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Home Theater & A/V

Best HDTVs

Now that flat-screen HDTVs have had a couple decades worth of refinement and product development, it's fair to say that it's harder to find a bad TV than it is a good one. A modern HDTV pairs excellent picture quality with built-in smart TV streaming features, all at an incredibly affordable price. The most recent trend with HDTVs has been increasingly larger screen sizes; it's now possible to find 55-inch TVs priced similarly to 40-inch models from even a few years ago.

Our top HDTV picks display inky black levels, creating a more immersive experience thanks to the well-defined contrast between light and dark areas. These selections also provide excellent color accuracy, recreating an image to make it look lifelike (along with carrying the necessary adjustments to dial in the perfect images with true-to-life colors). Each of these picks can also easily process moving image and maintain clarity with fast-moving program or movie scenes free of shudder or skipping, making them well-suited for home theater use. We also evaluated each TV's respective smart TV capabilities for ease of use and functionality.

If you're still unsure, head straight down to our HDTV buyer's guide below.

Vizio PQ65-F1 65" Quantum 4K HDR TV

Vizio's flagship P-Series has been extremely well-received due to its smart combination of picture quality, high-value pricing, and outstanding customer service. The latest P-Series Quantum ups the ante with the addition of a quantum dot layer in the LCD panel. Similar to Samsung's top-end offerings, the quantum dot layer improves color accuracy and range over what was already an impressive-looking display and rockets the PQ65-F1 to the top of its competitive set when it comes to outright picture quality.

The P-Series Quantum shares many of its physical characteristics with the standard P-Series, though subtle differences set the new flagship model apart. The overall design is similar, with the Quantum models swapping out the brushed metal look in favor of a slimmer bezel and more monochromatic appearance overall. The stand is similar to the regular P-Series; if the 65-inch version of that TV won't fit on your TV stand, the Quantum will not either. Connectivity is identical, with 5 HDMI ports, one shared component/composite video input, as well as a single USB port and the standard optical audio output and ethernet port. Closer inspection reveals a cable input, which makes a welcome return after Vizio experimented with deleting the TV tuner for a couple years. Overall build quality is excellent; the days of Vizio TVs being dismissed as budget-minded units are long gone.

While OLED TVs have been making all the headlines lately, Vizio has quietly refined its TVs and has become a class leader in LCD TV picture quality. The P-Series Quantum looks stunning when displaying its store demo; while this is true for most in-store display units, the PQ65-F1 gets even better once it's set up properly. The full-array LED backlight has 192 local dimming zones, and the aggressiveness of the local dimming algorithm can be adjusted to suit personal preferences. Combined with the color-enhancing quantum dot layer, the PQ65-F1 is capable of deep, inky black levels and vibrant-yet-accurate colors. A professional calibration is always recommended to get the most out of any display, but the PQ65-F1 looks outstanding out of the box and needs only minor adjustments for improved accuracy. This is easily one of the top performers among LCD TVs; the only way to get any type of picture quality improvement in 2019 is to make the switch to OLED and accept the drawbacks that come with that format.

Smart TV functionality is well-represented with the P-Series Quantum, with the company's SmartCast interface returning almost unchanged from the standard P-Series. Most of the popular streaming apps are present, with Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, and YouTube available right out of the box. That said, we've seen complaints regarding some sluggish responses when browsing the interface, and there is no option to load more apps if your personal favorite is missing from the list.

One interesting consideration is that Vizio has chosen to offer the P-Series Quantum in a single 65-inch size; according to the company, there are no plans to add any additional screen sizes until the whole series is updated for its next round. While larger TVs have been getting increasingly popular in recent years, you may want to measure twice to ensure that your living room/home theater setup is able to accommodate a 65-inch screen.

All things considered, the Vizio P-Series Quantum is one of the best LED LCD TVs you can get your hands on. If its single 65-inch size can fit in your setup, we believe it represents exceptional value for money and is a worthy alternative to the best OLED TVs on the market today.

LG Electronics OLED65B8PUA 65" 4K OLED TV

Although OLED screens have become commonplace in cell phones and other smaller-scale consumer electronics, this display technology has only begun to mature in the HDTV world sometime within the past couple years. LG has emerged as one of the leaders of OLED technology in the HDTV world, with a full lineup of OLED TVs that are by far some of the best-performing HDTVs ever produced. The B8 is the most affordable offering of the lineup, and earns our recommendation because of its unbeatable picture quality, slick user interface, and relatively reasonable pricing.

