These days, no home is complete without an updated TV. With the current options available, even entry-level models blow away the best sets from the 90s and early 2000s. Since the multitude of modern TV options can be confusing, you might feel discouraged to upgrade from your current TV. Refresh rate, high dynamic range (HDR), soundbar options, OLED vs QLED technology, and built-in streaming apps are all worth considering, but it’s important to understand what these mean before making a purchase.
In this buying guide for TVs, we’ve synthesized all of the important information to help homeowners enjoy an optimal viewing experience. Keep reading below to learn more from the This Old House Reviews Team.
Types of TVs
TVs are available with different screen types and technologies to best suit your viewing preferences. The screen type affects the cost of a TV, as well as its resolution, picture quality, viewing distance, and other key features outlined in our buying guide. Here are the primary TV types available to homeowners:
- 4K UHD
LCD stands for liquid crystal display. LCD TVs are lightweight and typically thin, and they’re also the most common type of TV. In the mid-to-late 2000s, LCDs replaced cathode-ray televisions, or CRTs. LCD TVs were once cutting-edge and exorbitantly expensive, but now they’re on the budget end of modern TVs.
Though affordable, LCDs consume more power and provide a duller image compared to other TV models that use more advanced screen technology. The reduction in image quality is in part due to the poorer contrast ratio and inferior color gamut.
LED TVs are often used interchangeably or in combination with LCD TVs. LED stands for Light Emitting Diodes, in which the backlight of an LCD TV is individually lit using diodes. LED TVs have been commonly available for nearly as long as LCD TVs. You can think of LEDs as TVs that use LCDs as a platform for their lighting capabilities.
LED-backlit TVs are available in three primary configurations:
- Full-array: Full-array LEDs offer the best lighting experience a “traditional” LED TV can provide. In a full-array model, the LEDs are evenly distributed behind the entire TV screen. This provides a more uniform backlight and better local dimming, which can turn entire zones of LEDs off or on in a fraction of a second.
- Edge-lit: Instead of the even LED distribution of a full-array design, edge-lit LED TVs consist of LEDs placed around the edges or perimeter of the screen. Some models may have LEDs on the left and right sides of the screen or top and bottom, while others may have LEDs around the entire screen. Models with partial edge-lit screens are ultra-thin, but users may notice some spots on the screen to be brighter than others.
- Direct-lit: LED TVs with a direct-lit display have a similar design to full-array LEDs. The primary difference is that there are fewer LEDs evenly distributed behind the screen. The downside to this direct-lit design is that the LEDs can’t be controlled separately to consistently produce a bright and vibrant image. As such, direct-lit LED TVs are slightly thicker than full-array or edge-lit models and make up a majority of budget or low-end options on the market.
OLED stands for Organic Light-Emitting Diode. OLED TVs are based on the technology of standard LED TVs, but they use emissive pixels rather than transmissive pixels. The emissive pixels of an OLED TV don’t require a separate light source to activate them, such as a backlight. This means that when the pixel isn’t activated to produce an image on the screen, it’s truly turned off, resulting in better longevity and less power consumption.
The benefits of OLED TVs include a fast response time, good brightness and contrast, a superior viewing angle, and compatibility with battery-driven applications, among other benefits. Conversely, even though the emissive pixels are turned off when they’re not activated, the blue organic material used in OLED TVs is subject to moisture migration and can cause longevity issues for some users. Additionally, some OLED TVs may be difficult to read in direct sunlight.
An acronym for Quantum Dot Light Emitting Diode, QLED TVs also built upon the technology used in regular LED TVs. Unlike OLED TVs, QLED models use a backlight system that displays a significantly brighter picture compared to a standard LCD model. QLEDs also use quantum dots, or microscopic molecules, that emit their own distinctly colored light when activated by an external light source.
Though QLEDs tend to be slightly thicker than OLEDs due to the backlight used, they produce a brighter picture, making them a great option for rooms that receive a lot of direct sunlight. As the luminance of QLEDs is generally superior to other types of TVs, the contrast ratio is also better.
