Best TVs of CES 2021: Brighter OLED, Mini-LED QLED, 8K and HDMI 2.1

The show is entirely virtual, but that didn't stop Samsung, LG, Sony and TCL from introducing new TVs. Here are the highlights so far.

David Katzmaier
1 of 20 Drew Evans/CNET

2021 TVs go new (and Neo)

CES 2021 is unlike any previous iteration. The biggest tech show is all virtual this year, so manufacturers are introducing their new TVs (along with everything else) at virtual events. There's still a bunch of 2021 models on tap, however, including new "Neo" 8K QLED models from the world's biggest TV maker, Samsung.

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LG has more OLED TVs than ever

Samsung's biggest rival is LG, best known for its OLED TVs that deliver the best picture quality you can buy. New for 2021 the company is introducing even more OLED models with more sizes and different features than ever.

3 of 20 LG Display

Cool TV concepts went virtual too

CES is also a place for concepts, which are basically demos and experiments that might not necessarily be brought to market. Here's LG Display, the company that produces OLED TVs for LG, Sony and others, showing off its new transparent OLED at a sushi restaurant.

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There's even a solar-powered remote

TV innovations this year aren't all screen-related. In a non to sustainability, for example, Samsung's new remote has rechargeable batteries that can be topped off with a USB-C connection or, in a first, using the solar cell on the back. It works with basic interior lighting. 

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Samsung's huge MicroLED TVs get (slightly) more approachable

Samsung's MicroLED televisions like The Wall are always some of the biggest products at CES -- literally. Last year's version was a 292-inch monster composed of individual modules that required custom installation and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The 2021 version is a MicroLED TV in fixed sizes of 110, 99 and 88 inches that costs a bit less, but is still ridiculously expensive -- $156,000. 

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Samsung's latest QLED TVs are brighter

MicroLED might steal the headlines around CES but Samsung's QLED TVs comprise its bread and butter. This year the best Samsung QLED models, including TVs with both 4K and 8K resolution, are called Neo QLED. They have a new Mini-LED based, full-array local dimming backlight array that boosts brightness and provides more precise light control. 

7 of 20 Drew Evans/CNET

Game bar makes new features easy to track

Samsung's new TVs continue to support the next-generation gaming features of PS5 and Xbox Series X, including 4K/120 fps input and VRR, but new for this year you can long-press on the play/pause button of the remote to call up a special status screen, dubbed Game Bar, that clearly indicates which of those features are currently active.

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Camera-based smart trainer is new for 2021

Samsung's health app debuted on its TVs in 2020 and this year it's expanding to offer guided personal training. Plug in an optional webcam and the app will track your exercises and give you coaching complete with celebrity personal trainers. 

9 of 20 Drew Evans/CNET

Smart trainer tracks results too

Here's a look at the results screen after a smart trainer workout. Jillian Michaels is the first of six celebrity trainers to provide workout content. The smart trainer feature is available on 2021 Q70A TVs and above.

10 of 20 Drew Evans/CNET

Samsung's The Frame slims down

Instead of a big ugly black rectangle hanging on the wall, this "TV" looks like a painting, a framed photo or other wall art. First introduced in 2017, the newest version for CES 2021, slims down the cabinet down even further. The new Frame hugs the wall at just 24.9mm thick, similar to the depth of a typical picture frame. 

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LG's Gallery OLED TVs brighten up

Speaking of TVs as art, LG's "Gallery" OLED TV is designed to hug the wall too, but its main upgrade for 2021 is related to picture quality. Called Evo, it packs an all-new panel that's been re-engineered to improve light output and help narrow the brightness gap between OLED and high-end LCD TVs.

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Mainstream C1 OLED gets an 83-inch size

The Gallery G1 is the only 2021 LG OLED with the brighter Evo panel, but LG's successor to my favorite high-end TV of 2020 also gets some upgrades: namely a better processor and an 83-inch size. 

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There's a new stand for LG OLEDs too

A new option for the 55- and 65-inch sizes in the G1, C1 and A1 series is a modern-looking freestanding stand. Its slim pole-mount doesn't allow any room for components and its tripod of legs precludes placement too close to a wall. Instead it creates a sleek, minimalist look more at home toward the middle of a suitably modernist room.

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LG makes non-OLED TVs too

The best LG TV that isn't an OLED is called "QNED" (not a misprint). QNED is just one letter away from QLED, a technology touted by Samsung and TCL with largely similar underpinnings (LED LCD backlights and quantum dots), so confusion is inevitable. LG says its QNED TVs will use Mini-LED backlight technology but representatives were careful to point out that they won't deliver the same level of picture quality as its OLED TVs. 

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Sony has a brighter OLED too in Master Series

Just like LG, Sony's best OLED TV for 2021, the new Master Series A90J OLED TV, will have higher peak brightness, too. There's also something called "cognitive" processing available on all of its high-end 2021 TVs. It's designed to enhance different areas of the picture it thinks you'll focus on most (like faces).

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Sony's 2021 TVs will get the latest Google TV streaming system

Another feature coming to Sony TVs in 2021 is Google TV. Available since October on the aptly named Chromecast with Google TV, one of the best media streamers available, Google TV is the successor to Android TV. TCL also announced Google TV-equipped televisions at CES 2021.

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Sony's highest-end Z series continues to deliver 8K, for a price

Unlike LG Sony doesn't sell an 8K TV: What you need to know OLED TV -- yet -- but its Z1 series still sounds pretty high-end. Available in 75- and 85-inch sizes, it includes the company's brightest full-array local dimming backlight system (although it isn't Mini-LED). 

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TCL introduced an 8K TV too, but it's gonna be less expensive

Sony may have more name recognition, but TCL sells more TVs, and new for 2021 it's introducing an 8K TV too. The China-based company promises it will be less expensive than current 8K sets but didn't give an exact price (yet).

19 of 20 TCL

For the first time TCL will sell an 85-inch TV

TCL is best known for its affordable Roku TVs, however, and the 85-inch TCL 4-Series will likely be among the least expensive TVs of its size in 2021. 

20 of 20 LG Display

Virtual CES TVs lose something

As cool as TVs like this 55-inch transparent OLED look in photos, there's no substitute for seeing them in person. I guess we'll have to wait for CES 2022 for that. In the meantime look for the new TVs of 2021 to begin filtering into stores (both physical and virtual) in a couple months.

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