Design-wise, the LG B8 is a knockout. The wide, centrally-positioned pedestal stand allows the B8 to fit on just about any TV stand or shelf, and is wide enough to provide wobble-free support. The face of the TV is practically all screen, with very little real estate taken up by the slim bezel. The TV just about disappears when viewed from the side; minus the electronics casing and pedestal stand, the whole TV is about as thick as a typical print magazine. Despite its minimalist dimensions, LG included plenty of flexibility when it comes to inputs. All 4 HDMI inputs carry the latest HDMI 2.0 standard; in addition to the single optical digital audio output, HDMI 2 features ARC support. There are 3 USB ports in total, as well as an Ethernet port if you choose not to utilize the on-board dual-band Wi-Fi instead. The B8 also offers support for an external antenna through its cable jack, but analog support is limited beyond that. There's a single composite video input that requires a 3.5mm adapter, but no support for component video or any type of analog audio out port.

The B8 - as with any OLED display - can inherently switch individual pixels on and off as required, and can generate perfect black levels without any backlight artifacts seen on LCD TVs. Despite not being as able to put out as much light as higher-end LED LCD TVs, this absolute black endows the B8 with a stunning contrast ratio. Combined with its ability to accurately render color and handle motion flawlessly, the B8 stands above the competition when it comes to outright performance and picture quality. Coincidentally (or maybe not - see our buyer's guide for further details on how OLED TVs work), OLED TVs have inherited one drawback that plagued early plasma displays - image retention and permanent burn-in. While this turned out to be an overblown concern by the time consumer plasma TVs were withdrawn from the market, the reputation stuck until the very end. Recent tests have shown that OLED TVs are indeed affected by screen burn-in to some extent, and rtings.com has an excellent series where they document OLED burn-in in real life. To reduce the risk of burn-in, our recommendation is to vary content shown on the screen and avoid displaying static images, score boards, or station icons that can get "stuck" on the screen over time.

The B8 comes loaded with LG's webOS smart TV interface, which is one of the best native smart TV suites found on the market today. The obvious favorites are present and accounted for - Netflix, Amazon/Prime TV, Hulu, and YouTube can be found in the quick links, and LG's Content Store offers a wide selection of add-on apps if your favorites didn't make it into the default selection. Both the included remote as well as the remote app function well with no real drawbacks, and LG's overall presentation effectively makes an external streaming box a redundant purchase.

Given its world-beating performance, sleek design, and slick user interface, the LG B8 should easily have earned our top recommendation - and it does, with one catch. OLED TVs are a relative newcomer to the HDTV marketplace, and LCD TVs are getting easier and cheaper to produce with each passing year. This is reflected in market pricing - though nowhere near as outrageous as the first OLED TVs were, the B8's top competitor (Vizio PQ65-F1) when it comes to picture quality can be brought home for significantly less money. When comparing identical screen sizes between the best OLED TVs and LED LCD TVs, expect to spend at least $1,000 more if you choose to go with OLED.

Samsung QN65Q9FN 65" 4K Ultra HD Smart QLED TV

Samsung is a world leader in LCD technology, and it may not surprise you that Samsung carries the largest HDTV market share among all brands. As well, Samsung is one of the only large-scale HDTV LCD panel manufacturers left standing in this market; at the time of writing, only LG and TCL can claim the same. Over the past decade, Samsung has continuously refined its LCD display technology, culminating in its recent "QLED" quantum dot LED push. The science of quantum dots in the flagship Q9 boil down to a simple fact: you won't find a better-looking LED LCD TV anywhere.

