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Seven TVs that defined 2014

If 2014 was the best of times for TVs, it was also the worst of times. The death of plasma, the birth of OLED. The emergence of 4K. And the dumbing down of smart TV. Join us for a tour, won't you?

Beautiful screen: 2014 was the last time you could buy the last great plasma TV. Sarah Tew

Out with the old, in with the OLED.

In 2014, I called the LG 55EC9300 OLED TV the best picture I'd ever seen, but I told everyone to run out and buy the much more affordable Samsung F8500 before it disappeared. Both are 1080p TVs that share one important characteristic: they're not LED LCDs.

But LED LCD rules the roost, and every other TV I reviewed this year shares that near-ubiquitous technology. It's the only way to get 4K affordable, and 4K is the direction the TV industry is headed, for better or for worse.

With all that in mind, here are seven TVs that defined 2014, and the seven trends they represent.

Sarah Tew

The king is dead, long live the king: Samsung PNF8500

Plasma was the undisputed king of picture quality for years, and Samsung's PNF8500 was the last great plasma TV. Now it's nearly sold out. Despite being a holdover from 2013, the F8500 delivered such good picture quality that only one TV, LG's OLED, stood above it on our Best list throughout 2014. Say goodbye to plasma, it was nice knowing you.

Sarah Tew

Local dimming on the cheap: Vizio E series

Because CNET's review ratings incorporate value, and weighs it heavily in the overall score -- think "best bang for the buck" -- the E series is our highest-rated TV of 2014. It's dirt-cheap, especially this time of year, yet its well-implemented local dimming from a real direct LED backlight ensures deeper black levels, and better picture quality, than many TVs that cost a lot more. Here's hoping other TV makers follow Vizio's lead in making local dimming more affordable.

Sarah Tew

Bigger sound, better vision: Sony XBR-X900B

This huge, expensive set has not only the best picture of any 4K TV we've reviewed this year, it also happens to be the best-sounding TV we've ever reviewed, period. Sony paired its picture quality chops -- superb edge-lit local dimming, great processing and accurate color -- with some of the biggest, baddest speakers you'll ever see on a TV. Add a purpose-built wireless sub for the complete package.

Sarah Tew

Curved TV is indeed a gimmick: Samsung UNHU9000

Samsung bet so big on the curve this year it actually sent me a sample of this TV to try out at home. My kids loved the funhouse mirror effect but my wife and I wished for our old plasma back. After living with it for a few weeks, and testing it against other TVs in CNET's lab, my main trouble with the curve is that it adds to expense but not in any way to picture quality. Verdict? Gimmick.

Sarah Tew

Smart TV gets simpler, cheaper, better: TCL Roku TV

I've been complaining for years about how I'd rather have a dumb TV paired with a streaming box or stick than use the clunky, over-engineered, rarely updated "smart TV" suites found in today's TVs. Roku's interface is relatively "dumb" -- no Web browser or gestures for example -- but refreshingly simple to use, with the focus squarely where it should be. It's the apps, stupid. It helps that TCL built it for a bargain price.

Sarah Tew

4K gets affordable: Vizio P series

There's no doubt 4K TVs are heading quickly toward mainstream prices, but the P series was ahead of its time. When first introduced at CES 2014 it promised groundbreaking specs and picture quality in a 4K TV, for a breakthrough price starting at $999 in the US for 50 inches. While its picture was relatively disappointing -- a possible future software update notwithstanding -- it did deliver on price.

Sarah Tew

The next king is born: LG EC9300 OLED TV

From the cheap to the expensive again, we've come full circle. And yes, the $3,500, 55-inch EC9300 is curved, and it's not without its flaws, but it's still the best TV picture I've ever seen. The only question now is how soon TVs with OLED screens become affordable enough to take on LED LCD.

So that's a look at seven TVs worth of trends in bigscreen hardware this year. Disagree? Want to add another? Sound off below.