Best TV Buying Guide: settle in for TechRadar’s round-up of the best TV sets you can get your hands on in 2019.
Although it’s still early days for 2019, we can already tell that this year will be one of the best for TVs. We caught our first glimpse of this year’s futuristic flatscreens in early January at CES 2019 and walked away impressed with all the new tech Samsung, LG and Sony have cooked up for us later this year.
The first of these new screens, the Samsung Q90, is already available now, and it’s an early contender for TV of the year. While we expect LG to arrive with a vengeance with its lineup of 2019 OLED screens in the next month or two, if you want something right now, Samsung’s the way to go.
If you’ve got your mind made up to buy a Sony, Vizio or LG from last year, however, that’s totally fine. Below you’ll find our list of the best screens out right now, along with their key specs, while the second page will teach you more about what makes a TV tick and why those specs matter so much.
“Should I buy a TV now or wait it out?”
This is a question we get a lot. Like most technology (cough, iPhones) TVs are getting incrementally better all the time – which means, yes, if you wait a year – or even a few months – there will probably be a bigger, flashier TV out there for less money.
But while doing so will certainly net you a larger screen at a better price, some of the best panels are already being manufactured today. While tomorrow’s screens might be a bit larger, a bit brighter and a bit cheaper, today’s screens are just as competent in their own right.
We can say that with confidence knowing that most manufacturers have finally embraced the three most important standards in TVs: Ultra HD, Wide Color Gamut and HDR (HDR10 and Dolby Vision). If a TV you’re looking at doesn’t support at least one of these, you should probably look somewhere else.
Not sure where to start? Here are the best TVs we tested this year.
Last year, the Samsung Q9FN was the TV to beat. It won plaudits galore for its features and image quality, not to mention its excellent, improved smart platform that came with Bixby support and Samsung SmartThings.
However it wasn’t perfect and there were legitimate complaints about viewing angles and an over-aggressive local dimming system that crushed detail just above black.
Samsung has clearly taken these criticisms to heart, and directly addressed them in the Q90. The new model has a visibly superior viewing angle that holds its own against an OLED TV, and the local dimming delivers deep blacks without losing shadow detail. To that end, the new Ultra Black Elite filter is nothing short of a revelation, rejecting ambient light in a way that just staggers belief.
The Q90 is able to deliver images that can directly compete with an OLED, with natural colors, bright highlights, deep blacks, and well defined shadows. It can also surpass any OLED when it comes to HDR, with images that are often breathtaking in their detail and dynamic range.
In fact our only real criticism would be that, unlike some of the competition, the Q90 doesn’t support Dolby Vision. However in all other respects the Samsung Q90 is an absolutely stellar TV that takes QLED to another level.
Read the full review: Samsung Q90R QLED TV
At the top of our list for 2018 is the LG C8 OLED – available in both 55 and 65-inch iterations. It’s here because it combines an impressive picture, an extensive set of features, an attractive design and its unrivaled smart platform, to deliver one of the best TVs we have seen to date. It’s not as bright as an LCD TV but those deep blacks make a huge difference to the dynamic range of the image. It’s also capable of vibrant and gorgeous colors, not to mention an astounding level of detail with native 4K content.
There are other OLEDs worth considering this year (see: Sony’s A1E and A8F OLED or LG’s own E8 and W8 OLED models) but we think the OLED C7 offers the best price-to-performance ratio of any TV under the sun in the year 2018.
Read the full review: LG OLED C8 (OLED55C8, OLED65C8)
After an underwhelming debut, Samsung’s QLED technology really needed to bounce back in style in 2018. It didn’t surprise us in the least, then, to discover Samsung threw the kitchen sink in with its new Q9FN QLED Series of TVs.
As well as being even brighter and more colorful than last year’s equivalent model, Samsung’s 2018 flagship screens use a completely different lighting system to combat its predecessor’s contrast problems: Full Array Local Dimming rather than edge-lit LED lighting. The FALD panel works in tandem with Samsung QLED Quantum Dots to produce a picture that’s brighter and more colorful than near any we’ve seen come from the South Korean manufacturer.