The Q9 sits at the top of Samsung's QLED TV lineup, not counting the wild 8K TV offerings that sit in the stratosphere. This premium TV shows Samsung's most minimalist design to date, with a slim, metallic bezel interrupted only by a small protrusion at the bottom center which houses the Samsung logo and physical controls. The stand is metal as well, and sits towards the center of the TV as opposed to being splayed out at opposite ends of the set - a major advantage if your TV stand is not as wide as the screen. The sleek design continues to the back, with just a single connector as opposed to a myriad of inputs. This connector is for Samsung's One Connect box, which houses all of the TV's inputs - including the power cable. Along with a couple other higher-end Samsung models, this makes the Q9 one of the best candidates for wall-mounting due to its unique cable management solution. Connectivity is fairly standard for a premium TV - 4 HDMI inputs (ARC through HDMI 4), 3 USB inputs, an optical audio output, an Ethernet port, and a cable/antenna input are present. The Q9 drops support for additional analog devices - not a single component/composite video input or 3.5mm analog audio jack can be found anywhere on the One Connect box or on the TV itself.

Beyond physical design, Samsung has packed additional lifestyle features into the Q9. Ambient mode allows users to choose from several pre-loaded images that will display when the Q9 is powered off, as opposed to filling the wall with several feet of black space like any other TV. If the built-in pictures interfere with your interior decor, the Q9 is also capable of "disappearing" entirely - just take a photo of your wall behind the TV with the included app and the Q9 will take care of the rest. These effects are especially stunning when wall-mounted with Samsung's proprietary "No Gap" mount, giving the impression of a framed painting - or none at all when you want it to disappear.

Samsung advertises the Q9 as a "QLED TV", with the Q referring to the quantum dot layer in the LCD panel. As explained in our buyer's guide, quantum dots work exactly as advertised and elevates the Q9's picture quality beyond its main non-OLED rivals. In a nutshell, quantum dots allow an LCD TV to show an image with bright, intensely saturated colors that are pleasing to the eyes, all without sacrificing color accuracy. Compared to the one-step-down Q8, the Q9 comes equipped with more backlight local dimming zones as well as improved image processing. While it may not sound like much on paper, it becomes immediately obvious with high-contrast content (think bright lights in a dark room or a lobby with checkerboard floor tiles) that the Q9 is better able to render an accurate image with more "pop". This upgraded backlight arrangement just about eliminates "blooming" - a traditional flaw with bright LCD TVs where the light required for brighter areas in the frame spills into black or dark areas and ruins the effect.

We've been spoiled by the perfect blacks that OLED TVs are capable of, and despite all of the advancements in LCD technology, the Q9 simply can't match the best OLED sets from LG and Sony in regards to black level performance. On the other hand, the full-array LED backlight paired with the quantum dot panel means the Q9 is every bit their equal when it comes to color accuracy and saturation. The Q9 can also get much brighter than any OLED TV on sale today, which gives it a distinct advantage when displaying HDR content or when viewing in a bright room. What's even more impressive is that Samsung has managed to achieve this level of brightness while avoiding blooming. Ultimately, we've resorted to nitpicking differences in picture quality between our top OLED and quantum dot LED LCD performers, and we feel that buyers will be happy with any of our top selections.

One additional draw of the Q9 is the inclusion of Samsung's Smart TV suite, dubbed Tizen. This is easily one of the best built-in smart TV suites on the market today thanks to its easy-on-the-eyes graphics and intuitive menu layout. Additionally, popular apps such as Netflix, Amazon Video, and Hulu will display recently watched content without requiring the app to launch, which is extremely convenient if your movie/TV show marathon is interrupted. The Q9 ships with Samsung's smart remote, which utilizes hard buttons for the most frequently-used functions and can be pointed at the set to display the on-screen interface. The remote also features a microphone to control Samsung's Bixby assistant; many TV functions can be accessed by issuing a voice command (changing channels, swapping inputs, powering on and off). If you have other Samsung SmartThings-compatible devices or appliances in your household, the Q9 can be fully integrated into your smart home.

If you're after the best picture quality from an LED LCD TV and cost is no issue, the Samsung Q9 is hands-down the best TV on the market today. Its premium design and unique display features set it apart as a true luxury product, and the SmartThings integration capability is a definite draw for anyone with a Samsung smart home ecosystem. Ultimately, the high price limits the appeal of Samsung's hugely impressive Q9. The allure of this high-end set lies in its unique attributes, but we feel the Vizio P-Series Quantum represents a better value overall than Samsung's flagship Q9.

