Summer isn't generally the best time to buy a TV, but there are typically some great back-to-school deals that you can grab.
David KatzmaierEditorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
ExpertiseA 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics.Credentials
Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
Sarah Lord covers TVs and home entertainment. Prior to joining CNET, Sarah served as the tech and electronic reviews fellow at Insider, where she wrote about everything from smart watches and wearables to tablets and e-readers. She began her career by writing laptop reviews as an intern and subsequent freelancer at Tom's Hardware. She is also a professional actor with many credits in theater, film and television.
ExpertiseTVs, Home Entertainment, Streaming, ComputersCredentials
Member of Screen Actors Guild and Actors Equity Association
Most dorms are pretty drab and basic, but there are plenty of ways to make your room at school feel like home. While aesthetic decorations like plants and fairy lights are extremely popular, few things bring as much comfort as sitting in front of a TV and watching your favorite shows and movies. So whether you're looking to turn your room into a home theater or a gaming haven, a TV for your dorm could be one of the best things you bring to college.
So now that you're ready to buy one, which one should you get? Well, if you are looking for a deal, the summer isn't generally the best time for TV pricing. That's because the TV replacement cycle is cyclical, with new TVs announced in January and hitting stores in the spring and summer -- which is now. The prices of those TVs start to drop like leaves in the fall, before reaching rock bottom for Black Friday. For now, the 2023 models are all on the shelves, but you can still get a good TV deal by sticking with a discounted 2022 model. They aren't significantly different from their more recent counterparts and are the best way to save money this summer.
Think of this guide as an oasis in the vast desert of information about TVs. We strive to provide you with 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 we hope it can provide you with the basic tools you need to feel confident when you buy that new set.
This TCL 4-Series can't beat other models on image quality -- its 4K resolution and HDR performance don't do much to help the picture -- but it's perfectly fine for most people, especially at this price. Plus, they come in smaller sizes that are perfect for dorm rooms. And a good smart TV system like Roku is even more important in an inexpensive TV. In our budget TV roundup we liked the features and picture quality of the Vizio V-series a bit better, for example, but the TCL 4-Series gets the nod here because Roku is much better than Vizio's system.
Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 65-, 75-, 85-inch. (The prices shown below are for the 50-inch size.)
If you want a TV that comes in dorm-appropriate sizes and is as advanced as you can get, then this is the TV for you. The C2 represents the pinnacle of picture quality at a price that's admittedly high, but not stratospheric. It beats any non-OLED TV we've tested with its perfect black levels, unbeatable contrast and superb off-angle viewing. It also has superb gaming features, making it the perfect companion to an Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5 or both. The C2 comes in a variety of sizes as well, from 42-inches all the way up to 83-inches.
Improvements over the C1 from last year include carbon-fiber construction for up to 47% less weight -- the 65-inch version we reviewed weighs just 37 pounds with its stand, compared to 72 pounds for the 65-inch C1 -- as well as some additional tweaks to game mode and a new "always ready" feature.
Sizes:42-, 48-, 55-, 65-, 77-, 83-inch. (The prices shown below are for the 65-inch size.)
No TV we've ever tested offers this much picture quality for this little cash. Although it's not as good as OLED, the TCL 6-Series still has excellent picture quality, thanks to mini-LED tech and well-implemented full-array local dimming, which helps it run circles around just about any other TV at this price. The Roku TV operating system is also our hands-down favorite. If you don't have money to burn, but still want an excellent television, the 6-Series should be on your list.
Sizes: 55-, 65-, 75-, 85-inch. (The prices shown below are for the 65-inch size.)
The best time to buy a TV is on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That's because TV prices go down as the year progresses until they typically hit bottom on the biggest shopping days of the year. Those Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are best known for absurd, doorbuster pricing on no-name televisions, but the fact is that just about every TV gets a holiday price cut.
Right now, we're at the high point of the buying cycle. New 2023 TVs were announced in January and are now on the shelves at their full retail prices. This trend will continue throughout the rest of the summer, as manufacturers release their 2023 offerings.