Do those features alone make Samsung Q9FN the best TV on the market? No, but throw in technology like HDR10+ and Q HDR EliteMax – what Samsung bills as its maximum High Dynamic Range experience that’s exclusive to the Q9FN – and there’s very little doubt in our mind that this was Samsung’s best TV ever until the Q90 came along.
Read the full review: Samsung Q9FN QLED TV (65Q9FN)
With most people – *cough* content providers – only just getting to grips with 4K resolution, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Samsung had gone nuts by introducing the world’s first true 8K TV. And yet, while it’s easy to be critical about the Samsung Q900R, it truly does usher in a new era of TV picture quality.
Its native 8K pictures are incredible, looking just like the real world – only better. But even more crucially given the dearth of true 8K content for the foreseeable future, the 85Q900R makes all today’s lower resolution sources look better than they do anywhere else, too.
Whether 8K delivers the same impact on smaller screens remains to be seen, but if you have a big enough room and budget, the 85Q900R is a vision of the future that’s actually spectacularly worth buying today.
Sony’s second-generation OLED flagship, the A9F, is coming at a good time – just as Samsung and LG have stepped up their games with the Samsung Q9FN QLEDand LG E8 OLED, Sony has fired back with a phenomenal OLED of its own.
Even better than the A1E before it, the A9F is unquestionably Sony’s best OLED offering to date, and arguably a strong contender for high-end screen of the year.
While we experienced some minor issues (notably Black level crushing on Dolby Vision, and that Netflix Calibrated mode), niggles are to be expected on a set as ambitious as this. If you can live with the slightly idiosyncratic design, and afford the asking price, it’s a glorious UHD display.
Having potentially pushed the hardware capabilities of its current OLED screen technology as far as they can go, LG has for 2018 turned its attention to the software that drives these screens – and this shift in focus has yielded surprisingly impressive results, improving and even removing many of the residual niggles associated with 2017’s already in truth outstanding OLED sets.
The OLED65E8 loses a bit of ground sonically from its predecessor, and there’s some stiff competition this year from Samsung’s new Q9FN flagship LCD TV, but all the growing legions of OLED fans will probably need to hear is that the OLED65E8 is comfortably the best OLED TV LG has ever made.
Although it’s clearly a step down from Samsung’s all-conquering Q9FN, the Q8FN is still a fantastic TV. Phenomenally bright, colorful and ultra sharp – it has all the right stuff for getting huge impact from today’s cutting edge picture sources.
Worth calling attention to, this is a fantastic TV for HDR content as its direct lighting system manages to produce a whopping 2,100 measured nits of light from a 10% white HDR window. This sort of brightness is unparalleled for the TV’s price point, and ensures that it delivers the upper extremes of HDR’s extended brightness range with spectacular effectiveness and punch.
So why isn’t it higher on our list? If you watch the TV from an angle, color saturations reduce, and backlight blooming becomes much more noticeable. Also, Samsung’s Auto motion processing system is a bit over aggressive, causing too many distracting side effects for comfort.
OK, so you don’t want (or can’t afford) Sony’s new A9F OLED or the fantastic-but-pricey Z9F. So what should you buy? Check out the X900F series. With superb 4K image clarity, powerful SDR-to-HDR remastering, and a smooth direct LED backlight, Sony is offering something very different with the X900F. We loved the consistency of its images, the eye-popping vibrancy of its wide color gamut panel and its easy-to-watch HDR – you get spectral highlights without accompanying eye fatigue.
Given this set’s high-but-fair price point, any niggles we have are negligible. The X900F is highly recommended and deserved our Recommended award.
Read the full review: Sony Bravia X900F (XBR-65X900F) review
If you had deep pockets and checkbook filled with blank checks, we’d tell you to reach deep and shell out for only the best TVs on the market – LG’s crazy-thin OLED W8 or Samsung’s ultra-bright Q9FN QLED (both featured on this list). But that’s not realistic. For the vast, vast majority of us, our budget to spend on a TV is limited to somewhere under $1,000 – and often less than that.
To that end, it’s absolutely fair to say that the TCL 6-Series is the best TV you can possibly get in this price range. Its performance per dollar is unmatched and its picture quality – despite a few minor flaws – will truly impress you.