4K TVs are often referred to as 4K UHD, which stands for Ultra-High Definition. The terms “4K” and “4K UHD” are sometimes used interchangeably. TVs with an ultra HD display have a resolution that’s exactly four times the resolution of traditional HD displays. Most 4K TV models have a resolution of 3840×2160 pixels, or a total of approximately 8.3 million pixels.
While regular LCD, LED, QLED, and OLED TVs refer to the specific type of display, 4K UHD is a measurement of the resolution output. To get the most out of a 4K-capable display, you’ll want a TV that’s at least 55 inches or larger. Additionally, not everything is shot or available to display in true 4K UHD—though as of 2023, there’s more 4K content to enjoy than five years ago. 4K content can be in the form of movies, video games, TV shows, and other media. Next-gen gaming consoles such as the Xbox Series X or Playstation 5 are capable of playing 4K UHD media.
TV features may be limited in entry-level models, and extensive in larger, high-end models. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most important features commonly found in TVs.
Entry-level TVs typically have a screen size no smaller than 32 inches, but some models may be as small as 24 inches. TVs with a screen size smaller than 32 inches may be referred to as mini TVs. 40 and 55-inch TVs are fairly common in many households, with 55 inches being large enough to situate in a living room for an entire family. A 40-inch TV may be better suited for a bedroom rather than a common area.
TVs 65 inches or longer are heavier and more expensive than smaller models, but they offer the best viewing experience in big, open areas such as a grand room. Keep in mind that a TV’s screen size is measured diagonally from one corner to the other rather than straight across on the top or bottom. This means that the dimensions of your TV vary and will be longer than the advertised screen size. In the world of TVs, depending on the display technology used in a certain model, bigger often means better.
Smart vs. Standard TVs
Most TVs available online are considered “smart” TVs. This refers to the built-in software and access to streaming platforms and other applications rather than the display technology. Standard TVs, conversely, don’t have any built-in software systems. The main difference between smart TVs and standard TVs is that a smart TV can access the internet via Wi-Fi, while a standard TV cannot. With a smart TV, it’s easy to watch movies, TV shows, and other media through Netflix, Hulu, Roku, Amazon Prime Video, and other major streaming platforms.
Common smart TV platforms include:
- Android TV
- Amazon Fire TV
- Google TV
- Roku TV
- Tizen (Samsung)
- WebOS (LG)
Unlike a standard TV, the primary drawback of smart TVs is that users may be subject to advertisements, and their data can be sold, posing potential security concerns. The camera or microphone features of a smart TV have also raised concerns among some consumers.
Resolution refers to the physical number of columns and rows of pixels behind the TV screen that create the display. 1920 by 1080 pixels, or 1080p, is a common resolution for many low to mid-range high-definition TVs. In general, the greater the resolution or number of pixels, the clearer and richer the image will be.
At 3840×2160, 4K UHD TVs provide a resolution that’s nearly twice that of full HD TVs and three times that of standard HD, or 720p. Consider that TVs with a 4K UHD display should be at least 55 inches or wider to display the brilliance of the resolution. If you’re looking for a 40-inch TV or smaller, a 1080p resolution should meet your viewing needs.
High Dynamic Range attempts to show the viewer a lifelike image, rich with contrast, brightness, and deep hues of color. The dynamic range refers to the extremes in contrast between darkness and brightness—the greater the range, the greater the detail. HDR-capable TV displays can read information and present an image from a wider gamut of color and brightness compared to models that don’t support a high dynamic range.
Note that if you wish to stream HDR content on your HDR-capable TV, you’ll need a relatively fast internet connection to support this. If your bandwidth is high enough—at least 15-25 Mbps—you should be able to enjoy on-demand HDR content.
TV manufacturers recommend viewing the TV at a certain angle and distance to provide the viewer with the truest image possible. When viewing the TV too far from the side, the image may appear distorted or inaccurate to the viewer. Some TVs retain better image accuracy when viewing from the side than others, which is partially determined by the viewing angle.
