TVs are improving more rapidly than ever before. They are getting thinner, wider, faster, sharper, and more seamless with your other gadgets.
With every new technology that enters this space brings even further advancement, but it makes choosing the right set even more confusing by the day.
There is no doubt today that you will find TV prices that sway widely: from absolute bargains to downright wallet-busting. Not only that, but manufacturers love using marketing terms so that you will pick their brand of TV over another, and conflicting opinions from shoppers online.
So how can you pick the best TV? Here’s my list of what you should look for so that you can make the right choice:
- Start With the Best Overall Picture Quality Before Anything Else
- Go For a Bigger Screen Size
- Pick At Least 4K Resolution
- Make Sure There is Enough Refresh Rate
- HDR-Compatible Sets Are a Step Above
- OLED is The Best, But QLED is a Good Affordable Alternative
- “Contrast Ratio” is Fluff: Go With Your Preference
- Pick a TV With Plenty of HDMI Ports
- Don’t Worry About Sound
- Buy Just Before Or During a Holiday For Best Prices
- Choose Your Favorite Voice Assistant
Keep reading this handy guide below as I help you decide on picking the best TV for your needs.
Before Anything: Start With the Best Overall Picture Quality
There are a few certain features that you will want to look out for that will make your TV viewing time a whole lot better.
These tips apply to if you are a gamer, casual couch cable-watcher, or avid streamer.
First, TVs that offer “local dimming” are better than those that don’t have it at all. Local dimming refers to how a TV shuts some light sources off and keeps others on at the same time to deliver more accurate lighting visuals.
This ability to show deeper blacks translates into higher contrast, which is one of the most important things you want to look for when comparing picture quality across various TVs.
Next, you’ll want to determine the color saturation and color accuracy of the TV’s picture. Some sets are able to produce bright colors and blacks that are closer to the source that is connected to it over other TV models.
Lighting is different according to where you are viewing a TV, such as a bright day-lit room versus a dark theater area. Televisions that have a non-glossy matte screen have pictures that don’t fade in brighter settings. Glossy screens, on the other hand, produce sharper and darker shades of color, and perform best in dark rooms.
A lot of new TVs have filters that layer on to the original picture so that it can create a slightly blurred, smooth, or crisp motion. Some people like this video processor add-on, but can distract you if you plan on using your TV for gaming since it creates lag, or if you want your set to produce a picture with a quality closer to its natural source.
I recommend that you read reviews online once you narrow your options down to a few models, take them with a grain of salt, and demo the picture in a store (if you are able) before buying your favorite TV.
A quick final note about picture quality: Demo TVs that you’ll find at the store are usually not calibrated or set to how you might prefer. So if you like the way a TV looks at one place, but doesn’t look quite right at another, it might be because of the way it the picture was set up out of the box.
Screen Size: Bigger is Usually Better
Once you have dialed in your preference for picture quality you can find all the screen sizes that are offered for that range of TV models.
The most common thing I get asked by people is if they should buy a TV screen that is slightly larger or what they originally wanted: I usually answer they should go for the larger size.
Time and time again when I hear that someone buys a new TV, and that the screen size was a little larger than what they originally intended for, they usually like the step up and did’t regret going for more.
If you are wondering where you should start when picking the best screen size, the general consensus by the television industry is to sit about 2 times the height of the screen away from the TV if it’s an HD pictures, or 1 to 1.5 times the screen height away when viewing a 4K picture.
If you can see the pixels on the screen, then you are probably sitting too close. A picture with a higher resolution allows you to sit closer to the TV, and therefore, comfortably choose a larger screen size for the same viewing space over one with lower resolution.
After doing the measurements if you plan on picking, say a 50 inch screen, but a 55 inch has a deep discount, you are most likely fine picking the larger display.
Larger rooms will usually enjoy a 55 inch or larger screen TV, while smaller rooms like bedrooms will prefer 42 inches or more.
Pick At Least 4K Resolution
This one should be a no-brainer. 4K resolution is vastly becoming the industry standard for high definition picture, so picking a TV that handles the extra pixels is a must.
Not only that, the price of models that can are 4K capable have dropped substantially within the past year, making most models in this category a near-budget option at this point.
You may still find some rock bottom priced 1080p TV sets lurking around store room floors, but the extra few bucks to enter the 4K environment is a worthy investment.
Buying a 4K TV also future-proofs your set as that resolution pictures becomes the norm and 1080p gets left in the dust.
Many 4K models also offer the additional specs and features that create better overall picture quality: like HDR for color accuracy and local dimming for deeper contrasts.
120hz Refresh Rate is a Must
Calling all gamers…
If you want a video game experience that doesn’t involve added lag times or subpar picture motion, be sure to pick a TV that has at least 120hz right out of the box.
As a nod to the old plasma TV, they used to burn pictures into the screen, but were the best for gaming and action movie applications because they had some of the fastest refresh rates in the industry.
