It may be early in 2020, but buying a new TV is the same as ever. In other words, it's still kinda overwhelming. Prices vary widely for TVs of the same size. TV manufacturers and salespeople use extra features, alien-sounding technologies and hyperbolic claims about picture quality to get you to spend more. And as usual, the internet is a mess of conflicting facts, opinions and unexplained jargon.
This guide is intended as an oasis in the vast desert of information about TVs. I strive to fill it with just enough easy-to-understand information to help you select a new television. It won't answer every question, and when you read it, it won't tell you "the perfect TV for you" at the end. But I hope it can provide you with the basic tools you need to feel confident when you buy that new set.
Which TV should I buy right now?
If you just want to skip all the details and buy a great television, I have a few go-to choices among the TVs available in early 2020.
OLED TVs are the picture-quality kings, and the LG B9 is the OLED TV to buy right now. Yes the 2018 B8 costs less and has similarly spectacular picture quality, while the 2019 C9 has a slightly better picture, but the B9 has the best of both worlds: relatively affordable for an OLED TV and still packed with extras, including Alexa built-in, Apple AirPlay 2 and more HDMI 2.1 extras, including eARC, Auto Game mode and Variable Refresh rate.
Sizes: 55-, 65-, 77-inch (pricing shown is for 65-inch). Read our LG OLEDB9PUA series review.
Can't afford an OLED TV? The latest version of the TCL 6-Series has excellent image quality for an LCD-based TV, thanks to improved color, and its well implemented full-array local dimming helps it run circles around just about any other TV at this price. As if that's not enough, the Roku TV operating system is our hands-down favorite.
Sizes: 55-, 65-inch (pricing shown is for 65-inch). Read our TCL 6-Series (2019 Roku TV) review.
Roku is our favorite platform for streaming apps like Netflix, and it's even better baked into the TV. This TCL 4-Series can't beat any of the models above on image quality -- its 4K resolution and HDR compatibility don't do anything to help the picture -- but it's perfectly fine for most people, especially at this price.
Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 65-, 75-inch (pricing shown is for 43-inch). Read our TCL S425 series (Roku TV) review.
For more choices, check out our constantly updated lists of the best TVs.
Timely advice: Black Friday is past but bargains can still be had.
TV prices go down as the year goes on up until Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when they typically hit bottom. Those sales are best known for crazy, doorbuster pricing on no-name televisions, but the fact is that just about every television gets a Black Friday price cut. Now that Black Friday has come and gone, many TV prices have gone back up.
The good news is that if you missed a sale, prices usually remain relatively low into the new year. The next big sell-off will be the Super Bowl in February 2020, so if you're willing to wait a bit longer you might see prices at or near their Black Friday lows. High-end sets can see reductions of 20% to 40% compared to pricing during the spring, when they're first released, and even cheaper sets, which don't have as much room for discounts, often see a healthy cut, too.
The other big winter event in the TV world is CES, a trade show that happens at the beginning of January. It's there that the latest TVs get introduced, although they don't go on sale until spring, and prices don't reach their lowest levels until next fall (then rinse and repeat). Every CES sees some innovations that might be worth waiting for, but TVs are generally a mature technology, and our advice for most shoppers is to buy now, not to wait for the next big thing.
Do we have any more advice? Glad you asked.
Ignore (most of) the specifications
As a rule of thumb, the main purpose of a TV's specification sheet is to bombard you with confusing terms and numbers in an attempt to get you to "step up" and buy the more expensive version. Just about the only worthwhile numbers are found under Inputs and Weight/Dimensions.
Rather than rely on the spec sheet to provide hints on which TV will perform better than another, our advice is to simply ignore it. The sheet can help when trying to differentiate a TV based on features, such as whether it has HDR, smart TV capability or a fancy remote, but it's useless at best and outright misleading at worst when used as a tool for divining picture quality.
Read more: TV marketing terms and what they mean
Bigger really is better
I recommend a size of at least 40 inches for a bedroom TV and at least 55 inches for a living room or main TV -- and 65 inches or larger is best.
In fact, more than any other "feature," stepping up in TV screen size is the best use of your money. One of the most common post-TV-purchase complaints I've heard is from people who didn't go big enough. And I almost never hear people complain that their TV is too large.
If you want to fit an existing entertainment center, make sure you have at least an inch on the sides and top of the TV cavity to allow for ventilation. Or just junk that old furniture and get a bigger TV.
