In response to horseclover's last comment, I feel that often times it's a good idea for a newcomer to the sport to NOT invest in anything more than a relatively cheap, but durable starter piece of equipment. I'd venture to say that's true of most activities. It usually takes the cheap piece of equipment to let a person know whether or not they really want to be serious about whatever activity it is. If I was interesting in playing piano, would I go out and buy a concert hall quality grand? No way. I'd buy a cheapy keyboard and see if it's something I want to stick with. If I wanted to see if airsoft was a sport I wanted to play, would I buy a Systema PTW and drop $1500? Nope, I'd buy a cheap A&K or CYMA and see if it entertained me. If I wanted to swim, would I buy one of the engineered full body suits and jump straight to Swedish goggles? I think I'd rather just get a cheap pair of jammer shorts and some comfortable goggles and try it out. If I'm going to try out golf, I'm not going to spend thousands on a set. I'm going to buy something cheap and see if the sport itself is for me.
At the end of the day, research is a very good idea, but if you don't know for sure whether you're going to be serious about the sport, it would be a serious waste to buy a really nice blade that you likely won't appreciate fully. Get something inexpensive, sign up for a few classes, and see if it's something you're interested in getting serious about. Most people, even on here, aren't that serious. I'd venture to guess that there's a LOT of people on here who own a cheap katana, and not that many who really are into serious sword collecting, or really know how to use or appreciate a top-line blade.
I've been pretty happy with my Hanwei blades for what they are. They're not amazing top-line quality blades by any stretch, but they're well-made for the price, and if you just want to try out a new style, or a new blade, or just have a new sharp object to do some backyard cutting with, I submit you probably will be well satisfied. If you're expecting to go out and excel at competition cutting, well, you need to increase your budget. If you've built a time machine and expect to be going back in time and doing battle with the blade, again, you'd be better off buying something quality. But there aren't that many people who fit into any of those categories, and it's hard to tell if a first-time buyer will be one of those few.
HTM/DDR Crew Member
Kukri, Camp Knife, and Persian all still available.