Sony XBR65X900F 65" 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV

Mention the name Sony to anyone considering a new TV, and it'll conjure up mental images of unmatched performance, classy design, and superb build quality. This reputation was first cemented in the early days of mass-market CRT TVs, where the company's Trinitron TVs stood head and shoulders above the competition. Though competition in today's HDTV market is much more intense, Sony has successfully maintained these traits in its latest Bravia-branded LED LCD TVs. The XBR-X900F is Sony's top non-Master Series offering, and promises flagship-level performance at much more affordable pricing.

The X900F is instantly recognizable as a Sony TV, with its signature slim bezel and premium all-business look. The most radical departure is the loss of the center-mount stand - the X900F now comes with wide-set legs, though they sit closer to the center of the TV than just about all other rival models. This is particularly important if your TV stand is narrower than the TV; those of you interested in wall-mounting the set will be happy to know that the X900F comes with standard VESA mounts and consistent cabinet thickness. The 4 HDMI ports are split between the side-facing and bottom-facing ports (HDMI 1 faces outside, HDMI 2, 3, and 4 face the bottom with 3 as the designated ARC port), as are the 3 USB ports (1 and 2 on the side, 3 facing down). Analog video connectivity requires a 3.5mm adapter, and supports composite video only. Rounding out the connectors are the requisite TOSLINK digital audio output and 3.5mm audio jack for external audio devices not going through HDMI, as well as an Ethernet port if you prefer to hard-wire your TV to your network as opposed to using Wi-Fi. Though the X900F is equipped with an internal tuner, you'll probably want to utilize the cable/antenna input to connect it to an external antenna or cable feed. As with just about any Sony TV from the past few decades, the X900F is solidly built and offers no outward quality compromises.

One of the biggest draws of choosing a Sony TV over any of its rivals is superior picture quality; the X900F takes things a step further. Black levels are outstanding - easily one of the best performers among its LCD peers. The X900F boasts accurate colors as well, which shows the benefits of Sony's extensive involvement in studio and film technology. As always, a professional calibration will get the most out of any TV, but the X900F is so accurate out of the box that only the most dedicated professionals or cinema enthusiasts will consider any improvement it brings money well spent. One area where Sony demonstrates a clear lead over its rivals is in image processing, both with native 4K content as well as upscaling 1080p material and even 720p and 480p. Motion handling is among the best of any non-OLED or (dearly departed) plasma display, and Sony provides extensive options for judder-free 24p content - even through sources such as native 60p or 60i.

The X900F is an Android TV, which carries all of its benefits as well as drawbacks. Flexibility is excellent due to unhindered access to the Google Play store, though all of the available apps are TV-centric and may not replicate what you see on a phone or tablet. Athough some users report sluggishness in the interface, we found no general consensus when it comes to this aspect. Menus are laid out logically and intuitively, and the remote supports voice control through Google Assistant. The remote also features prominent buttons to lauch Google Play and Netflix; beyond that, the smart TV suite features Amazon Video, Hulu, Vudu, and YouTube, to name a few.

The X900F was released in 2018 and has remained on sale for a while, with online and in-store prices dropping sharply as a result. The 65-inch version can be found well under $2,000 at the time of writing - outstanding value, but there are some competitors that offer similar picture quality for hundreds of dollars less. Sony's TVs typically command a price premium due to their unique combination of design, unrivalled image processing, and cohesive all-around packaging. If these perks check the right boxes for you, the X900F makes an excellent addition to your home theater setup.

TCL 65R617 65" 4K Ultra HD Roku Smart LED TV

TCL proudly claims that it is the fastest-growing TV brand in America, and it's not difficult to see why. Though the brand may not have immediate recognition like Samsung, LG, and Sony, TCL has quietly established itself as a quality manufacturer with TVs that fit any budget. The company finds itself in a select group of peers that manufactures LCD panels, backlight, and TV set in-house; among all other manufacturers that sell TVs in the US, only Samsung and LG do the same.

The 615/617 is a departure from TCL's previous design language; rather than the plastic used in lesser sets, the 615/617 features a metal bezel and stand. The design itself is inoffensive, and imparts the TV with a more premium appearance than other sets in this price range. Along the rear, the lower half houses all of the inputs - 3 HDMI inputs and a single composite video input, with no provisions for component video. Digital audio out and a 3.5mm analog audio output provide flexibility for wiring a sound bar to the TV, and HDMI 3 is clearly marked as the designated ARC-capable port. The ethernet port and cable/antenna input round out external connectivity options. As is the trend with newer TVs, digital connections are well-represented while analog ports become increasingly scarce.