4K and HDR are worth getting
TVs with 4K resolution, also known as Ultra High Definition TVs, have four times as many pixels as standard 1080p resolution TVs. That sounds like a big improvement, but in reality it's very difficult to tell the difference in sharpness between a 4K TV and a good old-fashioned HDTV.
On the other hand, 4K TVs are easy for manufacturers to produce, so they're basically standard now. Just about every TV 55 inches or larger has 4K resolution, and many smaller sets are 4K, too. Aside from the smallest sizes, 1080p and lower-resolution models are quickly becoming resigned to the bargain bin.
Most of the 4K TVs haveas well. HDR delivers better contrast and color, so unlike 4K, chances are you'll actually be able to see an improvement compared with normal HDTV. How big of an improvement (if any) depends on the TV, however, and just like with 4K, you'll need to be watching actual HDR content. And just because a TV is HDR-compatible , with or without an HDR source.
Streaming services Netflix and Amazon offer both 4K and HDR, but not on every title (although most original series and movies on both services are in 4K HDR). You can also rent or buy new 4K HDR movies on iTunes, Vudu and Google Play, or invest in a 4K Blu-ray player and discs to play on it. Actual 4K or HDR TV channels are still nonexistent in the US, however.
Bottom line? All of the best TVs are 4K TVs with HDR. If you're shopping for a medium-size or larger TV, you'll probably end up with a 4K one anyway, and chances are it'll do HDR, too.
Picture quality p's and q's
I consider the best picture quality for the money a sort of holy grail in the quest for a new TV. It's still consistently the No. 1 thing TV shoppers cite as important to their buying decision.
If you don't place as high a priority on PQ, you'll get the best value by simply sorting a list of TVs by price along with the screen size you want, choosing the cheapest from a brand you trust and calling it a day. Or at least skip to the next section of this guide.
After more than 15 years reviewing HDTVs, I feel comfortable conveying some generalizations I've observed about picture quality:
- OLED TVs have the best picture quality available, but they're still quite expensive.
- Nearly every TV, including , uses , which (despite the "LED" similarity) is .
- LED LCD TVs with often outperform those without.
- The ability to produce a deep shade of black -- which translates into high -- is the most important ingredient in a good picture.
- For HDR, image brightness and local dimming are essential for the best performance.
- Color saturation, which is directly influenced by contrast/black level, is second-most important, followed by color accuracy.
- In a bright room, matte screens are the best overall at reducing reflections. The best glossy screens preserve black levels well.
- Less important factors include resolution, color gamut, video processing and (4K vs. 1080p).
- Many people don't realize they're watching the and might like their TV's picture quality better if they turned it off.
- Poor picture settings on a good TV will usually look worse than picture settings on a crappy TV.
In sum, picture quality is more complex than just counting pixels or reading a spec sheet, and your best bet is to read reviews, such as those at CNET. Hopefully you can also get the chance to see a good TV in person along with someone who can explain why it's good.
Considerations beyond size, price and picture quality
Those are the "big three" of TV buying, but a few other things are worth knowing about.
8K is here, but don't worry about it
A TV with 8K resolution has twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of 4K, for a whopping 7,680x4,320 and 33,177,600 total pixels. Not only is that four times the total pixel count of 4K, that's an incredible 16 times more pixels than 1080p.
The first TVs with 8K resolution are already available today. They're typically huge and super expensive -- the cheapest in the US is afor $3,500 -- and there's nothing in 8K to watch today. Moreover, from what we've seen they don't provide much, if any, picture quality improvement compared to 4K TVs.
In the future 8K TVs will surely get cheaper and more mainstream, but it will be years before they're worth considering for all but the richest TV buyers.
Voice control, including Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
The biggest new trend in gadgets, including TVs, is the ability to be controlled by voice commands. TV remotes with built-in mics and "push to talk" functionality, for example to search for TV shows and movies, are nothing new. What's new is integration between the TVs and the two big players in voice today, Google and Amazon.
TVs from Sony and LG have Google Assistant built-in, so you can use their voice remotes to not only search, but order pizza, play trivia games and music, and control lights and other smart home devices. sets and many of LG's 2019 TVs incorporate Alexa in the same way. Samsung TVs have Bixby built-in.
Even cooler is the ability to control certain functions on the TVs with an Alexa or Google Home ($79 at Walmart) speaker, without touching the remote. Amazon TVs will work with Alexa speakers, Roku sets are able to be commanded with Google Home speakers, and TVs from LG, Vizio and Sony TVs will work with both. Samsung also added Alexa and Google Home speaker control in 2019.
