bigger than 43-inches. Paying for delivery of a larger set could be money well spent, and on anything much above 65-inches is strongly recommended. But if you do carry it home yourself, leave it upright (and secured against falling over) if at all possible. If you must lay it flat don’t put anything on top of it. And avoid driving over sharp bumps at high speed (which can produce abrupt and potentially damaging G-forces. Otherwise, once you’re out the door with your great buy you might have a problem with a return (even if there are any replacements for that model left), convincing the store that when you unpacked it the screen was cracked!

Black Friday can be daunting, but if things get ugly there are folks, experienced at crowd control, you might be able to call on to help, even if a few of them are currently gone with the wind—at least temporarily.