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How to buy the best TV

How to buy the best TV in 2018

By Martin Pratt

Article 1 of 5

HD or 4K HDR? Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Sony or a less well-known brand? Use this expert guide to cut through the sales jargon and find out which TV you should buy.

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The best TVs will have a pin-sharp picture and superb sound, with easy-to-use menus and settings and a wealth of smart features. But with prices ranging from a couple of hundred pounds to several thousand, and LG, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic releasing good-looking TVs with their own versions of the latest technology, there’s plenty to consider before you buy.

When you're greeted with a wall of thin-bezel flatscreen TVs from LG, Panasonic, Hisense, Samsung and Sony 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.

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What TV should I buy?

There are a number of factors that will determine what TV ends up being pride of place in your home. Since you'll have your TV for several years, it's important to make the right choice. The sorts of questions you should be asking before you take the plunge on a new set 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.

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.

Our free tool takes into account how far away you sit from your TV to give you your ideal size. 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 go where you want to put it.

How much should I spend? 

While TVs can cost a small fortune, 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.

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.

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.

What display should I go for: OLED, QLED or LCD? 

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 LCD 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.

You'll sometimes see LCD TVs described as LED TVs and vice versa. These are essentially the same. In both cases a layer of bulbs are shining onto a liquid crystal display (LCD) to create the images on screen. These TVs are the most common and and tend to make up each manufacturers budget and mid-range lineup. OLED and QLED screens are usually high-end and more expensive.

How do I choose the best TV brand?  

There are plenty of TV brands all vying for your attention and money. However, most people will buy a TV from one the 'big four' – Samsung, LG, Sony and Panasonic

Samsung is the market leader in TVs, followed closely by South Korean rival LG. Both have huge ranges going from cheap TVs to high-end, big-screen sets costing thousands of pounds. Sony and Panasonic don't have the market share they used to, but they are far from being small brands. All four leading manufacturers release a similar number of TVs each year and they follow much the same trends when it comes to size, too. You won't find many 32- to 43-inch sets, but there's no shortage of TVs 50 inches and above. 

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, in the UK at least. 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. 

Chinese manufacturer Hisense may one day be on par with Samsung and LG in terms of brand recognition, but it's not quite there yet. Despite not being a household name, its TVs undercut their rivals while offering similar specs and stylish designs making them an attractive prospect for anyone looking for a high-end TV without a matching pricetag. You can read our Hisense reviews to see if these TVs are worth considering.

Should I go for HD or 4K Ultra-HD? 

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 than HD-only TVs

Our research has found that the best 4K sets deliver better HD picture quality than HD-only TVs.

TVs 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.

What is HDR 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.

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.

HDR10 is the current standard for HDR mastering and every HDR TV is compatible with it, but their are other formats. HLG, Dolby Vision, Technicolor and HDR10+ all have their own benefits, but not all TVs are compatible with every format. Samsung and Panasonic favour HDR10+ for its TVs, high-end Sony TVs support HLG and LG's TVs support all but HDR10+. 

The extra formats add confusion, but you shouldn't worry if the TV you go for doesn't support every single one. There's little HDR content and even less that has been mastered with any of these extra formats in mind, so it shouldn't factor to heavily in your buying decision. 

In the years to come we may see the competition heat up, with broadcasters and movie studios throwing their weight behind specific formats and you can read more about how these formats differ and which are likely to come out on top in our guide to HDR.

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 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'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.

If you're happy to hold on then our research has found that a TV will usually be at its cheapest price eight months after launch. This timeline makes sense given that TVs are upgraded yearly. 

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.