How to buy the best TV
By Andrew Laughlin
The best TVs will have a pin-sharp picture and superb sound, with an easy-to-use interface and a wealth of smart features. But with prices ranging from a couple of hundred pounds to several thousand, there’s plenty to consider before you buy.
When your greeted with a wall of thin-bezel flatscreen TVs at your local John Lewis that all look more or less the same, it may seem as though there’s not much to pick between them. But huge differences in size, picture resolution, different remotes and smart TV platforms mean these are vastly different machines. There can be significant differences even within the same brand, with TVs from more premium ranges coming with unique features – and some are certainly better than others.
Here, we take a closer look at the key things you should think about before you buy. From big decisions such as which screen size is best for you, to specific features to look out for, our expert advice will help you find your perfect TV.
- What size TV should I buy?
- How much should I spend?
- How do I choose the best TV brand?
- Should I go for HD or 4K Ultra-HD
- What is HDR and do I need it?
- Are curved-screen TVs worth the money?
- When's the best time to buy a new TV?
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What TV should I buy?
There are a number of factors that will determine what TV ends up with pride of place in your home. Since a TV is a long-term purchase, it's important to put the research in beforehand - but luckily we have you covered. The sorts of questions you should be asking are: what size TV do I need, how much do I want to spend, how important is brand, and do I really need 4K? We'll walk you through all of this and more below.
With the TV market continually shifting towards larger screens, there are few top-quality sets smaller than 40 inches. However, bear in mind that with TV bezels (the frame around the screen) shrinking, larger sets might not be as big as you think.
You can use our interactive online tool to find out what size TV you should buy. We also publish the dimensions (depth, height and width) for all the TVs we test, so make sure you check out the 'tech spec' tab in each review to see if the TV you're looking at will actually fit in your living room. If space is tight, a huge TV simply might not fit where you want to put it.
While TVs can cost several thousands of pounds, they start from as little as £100. The good news is that you can now get a great TV even if you’re on a tight budget.
Good-quality 32-inch HD TVs start at around £300. For a similar price, you could find slightly larger 40 to 43-inch TVs, some of which have a higher-quality 4K Ultra-HD screen (more on that below). We’ve rarely found Best Buys for less than £400, though there are plenty between £500 and £1000.
So why pay more? TVs from around £1,000 will have better technology and a sharper design, often with metal finishes and thinner bezels. Better motion processing is a hallmark of premium TVs, which means they will often have smoother pictures, while cheaper models can sometimes judder.
We’ve rarely found Best Buys for less than £400, though there are plenty between £500 and £1000.
Organic LED (OLED) TVs – the screen technology widely considered the best for contrast and motion – start at about £1,500 for a 55-inch screen, but can stretch up to a few thousand. This type of premium TV is typically among the most expensive on the market, replacing plasma screens in recent years.
But you’ll also find some top-of-the-range traditional LED TVs in this price range, too, such as Samsung's QLED TVs. Here, the Q stands for quantum dot, a screen technology that shines traditional LEDs on to a layer of quantum-dot cells, producing the colours on screen. Find out more in our What is QLED TV? guide.
Samsung is the market leader in TVs, followed closely by South Korean rival LG. Both have huge ranges going from cheap TVs to premium, big-screen sets costing thousands of pounds. Sony and Panasonic have comparatively smaller ranges, but offer a similar span of price and size.
Aside from these four TV giants, there are various fringe brands, such as Toshiba, Sharp and Philips, who have all seen their fortunes fade somewhat in recent years. Finally, a big chunk of the market is taken up by cheap TVs from supermarkets and own brands, such as JVC (Currys) and Technika (Tesco). These TVs are generally cheap, but the models we've tested usually lack quality.
The low-cost of 4K sets means there isn't any reason to choose a full-HD set anymore. Even though there isn't a tonne of 4K content to watch, our research has found that the best 4K sets deliver better HD picture quality.
TV that support 4K resolutions make up the bulk of the sets on sale from the four big brands and they start at around £400. These TVs have four times the pixels of Full HD models, so can display even more detailed and vibrant pictures.
You'll see some improvement in HD picture quality, but you need 4K Ultra-HD content to make full use of the technology. While it's limited to pay TV, streaming services and Ultra-HD Blu-rays for now, more and more is on its way in the coming years. Most Best Buy TVs are 4K Ultra-HD sets, so we recommend opting for the higher resolution if you're upgrading your TV.
For more on this, head to our What is 4K TV? guide.
If you're looking for a new TV, you'll see many of the sets now feature High Dynamic Range, or HDR. A term borrowed from the world of photography, this essentially means the TV can display darker blacks, brighter whites and more subtlety of tones in between.
4K Ultra-HD TVs rarely come without this added picture technology. But as with 4K Ultra-HD, you need HDR content to see the benefits. And despite broadcasters running trials, there's even less of this about. Again, it's limited to streaming services and Ultra-HD Blu-rays, so this isn't a must-have feature unless you watch most of your content on Netflix or Amazon Video.
You don't pay extra for this technology on a 4K TV though, so it's worth getting if you've already decided to upgrade to one of these higher-resolution sets.
For more information on this, read our What is HDR TV? guide.
Televisions with concave curved screens started to emerge a few years ago - first on high-end premium TVs, but gradually filtering down to more affordable models. But they have recently fallen out of favour and now only Samsung includes them in its line-ups.
Despite manufacturers' claims that curved TVs can enhance your viewing experience by 'wrapping' the picture around you, a bit like watching a film at the IMAX cinema, our expert and independent testing suggests otherwise. We've found the curved effect is minimal at best, and is only really visible if you sit dead straight on while watching the screen (something most people rarely do).
Curved TVs still can perform well in our lab overall, but think carefully about whether one is right for you before you buy. Bear in mind, too, that if you want to wall-mount your TV, a curved model won't sit as flush as a flatscreen will. Plus, a curved screen can look a bit odd, or even warped, when viewed from an angle.
When you're ready to upgrade from an older set, bear in mind that there are some seasonal trends that could help you bag a bargain. We know from tracking prices that June is a great time to buy a new TV, as prices tend to be discounted across a wide range of technology products. You'll also see heavy discounting on TVs around the key sales periods, such as Black Friday/Cyber Monday in late November, and the Boxing Day sales in December.
Be aware that the sales can involve price cuts on poor-quality TVs, as retailers try to shift unwanted stock. Make sure you check our reviews first before parting with your money.
Be aware, however, that the sales can involve price cuts on poor-quality TVs, as retailers try to shift unwanted stock. Make sure you check our reviews first before parting with your money, so you don't up with a bad product.
The best place to start is our guide to the Best TV deals for 2018, which we update every month.
Finally, if you're not too fussed about the latest features, our research has shown that the previous year's TVs can have hundreds of pounds knocked off their prices in the April-to-May period. This is to make room for the newer models - so with a bit of savvy shopping you can potentially pick up a still-fantastic TV at an even better price.