Today, LED LCD TVs do not have nearly as fast of a refresh rate, meaning pictures may be noticeably blurry when compared side-by-side to an old plasma, but manufacturers have stopped producing plasma units for over 2 years, and LED LCD technology is rapidly advancing in this department.
Some manufacturers may advertise that their TVs have a “boost” to achieve a certain refresh rate that might be higher than another one you are looking at, but is marketing jargon at best. Bottom line: if you get confused in this department it is best to find a TV being demoed at a store and determine if the picture smoothness is to your liking.
Choose An HDR-compatible Set
Many 4K TVs are coming with this feature as standard, but is still worth keeping an eye out in case it doesn’t come with it.
HDR TVs are a step above non-HDR models, and you can easily tell the difference when compared side by side.
HDR technology produces more accurate color and sharper contrasts that add to the “pop” and clarity of the picture. This is noticeably apparent when watching brighter picture with many different colors displayed.
Gadgets like streaming boxes, smart assistants, and game consoles are coming with HDR technology as well, so the communication between the two creates a seamless, true-to-source picture that is award winning.
OLED Is The Best: QLED Is a Great Affordable Alternative
OLED televisions have existed for quite a few years, but are finally entering the market as 50 inch-plus models for the first time.
This is great news, but if you want a large enough TV that contains OLED technology, expect to pay thousands more.
These prices will drop in time as it becomes more mainstream, but is still a few years out in the future.
For now, consider buying a TV that has QLED technology, which is a step above LED LCD pictures but have only a slightly higher price point.
QLEDs have more accurate light localization, so dark scenes have deeper blacks that don’t fade, and colors are sharper and more accurate since the per-pixel density of shades is better.
“Contrast Ratio” Is Fluff: Go With Your Preference
10,000:1…. 50,000:1….. A million to one ratio?
Just kidding on the last one, but it should be noted that all of these TV brands are not afraid to spew out these contrast ratio figures as a means to get you to buy their TV over their competitor.
I won’t get into too much detail what this means, but know that these number difference are mostly salesperson jargon that fails to measure the true picture quality of a TV.
Instead, look at every picture and compare how their contrasts differ using your own eyes, and pick the ones that match your preferences best.
Be sure to watch the picture over various different scenes of movement, like slow vs. fast pictures, as well as bright vs. dark displays, and narrow down the options you like the most.
Pick a TV With Plenty Of HDMI Ports
Most TVs that are 40 inches are larger have 4 or more HDMI ports. Don’t settle for less.
HDMI has become the absolute standard for picture-producing sources that connect to the TV and sound gadgets like soundbars and subwoofers.
As more and more gadgets switch to the HDMI standard, you’ll want to make sure that your next TV will have enough to plug them all in, otherwise you’ll have to buy an extra multi-port unit that requires a switcher to move between inputs and sources… I’ve found myself in that spot before, and let me tell you, it gets confusing quick.
It’s okay if your favorite pick has any version of HDMI 2.0, just know that HDMI 2.1 is becoming the new standard for this technology, so if you can get your hands on a model that has these updated ports at a reasonable price, don’t hesitate to buy.
Like tires provide traction and ride quality for your car, HDMI ports determine the clarity and performance of the picture quality for your TV, which helps the technology that comes with the set perform that much better.
Don’t Worry About Sound
As TVs are becoming thinner, speakers are becoming more of an afterthought as it makes way for picture technology to improve, not to mention there is less space for them to even exist.
Therefore, you shouldn’t expect your next TV to have mind-blowing sound, and there is no need to make it a deal breaking decision when considering one model over another.
Also, don’t let the speaker marketing jargon fool you either.
If great picture and great sound is what you are after, you’ll most likely have to buy an additional soundbar and subwoofer to deliver that extra kick.
Even budget-level external speakers will improve the sound noticeably over the internal drivers in these TVs.
Time Your Purchase Around Holidays
It’s like clockwork. As every holiday arrives, so does another sale for TVs that hits the market.
If you can, hold off buying your choice TV until just before, or during a holiday: especially towards the end of football season.
Even if the TV you decide on buying is currently at an unbelievable price, if it’s not during a holiday it probably hasn’t reached it’s lowest price point yet.
Since a new TV can be one of the biggest investments in your gadget portfolio, saving a few hundred dollars is definitely possible with just a little patience.
Choose Your Favorite Voice Assistant
4K TVs are now starting to launch with the most popular voice assistants, including Google Voice Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
Not only can you ask these assistants to launch your favorite tv show or tune to a certain channel, but you can also order pizza, set reminders, and ask for the weather, all built-in the TV right out the box using the voice remote.
If you already have an Amazon Alexa or Google Voice Assistant smart speaker, it will work seamlessly with the same assistant that’s in the TV so that you can control your TV hands-free with your voice commands and ditch the voice remote altogether.
The possibilities of connecting a device like your smart TV to an existing voice assistant in the home is truly endless. I wrote an article sharing several great ideas that you can make you home smart, and the best devices that will get it done.
Smart assistants are becoming one of the fastest and best selling technologies, so having one that is incorporated into your TV only future-proofs your best pick even more.