How we test televisions
By Martin Pratt
Our rigorous TV testing involves hundreds of independent checks, measurements and assessments in the Which? test lab. To level the playing field, we ignore price so you can be sure that regardless of your budget you’ll find the quality you’re looking for.
Our reviews answer the most crucial questions about TVs, so you have all the information you need to make sure you're picking the perfect set. These include:
- What’s the picture quality like?
- How good does it sound?
- Is it easy to use?
- What’s the smart TV system like?
- Which connections and tuners does it have?
- How much will it cost me to run?
- Should I buy it?
With expert eyes and ears finely tuned to pick out the finer details of what makes a good picture, what qualifies as superb sound, how to determine an intuitive user experience and which features really stand out, you can be sure you're getting the very best advice.
TV picture quality can be a subjective thing. Some people like warm, bright colours, while others prefer cool, crisp images. We can't completely banish our in-built preference for one kind of picture over another, but at Which?, we get around this by using not just one person's opinion – we use five.
We watch blockbuster movies just like the ones you get at home – our TV test lab is full of flickering images of Ben Affleck, Jim Carrey and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. But using their years of industry knowledge, our experts handpick scenes that push TVs to the limit of their abilities, using bright and dark scenes that test contrast, colour balance and sharpness.
While many manufacturers tout stunning 4K-ultra HD pictures, our own research shows most people still mainly watch HD TV. That’s why we test TVs using the full range of definitions and inputs. Not only do we have scores for the 4K HDR picture quality, but also HD and even SD. Our testing is not about falling foul of hype, but simply reflecting how you use your TV at home.
Alongside our viewing panel tests, we run a range of technical assessments of picture quality covering aspects such as viewing angle and panel luminance.
Need help optimising your set? Read our guide to Getting the best TV picture.
As TVs get thinner and thinner, manufacturers struggle to make speakers that are small enough but still sound great. Our tests have uncovered a huge disparity in sound quality across all flatscreen TVs – while some could rival a sound bar, others are downright dreadful.
We use three expert listeners, each with an extensive background in audio reproduction or live music, to assess the sound of each TV. Ranging from classical music to TV dramas with actors speaking over background noise, we can cover every audio base to give you the ultimate verdict on TV sound quality.
If you want to make sure your new TV's speakers are up to scratch, find out which are the Best TVs for sound.
Whether you’re simply tweaking the picture settings or scouring the electronic programme guide, your TV should be a breeze to use. There’s nothing more frustrating than a sluggish TV that’s slow to respond, or a fiddly remote, when all you want to do is watch your favourite show.
That’s why we use ergonomics experts to test every TV for how easy they are to use. They run through different scenarios, replicating whether you’ve just got your new TV out of the box to day-to-day use. We even test how easy each TV is to use without the remote, so it’s not a problem if it you lose it down the side of the sofa.
For many, catching up with the shows you missed on BBC iPlayer has become a daily occurrence. So it’s essential that a smart TV can handle these tasks as easy as it does traditional broadcast TV.
Our experts assess the layout of the smart menu, judging how quick and easy it is to navigate round. We also find out if you can customise it with your favourite apps and services, and delete those you don’t use.
Want to know more? Read our full guide on What is a smart TV?
We look at how many connections are available to the user, including audio sockets, such as a headphone output or a digital audio output for a sound bar or home cinema system, and HDMI and USB ports. We judge whether these are conveniently arranged and labelled, even if the TV is wall-mounted.
Finally, we look at how many digital TV tuners the TV has, including Freeview and Freeview HD, and Freesat and Freesat HD.
We check all TVs for power use to see if they're super-efficient, or likely to drive up your energy bills.
Using a special multi-meter, we measure the power consumption while the TV is on and in stand-by (using the ideal picture settings we publish online). If applicable, we'll check the TV's quick-start mode. Finally, we measure the power use of the TV when it's switched off.
After all that's done, we calculate the yearly power consumption of each TV in kilowatt hours, based on a scenario in which the TV is switched on for four hours per day – around average daily TV viewing - and the remaining 20 hours in stand-by mode. We use an energy price set by the Which? Energy team.
All these tests are used to create a final, overall score for each TV. Every year we tweak and refine our evaluation, based not only on changes in the market and emerging technologies, but also on what you tell us about your TV. We constantly survey consumers to see what they look for and how they use their TVs. Some elements are more important than others, so these carry different weights:
- 45% picture quality
- 25% sound quality
- 10% ease of use
- 10% smart TV
- 5% connections and tuners
- 5% energy efficiency
To be a Best Buy, a TV must score more than 71% in our testing, while those that slump to 45% or less will be branded Don’t Buys.