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Best TVs: Our top picks, plus plain-language explanations of the most important specs and features

Prices are down and quality is up. Here's what's out there and how to shop for a new TV. smart tv product hub Rob Schultz

Freelance contributor, TechHive | Jun 10, 2019 3:00 AM PT

Table of Contents

There’s never been a better time to buy a TV. The industry has worked most of the bugs out of LCD and OLED TVs, and today’s prices are lower than ever. In fact, high-end 4K models cost about half of what they did last year. We’ll give you our top picks, plus an in-depth guide to the specs and features you’ll encounter. 

You’ll face an alphabet soup of acronyms and phraseology when you go shopping: LED, LCD, HDR, OLED, quantum dots, and more. And manufacturers thicken that broth with their own trademarked nomenclature: Contrast EliteMax, Q Style Elite, X-tended Dynamic Range PRO? Give me a break.

The good news? You can ignore all that ad-speak and focus on just four things: color, contrast (including the quality of blacks), brightness, and realism. Technology changes, but your eyes don’t.

[ Further reading: How to calibrate your TV ]

Here are our top recommendations in three categories. If you want a deeper understanding as to why we picked them, there’s an in-depth buyers’ guide further down that you’ll find invaluable when you go shopping. Click here if you’d like to jump straight to a list of our most recent reviews.

Updated June 10, 2019 to add our review of LG’s E9-series OLED smart TV (we evaluated the 65-inch model OLED65E9PUA, specifically). There are no significant changes for 2019, but there doesn’t need to be. LG’s OLED TVs are among the best in the world, and this one is our new top pick in that category.

Best LCD TV  Samsung Q8FN 65-inch 4K UHD TV

The Q8FN doesn't include the One Connect box, and its luminance spec is slightly lower than the more-expensive Q9FN, but it's every bit as good on all other counts. It's a great TV at a very good price.

It’s a win-win: Samsung’s Q8FN made a better impression than the more upscale Q9F—and it costs less. The two models use slightly different LED backlighting schemes, and we thought the Q8FN’s was more effective. You might prefer the Q9FN if you intend to hang the TV on the wall, because the One Connect breakout box greatly simplifies cable management. 

Runner-up  Sony XBR65X900F 65-inch 4K UHD TV

Sony's XBR X900F barely squeaked out 4 stars because of Sony's excellent image processing. But its color palette skews too far blue. And while the 900F is bright, its HDR effect doesn't pop as much as some of the competition.

No manufacturer does image processing better than Sony. If moiré, shimmering in detailed pans, jagged text, and backlighting blockiness drive you up a wall, this is the TV to buy. 

Best OLED TVMentioned in this article LG OLED65E9PUA 4K UHD TV (65-inch model)

The E8 was the best 4K TV we saw last year, and the E9 is likely to be the best 4K TV we'll see this year, with a small increase in brightness and minor enhancements in image processing and its user interface compared to last year's model.

We said of LG 2018 OLED that it was hard to imagine a better TV. Well, we no longer need to imagine, because LG has built it with the-new-for-2019 E9 series (we reviewed the 65-inch model OLED65E9PUA). This TV supports every HDR standard except HDR10+, and its picture quality is magnificent. LG carries over its Magic Remote and WebOS operating system (making a few improvements to the latter), which make this TV a joy to use. As usual, you have to see the blacks and OLED panel produces to understand what you’re missing with most LED-backlit LCD TVs.

Runner-up   Sony Bravia XBR65A1E 65-inch 4K UHD OLED TV

This is absolutely one of the best OLED TVs we've seen thanks to Sony's image processing. Our only qualm is that there's no available data on OLED lifespan when displaying HDR content.

LG manufactures the OLED panel Sony uses for this TV, but the rest of the technology inside—most importantly, the image processor—is all Sony’s doing. And if you’re looking for a great TV that you don’t need to supplement with a high-quality soundbar, no TV on the market sounds better than this one.

Best bang-for-the-buck TV  Hisense H8F 4K UHD TV (55-inch class) (2019)

Rich color, 600-nit brightness, much-improved blacks (over the 2018 model), and HDR sizzle are not something we've associated with a $500 TVs until now. This is a great TV for the money.