What makes the 615/617 series stand out is its combination of features and inherent design that is just about impossible to find in this price range. This LED LCD TV utilizes a full-array backlight with local dimming - something found only on other manufacturers' top-performing (and most expensive) sets. As well, the 615/617's panel is capable of impressive black levels and high contrast ratios without resorting to any quality-enhancing tricks, which is surprising given the aggressive pricing of this set. Even straight out of the box, the 615/617 can display accurate colors with only minor adjustments to its built-in picture modes. A professional calibration will always improve the accuracy of any display, but the 615/617 performs well enough on its own to make you consider saving the money.

Many other HDTV manufacturers equip their sets with smart TV interfaces designed in-house - not so with TCL. Rather than expend additional resources on creating another user interface, the 615/617 simply comes with Roku TV built-in. The remote should be instantly familiar to anyone who has used a Roku streaming device, and the 615/617 can also utilize the Roku smartphone app for further flexibility. The 615 and 617 differ primarily in the smart TV functions - the 617 comes with voice control and an RF-operated remote, which does not require direct line-of-sight to the TV. The 615 makes do without voice control and uses a traditional IR remote, which requires pointing the business end of the remote directly at the TV for it to function. Otherwise, the 615 and 617 models are identical in terms of performance and functionality.

With TCL's flagship 615/617 model, the law of diminishing returns is on full display - no pun intended. Sure, there are 'better' TVs currently on sale, but at what cost? Short of studio professionals and film mavens, the TCL 615/617 offers 95% of the picture quality of today's top sets for a fraction of the price - all without any major quality or operational sacrifices.

Buyer's Guide

HDTV Buyer's Guide

The HDTV market is filled with enough advertising and marketing hubris to make anyone's head spin with confusion. Manufacturers routinely go out of their way to make their products seem more impressive, including puzzling claims such as “infinite contrast ratio”. Worse still, the TVs on display at local brick & mortar shops usually have the brightness cranked to the max and various settings put to “store mode” to attract potential buyers.

Comparing TVs side-by-side at a store will do you no favors unless the sets are calibrated properly and are utilizing equal-quality HD feeds. Even then, TVs will look different in a brightly-lit environment like the sales floor compared to a dimmer, more controlled setting like your living room. Before you commit to buying a new TV, it helps to familiarize yourself with a few terms and specifications to ensure that you're getting exactly what you want.

HDTV Technologies

Over the past several years, the HDTV industry has seen massive shifts in technologies and production. LCD TVs remain hugely popular, and are more affordable than ever due to the shrinking cost to produce this type of display. Manufacturers have taken this opportunity to further refine this display technology, with consumers enjoying the benefits of ever-improving picture quality. OLED TV technology has matured to the point where they can be found for reasonable prices, but availability remains scarce as only one manufacturer - LG - produces such a display type. (Note: Sony offers OLED TVs as well, but LG manufactures the panel)

LCD
LCD TVs are by far the most popular type of television sold today. This TV displays its images by rendering them across a liquid crystal layer, which is then illuminated by the backlight. Though the earliest LCD TVs were plagued by poor picture quality and a tendency to "lag" frames and create an exaggerated blur effect, advances made in the past decade have created a well-rounded TV that bear little resemblance to their flawed predecessors.

Modern LCD TVs carry several advantages that make them extremely attractive to the vast majority of consumers shopping for a new TV. LCD TVs are widely available, both online and from local warehouse and brick-and-mortar stores. Comparing screen sizes, these TVs are the most affordable by a long shot - both to buy and operate daily. LCD TVs can get many times brighter than any other type of TV, which makes them more suitable for use in bright environments. This is especially important as HDR content becomes more widespread.

Drawbacks are few, but worth noting. LCD TVs look best when viewing them from head-on. Though manufacturers have gone to great lengths to increase this "viewing angle", the picture quality degrades noticeably when viewing the TV from the sides. LCD TVs also have the potential to carry uneven screen uniformity, which can be noticed as artifacts in the image or "clouding" where the backlight shines brighter in one spot.

