8 Best Buys for Essential Gear

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Admit it: You're just about ready to put a gorgeous high-definition monument to couch-potato-dom in your living room. Or maybe it's time for TV number two, in advance of the impending digital-TV switch-over (set to happen in February 2009). What's your best HDTV bet?

We've tested televisions in multiple size categories (see all of the televisions we've reviewed). But for most people today, 42-inch TVs offer a sweet balance of size and price, so we're zeroing in on that category. (We expect to see that sweet spot migrate from 42-inch models to 46- and 47-inch televisions in the coming year; for the moment, however, viewer attention focuses on TVs with 40- and 42-inch screens.)

One benefit of a TV of this size: It translates well to a variety of living spaces. For example, your couch should sit 7 to 9 feet away from a 42-inch television.

The Vizio VO42L claims the top spot on our latest Top 5 42-Inch HDTVs chart because it delivers a well-rounded package that provides very good picture and sound quality, at a price that won't max out your credit line.

Our judges thought the VO42L produced a natural-looking picture, and they gave it an image-quality mark just below the LG 42LG60's top-of-the-heap score. But when you compare the Vizio's $1100 estimated street price with the cost of the LG model, which comes in at more than double the Vizio's price, the slight difference in quality hardly seems to matter.

As much as we like the Vizio, we have to admit that its case design disappoints. The set's side-mounted connectors are recessed, making them harder to reach than the easy-access inputs on other TVs. And the rest of the inputs face down, making access unduly difficult.

Bottom Line: The 42-inch Vizio VO42L HDTV delivers very good picture and sound quality, and it does so at a reasonable price.

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