Read the full review: TCL 6-Series (R615, R617)
If Samsung sold you on the idea of a quantum dot TV only to scare you away with their price, the Vizio P-Series Quantum is a good compromise. It’s a big, bold and affordable screen that supports most forms of HDR and has the ability to light up the room with its 2,000 nits of peak brightness.
It might not be able to hit the inky black levels of OLED, and suffers from slow startup, but it is by far the best value quantum dot TV on the market.
Read the full review: Vizio P-Series Quantum (PQ65-F1)
Continue on to page two to read about what to look for when buying a TV!
- Want better audio? Check out our guide to the best soundbars available.
- Once you’ve decided on a panel, make sure you read our guide on how to set up your TV to make sure you’re getting the most out of it.
- Are you looking for the best universal remote for your new home theater setup?
What TV technology is best? Which is the best LCD TV? Which screen size is best for your living room? What’s the difference between LCD and LED TVs?
The answers aren’t always obvious. In fact, buying a new TV can be stressful even for the tech-savvy – there are so many brands, so many features, so many screen sizes, colors, technologies and flavors to choose from.
So which one is right for you, your family and your living space? In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about buying a new TV.
What types of TV are there out there?
There are a lot of different screen types out there, all working in different ways to produce the same results. Each technology has its own unique strengths and weaknesses so here are some basics to consider:
LCD TV: CCFL
A few years back, all LCD TVs were backlit by always-on, CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent) lamps. This ageing technology has been superseded by the superior LED method on more expensive sets, but is still standard on some cheaper models.
LED TV: Direct LED
These displays are backlit by an array of LEDs (light emitting diodes) directly behind the screen. This enables localised dimming – meaning immediately adjacent areas of brightness and darkness can be displayed more effectively – and greatly improves contrast. LED TVs are also more power efficient and capable of a wider colour gamut than CCFL sets. Because of the extreme cost of mounting these arrays of LEDs, cheaper TVs usually use Edge-Lit LED screens over Direct or Full-Array LED screens.
LED TV: Edge LED
With these TVs, LEDs of the backlight are mounted along the edges of the panel. This arrangement enables radically slender displays and offers superior contrast levels to CCFL, but can’t achieve the same picture quality as directly lit LED sets. However, they do come in far cheaper which is why most LED TVs out there now use this technology.
The backlighting on OLED (organic light emitting diode) sets is achieved by passing an electric current through an emissive, electroluminescent film. This technique produces far better colours and higher contrast and also enables screens to be extremely thin and flexible. This is the holy grail display technology and LG, Sony, Philips and Panasonic have all adopted it in their flagship sets.
Quantum Dot is Samsung’s big play in the LED TV space. With it, the brand claims that it’s able to produce more colorful pictures than LG and Sony while offering even brighter panels. LG’s Super UHD TVs all use a variation of Quantum Dot called Nano Cell, and Hisense makes a number of Quantum Dot TVs for the US and China.
Plasma has almost entirely been phased out at this point, but PDP (plasma display panel) TVs use glass panels containing millions of tiny cells filled with a mixture of inert gases. Electricity excites the gases, causing them to illuminate the pixels across the screen. Plasma, while arguably superior to LCD in terms of contrast and colour accuracy, is only viable on large (42in+) screens and has been dropped by all but a handful of manufacturers. You’ll be lucky to find one on the shelves these days.
Some manufacturers are now making TVs that have slightly curved screens. But unlike old CRT TVs, the curve is inwards rather than outwards. The idea is that this makes every pixel equidistant from your eyes, delivering a more satisfying picture. However, there are drawbacks for this type of screen – the main one being that if you sit far enough to one side – more than 40 degrees or so – the curve clearly starts to affect the image’s geometry, foreshortening content near to you and compressing the image’s centre.
What resolution tech should I go for?
HD TVs come in two resolutions. Sets with the HD ready are required to be able to display a minimum 720p picture, and generally has a screen resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. Meanwhile, Full HD TVs have a higher resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. It’s highly advisable that you don’t go for anything less than full HD in this day and age, and really you should be looking almost exclusively at 4K sets.
Ultra HD and 4K
The resolution of Ultra HD is exactly four times higher than full HD – 3840 x 2160. It means a far more detailed picture, with content requiring a lot more bandwidth and storage space. 4K TVs tend to be good at upscaling HD video to Ultra HD but there are currently a few options for watching native 4K content, but terrestrial broadcasters in the US have yet to adopt it as the new standard. Read more about 4K.
