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. But whether you're looking to spend a couple of hundred pounds or a couple of thousand, there’s plenty to consider before you buy.
With most TVs looking more or less the same, it may seem as though there’s not much between them. But from huge differences in size and picture resolution to each brand’s remotes and smart TV platforms, these are vastly different machines – 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.
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What size TV should I buy?
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.
How much should I spend?
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.
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.
How do I choose the best TV brand?
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.
Should I go for HD or 4K Ultra-HD?
Recently, a flood of new technologies have come to the TV market. While this means you get more to choose from, deciding what you do and don't need has become even trickier.
High-definition TVs have been around for a while now, and they come in two types. HD-Ready TVs are cheaper than ones marked Full HD. Both can handle broadcast HD television, but it's best to go for a Full HD set if you can, as it means you'll also get the best out of Blu-ray films.
But with higher-resolution content now arriving on the small screen, HD TVs will seem a little behind the times in a few years. Sets that can support this higher resolution are called 4K Ultra-HD TVs, and now make up the bulk of sets on sale from the four big brands, starting 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.
What is High Dynamic Range and do I need it?
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.
Since 2016, 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 is hardly a must-have feature today.
But seeing as you don't pay extra for this technology on a 4K TV, 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.
Are curved-screen TVs worth the money?
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, with manufacturers reducing the number of curved-screen options in their new 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's the best time to buy a new TV?
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, 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 2017, 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.