Manjoo: What Not To Buy on Black Friday

What to eat, drink, buy, and think during that special time of year
Nov. 21 2012 8:30 AM

What Not To Buy on Black Friday

For starters, put down that Nano.

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Do buy a non-gargantuan TV.

Deep discounts on big-screen TVs make up many of the loss-leading, stampede-inducing “doorbuster” items you’ll find on sale this Friday. In years past, I’ve advised against buying a TV on Black Friday—the TVs that are on sale sometimes aren’t very good, and low prices can encourage you to buy a bigger, fancier TV than you need. And a bigger TV is not always better—if your TV is too big for the room, you may end up sitting so close to it that you’ll notice scan lines or other artifacts that you wouldn’t see on a smaller tube. (There are widely varying guidelines on a what size screen you should get for your room, but I like CNET’s ratio of 1.5—don't get a screen bigger than the distance from your couch to your TV divided by 1.5.* For instance, if you’re sitting 6 feet away, your maximum screen size is 72 inches divided by 1.5, or a 48-inch set.)

The good news is that this year, you’ll find some amazing deals on TVs. For example, Best Buy is selling a 40-inch Toshiba for just $180, and Wal-Mart has a 50-inch Emerson set for $300. You can always find cheap TVs on Black Friday, because the price of large LCD panels has been falling steadily for a long time. But over the last few months these prices have seemed to stabilize, according to the research firm iSuppli. This could mean that we’re reaching long-term low prices for LCD TVs that are 60 inches and smaller. And that means it’s time to buy, because you’re not likely to get a much better bargain by waiting till next year.

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What about the possibility that your bargain TV will suck? I suggest you always research your model before you buy. But TVs are generally much better than they used to be, so even the worst models will still have a great picture. That $180 Toshiba, for instance, gets pretty good reviews.

Also buy a second computer monitor (or a bigger first one). The logic here is the same as for the TV market—LCD prices are at rock-bottom, so you can get a great computer monitor today for not much cash. If you already have a good display, get a bigger one. If you already have a big display, get a second big one.

My feeling about computer monitors is that more is better. More screen space allows you to get around your computer with less scrolling and less hiding and unhiding of windows. Plus, a big screen is basically the only reason to be using a desktop machine anymore, so why not go as big as humanly possible?

At the moment, my main machine, a Windows 7 desktop, sports two big displays—one 27 inches and another 24 inches. But I can get another 27-inch display for just $200 this week. Even if I have to get a bigger desk—and maybe a bigger office—to house that much screen space, it will be worth it.

Correction, Nov. 22, 2012: Originally this sentence inadvertantly recommended the reverse formula, "don’t get a screen bigger than 1.5 times the distance from your couch to your TV." (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.