The next big thing in TVs, HDR produces astounding levels of visual fidelity and can be found in some of the latest Ultra HD TVs. HDR is a technology and a standard. Content needs to be mastered in HDR and you need an HDR TV to see it. What HDR offers however, is worth the extra steps to get it – you’ll see increased contrast and more realistic colors, enhancing the image to a more cinematic level.
What else should I consider?
Buying a flatscreen television is a major investment and one that you can’t afford to take lightly. Just popping into the closest store and grabbing the first plasma or LCD you see won’t get you the best deal, the screen that suits your needs, or the gear you require to make the most of your new purchase.
People tend to pick the size of their flat TV based on the amount of space they have for it, this isn’t necessarily wise. Flat TVs take up much less space than you might think, so your new TV may end up a foot or two further away from your viewing position, making the picture appear smaller.
Also, with hi-def, you can have a bigger screen and the same viewing distance without worrying about seeing blemishes inherent to the source. A 4K TV’s lack of noise means that the ideal distance to sit from the screen is three to four times the height of the TV.
How to calculate the right size HD TV:
The trick here is to ensure that your TV is big enough to fill your line of vision, but small enough to be sharp and clear. Remember, if you intend to only watch standard-definition sources, the bigger the screen gets, the worse the image will look.
The ideal screen size can be calculated by multiplying the distance that you intend to sit away from it by 0.535 and then rounding this up to the nearest size.
So, if you sit 80in away from your TV, the ideal size is 42-inch (80 x 0.535= 42.8).
What features should I look out for?
Features are too numerous to go into here, but here are some things you should consider.
Photo viewing: If you have a digital camera, a TV that has a slot for memory cards or a USB socket for a card reader will let you view your photos onscreen.
Here are some of the things we look for when we review a screen, so you should, too…
Contrast: Bright whites shouldn’t have any signs of green, pink or blue in them, while blacks should look solid and not washed out, grey, green or blue.
Colours: Look at how bright and solid they are; how noiseless their edges are; how ‘dotty’ richly saturated areas are and how natural skin looks, especially in dim scenes.
Fine detail: How much texture does the screen give? Does a tree look like a green lump, or can you see the individual leaves
Edges: Check for ghosting, bright halos and jaggedness, especially around curves.
Motion: Check moving objects and quick camera pans for smearing or blurring, trailing, jerkiness and fizzing dotty noise.
Image artefacts: Look for blockiness, colour bands, grain, smearing, dot crawl: anything that looks like it’s added by the TV picture processing or a weak TV tuner. Tinker with a TV’s picture settings before making a final decision. Factory settings are rarely good for everyday viewing.
What about sound?
To provide the best audio to complement the pictures, your TV should be hooked up to a surround sound system, but this isn’t always an option. So, here’s what we listen for when testing a TV’s speakers:
Bass: Deep, rounded rumbles that don’t cause the set to rattle or speakers to distort, cramp or overwhelm the rest of the sound; but that expand when needed.
Vocals: Voices should sound open, rich and clear, not boxed in, nasal or thin.
Trebles: Treble effects should sound clean, rounded and smooth in loud scenes and shouldn’t dominate the soundstage.
Soundstage width/depth: A good TV should throw the sound away from the TV, to the sides, forward and back, to give an extra dimension to what’s on screen, without losing any coherence.
How many HDMI sockets do I need?
For a living room TV you should be looking for a minimum of 3 HDMI inputs. If you want to attach a set-top box as well as games consoles etc, those HDMI ports will fill up fast.
Do I want to hang my TV on the wall?
First off, you’ll need to consult a construction expert to check that the wall in question is strong enough to support a flatscreen. Then find out if the set you want is designed to be wall-mounted and, if so, ask if the relevant bracket is included in the basic package or as an optional extra.
Will I be connecting it to a home cinema?
If the answer is no, you might want to think more carefully about your set’s audio performance. Look for a screen that can go as loud as you’ll need without distortion or cabinet rattle. Consider how dialogue sounds and how much low-end rumble the bass is capable of.
Conversely, it’s pointless paying out more cash for exceptional built-in speakers if you already have a decent home cinema system.
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