Michael Johnson already has a satellite dish at home. He's also got the high-definition receiver box. His entertainment center is ready and waiting.
Now all the Long Island resident needs is the gi-normous flat-panel LCD television set he's been eyeing for a year now. While staying in Baltimore for job training recently, Johnson dropped by the downtown Best Buy with his friends to covet row after row of wide-screen TVs capable of completing his dream setup in time for the Big Game. His only problem, the 43-year-old federal government worker says, was deciding between the 32-inch Samsung running at $1,519.95 or the 40-inch Samsung going for $2,399.99.
"The bigger one would make me The Man," said Johnson, as his pals nodded in agreement. "The 32-inch would just make me updated. I've been wanting [a big-screen TV] for a year now. I can see it now, calling my friends up on game days and telling them, 'Just bring over a six-pack.' "
With the continuing consumer love affair with big TVs, the drop in prices for wide-screen TVs over the past year and a growing number of TV stations offering high-definition broadcasts of movies, shows and especially sporting events such as tomorrow's Super Bowl XL, industry experts say the holiday shopping season isn't quite over yet for electronics retailers.
In the first couple of months after the holidays, research analysts say millions of dollars worth of TVs are expected to be sold to football fans and those preparing for the start of the Winter Olympics next week, college basketball's March Madness and baseball.
In fact, many people use the Super Bowl to upgrade their home-entertainment centers, according to a BIGresearch survey for the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, which also showed that consumers expect to purchase 1.7 million new televisions in 2006, compared to 1.4 million in 2005.
And sales of the 10 best-selling models of televisions in January 2005 were $875.9 million, higher than in eight of the 11 preceding months, according to data from the NPD Group Inc.
"This is the biggest time of the year for us," says A.J. Battaglia, a supervisor at Best Buy in Baltimore. "When you compare the TVs you had 10 years ago with the TVs now, in terms of the color, clarity and size, it just blows you away. The guys just love it. Sometimes, you have to pry them off the seats in here.
"The new TVs appeal to men and women across the board," Battaglia says. "But for men, I think getting a set like this for the game is about showing off, too, that you have the biggest, baddest TV."
To make a TV even more enticing, many retailers guarantee delivery in time for the 6 p.m. start of the Super Bowl. For example, Best Buy will deliver before 3 p.m. tomorrow if a 37-inch or larger set is purchased by 7 p.m. today. Tweeter guarantees delivery if a 32-inch TV or larger is purchased by 6 p.m. today. And the Big Screen Store says it will also get sets to its customers in time for the game as long as there are open delivery slots.
But procrastinating buyers should prepare a little bit ahead of time and do their homework to speed up the buying process, retailers say.
If you waited until today to buy your set, try to have a good idea of what you want when you get to the store. Buying surround-sound equipment or pricey cables might not be necessary. Have a good idea whether you want a plasma, LCD or projection TV. All offer large-sized screens, but the picture quality is slightly different in each style.
Do a quick search online to compare prices, sales agents say. Many stores will price-match offers at other stores.
"It really is a huge time of year for us," says Jason Braeger, store manager for the Big Screen Store in Towson. "I would suggest that people don't wait until the last minute."
But do spend some time at the store getting any questions answered. Good sales agents will ask you how big your television room is to make sure you don't buy a set that is too large for the best viewing quality. They also will explain what the difference is between the types of televisions available, how long a screen will last and what the difference is between a standard and HD broadcast, the latter of which provides a much more brilliant picture. It's the difference between seeing a green football field and individual blades of grass on the field.
"If you can see the blades of grass, just think of everything else you can see on an HDTV. Who needs instant replay when you can see the guy wasn't out of bounds because he didn't step on the white line?" says Jake Chilson, 46, a Beltsville computer analyst who was wowed while having lunch at the ESPN Zone recently.
The sports-themed restaurant chain recently spent millions of dollars to add 56 42-inch Philips plasma TVs, four 50-inch Philips plasma TVs and six 19-inch LCD TVs to its Baltimore location and other sites across the country.
Once you've decided you want high-def-quality viewing, it's important to understand, sales agents say, that not all digital TV signals are high definition and not all HD-ready sets will pick up HD broadcasts. HD-ready sets can display high-def programs, but without a receiver box or built-in tuner, the picture will still show up in standard definition on your set.
If you don't already have HD service through your satellite or cable provider, you should be sure to purchase a TV with a tuner already built in, Braeger says. That way, an antenna can pick up the HD signal. (The Super Bowl is being broadcast in HD on ABC.)
Currently, satellite and cable companies charge consumers a monthly fee to receive HD broadcasts available on a handful of other channels.
All that information is enough to make your head spin, but the time, money and effort that go into buying an HD television is worth it, says Jamie Glick, a 27-year-old Canton attorney who recently bought a 32-inch high-def plasma Magnavox from Best Buy for a little less than $1,900.
"It is not at all comparable to regular TV," says Glick, who is expecting his TV today. "Watching it is like you're there. My fiancee and I have been thinking about buying a set for a while, but if we had bought a similar set in July when we bought our house, it would have cost us $3,500 more. That's how much they've come down in price.
"I'm excited," Glick says. "I'll probably hug my TV when it comes."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
The old cathode-ray tube. Analog versions are relatively cheap versus newer TV designs, and last longer.
A new way of transmitting television signals. Over-the-air broadcasts are switching to digital, and eventually the traditional analog broadcasts will be switched off, by federal mandate, no later than 2009. Not all digital TVs are high-definition. In digital TV, consumers have the following options:
They're thin and can be wall-mounted. They've become especially popular in smaller screen sizes because they're relatively cheap and their size makes them easy to mount in places such as kitchens. The displays are also getting brighter so pictures are as brilliant as plasmas.
Screens are bright and many are only 4 inches deep, so they can be mounted on a wall. New technologies are eliminating the so-called burn-in effect caused by stationary images.
Used for larger screen sizes, they are generally the cheapest big set for the money, but they take up a lot of space. To complicate matters, some rear-projection sets use CRT displays. Those based on new display technologies such as LCD are digital.
High definition, or HDTV
Offers highest-resolution images on the market in photolike detail. Sports fans love it because games are very clear even with faraway camera shots.