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5 tips for holiday electronics shopping

John D. Sutter
Experts say TV shoppers should wait until December for the best deals. Prices tend to jump again in late January.
Experts say TV shoppers should wait until December for the best deals. Prices tend to jump again in late January.
  • Wait until December for the best TV deals, although not on 3-D TV
  • Bargain for package deals, such as free 3-D glasses, or discounts
  • Black Friday deals won't be as big for electronics this year; shop online
  • Avoid gadgets that saddle loved ones with monthly fees

(CNN) -- Prices on consumer electronics products can be pretty recession-blind. The iPad -- a hot tablet computer on the wish lists of 6- to 12-year-olds -- starts at $500 and climbs to $830. Microsoft's no-controller gaming system, Kinect, another hot item, runs $300 to $400 when you include the Xbox 360.

And 3-D television starts at about $1,200. Yikes.

That said, there are deals to be had; you just need a few tricks up your sleeve. CNN turned to consumer electronics and holiday shopping experts to come up with this list of five tips to guide your holiday tech shopping in 2010.

1. Pretend you're at a swap meet.

Ignore that little voice in your head that says things like, "I can't haggle prices with employees here; they're wearing matching vests and name tags!"

Ramon Llamas, a senior analyst at IDC, said consumers at big-box stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy should argue prices with employees.

Bring your smartphone so you can do research on the fly, he said, and then show a store employee a lower price you found online.

"Information is going to be your sword. That's going to be the power that you're going to wield," he said. "Negotiate away."

If this info-sword trick doesn't actually help you get the price down, Consumer Reports' Mike Gikas says, shoppers should ask for package deals. If you do buy a 3-D TV, for instance, ask for extra 3-D glasses (about $100 each) to be thrown in.

2. If you buy a TV, buy big (and not 3-D).

Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- gets all the hype for great shopping deals. But for high-end electronics, experts said, it's smart to skip the mania. Instead, search for deals online, and keep looking well into December.

Gikas, of Consumer Reports, said the best TV deals won't happen until after Black Friday. And Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of the site DealNews, said that all of the big discounts will hit the big TVs -- mainly those 50 inches and larger.

Smaller TVs already have been discounted, he said.

"It is smart to buy TVs during the holidays," de Grandpre said. He added that TV prices tend to jump up after the season, usually in late January.

Some experts warn against buying 3-D TV this holiday season. It's relatively expensive since it's so new, and there are some tech kinks to be worked out. Some people find the glasses nauseating, and it may be hard to see sharp 3-D effects if you're sitting at a strange angle from the TV.

Within two years, the prices will come way down, de Grandpre said.

"Let's face it: There's no content for it, and it's really expensive," he said.

3. Grab gaming systems soon.

Retailers are overstocked with many of the year's hot tech items. Don't expect TVs to sell out fast this year, said Gikas, of Consumer Reports.

But gaming systems may be another story.

If you're looking for the Microsoft Kinect, Nintendo Wii or Sony Move, grab one the first chance you get, de Grandpre said.

"Get 'em while you can, because you never know if you're going to be able to get them later in the season," he said.

This should be especially true for the Kinect and the Move, both of which went on sale in the U.S. this fall. There may be fewer shortages for the Wii system, which hasn't had a major overhaul since it came out four years ago.

4. Don't give the gift of a monthly payment.

No one wants to pay for their own present.

But if you give tablet computers, smartphones or certain e-readers as presents this holiday season, you may inadvertently drop the gift of monthly payments on the backs of your friends and family members.

Phones are perhaps the best examples. According to data compiled by the blog Gizmodo, the Apple iPhone 4 retails for $199 but will cost its user a total of $1,999 over the course of a two-year service contract with AT&T, and that's on the cheapest plan offered. The Droid Incredible, on Verizon, is even worse, according to Gizmodo, with a minimum cost of $2,359 over two years.

Some tablet computers and e-readers also come with these hidden costs. If you want to get someone a tablet or e-reader with a 3G connection -- as opposed to Wi-Fi, which is free but is accessible in fewer locations -- look to see whether it's a "no contract" or "pay as you go" device. If so, the giftee can choose whether he or she wants to use the wireless connection and pay the fee.

Otherwise, your friends and family members might start resenting you each month when a data bill comes in the mail.

5. Do give the gift of reduced monthly bills.

Conversely, some electronics can actually save your loved ones money.

De Grandpre, of DealNews, suggested that consumers look at Blu-ray players that also bring internet-based programming -- like Hulu TV shows and Netflix movies -- to your living room television. Some have Wi-Fi connections; they cost about $100, and they could allow your loved one to drop the monthly cable bill.

Apple TV, Boxee Box, Roku and Google TV also bring internet programming to TV -- and with TV interfaces that are supposed to simplify the process. Google TV has caught some flak from tech reviewers, including Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal, because it's tough to use and doesn't have much programming.

For technophobes, it's smarter to go with the Netflix-enabled Blu-ray player, de Grandpre said, so that even if they're not familiar with getting internet content on the TV, at least they'll know what a Blu-ray player is.


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