Hisense has truly upped its game for 2019, building smart TVs with better components and selling them for ultra-low prices. This year’s model H8F series—available in 50-, 55-, and 65-inch configurations knocked our socks off with its color, brightness, and HDR performance. It is a tremendous value.

Runner-up  TCL 55R617 55-inch 4K UHD Roku smart TV

You're unlikely to find a 55-inch TV with better color or HDR performance in this price range, and the Roku OS is top-notch. Noticeable stutter in fast action sequences, on the other hand, moiré in high-detail panning shots, and backlighting issues remind that you're paying a lot less.

It can be hard to find TVs in this price range that are bright enough to make HDR pop the way it should. TCL’s R617 series nails it—and for a price that’s much lower than what you might expect. We reviewed the 55-inch model in 2018.

The state of TV technology

CRT TVs were around for more 50 years and were still being improved when they fell out of favor. LCD TVs aren’t nearly that mature, and entry-level models are still working through major color and contrast issues introduced when LED backlighting replaced CFL backlighting. Mid-range and more expensive LED-backlit LCDs are finally getting back to the picture quality that decent decade-old CFL backlighting provided, but it varies.

OLED is still largely the Cadillac of TVs, but they remain expensive to manufacture. I’ll talk more about LED versus OLED in a bit.  

There’s also a a resolution race still in progress. A ton of content is still 720p or less, yet 1080p and 4K UHD (2160p) TVs rule the roost. What’s more, with 4K UHD barely out of the cradle, the industry has decided it’s time to move on to 8K UHD (7680 x 4320).

High-end TVs are getting cheaper

The great news is that top-end technology is rapidly filtering down to less-expensive TVs, and the high-end isn’t nearly as expensive as it once was. Samsung’s excellent 65-inch Q9FN cost $6,000 last year; the 2018 version of the Q9FN is going for half that. Sony’s 65-inch Bravia XBR A1E OLED was $5,500 when we reviewed it and is now available for about $3,000. We haven’t seen a mid-range TV (defined as $750 to $1,500) that puts it all together yet, but we have no doubt one will show up in the next two years. 

But the scoop is, you can get a top-notch TV for a relatively reasonable price these days. Here’s what you need to know to decide which one that’s going to be.

What to look for (and what to watch out for)

Resolution: While most content remains 1080p or lower, the majority of TVs being sold are 2160p (4K UHD, 3840 x 2160). Unless you’re buying something for the kitchen, or workshop, go 2160p. Who knows? You may get an Ultra HD Blu-ray player for Christmas. Good 2160p content looks spectacular, and most 2160p TVs will upscale lower-resolution content just fine. Just don’t believe any hokum about making 1080p content look like genuine 4K UHD.

FAUX K: LG makes spectacular OLEDs, but the company continues to market some 2.88K LED-backlit LCD TVs as 4K; specifically, the 6300 and 6500 series. These TVs offer a decent picture with a lot of peak brightness, but put one alongside a true 4K UHD TV and details won’t appear nearly as sharp. These TVs have the exact same number of subpixels as a true 4K UHD TV, but every fourth subpixel is switched to white, which leaves you with 2.88K RGBW pixel groups.

uj63 large front LG

LG markets its 6300 series as 4K UHD TVs. They’re not. You can tell the difference in detail with the bare eye when seen beside a real 4K UHD TV. The 6500 series also suffers from subtractive RGBW. They aren’t bad-looking TVs, but they’re not 4K TVs. 

You can read more about the subject in this article. They’re not bad TVs, they just aren’t 4K UHD. 

Screen size: 65-inch TVs are the hot commodity these days, but only you know which size TV fits best in your living space. You can save a lot of money—$600 to $900 on a top-of-the-line set—by downsizing and sitting a bit closer. How close? 1.5 times the stated size of the TV is the recommended distance.

HDR: The acronym stands for high dynamic range, and it’s the latest thing in TVs. HDR simply means a larger difference in luminance between the darkest area of an image and the brightest area. It doesn’t sound like much, but a lack of contrast (a comparative washed-out appearance) in LED TVs has long been an issue, especially at the entry level. With HDR, which is created largely by increasing peak brightness significantly, light sabers and flames, highlights in hair, water, and other details really stand out. Trust me. You want it. 

dv vs sdr digitalart 2 Dolby

Dolby Vision HDR versus standard dynamic range. All HDR will be similar, but only Dolby Vision and the upcoming HDR10+ adjust the TV in real time over the course of the movie.

