You may also notice that there’s a newer TV technology, called OLED TV, that dominates our current TV ratings in the larger size categories. These sets are still pricier than LCD/LED models—though every year that price gap narrows—so you’ll need to decide if it’s worth splurging for a top-performing set. Also, every year top-performing LCD TVs get better, edging closer to OLED TV-like performance. Right now OLED TVs are available from only two brands, LG Electronics and now Sony, so you’ll have fewer choices than you will with LCD-based sets.
Once you know what type of TV you want, focus on getting the right size, picture quality, and a few key features. And make sure your new TV has the connections required for equipment such as a streaming media player or soundbar speaker. (Our full TV ratings, available to members, provide all the picture-quality evaluations you’ll need.
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Are All HDR TVs Created Equal?
No. Our tests show that not every TV with “HDR” written on the box produces equally rich, lifelike images. First of all, TVs are all over the map when it comes to picture quality, HDR or no HDR. But there are also challenges specific to this technology. Most notably, a TV might not be bright enough to really deliver on HDR. To understand why you need to know your “nits,” the units used to measure brightness.
Better-performing HDR TVs typically generate at least 600 nits of peak brightness, with top performers hitting 1,000 nits or more. But many HDR TVs produce only 100 to 300 nits. With an underpowered TV, the fire of a rocket launch becomes a single massive white flare. With a brighter television, you’d see tongues of fire and smoke, as if you were really there.
How Can I Tell a Great HDR TV From a Bad One?
Unfortunately, you can’t just read the packaging—or even rely on how the picture looks in the store. Though some TVs carry an “Ultra HD Premium” logo, indicating that they’ve been certified as high-performance sets by an industry group called the UHD Alliance, not all companies are going along. For example, LG and Samsung participate in the program; Sony and Vizio don’t.
What to do instead? Check our TV ratings and buying guide.
As you’ll see, TVs with the best HDR tend to be the priciest. But there are also some good choices for people who want to spend less. And if you’re buying a smaller set, or just want to wait on 4K and HDR, you can find several good—and inexpensive—options.
Decide Whether You Want a Smart TV
Like cat videos and Kardashians, smart TVs seem to be everywhere. These increasingly popular televisions can access online content, such as streaming video services from Amazon Prime and Netflix. Basic smart TVs may be limited to the most popular services, and others offer a vast assortment of apps. Many have full web browsers, and more sophisticated smart TVs can respond to voice commands, make program recommendations, and let you view content from your smartphone on the TV screen.
Around 70 percent of the TVs sold these days are now smart TVs, according to market research firm IHD Markit. But if you’re considering a more basic TV or you already have a TV that lacks smarts, you can easily add internet capability using a separate streaming media player, such as an Amazon Fire TV, an Apple TV, a Google Chromecast, or a Roku player. Prices start as low as $30 for a smaller 1080p models, and 4K players start around $70.
Streaming Media Players
Streaming media players are a popular add-on for TVs, bringing streaming movies, TV, music and games to TVs that lack internet access. Even if you own a smart TV, you may consider a streaming player if it has features or services your TV doesn’t.
The Google Chromecast Ultra, $70, and new Roku Streaming Stick+, $70, are stick-style players that support 4K. There are also a number of less expensive 1080p models that cost as little as $30. These types of streaming players plug directly into a TV’s HDMI port, so they can often disappear from view, although they need to draw power from the TV’s USB port or an AC adapter plugged into an outlet.
Smart TVs, also called internet TVs or connected TVs, can be your bridge to a world of online content that you can access directly from the TV itself. Most smart TVs these days let you access multiple streaming video services, such as Amazon Prime, FandangoNow, Hulu, Netflix, or Vudu, plus one or more internet music services, such as Pandora or Spotify. Many smart TVs also let you go to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and several support casual games as well.
Check the Viewing Angle
Despite many improvements, most LCDs still have a fairly significant shortcoming: limited viewing angle. (OLED TVs have virtually unlimited viewing angles, just like plasma TVs did.) That means the picture looks its best only from a fairly narrow sweet spot right in front of the screen. We recommend checking the viewing angle by watching a TV from off to the side, and from above and below the main part of the image. As you move away from the center of the screen, the image can dim, lose contrast and color accuracy, or look washed out.