Here's a quick run-down of the types of technology you're likely to encounter when shopping for an LCD TV:

Lighting
One of the primary components of an LCD TV is its backlight; without it, the images rendered on the crystal layer would not be visible. While earlier LCD TVs utilized standard CCFL (fluorescent lamp) arrays, just about any LCD TV you encounter today features an LED-illuminated backlight. This type of TV is sometimes referred to as an "LED TV", but this is a marketing term which introduces confusion. These TVs should technically be referred to as LED LCD TVs; though it's a mouthful, it's especially important to distinguish this detail in today's marketplace with OLED, QLED, and Quantum Dot LEDs further clouding the waters.

Today's LED LCD TVs utilize two distinct types of backlight technology:

Full-array LED
This backlight setup places LEDs directly behind the LCD panel. LCD TVs with full-array LED backlighting exhibit superior screen uniformity, and are often paired with a technology called "local dimming" where the TV selectively reduces backlight output to create darker black levels where required. Most of our top picture quality performers utilize this type of backlight arrangement.

Edge-lit LED
Rather than placing the LEDs behind the LCD panel, the diodes are moved to the edge of the TV underneath the bezel (typically at the bottom). They are then aimed at a 'light guide' which stretches behind the panel instead, and is used to distribute the light in order to display a viewable image. This type of backlight is typically found on more affordable models due to the lower cost of utilizing fewer lighting elements.

Local Dimming
One of the challenges of getting an LCD screen to show a truly inky black comes from the very component that allows the display to be seen at all - the backlight. Unlike all other colors an LCD TV can display, black requires that the panel effectively blocks out the backlight so no light will go through. Though the best LCD panels can do this convincingly, it's easier to create a deeper black on-screen when there is simply no light for the panel to block. The solution is local dimming, where the TV's image processor can scan the frame and reduce or shut off light output for areas where a deeper black is required. All of our best-performing LED LCD TVs are equipped with such a feature.

Quantum Dots
A quick glance at the best LED LCD TVs sold today will reveal one thing in common - all of these sets utilize Quantum Dot technology. While it sounds like something out of a sci-fi show, the reality is just as impressive. Without getting into too much technical detail, Quantum Dot-equipped LCD TVs utilize microscopic particles that emit desired light frequencies when hit with blue light, which can then highlight colors better than an all-white backlight can. The result is a more "punchy" image compared to standard LCDs, and has the pleasing effect of increasing color saturation to the naked eye. Each manufacturer has its own name for the technology (Sony calls it Triluminos, Samsung calls it QLED, Vizio simply calls it Quantum), but the basic principles are the same in practice.

OLED
Despite wearing a confusingly similar name to "LED TV", an OLED TV shares next to nothing with LED LCD TVs other than the ability to display an image on screen. A relative newcomer to the market, OLED TV technology has matured in the past decade from expensive, primitive, and comparatively tiny panels to full-fledged high-end units that offer the best picture quality money can buy. OLED TVs do not utilize a backlight; instead, they operate more like plasma TVs in that each pixel is energized individually and emits its own light. OLED panels exhibit perfect screen uniformity and vastly superior off-angle viewing compared to LCD TVs. Because light output from each pixel is controlled individually, OLED TVs are the first display type to be capable of the much-vaunted "infinite contrast ratio". Black levels are simply perfect - no other type of consumer display technology can match OLED when it comes to true black levels.

It seems OLED TVs can finally offer a real alternative to die-hard plasma TV fans, thanks to its superior picture quality. Ironically, OLED TVs have inherited the same drawbacks that marred plasma display panels - namely limited brightness and image retention/burn-in. Because OLED TVs rely on each pixel to emit its own light, LED LCD TVs can get many times brighter when displaying images. This is especially noticeable in brighter rooms, meaning OLED TVs are better suited to environments where ambient light can be controlled. Image retention/screen burn-in makes an unfortunate comeback with OLED displays as well; while real-world effects may vary, there's no getting around the fact that OLED TVs are susceptible to this phenomenon. rtings.com has a very thorough, well-documented ongoing test researching OLED burn-in. As with our previous recommendation with plasma displays, burn-in can be mitigated if you vary content and avoid displaying static images for long periods of time.