So far, the TV industry has been scrupulously honest about labeling their TVs for HDR: HDR-compatible in the fine print means the set understands at least some of the HDR formats (HDR10, Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HLG, etc.). If it just says HDR, that means it can actually do something with it. How much it can do depends on the TV.

700 nits peak brightness is about the minimum required to get some decent HDR pop, while 1,000 nits does the trick quite nicely. Vendors don’t really list nits or brightness in meaningful ways, so you’ll need to read reviews in which it’s measured. Non-HDR TVs generally max out in the area of 300 to 400 nits.

HDR format support: One of the most frustrating ironies in the TV industry is that arguably the top player, Samsung, doesn’t support Dolby Vision, while nearly all the other vendors do (although not on every model). All HDR TVs support HDR10 as a baseline, but HDR10 only relays adjustment info to the TV at the beginning of a movie, while Dolby Vision relays it continuously throughout the movie, so each scene can be adjusted independently.

HDR10 looks good. Dolby Vision and the upcoming HDR10+, which does the same thing, look better overall. HDR10+ is Samsung’s baby and its TVs do support it. Hopefully, it will catch on with content providers.

Contrast: Contrast is another way of describing what we were talking about with HDR, it describes a larger luminance gap between the darkest and brightest points in an image. It’s simply the old-fashioned way of describing it. In other words, a high-contrast TV is an HDR TV, although we’ve never heard of one called “high contrast.” I guess the phrase just isn’t sexy enough.

Color: We’ve noticed a definite uptick in color acuity (realism), even in the mid-range of the market, with TVs from TCL and Vizio showing much truer reds and greens (just about any TV will do blue well). Samsung is king of color these days, at least among the TVs we’ve tested. LG is very good and uses quantum dots on some models that we have yet to test.

LED-backlit LCD versus OLED: There’s a luxuriousness to the image that OLED TVs from LG and Sony produce that appeals to many, including me. Because each sub-pixel is its own light source, when a pixel is switched off, you get near perfect black. LED-backlit LCD TVs bleed light in many ways, and even the best can’t match the blacks of OLED. They can, on the other hand, generate much higher peak brightness, which compensates with most material and really makes HDR pop.

The main issue with OLED is its relatively limited lifespan. LG claims 100,000 hours to half brightness for its TVs: That’s where 500 nits becomes 250 nits, and that number of hours is calculated based on the TV displaying standard dynamic range material. HDR content will shorten an OLED’s lifespan considerably. I’m not telling you not to buy OLED, just warning you that will need to replace it sooner than an LED-backlit LCD (all other things being equal) if you watch TV for more than a couple of hours a day.

OLEDs also produce very good color at low to medium brightness—almost as good as quantum dot TVs. All the current big-screen OLED TVs, however, use a four sub-pixel (RGBW) system that includes a white subpixel to increase maximum brightness. When you add white to any color, it becomes paler. Fortunately, this phenomenon is only really noticeable on rare occasions or when using a color meter.

Note: OLED RGBW is is not the subtractive scheme that LG’s 6300- and 6500-series LED-backlit LCD TVs use. A white subpixel is added to the existing red, green, and blue subpixels. OLEDs are true 720P, 1080p, or 4K UHD. Also, OLED TVs use white OLEDs with filters to create red, green, and blue, rather than actual natively emitting RGB OLEDs found in smaller displays.

nanosys 00064 Nanosys

Use a light source with less than a quantum dot’s specific emitting frequency, and you get a pure color directly related to the size of the quantum dot. A layer of these can increase the color acuity of a TV tremendously.

Quantum dots: Relatively few TVs (some from LG and Vizio, and all of Samsung’s QLEDs) use quantum dots, which are tiny re-emitters that produce nearly pure colors in strict correlation to their size. TVs employing quantum dots easily generate the most accurate colors, so if you want red reds, blue blues, and green greens, you want quantum dots. That said, as mentioned earlier, other technologies are getting closer.

