Customer John Kupec, right, speaks with Sam Salah about televisions at a hhgregg store in Raleigh, North Carolina in Feb. 2, 2011 © Jim R. Bounds,Bloomberg via Getty Images

The early months of the year are a good time to shop for a new TV, and not just because you find yourself spending more time than usual on the couch.

Manufacturers are bringing out new models, so retailers discount older versions to move them off the shelves.

While the average flat-panel LCD TV grew a full 2 inches in a year, according to an October report by market research firm NPD DisplaySearch, it remained well under 40 inches. That's just right for a small living room, bedroom or den. For less than $600, you can find a top-performing 40-inch model or a feature-rich 32-inch TV complete with wireless Internet connectivity, access to streaming media services such as Netflix, even 3-D capability.

 Here are Cheapism.com's top picks for budget LCD TVs:

  • The 32-inch Vizio E320i-A0 (starting at $270) wins over expert reviewers with spot-on color accuracy, deep black levels and appealing features. This is a so-called "smart TV" with built-in Wi-Fi -- about the cheapest one you're going to find. The resolution is 720p, rather than 1080p, but viewers will be hard-pressed to tell a difference on a TV this size. (See the full review on Cheapism.com.)
  • The LG 32LM6200 (starting at $550) is one of the few good 3-D TVs out there for consumers on a budget. This 1080p model provides excellent picture quality, according to online reviews. And you don't have to pay extra for 3-D glasses -- six pairs are included. The 32-inch TV has four HDMI inputs, more than most budget models. (See the full review on Cheapism.com.)
  • The 1080p Toshiba 40L5200U (starting at $458), a 40-inch TV, is notable for its excellent color reproduction, reviewers say. The contrast and brightness also impress. Owners appreciate having three HDMI ports for hooking up devices such as game consoles and Blu-ray players. (See the full review on Cheapism.com.)
  • The Samsung UN40EH6000 (starting at $567) is another 40-inch model with 1080p resolution. Reviewers admire its color accuracy, especially when rendering skin tones. (See the full review on Cheapism.com.)

TV manufacturers advertise various specs that purport to enhance picture quality, and some prove more effective than others. For instance, TVs with 120Hz refresh rates, including all those listed here aside from the Vizio, generally exhibit fewer problems with motion blur than 60Hz models. While this can improve the experience of watching sports in particular, reviews indicate that motion blur doesn't plague the 60Hz Vizio either.

In making its picks, Cheapism.com looked for LCD screens with LED backlighting (often called LED TVs), which are preferable to models with inefficient fluorescent backlights. However, it's safe to ignore manufacturer claims about dynamic contrast ratios. Numbers such as "1,000,000:1" are mostly marketing hype.

This time of year you'll find no shortage of retailers offering deals on LCD TVs. Look to sites such as Dealnews.com, Slickdeals and FatWallet to stay on top of the most dramatic markdowns.

Just don't hold out for too long. Prices often begin rising again in late winter, meaning the end of rock-bottom TV prices until Black Friday rolls around again.

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