That said, there are still some 2022 models available at a discount. Those will start to disappear as the year progresses and more 2023 TVs take up space on the shelves. However, you might be able to catch some decent back-to-school sales as retailers clear out all of their past inventory on their 2022 models. Generally, we tell people to wait until the fall to get a new TV, as that's when you'll save the most money. But if you need a new one right now and don't want to pay for all the newest tech, grab a 2022 model while you still can.
Wondering exactly how to figure out the TV for you? Here's some advice.
What TV specifications matter most?
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 close to useless when used as a tool for divining picture quality.
How big a TV should I buy?
We recommend a size of at least 43 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 we've heard is from people who didn't go big enough. And we 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.
On the other hand, 4K TVs are easy for manufacturers to produce, so they're basically standard now. Just about every TV 50 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 have HDR compatibility as 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 doesn't mean it actually performs better, with or without an HDR source.
Streaming services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and HBO Max offer both 4K and HDR, but not on every title (although most original series and movies on both services are in 4K HDR). Actual 4K or HDR TV channels are largely nonexistent in the US, but certain special events (like the Olympics) are sometimes shown in 4K HDR.
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.
We 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 nearly 20 years reviewing TVs, we feel comfortable conveying some generalizations we've observed about picture quality:
QD-OLED brings quantum dot technology to the OLED display. This should result in deep blacks and higher brightness, with better color in bright areas. We haven't been able to review them in person yet, but the first Sony and Samsung TVs featuring a new OLED panel by Samsung Display are going to be expensive, and we probably won't recommend most people buy them over more affordable OLEDs like the C2.
Many people don't realize they're watching the soap opera effect 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 calibrated 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.
A few TVs with 8K resolution are available today, but we don't recommend them. They're expensive 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
Another big trend in gadgets, including TVs, is the ability to be controlled by voice commands. Many TV remotes have built-in mics and "push to talk" functionality, for example to search for TV shows and movies, and many work with one or both of the two major voice assistants, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. A handful of newer TVs even have built-in mics that allow them to respond to a "Hey, Google" or "Alexa" wake word, much like a Google Nest or Echo speaker. And numerous models work with existing Alexa or Google speakers too.
Voice control makes some tasks easier than hitting buttons on a remote. You can not only search for TV shows and movies, but order pizza, play trivia games and music, and control lights and other smart home devices. Other activities, however, are still easier using the remote.
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; the Nintendo Wii is 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 2.0, 2.0a or 2.0b, with HDCP copy protection) to work with a range of the latest 4K and HDR gear. The latest HDMI 2.1 standard is available on many newer TVs, but for now it's mainly useful for gamers who have a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X and want to maximize their graphics capabilities. And yes, you should just buy the cheap HDMI cables.
Since you can connect an inexpensive Roku or Amazon Fire TV 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. 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 great 4K HDR streamer for less than $50, and often the experience will be much better than on the TV.
If you're planning on cutting the cable TV cord, 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 for antenna TV shows.
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 so you can ditch those extra remotes. We prefer smaller, simple remotes with just a few buttons that consign most of the action to the screen.
Since TVs are basically furniture, manufacturers have concentrated on making their sets look nicer. 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 reduce clutter.
Frequently asked questions
What's the best TV brand?
We don't have a favorite brand; instead we try to judge the TVs I test on their individual merits, largely ignoring brand cachet or reputation. We don't test TVs over the long term, but from what we 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 we prefer over competitors, but these can change on a fairly regular basis.
Trick question! We 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). Motion resolution isn't a major concern since most blurring on TV sporting events is inherent in the source, and input lag, which we measure for every TV review, can often be improved by specialized gaming modes common on most TVs.
The exception, as mentioned above, is for gamers with next-generation consoles like PS5 and Xbox Series X who want features like 4K/120Hz and variable refresh rate. Those are only found on newer, more expensive TVs.
What about all those picture settings? Should I pay for 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 deeper, or perhaps bring in a professional to help, check out our picture settings tips and professional calibration explainer.
Once a futuristic add-on filled with promise -- remember the original Avatar? -- 3D TV is now basically dead. The last two major brands to support 3D, Sony and LG, dropped support entirely in 2017, 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 guide to HDR formats and an in-depth look at HDR10 Plus.