Can you get a good HD TV for £500?

As we write this (February 2008) you can get the LE-32R87BD for £448 online

Finding a good and cheap HD TV for as little as £500 certainly isn’t easy. For even though prices of LCD and plasma TVs have generally plummeted over the past 12 months, the most spectacular price falls have only occurred at the large screen end of the market. So we haven’t quite got down to our £500 target yet.

Price cuts on smaller LCD TV screen sizes – ie 37 inches and below – have certainly been happening. But they haven't been nearly as fast, leading to a concertina effect where the gap between small and large screen prices is growing ever smaller.

Can budget TVs be good TVs?

As a result of this concertina situation, the vast majority of HD Ready LCD TVs selling for under £500 are either 26-inch models or models from ‘specialist’ budget brands like Goodmans and Bush. Which presents us with something of a problem - it's tempting to say that there's no such thing as a good, cheap HD television.

In our opinion, 26-inch screens are simply too small to do high definition any justice. And with the best will in the world, most of the die-hard budget brands simply don’t deliver enough basic picture quality to deserve a glowing recommendation.

But with a little legwork, and thanks to the madness of a few internet traders, you really can get a good HD television for around £500. Here's some we found earlier…

Finding cheap LCD TVs

Our first suggestion is the JVC LT-32DA8BJ. This 32-inch model combines a surprising level of specification for such a cheap TV, with two HDMI connections and JVC’s own DynaPix image processing engine leading the way.

The DynaPix system proves particularly invaluable in making the LT-32DA8BJ’s HD case, since it helps the TV deliver truly sensational levels of the fine detail that makes HD so special. If you ever doubted a 32-inch LCD TV could show you why HD matters, this one will make you think again.

Its colour performance is also superb, with the only price-induced compromise being some slightly lacklustre black levels.

Another good option is the LG 32LC46. This exceptionally attractive TV again scores highly on HD clarity, backed up by some of the most aggressive colours in town. Plus the 32LC46's HD potential is boosted by the fact that it can even take in 1080p feeds of the sort now output by the latest crop of Blu-ray players.

A bit of backlight spillage around the TV’s edges reminds you of its current cheapness during dark scenes, but for the most part this is a definite budget winner.

What about cheap plasma TVs?

While you can certainly find 'cheap plasma TVs' if you type the phrase into Google, there's no such thing as a good cheap plasma. LCD technology, on the other hand, has seen dramatic price drops in the past 12 months. The Toshiba 32C3030, for example, is a decent LCD TV that we've seen selling online for less than £400.

The performance of the Toshiba 32C3030 isn’t quite as good as either the JVC LT-32DA8BJ and the LG 32LC46 mentioned previously. True, this LCD TV suffers from a rather limited viewing angle, and looks a bit grey during dark scenes. Some reviews haven't been kind.

But on the plus side, the Toshiba 32C3030 certainly has the sharpness to do HD resolutions proud, its colours are impressively intense and best of all it really is remarkably cheap. It makes a good HD gaming TV - should you need a bigger screen for an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.

Getting the best deal on an HD TV

Our final option for you, though, is definitely our personal favourite: the Samsung LE32R87BD.

This TV certainly isn’t the most recent model on our list; it actually first appeared way back in spring. But don’t let that put you off. After all, the Samsung LE32R87BD's vintage is the only reason it’s now available online for under £500; in every other way it’s got far more going for it than you’d think possible for so little money.

For instance, it’s got an amazing three HDMIs, making it immediately more future proof than our other options.

Then there’s its likeable DNIe image processing, with its focus on boosting colours, detail, black level response and motion. Plus it also happens to look a million dollars in its gleaming black coat.

But the single greatest thing about the Samsung LE32R87BD is its picture quality, which combines surprisingly deep black levels with rich colours and acute HD sharpness to irresistible effect.

John Archer
AV Technology Contributor

John has been writing about home entertainment technology for more than two decades - an especially impressive feat considering he still claims to only be 35 years old (yeah, right). In that time he’s reviewed hundreds if not thousands of TVs, projectors and speakers, and spent frankly far too long sitting by himself in a dark room.