What happened to plasma TVs?

Sadly, plasma TVs have been phased out of the market, with the last remaining manufacturers - LG and Samsung - withdrawing support in 2015. Panasonic ceased US sales of all consumer plasma TVs after Q1 2014. Despite superior picture quality, perfect screen uniformity, and lack of off-angle viewing issues compared to LCD TVs, the bulkiness and relative fragility of the sets, perceived burn-in effect, and high energy cost compared to LED LCD TVs eventually led to the demise of plasma TVs in the HDTV market. Though gone, this technology is not forgotten - one of the industry-wide gold standards for black levels and picture quality remains the Pioneer Kuro Elite plasma TV, which has been out of production for a decade.

Assessing Picture Quality

No matter what size TV you’re looking for, the one thing that needs to be prioritized is good picture quality. There is an enormous amount of information available on how to judge good picture quality, but your personal preference will ultimately determine what looks good to you, and if the pricier model with more features is worth the extra cost in the end.

Here are a few things to look for:

Black Levels
Black levels are a primary component to good picture quality. A good TV will be capable of purer blacks which stand in stark contrast to any color in the scene. In a scene with true “blacks”, dark gray tones are undesirable and can detract from the movie watching experience. OLED TVs are capable of generating the best black levels, followed closely by premium LED LCD TVs with full-array local dimming backlights.

Color Accuracy
We recommend selecting a TV with good color accuracy. A TV with poor color accuracy will display washed-out or oversaturated colors, and skin tones which appear orange, green, purple, or any other color that is not associated with a healthy person.

We always recommend a full calibration performed by a certified professional, as it will bring out the best the TV has to offer. On the other hand, a professional calibration is not an inexpensive proposition, and many newer TVs are capable of good color accuracy out of the box. Your mileage may vary.

Screen Uniformity
Screen uniformity is extremely important as well. With an LCD TV, this boils down to how effectively the TV distributes its backlight. A good backlight setup will appear flawless and unnoticeable, while the appearance of spots or patches suggests poor screen uniformity. OLED TVs do not utilize a backlight, and display perfect screen uniformity at all times.

Contrast Ratio
Manufacturers like to throw around large contrast ratio numbers to give the impression of superior picture quality. Outside of each respective manufacturer's products, this number is just about meaningless. A simple explanation of contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest image the TV can display and the darkest image the TV can display (black level). rtings.com has an excellent library of native contrast ratios, which is a useful comparison tool if you're stuck deciding between two TVs.

Previously, we dismissed the claim "infinite contrast ratio" as pure marketing, as it was impossible for either LCD or plasma displays to achieve a pure, true black. OLED TVs are capable of generating such black levels, and can legitimately achieve this previously unobtainable "infinite contrast ratio". How is this possible? Think of it as dividing by zero (the measurement of a true black from an OLED TV). Due to the pure black, the contrast level of an OLED TV is simply not possible to measure.

Size
For the best HDTV experience, go for the biggest size your budget and setting will allow. Remember that this is an investment that you will live with for quite some time, and you don't want buyer's remorse because you didn't go for the bigger screen. Keep in mind that as implausible as it may sound, it is possible to go too big. If you live in a small apartment or plan to set the TV up where space is limited, that 85-inch TV may not be the best idea.

Resolution

Today's HDTVs come in two main resolutions – 1080p and 4K. When broken down, these alphanumeric combinations simply state the resolution and the method in which the pixels are displayed. Here's a brief explanation of each, along with a quick run-down of the less-encountered resolutions among HDTVs today.

4K - This is the resolution of most TVs on sale today. 4K televisions carry a 3840x2160 pixel resolution, which is exactly twice the horizontal resolution and twice the vertical resolution of 1080p. Though subtle, the increase in the level of detail is clearly visible on larger screens.

1080p - Often referred to as 'Full HD', and represents 1920x1080 pixels displayed on the screen in a 'progressive' format. Each line is resolved during the refresh cycle, leading to a clearer, sharper picture. Despite 4K overtaking 1080p as the most popular HDTV resolution, most HD content continues to be geared towards 1080p.

