NEW YORK — In an unexpected twist, TVs are topping many Christmas shopping lists this year.

Wal-Mart said TVs are among the top gifts people are putting on layaway at its 3,000-plus U.S. stores during the holiday season. The Westinghouse 46-inch LCD HDTV that was on sale for half off at Target for $298 was a top seller during the start to the season last weekend. And Abt Electronics already has sold out of 55-inch Samsung LED TVs that were marked down by half to $1,099.

“You’ve got people clamoring to spend $1,000 on a large-screen TV,” said Jon Abt, owner of Glenview, Ill.-based Abt, where sales of TVs are up 15 percent over a year ago.

Heading into the holiday shopping season, TVs seemed so two Christmases ago. Sales had slowed as consumers tightened their budgets in the weak economy and technologies like 3D failed to spark their interest the way tablet computers and smartphones have. But now shoppers are responding to discounts of up to 50 percent.

Most chains don’t break out TV revenue, but overall unit sales are up 15 percent this year through October, according to the latest data available from research firm NPD Group Inc. That compares with a 2 percent rise during the same period in 2010. Meanwhile, prices have dropped 7 percent to an average of $597, compared with $647 last year and $734 in 2009.

Best Buy has slashed a 55-inch Samsung LED TV by $400 to $1,099.99. A Sony 40-inch Internet-enabled LCD HDTV at Target is marked down by $200 to $599. And J&R Electronics in New York has a 42-inch LG LCD HDTV for $30 off the original price at $549.99.

“Great prices on TVs are a proven method of getting people into stores,” said Stephen Baker, an NPD analyst.

That TVs are turning out to be a hot item gives retailers some unexpected good news during the holiday shopping season. It’s a time when they can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue.