Updated

How to buy a TV

Buying a TV is a big decision, and with all the changing features and terminology, it’s easy to get lost. Here is a primer on what you need to consider when shopping for a TV.

TV Price Ranges

Because TVs are available in a wide range of sizes, a given amount of money can buy very different things. A gigantic TV with a limited set of features might go for the same amount as a smaller, high-end model.

TV Price to Size Buying Guide

Budget models

  • Good basic picture quality
  • Few or no extra features
  • A thicker, less attractive design

Mid-range models

Also adds:

  • Slimmer, nicer design
  • 4k UHD resolution
  • 120 hz motion interpolation
  • Some models have smart remotes

High-end models

Also adds:

 

The majority of people should opt for budget models. They offer good picture quality, enough to cover the needs of most people. Enthusiasts and people that really care about picture quality should opt for mid-range models. They have the best picture quality to price ratio. Early adopters should buy high-end models. They have the most advanced features, but aren't completely fleshed out or useful right now, largely because the content is missing. 

It’s important to know that there isn’t a huge difference in picture quality between low-end and high-end TVs. There will be some variance in the finer details, things like uniformity and movement clarity, but the main difference between the two is not in how the picture looks, but in the extra features included with the TV. For example, compare our review of the Vizio budget TV (the E Series), to Samsung's highest model (the JS9500). The Samsung is definitely better, but the Vizio E is still very good, especially considering it cost a fraction of the price.

TV Sizes

As a rule, most people should get as large a TV as they can. The advanced features you get with a smaller, higher-end model may be tempting, but there’s no point to buying a small and flashy TV if you can’t see all of the detail in the image. Larger TVs allow you to enjoy texture and nuance you might otherwise miss, and they provide better immersion. So, if it comes to a choice between a large budget model and a small high-end set, it’s usually the large budget model you should buy.

The exception to this rule is when you sit very close to your TV, in which case it might make sense to get something a little smaller. We have a guide that explains how to determine the ideal size for your viewing distance available here.

Other tips for comparing TVs

Once you know the price range you’re targeting and the kind of TV you want to buy, keep the following points in mind. They’re less crucial, but still helpful for when you’re comparing your options.

  • TVs are released on a yearly cycle. Similar to cars, TV lineups are refreshed every year, with incremental additions of features added on each year. The picture quality difference between years isn't big. There are also certain times of the year that will get you the best deal on a new TV. We cover those here.
  • Don’t look at the refresh rates. Manufacturers want to impress you with large refresh rate numbers, so they use shady tactics to inflate the real number and make their products look better than they really are. Considering refresh rate isn’t so important anyway, we think it’s best to ignore the listed refresh rates.
  • Store demo models are misleading. The settings are often quite different from TV to TV, and the video feeds are of varying quality – what you see is not necessarily what you get.
  • Brands often share panels. Every brand does this, including Samsung and Sony. This means picture quality is often very similar even across brands, with the main differences being the software, extra features, and arrangement of the backlight.
  • No two TVs are exactly alike. While most TVs of the same model are similar to each other, there is always some picture quality variation between individual units – especially in terms of uniformity. This is true even among TVs of the same model and size.
  • Only bad TVs have no smart features. You may not want smart features, but since only TVs with exceptionally poor picture quality don’t have them, you really should get a TV that has them. You won’t have to use apps or internet on your TV if you don’t want to.
  • TVs have poor sound quality. This is true of all but a couple of high-end models, so if good sound is important to you, you should get yourself a speaker set or a sound bar. Even inexpensive external speakers will be better than the ones included with a TV.
  • The LCD technology has plateaued in the last few years. Current LED TVs are actually LCD TVs, but with LED lights behind the LCD panel. The LCD layer, which is responsible for the biggest part of the picture quality, hasn't really improved in the last few years. This is why OLED TVs are the future. Learn more about OLED vs LED.

Our top picks

If you’re a bit overwhelmed, don’t forget that we have recommendations to suit every need. Head to our Home page to get started with one of our guides based on all the TVs we bought and reviewed ourselves.

Conclusion

There’s no need to go out of your mind while shopping for a TV. Most TVs look pretty similar, and LED technology won’t improve much. If you’re mostly interested in upgrading, the best decision is to just get the largest model you can afford, and ignore the flashy features being advertised. 

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Questions & Answers

2 ANSWERED QUESTIONS
5
I'd be interested in seeing reviews of commercial-grade displays, such as the NEC V323-2. In general, are there any advantages over the consumer models?
Our focus is really toward consumer grade TVs so it isn't likely that we will review commercial-grade products. The main differences are usually that the commercial-grade TVs are made tougher with better casing that prevent bumps and dust to get inside. They are also more resistant to higher/colder temperatures and made so they can be On 24/7. For all these reasons, they also cost more.
0
Newer TVs are "tunerless". What does this mean? Thank you.

'Tunerless' mean that the TV doesn't have the tuner needed to decode the free 'Over The Air' (OTA) TV signal that usually you are able to watch with a normal antenna or cable channel without the need of a cable box. It will be more like a computer monitor. If you want to watch normal TV with an antenna, you will need to buy an external TV tuner box like this one.

Note that not all new TVs are 'Tunerless' or 'Tuner free". Only newer Vizio TVs are like that for the moment.

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