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Buy a TV now or wait?

With next year's models due to be announced next month, should you wait to buy a new TV?

Geoffrey Morrison Contributor
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
4 min read

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Most new TV models are announced at the Consumer Electronics Show, held every January. It's usually a few months before they ship, arriving in stores sometime in the spring.

So with new models imminent, should you wait to buy a new TV? We break down what we expect to see, and figure out when is the best time to buy.

When it comes to the new models, a direct replacement for what's out now, none of us TV tech pundits is expecting big changes. Incremental improvements have been the name of the game for several years.

We'll likely see a few more larger models, a few cheaper 3D and smart TV models, and a lot of single-digit number/letter changes with very similar spec sheets.

However, 2012 saw a nearly pervasive stagnation in picture quality from many manufacturers. On average, many "new" 2012 models didn't look any better than their 2011 counterparts. Some models looked a little worse. Are we seeing a trend of reducing the cost to build the TVs, at the expense of overall performance? We shall see. There were a few exceptions, of course.

New technologies
As David and Ty outlined in his CES expectations article, the two new technologies we're sure to hear about at CES are OLED and 4K Ultra HD.

Ultra HD is actually available now, in 84-inch LED LCDs from LG and Sony. There's also a projector from Sony that came out last year, and several eShift "4K" projectors from JVC that use 1080p chips but optically upconvert to 4K resolution. Unless you're sitting really close to the TV, or want a really huge TV, you don't need 4K (though passive 3D with 4K is full-resolution 1080p and then some, which isn't the case with "normal" passive 3D HDTVs). Will we see other Ultra HD models at CES? Certainly. Smaller? Ugh, I hope not, but probably. If you're really excited about 4K, I'll actually say hold off till CES, because none of the current Ultra HD models will likely be compatible with the as-yet-unspecified Ultra HD standard. So at the very least, I'd wait to see what some new models might be.

As far as OLED is concerned, dammit, they were supposed to be out this year. OLED is fascinating, with far better picture quality than plasma or LCD, lower power consumption, and are even thinner than current TVs. Except...where are they? I'm sure we'll hear more about new models at CES. Or at least, we'd better.

There are some pretty amazing pre-Christmas deals going on right now, and I'm sure we'll see even more after the new year, as TV companies and retailers try to empty their warehouses to make room for the imminent new models.

So should you wait for the yearly sales that happen right before the Super Bowl? Maybe. This year was the first in many that there weren't significant discounts on major brand televisions. Most of the tier-one manufacturers put in place draconian pricing rules that forbid retailers from dropping prices below a certain amount. So I suppose it's possible that there will be deeper discounts on certain models in late January, but if you're expecting the exact TV you're interested in to drop 50 percent in price, it's probably not going to happen.

And then there's price guarantees. Most stores will match a price up to 30 days after you buy it (though check the fine print). So if you are worried about pricing, but really want a TV under your Christmas tree/Festivus pole, buy from a store that will match a potential price drop. Your guess is as good as mine as when those sales will start, but expect mid-January.

Bottom line
My usual advice is to buy the TV you want, and not sweat about fluctuations in price or new models that might come out. It's inevitable that prices will drop, but those drops have become less severe in recent years. There will always be new models, but those new models aren't going to be radically different than what's out there right now.

If you're one of those people who has to wait in line to get the latest iWhatever, then you know what, go ahead and wait until CES (which means you'll actually need to wait until the new models ship in the spring but if you wait until the spring then what about the price drops at Christmas but if you wait till Christmas what about the new models at CES but if you wait till CES then you'll actually need to wait until the new models ship in the spring but if you...).

For everyone else, the 2013 models are going to be very, very similar to the 2012 models, probably not enough to justify waiting if you're interested in a TV now. That is, unless you really want Ultra HD or OLED, but I'm guessing most of you aren't going to wait until those reach reasonable prices to buy a new TV (cause that's going to be a looong wait).

Got a question for Geoff? Send him an e-mail! If it's witty, amusing, and/or a good question, you may just see it in a post just like this one. No, he won't tell you which TV to buy. Yes, he'll probably truncate and/or clean up your e-mail. You can also send him a message on Twitter: @TechWriterGeoff.