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By Beth Pinsker
NEW YORK, Nov 25 (Reuters) - You might need two carts to walk away with what may be this year's biggest Black Friday bargain (at least by size): a 65" Vizio television at Walmart for $648.
As exciting as Beats headphones and iPads are, it is giant, cheap TVs that get people to camp outside for days or brave surging crowds for "doorbusters" on Thanksgiving Day and the busy shopping day after known as Black Friday. Experts say this year's TVs on sale are bigger and cheaper than ever before, and they expect eager shoppers to snap them up in higher numbers than the last few years.
Unit sales are already up this year so far, says Stephen Baker, vice president for industry analysis at NPD Group, which tracks TV sales. Baker expects holiday sales to be robust, after several years of unimpressive growth.
The drivers of this year's TV frenzy are mostly above 40", whereas the last few years, the best deals were on 32" sets.
"There are now 40" to 55" sets in the $200 price range, which is unbelievable," says Paul Gagnon, director of global TV research for DisplaySearch. "People say 'Dang it, it's half the price I paid for a 32" five years ago."
A 40" Element flat-screen for a mere $119 graces the front of Target's Black Friday ad booklet. Best Buy is featuring a 50" Panasonic for $199.99. Even Kohl's , primarily a clothing and home goods retailer, has a TV on the front of its circular - albeit a 32" model - for just $99.99.
Replacement cycles are still shortening for TVs, now at less than seven years in the United States, according to NPD, but holiday shoppers are mostly shufflers, who jump at an opportunity to snag a bigger TV for their main space and move smaller ones off to bedrooms.
While a TV might function for 10 years, "it will probably be outdated within a year," says Louis Ramirez, a senior feature writer for dealnews.com (http://dealnews.com).
BEHIND THE BOOM
Gagnon sees this year's sales bump as a little bit of pent-up demand now that the economy has improved, but he doesn't think the growth will be sustained. Once shoppers upgrade, they'll be set for a while.
This is partly because cordcutters and device-shifters abound. These are people like Julia Scott, a 36-year-old retail deals blogger (http://bargainbabe.com) in Rhode Island who just ditched her television completely because she didn't want it ruling her home as her two young children grow up.
Ramirez of dealnews says video game players should more than make up for cord-cutters: "Gamers are a huge crowd, and these are people paying $400 for a console, so they will pay $900 for a new TV to match it."
This year's extra features include sets with smart TV apps built in - meaning that the TV connects to wi-fi networks and can connect seamlessly to streaming services like Netflix , Hulu and Amazon.
There's also 4K - which refers to a resolution that is much higher than the current HD standard of 1080p. Some models also feature curved screens.
Most shoppers dismiss all of these elements in favor of price and size, though. "Screen size is the most important factor in the U.S.," says DisplaySearch's Gagnon.
That often leaves people not really considering whether they are truly getting a good deal or what the quality of the item is, says Matthew Ong, a senior retail analyst for Nerdwallet.com (http://nerdwallet.com).
Many retailers show a sale price and a "regular" price, noting a huge percentage discount to entice consumers. But they could be using a false starting point for that original price, Ong says. For instance, Ong analyzed a Sears deal for a $599 55" Samsung TV with the original price listed as $1,199, but earlier in November is was selling for $807. A $200 discount is pretty good but does not sound as impressive as a $600 one.
Another tip from Ong is to look carefully at the specifications of the TV on sale, because many Black Friday deals are for stripped-down knock-offs. "They'll look similar, but they won't be as advanced," Ong says. The tip-off is whether you recognize the brand and if there is a model number, so you can compare prices and specifications.
(Editing by Lauren Young and Cynthia Osterman)