How to buy the best TV in 2021
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.
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 and how much to spend, our expert advice will help you find your perfect TV.
Video: how to buy the best TV
Watch our video to see how TVs differ and find out which type is right for you.
What TV is best for you?
There's more to consider with TVs than just how big the screen size. Slide through the gallery and click on the information buttons to discover more about screen types, such as LED, OLED, HD and 4K, as well as features including built-in recording and how to connect devices.
The different types of TV explained
TVs may all look pretty similar when they're lining store shelves, but different resolutions, screen types and software means it's more than just the price tag that sets them apart from each other.
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. start at about £1,300 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.
Samsung's answer to OLED, but have more in common with LCDs. 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.
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.
Full HD vs 4K
The low cost of 4K sets means there isn't any reason to choose a Full HD model anymore. Even though there isn't nearly as much 4K content as HD, our research has found that the best 4K sets are better at displaying video at all resolutions.
4K TVs make up the bulk of what's available from LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony, and they start at around £350. These TVs have four times the pixels of HD models, so can display sharper detail and more vibrant images.
How much should I spend?
While TVs can cost a small fortune, 4K ones are available for as little as £300 once they've been on sale for a few months and you can 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.
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 following.
Best TV features to look for
- Smart TV - smart TVs let you download streaming and catch-up apps, such as iPlayer and Netflix.
- PVR - record shows and movies onto a USB had drive. Twin-tuner PVRs can record two shows at once.
- Freeview Play - you can scroll back through the previous week's TV within its digital programme guide.
- HDR - improves contrast, making whites crisper and blacks deeper, and there are several different formats to get to grips with. Read more in our
- Voice control - change channels, inputs and even search for shows in apps with your voice.
What size TV should I buy?
With the TV market continually shifting towards larger screens, there are fewer top-quality sets smaller than 49 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.
- – 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.
- – 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. But there aren't many high-end TVs with the best picture technology and cutting-edge features.
- – 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 rich with features as well as budget options with less advanced technology.
- – 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.
When's the best time to buy a new TV?
- New TVs are released every year, usually between April and July.
- They are usually expensive at launch, so it's best to wait at least a few months.
- TVs from the previous year will still be available for up to six months following the launch of new models.
- We've found that TVs tend to hit their cheapest point around eight months after launch.
- You'll find good deals on Black Friday, in the January sales and when their successors are released.
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.
and 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 32-inch sets, but there's no shortage of TVs 49 inches and above.
Aside from these four TV giants, there are various fringe brands, such as , Sharp and . 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 in our .
Chinese manufacturer 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.
Should I buy a curved TV?
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're watching the screen while sitting perfectly straight on (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.
Popular TVs compared
We test almost all the TVs released by the four leading brands - LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony - up to 65 inches. That means we see the breadth of each manufacturer's ranges, from budget 32 and 40-inch sets up to range-topping TVs.
We've picked some popular models so you can see how they compare.
- Display: OLED display for unparalleled black levels and smooth motion.
- Features: 4K display, HDR support for improved contrast, voice control, Dolby Atmos-tuned surround sound, streaming and catch-up apps.
This 55-inch is an important TV for LG. It's a top-tier set with the best features and technology LG has created, but it's not stupidly expensive.
- Display: QLED display is brighter than LCD and OLED, with more vibrant colours.
- Features: 4K display, voice control, ambient mode, universal guide, HDR support for improved contrast, streaming and catch-up apps.
Samsung doesn't make OLEDs and uses QLED displays for its high-end TVs instead. The Q80R range is in the middle of its QLED lineup, but it still supports cutting-edge features that Samsung's LCD range can only dream of.
- Display: 4K display at a low price.
- Features: HDR support for improved contrast, voice control if you buy an LG Magic Remote, streaming and catch-up apps.
High-end TVs are lovely to ogle in John Lewis, but few us would consider buying one. It's TVs like the LG 43UM7600PLB that people tend to go for. Even budget models aren't short on features and it tends to be the technology and components that separate cheap TVs from expensive ones rather than what they actually do.
This TV supports HDR, it's smart and it has a PVR for recording shows onto a USB hard drive, but can it come close to matching the picture and sound quality of the QLEDs and OLEDs of the TV world? Our has the answer.