Click here for more definitions, plus links to our most recent smart TV reviews.

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Ars Technica UK

We used to be friends: Veronica Mars is 2019-06-14 18:15:21Bombings, guns, Spring Break, and mysterious new characters—it's a lot to take in.

Anti-vaxxers defeated: NY bans exemptions as doctors vote 2019-06-14 17:46:12Doctors will now actively push for bans on vaccine exemptions.

Porn trolling mastermind Paul Hansmeier gets 14 years 2019-06-14 16:55:18Judge blasts Hansmeier for "almost incalculable" harms to justice.

Review: Men in Black: International is a solid 2019-06-14 16:45:12Fans of the franchise should enjoy this flawed-but-fun summer fare.

Cable companies can save money now that DOCSIS 2019-06-14 16:10:08Broadband investment happens in cycles—despite what the FCC tells you.

If you’re crazy rich, you can pay Ferrari 2019-06-14 14:50:25If you have a few million dollars to spare and love Ferrari, give Corsa Clienti a call.

Ebola spreads in Uganda, but not an international 2019-06-14 13:38:32Health officials working to try to stem the spread of the outbreak from DRC.

One dead after poop transplant gone wrong, FDA 2019-06-14 13:16:00FDA puts the squeeze on poop transplants after spread of drug-resistant gut germ.

Huawei export ban claims another victim: Huawei’s $2,600 2019-06-14 13:10:26Huawei claims the Galaxy Fold, not the export ban, is to blame for the delay. Right...

Study finds that a GPS outage would cost 2019-06-14 12:38:5490 percent of the technology's financial impact has come since just 2010.

Target’s same-day deliveries might break my Amazon Prime 2019-06-14 11:25:08I tried Target's new same-day delivery service—it was fantastic.

The best games, demos, and tech of E3 2019-06-14 09:30:17And, yes, every entry in our preview-filled list came from real-time gameplay.

Top Technology News --

Artificial nose identifies malignant tissue in brain tumours 2019-06-14 10:31:45An artificial nose developed in Finland helps neurosurgeons to identify cancerous tissue during surgery and enables the more precise excision of tumor

Researchers take two steps toward green fuel 2019-06-14 09:46:36Researchers have developed a two-step method to more efficiently break down carbohydrates into their single sugar components, a critical process in pr

Immortal quantum particles 2019-06-14 09:46:34Decay is relentless in the macroscopic world: broken objects do not fit themselves back together again. However, other laws are valid in the quantum w

Translating university lectures in multiple languages 2019-06-14 08:29:35Researchers report a new machine translation system that outputs subtitles in multiple languages for archived university lectures. As countries like C

A rapid, easy-to-use DNA amplification method at 37°C 2019-06-14 08:29:28Scientists have developed a way of amplifying DNA on a scale suitable for use in the emerging fields of DNA-based computing and molecular robotics. By

'Hidden' phases of matter revealed through the power 2019-06-13 18:39:58New chemistry research demonstrates how 'hidden' phases of matter can be activated by extremely fast pulses of light. This fundamental scientific br

Materials informatics reveals new class of super-hard alloys 2019-06-13 15:37:15A new method of discovering materials using data analytics and electron microscopy has found a new class of extremely hard alloys. Such materials coul

Researchers learned how to better combat muscle loss 2019-06-13 14:36:14A new study has further documented how muscles are affected by reduced gravity conditions during space flight missions and uncovered how exercise and

Carbon-neutral fuels move a step closer 2019-06-13 14:35:52Chemists have developed an efficient process for converting carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, a key ingredient of synthetic fuels and materials.

Mysterious Majorana quasiparticle is now closer to being 2019-06-13 14:35:48Using a new approach, researchers detected the elusive Majorana quasiparticle, notable for being its own antiparticle and for its potential as the bas

People using third-party apps to analyze personal genetic 2019-06-13 14:35:43A new study finds that people who are initially motivated to learn about their ancestry with third-party personal genetics services frequently end up

New model more accurately predicts choices in classic 2019-06-13 14:35:35A new mathematical model that predicts which choices people will make in the Iowa Gambling Task, a task used for the past 25 years to study decision-m

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