It's a new year, 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? (Updated February 2018)
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 2018:
- Best picture quality if money is no object:
- Best picture quality for the money (except for 55-inch):
- Best picture quality for the money (55-inch only):
- Best basic small TV (40-inch and smaller):
- Best basic mid-sized TV (43- to 55 inch):
- Best basic big-screen TV (60-inch and larger):
For more choices, check out our constantly updated lists of the best TVs. (Those models listed above are US-only, but the advice that follows is universal. You can find the UK's best TVs here and Australia's best TVs here.)
Timely advice: Buy now or wait until later in 2018?
All of my recommended TVs above are 2017 models, because the new 2018 models aren't available yet. The first new ones are likely to appear, along with my first reviews, around the end of February and early March, but it might be the case that I don't review the 2018 TV you want to know about until summer or later.
But here's the rub: I already know a lot about those new 2018 TVs. That's because many of the biggest TV makers. Many are crazy-expensive ( ) or crazy-cool concepts ( ), but a good chunk will be available in 2018 for mainstream prices. Given the TVs I saw at the show, and what I know about the TV market in general, here's my advice.
If you buy a new TV now, you probably won't be missing much. None of the TVs scheduled for 2018 release are guaranteed to be slam-dunk superior to the 2017 versions listed above. The 2018 OLED TVs fromand look very similar to the 2017 versions, for example, and I don't expect 2018's "basic" TVs listed above to be much, if at all, different. looks great, but it's tough to say how much better it will be than the original. Vizio has yet to detail its 2018 TVs, but again I don't expect any earth-shattering improvements.
In other words, you're perfectly safe getting a 2017 TV now, and the price is likely to be better than any of the 2018 models.
If you want the latest and greatest, or you're afraid of buyer's remorse, wait for the new TV reviews. Everything I just said is an educated guess, and I won't know more until I can review the new sets. So if you're the kind of person who might regret missing out in the latest TV technology or incremental improvement in image quality -- generally available on the mid- to high-end sets, as opposed to the basic ones -- by all means wait. Good things will come to you.
If you want the best price on a 2018 TV, wait until November 2018 or later. And if you're the kind of person who wants the best deal AND the newest TV, you'll have to wait even longer. Why? read on.
Four (timeless) rules for buying a TV
1. Wait until the holidays for the best prices
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the US, is 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. And prices usually remain low through the holiday season and into the new year.
High-end sets can see reductions of 20 to 40 percent 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. Unless you have money to burn, it's best to wait.
2. 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.
Further reading: TV marketing terms and what they mean
3. 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" like 4K resolution, HDR, smart TV or a fancy remote, 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.
4. 4K and HDR are worth getting
TVs with 4K resolution, also known as UHD (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 coming down quickly in price. Vizio and TCL offer 65-inch 4K TVs for around $800 in the US, while LG and Samsung TVs sell for around $1,100. These days many TVs -- especially the big ones -- have 4K resolution, and 1080p and lower-resolution models are quickly becoming resigned to the bargain bin.
Most of the midpriced and higher-end 4K TVs this year 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 , with or without an HDR source.
4K TV shows and movies are rare today, and HDR is even less common. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon offer both, but only with a handful of titles. You can also invest in a 4K Blu-ray player (like the Xbox One S), which also do HDR, and discs to play on it. Actual 4K and/or HDR TV channels are still nonexistent in the United States, however.or
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 uses LED LCD technology, which (despite the "LED" similarity) is very different from OLED.
- LED LCD TVs with local dimming often outperform those without.
- LED LCD TVs with full-array LED backlights often outperform ones with edge-lit LED backlights.
- The ability to produce a deep shade of black -- which translates into high contrast -- is the most important ingredient in a good picture.
- 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, maximum light output 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.
Further reading: Best TVs for picture quality, regardless of price
Considerations beyond size, price and picture quality
Those are the "big three" of TV buying, but a few other things are worth knowing about.
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 is new in 2017 and 2018 is integration between the TVs and the two big players in voice today, Google and Amazon.
and 2018 TVs, as well as , 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 incorporate Alexa, and Samsung's 2018 TVs will get its .
Even cooler is the ability to control certain functions on the TVs with an Alexa or Google Home speaker, without touching the remote. Those same Amazon, LG and Sony TVs will work with Alexa commands, and Vizio sets are able to be commanded with Google Home. Even Roku is.
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.
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 won't be available on any 2018 TVs I've heard about, but for most people that's not a good reason to hold off buying a new TV. And yes, you should .
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 Instant, and the rest -- the "apps" on TVs are often redundant. That's why (or failing that, a Roku TV). 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/or 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.
Further reading: Smart TV or media streamer?
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.
Most do, with the notable exception of Vizio TVs with the SmartCast feature; for example, the M and E series I recommended at the top. If you want to watch over-the-air TV on one of those, you'll need to buy a separate external tuner. Meanwhile 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 (especially cool is Samsung's new system) and I prefer TVs to include medium-size remotes with well-differentiated, backlit buttons. Fancy remotes with touchpads and gesture controls are nice, but a good universal model will almost always work better, consigning your included remote to ignominy in a drawer.
Further reading: Best universal remotes
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, 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). Motion resolution 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 try 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 .
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 "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+?
Neither one has proven better in our tests yet, but so far TVs with Dolby Vision have look slightly better when fed Dolby Vision content as opposed to HDR10 content. But it mostly depends on the TV -- , for example, lacks Dolby Vision yet is still one of the best HDR performers on the market. For more info, check out our and an in-depth look at .
Seriously, what about QLED, SUHD, Super UHD, Triluminos, Quantum Dots, UHD Alliance Premium Certified and so on?
Remember when I told you to ignore the spec sheet? Still curious? Alrighty then.
Where can I find the latest TV reviews?