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How to buy the best TV

How to buy the best TV in 2019

By Martin Pratt

Article 1 of 7

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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When you're greeted with a wall of thin-bezel flatscreen TVs from LG, Panasonic, Hisense, Samsung and Sony at your local John Lewis, which 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, smart TV platforms – and more – 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.

Just want to find out which are the best TVs? Jump straight to our expert TV reviews based on tough indpendent lab tests.

In this guide...


 

What size TV should I buy?  

With the TV market continually shifting towards larger screens, there are far fewer top-quality sets smaller than 43 inches each year. But bear in mind that with TV bezels (the frame around the screen) shrinking, larger sets might not be as big as you think, especially if you haven't bought a new TV in a few years.

Our TV size guide 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.

  • 32-inch TVs and smaller – you won't find 4K TVs at this size because the screens are too small to show off the increased detail. Smaller TVs should still be smart, though, so look for ones that let you access the internet and download streaming apps.
  • 40 to 43-inch TVs – these are the most popular sizes among our members, but manufacturers favour bigger screens. You'll see HD and 4K sets at these sizes and they should have smart functionality. You're unlikely to find a high-end TV with the best picture technology and cutting-edge features at these sizes.
  • 49 to 55-inch TVs – these bigger TVs are where manufacturers focus their time and resources. Barring a few older models, all 49 to 55-inch TVs will be 4K and support HDR. Since TVs at these sizes tend to make up the bulk of a manufacturer's range, you'll find high-end models laden with features as well as budget options with less advanced technology. 
  • 65-inch and larger – TVs at the top end of the size spectrum follow the same trends as 49 to 55-inch models, so you'll find big TVs at the cheap and pricey ends of each manufacturer's range. They will all be 4K and should have smart functionality.

How much should I spend? 

While TVs can cost a small fortune, they start from as little as £200. The good news is that you can now get a great TV even if you’re on a tight budget.

Typically, 32-inch HD TVs cost between £200 and £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. We’ve rarely found Best Buys for less than £400, although there are plenty between £500 and £1,000.

Our research has found that most people won't spend more than £750 on a TV.

So why pay more? TVs from around £800 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 produce smoother pictures, while cheaper models can sometimes judder. £800 may sound like a lot, but many of the TVs that are out of your budget at launch will drop in price significantly in the months after launch.

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

LCD TVs – LCD displays are the most common and it's likely that your current TV uses one. Several bulbs, known as a backlight, shine on a layer of liquid crystals to create the images on screen. These TVs are cheaper to produce than OLEDs and QLEDs, which is why they are more common, particularly at smaller sizes. 

Organic LED (OLED) TVs – the screen technology widely considered the best for contrast and motion. OLEDs 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. They don't use a backlight and instead each bulb in the display is self-emitting, which is why the contrast and colour control is so excellent. 

QLED TVs – Samsung's answer to OLED, but QLEDs have more in common with LCD TVs. They still use a backlight, but it illuminates a layer of quantum dots rather than liquid crystals. These dots are said to produce more vibrant colours.

Compared with QLEDs, OLED displays are widely considered to offer the best picture quality, but it doesn't guarantee that a TV will be worth buying. We've found OLEDs that were wide of the Best Buy mark. The same can be said of LCDs and QLEDs, too. Some have aced our tests, overcoming the issues with colour bleeding that can plague inferior TVs of this type. On the other hand, the worst TVs we've ever tested have had LCD displays. 

Ultimately, the screen is important, but it's not the be all and end all. It doesn't make a bit of difference to the audio or how easy the TV is to use and you shouldn't discount a TV based purely on what screen it has.

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 model anymore. Even though there isn't a lot of 4K films and shows to watch, our research has found that the best 4K sets have better HD picture quality than HD-only TVs

4K is almost ubiquitous and it's unlikely that you'll find an HD TV bigger than 43 inches

TVs that support 4K resolutions make up the bulk of the ones on sale from the four big brands and they start at around £350. 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.

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 LG. Both have huge ranges spanning 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. Panasonic aside (it usually has the smallest line-up), all the 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 sets in the range of 32 inches to 43 inches, 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 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 PC World) and Technika (Tesco) and Bush (Argos). These TVs are generally cheap, but the models we've tested usually lack quality. You can read more about supermarket-brand TVs and whether any can challenge the leading brands in our supermarket TV guide

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 rivals while offering similar specs and stylish designs, making them an attractive prospect for anyone looking for a high-end TV without a matching price. You can read our Hisense reviews to see if these TVs are worth considering.

What is HDR and do I need it? 

HDR is a TV standard designed to improve colour accuracy and contrast, helping TVs to produce more vivid pictures.

It's common for 4K TVs to support this standard, but of course you need HDR content to see the benefits. Currently this is limited to streaming services such as Netflix and Ultra HD Blu-ray players. Still, you're better off future-proofing and getting a TV with HDR capabilities even if you don't plan to use it right away.

Differing HDR standards

All things are not equal when it comes to HDR, and a number of different standards exist, with differing support across TV brands.

HDR10 is the current standard for HDR mastering and every HDR TV is compatible with it, but there are other formats. HLG, Dolby Vision, Technicolor and HDR10+ all have their own benefits, but not all TVs are compatible with every one. 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 one. Find out more about how these formats differ and which are likely to come out on top in our guide to HDR.

Are curved TVs worth the money? 

TVs with 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 perfectly 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? 

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, 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 regularly updated guide to the Best TV deals for 2019.

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 between April and May. This is to make room for the newer models, so with a bit of savvy shopping you can potentially pick up a fantastic TV at an even better price.

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