720p - Like 1080p, 720p is a 'progressive scan' format. The '720p' term actually refers to a range of HD resolutions, with a minimum of 1280x720 pixels from which the name is derived. This resolution is now seldom encountered, and is relegated to the most bare-bones entry-level HDTVs on sale today.

1080i - Although modern HDTVs do not feature 1080i as a native resolution, this format is still encountered when dealing with HD broadcasts. Older CRT HDTVs also sport a 1080i native resolution, which can lead to some confusion. While the resolution is identical to 1080p (1980x1080 pixels), the “I” in the name stands for “interlaced” scan.

Native 1080i-resolution displays refresh every alternating line (effectively producing 1920x540 pixels per refresh cycle) to show the entire image. Modern displays require image processing (de-interlacing) to display content encoded in this format.

Standard Definition - Older TV formats are almost always considered “standard definition”. You'll see the term “enhanced definition” thrown around here and there when referring to 480p, but the current trend is to refer to anything which features a lower resolution than "HD” as “standard definition”.

Not all HDTVs perform well with standard definition content. Don't be surprised if you connect your old DVD player or game console to your brand new HDTV and the resulting picture isn't crystal-clear.

Without getting into too much detail, here’s a brief explanation: the native resolution of a new HDTV is far higher than what standard definition devices can output. This means that your TV will try to convert the standard definition signal (usually 480i or 480p) into high definition (720p, 1080p, or even 4K) to fill the screen, and the results are not always pretty. On the other hand, high definition content will look fantastic on a high definition TV.

3D Viewing

Home 3D TV is dead. Not a single HDTV set manufactured after 2017 supports 3D in either active or passive formats.

HDR

Part of the reason why 3D TVs disappeared from the market has to do with the increased availability of HDR content. HDR stands for High-dynamic Range, and its basic operational principles are actually quite simple. When rendered properly, HDR content can display both darker and brighter scenes within the same frame, along with more vibrant colors. If you've used the built-in HDR feature found in many smart phones, you already have an idea of what to look for. Three standards currently exist - HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HDR10+. HDR10 is the base line for TV HDR - when "regular HDR" is mentioned, it refers to HDR10. Dolby Vision and HDR10+ carry additional performance benefits over regular HDR:

Dolby Vision
You'll undoubtedly recognize the Dolby name from various audio formats; the very same Dolby Labs is now involved with improving video quality across the board. Dolby Vision requires TV manufacturers to meet specific video standards, and certification is granted only after the company signs off on the set's performance. HDR10 material instructs the TV where the limits are for the darkest and brightest scenes; this "metadata" is sent only once at the beginning of content playback and remains static throughout. The biggest difference between Dolby Vision and HDR10 is the ability to change the video metadata on-the-fly, resulting in more flexibility when it comes to rendering scenes. So far, the only company to exclude Dolby Vision from their sets is Samsung, which leads us neatly to...

HDR10+
HDR10+ is an alternate standard developed primarily by Samsung, and can be found in Amazon Video content. Unlike Dolby Vision, HDR10+ does not require manufacturers to pay a royalty to Dolby Laboratories. Just like its rival format, HDR10+ can change the video metadata as required during playback. We've yet to encounter a single TV that supports both formats, though this could change at a future date. As you would expect, HDR10+ is supported by Samsung TVs.

Price/Value

As you will no doubt have noticed by now, modern HDTVs encompass a wide range of prices. It's easy to find a good HDTV for under $500, but you're more likely to encounter models on the showroom floor costing over $1000. If money is no object, there are higher-performance TVs available today which sport $5000+ sticker prices.

Current HDTVs are far from 'one size fits all', both literally and figuratively. In today's TV market, screen size is the biggest factor in determining cost, whether you're looking at OLED or LCD TVs. Almost all TVs sold today come equipped with some degree of smart TV capability, so the difference in features boils down to picture quality enhancements.

Try Before you Buy

Don't assume that the way the TV looks in the store will translate to the one that you purchase. If you can, ask an employee or salesperson to connect high-definition material to the TV (usually a Blu-ray movie), then switch the set to its 'Cinema Mode' (or whatever is closest). This will help even the playing field.

Bestcovery Staff
Our research team searches out the best of everything so that you can confidently pick the perfect products and services for your needs.
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