If you plan on sitting directly in front of your TV to watch, you don’t need to worry about the viewing angle. For those with multiple couches or pieces of furniture that face a different angle in front of the TV, you’ll want to look for a model with a wider viewing angle. OLED TVs have an average viewing angle of 70 degrees from the center and are generally better when viewing from the side compared to LED or QLED TVs, which have a viewing angle of 20 to 40 degrees.
As the picture quality of TVs continues to improve, the built-in sound is becoming more of an afterthought from manufacturers. The ultra-thin design of modern TVs doesn’t leave much space for built-in speakers, but some models feature Dolby Atmos audio paired with Dolby Vision for clear, synced audio and video. Without a premium built-in sound system, understanding dialog may be difficult, as many TVs have only two speakers in them.
If your goal is to build a home theater, a separate soundbar or full-on surround sound system is recommended for an immersive cinematic experience. Some soundbars can be connected wirelessly with Bluetooth, while others require a wired connection.
Inputs and Outputs
Even in the era of wireless connectivity, the best smart TVs still come with multiple inputs and outputs to hook up a variety of electronics. You can usually find these inputs and outputs on the side of your smart TV. While users may be limited in the functionality of inputs and outputs on a standard TV, it’s worth noting that a standard model still has certain connections.
The most common inputs and outputs on TVs include:
- Multiple HDMI ports, including HDMI ARC
- Ethernet for hardwired internet
- Digital Coax audio
- USB input
- RF (Radio Frequency) inputs
- Stereo sound input/outputs
Additional features that affect a TV’s overall functionality and versatility include the remote control design, built-in stand or wall mount compatibility, and bonus cables included by the manufacturer. Most modern smart TVs are also Bluetooth-compatible, allowing users to connect a variety of devices without using any cables.
How Much Should You Spend on a TV?
You should expect to spend $400 to $500 on a mid-size TV with decent picture quality. Deals during certain times of the year, such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, may help you save a few hundred dollars. Otherwise, larger high-end TV models like 65-inch TVs or 85-inch TVs can cost upwards of $1,500 or $2,000 for the best size, technology, and viewing experience available. Typically speaking, the larger the TV size, the more expensive it is.
Average Television Price
|Type of TV
|$250 and under
|$250 to $400
|$300 to $750
|$400 to $900
|$750 to upwards of $1,500
|Type of TV
The Most Trusted TV Brands
Several TV brands are trusted by millions of consumers and are generally known to be reliable. When shopping for TVs, look for a strong number of 4- and 5-star ratings from consumers and reviewers. Here’s a list of TV brands the This Old House Reviews Team has featured:
Frequently Asked Questions About TVs
How do I choose the right TV?
You can choose the right TV for your home by doing research online and reading the specifications of each TV model you’re interested in. Consider the size of your living room or space where you intend to set up your TV, and other features such as picture quality, audio, and built-in streaming services. Additionally, make sure the TV falls within your budget.
What is the best TV for gaming?
The best TVs for gaming use OLED screen technology to provide a rich color experience. High refresh rate and multiple ports, such as HDMI 2.1, eARC, and USB, also help users get the most out of their gaming consoles. When shopping for a TV, gamers should look for an OLED TV that advertises low input lag and a near-instantaneous response time.
Is OLED or QLED better?
OLED TVs are better than QLED TVs if you want deeper black colors, a better viewing angle, and a lower electricity bill. OLED TVs also tend to be ultra-lightweight, thin, and flexible, making them durable and sleek. Conversely, QLED TVs are better than OLED TVs because of their higher brightness, larger average screen size, lower overall cost, and longevity. You can’t go wrong with either technology—what’s better for your home is a matter of preference.
What should I consider when buying a TV?
When buying a TV, you should consider several of the above key features, such as screen size, resolution, viewing angle, and sound. Most shoppers also consider price and how much space they have to incorporate a new TV. Additionally, you should consider which built-in streaming platforms or voice technology a TV has when buying a TV, so you can integrate it with other smart home systems.
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