TV connectivity has gotten less complex as important inputs have dwindled to one kind: HDMI. Just count the number of devices you'll want to connect, and make sure your TV has at least that many HDMI ports (or one or two extra if you'll be expanding).
USB inputs are nice for displaying photos, but hardly necessary. You only need to worry about the analog ports if you have an older device to connect; theis the classic HDMI-free offender. And of course you'll need an antenna input (standard on nearly every TV) if you're cutting the cord and want free over-the-air TV.
Nearly every new 4K TV has enough robust HDMI connections (version, or , with ) to work with a range of the latest 4K and HDR gear. The latest is coming out on some TVs in 2019, but it's not worth worrying about for most buyers. And yes, you should just buy the cheap HDMI cables.
Since you can connect an inexpensive HDMI stick or box to make any TV "smart" -- in the sense that you get access to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and the rest -- the "apps" on TVs are often redundant. That's why (or failing that, a ). Even so, your next TV will likely have smart apps whether you use them or not.
One advantage of built-in apps is that they're likely 4K and HDR if your TV supports those formats, whereas the cheapest external streamers are not. On the other hand, you can get a, and often the experience will be much better than on the TV.
TV antenna tuner
If you're planning on, or you have already, you might want to make sure the TV you get has a built-in over-the-air tuner. It will allow you to watch free local TV broadcasts, usually in higher quality than cable, satellite or streaming.
Some new TVs like Roku TVs and Amazon Fire TV Edition sets are particularly tuner-friendly, with full grid-style program guides and, in Roku's case, a.
If you aren't planning to use a universal model or the remote that came with your cable box, pay attention to the TV's included clicker. It's nice when it can command other gear directly ( ), and I prefer TVs to include medium-size remotes with well-differentiated, backlit buttons. Fancy remotes with , but a good universal model will almost always work better, consigning your included remote to ignominy in a drawer.
High-end styling, hidden wiring
Since TVs are basically furniture, manufacturers have concentrated on making their sets look nicer. One of the most extreme examples iswhich is so thin it basically blends into the wall. Many TVs today look like almost all picture from the front, and when seen from the side or hung on a wall, the thin cabinets almost disappear. Other innovations include channels to hide wiring and, in the case of high-end Samsung TVs, a separate input box to further combat clutter.
Frequently asked questions
What's the best TV brand?
I don't have a favorite brand; instead I try to judge the TVs I test on their individual merits, largely ignoring brand cachet or reputation. I don't test TVs over the long term, but from what I know all of the major brands are more or less equally reliable. Some brands do perform more consistently better than others in my tests, or deliver remotes, smart TV systems or designs I prefer over competitors, but these can change on a fairly regular basis.
Another way to answer that question is to check out my current list of best TVs.
What's the best TV for gaming? What about sports?
Trick question! I believe the best TVs for watching pretty much anything are the TVs with the best black level, color and other standard performance characteristics (not to mention the biggest screen). isn't a major concern since most blurring on TV sporting events is inherent in the source, and , can often be improved by specialized gaming modes common on most TVs.
What about all those picture settings? Should I buy a calibration?
Properly adjusting the picture is very important to getting the most out of your TV. That said, simply selecting the "Movie," "Cinema" or "Calibrated" preset will get you the most accurate picture on most TVs. If you want to go further, check out my picture settings database and along with the articles and for advice on whether it's right for you. DIY-ers can check out one of these , or even try a .
How long will my new TV last?
The short answer is "it should last a very long time." .
Can I use my TV as a computer monitor?
Yes you can, and it should work very well, especially if it has 4K resolution. .
How do I set it up?
Geoff Morrison .
How come you never mention rear-projection or plasma TV?
Because as of 2012, and were manufactured in 2014. .
OK, so what about front-projection?
Unlike dinosaur rear-projectors, I think front-projectors are really cool, and we've we've reviewed a few. And yes, .
What happened to 3D TV?
Once a futuristic add-on filled with promise -- remember ? -- 3D TV is now basically dead. The last two major brands to support 3D, Sony and LG, , joining Samsung, Vizio and most other brands. All of the TV makers we asked cited lack of interest from consumers.
Which HDR format is better, HDR10 or Dolby Vision? What about HLG, and HDR10 Plus?
Neither one has proven better in our tests yet, and it mostly depends on the TV. For more info, check out our and an in-depth look at .
Where can I find the latest TV reviews?