LED, LCD and plasma TV: How we test TVs
Which? puts TVs to the test so we can tell you exactly what you need to know when you're buying a new one. We'll help you avoid squinting at a washed out screen, wincing at distorted sound or struggling through a menu maze just to change channel.
We put every TV through the same tests - a mixture of panel assessments from independent picture and sound experts and technical lab testing - so we can answer the important, no-nonsense questions with confidence and give you a verdict you can trust. Read on to find out how.
- What's the TV picture quality like?
- What does the TV sound like?
- What's it like to use day-to-day?
- How much does my TV cost to run?
- Should I buy it?
What's the TV picture quality like?
Picture quality on each TV is rated by five expert viewers under the same controlled conditions. Brightness and contrast levels are set to equal levels and the TVs on test all receive exactly the same quality picture signal.
We use different video clips and sources - from Freeview HD to 1080p footage from Blu-ray discs - to assess the general picture quality, including considering the following:
- Sharpness How sharp is the image on a slow moving sequence with lots of detail?
- Skin tone How natural is the skin colour on sequences with close views of people?
- Motion blur Do details vanish if the camera pans fast? For example, in a sports clip does the grass or the audience lose detail?
- Black levels How does the colour change on a dark sequence?
- Colour stability Does the colour stay true on small objects or on a brightly coloured background?
What does the TV sound like?
As manufacturers have made TVs thinner, they’ve struggled to make slimmer speakers that produce great sound. From Dire Straits to Mozart to BBC costume drama, we cover every base so we can give you the ultimate verdict on sound quality. We use three expert listeners, each with a background in audio reproduction or live music, to assess sound.
What's it like to use day-to-day?
We use two ergonomic experts who test our TVs for their ease of use by running through everyday scenarios that reflect how you use your TV, these include:
- Getting started Setting up and using the TV for the first time, taking into account instructions and on screen prompts.
- Everyday use What it's like for the basics including, switching on and off, finding and changing a channel and how intuitive the remote control is.
- Using the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) This is a screen you'll be looking at often so how useful and easy is it to navigate? We look at what information is displayed and how, and whether you can still see the TV show you're watching in a box out while looking at it.
- Advanced use Accessing and using advanced settings using instructions and setting explanations.
- Using without the remote control If the remote's gone down the back of the sofa can you still work your TV? We take a look at the number of front panel buttons, where they're positioned and how intuitive they are to use.
- Using smart TV We look at how easy it is to access internet TV content, including navigation the menu and using apps. We also look at how easy it is to browse the web and move around website pages.
- Using built-in PVR If the TV has this function we look at how intuative it is to use, how easy it is to make a recording and whether the on-screen instructions are a help or a hindrance.
How much does my TV cost to run?
Buying a TV will hit your wallet straight away, but how much will it cost to run over its lifetime? That's why we check all TVs for energy use to make sure that they're efficient and keep your bills down.
We measure the energy use with the TV settings it comes with out of the box. We then use these to calculate the annual running costs you can find in our TV energy running costs tool.
Should I buy it?
We give every TV we test a Which? test score so you can see which are the best and worst, as well as exactly how each compares to other models. So what does it mean? Well, the TV score ignores price and is based on our detailed analysed results broken down into the following:
- Picture quality 40%
- Sound 20%
- Ease of use 20%
- Features 10%
- Energy use 10%
How we test TVs
We buy every TV we test and look at models of all types, sizes and price - from LED to plasma, 19-inch to 50-inch and above, and from £200 to upwards of £1,000. We speak to manufacturers and scour the market to make sure we test all the most popular TVs that you'll find in the shops or online.
Which? doesn't only tell you about the Best Buy TVs that we recommend, we also tell you which models to avoid with our Don't Buy's. And, if we find a TV with a problem we deal with it. If a TV has an issue we feel is so bad it must be a fault then we will buy a new version and retest it. We'll also speak to the manufacturer to find out what it plans to do about the problem.