It's not easy to find a silver lining to the economic meltdown, but here's one: inexpensive high-definition televisions.
Bargains on consumer electronics goods, especially TVs, have become a tradition for the holiday shopping season. But this year prices for HDTVs are expected to plunge as fast as ratings for the new Knight Rider.
Analyst Riddhi Patel of ISupply forecasts that prices of 47-inch liquid crystal display models will go as low as $800, 42-inch plasma sets at $500 and 32-inch LCDs at $400.
Those are examples of sleek, flat-panel models. If you don't mind some depth on your HDTV, the bargains are better. You might be able to pick up a 64-inch, rear-projection, digital light processing, or DLP, model, for example, for less than $1,000.
"It's a buyer's market," said analyst Richard Doherty of Envisioneering Group.
The very best prices probably will be available only during the traditional door-buster sale of the season — today, the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, usually a day of packed parking lots, limited stock of the best bargains and traumatized kids in front of you in long lines.
The one-day specials often are gone in a day, but HDTV prices probably will take a big dip for the entire holiday season. Patient shoppers might even get a second shot at Black Friday lows; if holiday sales are weak, as many analysts predict, merchants desperate to clear out inventory might slash prices again.
Don't expect to find the lowest prices on name-brand, state-of-the-art models, but that's not the barrier it once was.
Not only is the budget label Vizio the country's best-seller, but some of its HDTVs have gotten solid ratings from reviewers for CNET (www.cnet.com) and Consumer Reports magazine.
And don't rule out the brands with major pedigrees such as Sony, Panasonic, Sharp and Samsung. They'll probably be aggressively priced, too.
Even before Black Friday, some 50-inch plasma sets have been advertised at less than $1,000.
That's especially significant, because $1,000 is a key psychological barrier, said Paul Gagnon, director of North America TV market research for DisplaySearch.
"That's where a lot of consumers make the distinction between a luxury and regular purchase," he said.
For all too many people in these tough times, $1,000 could mean the difference between the luxury of paying the mortgage and staying up at night worrying about foreclosure. But if you do have some extra cash — or are in the banking business and in line for some bailout money — the bargain days for HDTVs have arrived.