TV Buying Guide: How to Choose the Right TV
With a big purchase like a TV, you want to be sure you’re making the right decision. We’re here to help you learn what to look for in a TV so that once you’ve got it set up, all you need to worry about is which show to watch first.
TV Buying Guide Summary
- Buy from a reliable brand like LG Electronics, Sony, or Samsung.
- Don’t worry about smart TVs—you can connect a non-smart TV to your favorite apps with a streaming device like Roku or Fire TV.
- Choose a 49″ or larger TV for your living room. A 40″ or larger TV will be big enough for a bedroom.
- Get the best picture with 4K Ultra HD and HDR.
- Find a TV with a native refresh rate of 120 Hz or 240 Hz to avoid blurry images. A rate any higher than that is unnecessary.
- Make sure the TV has enough ports to connect all your TV accessories.
- Take your audio experience to the next level with a soundbar or surround sound system.
- Purchase your new TV between November and February for the best deal.
In-Depth Buying Tips
To learn more about how to buy a great TV, keep reading or jump to one of the topics listed below. If you’re overwhelmed by all the factors that go into choosing a good TV, we recommend going with one of the suggested TVs in the “A TV for Your Budget” section below.
A TV for Your Budget
Simplify your choices with the following TV recommendations. Each one is a high-value option for its price range. For more options, check out all our top TV recommendations.
Which is the best TV brand?
LG Electronics is widely recognized as the top-tier TV manufacturer due to its incredible picture quality and wide viewing angles. Sony and Samsung are also big-name brands with reliable reputations. If you’re looking for more affordable options, though, TCL and VIZIO have some great TVs you can get for a steal.
Which is the worst TV brand?
Insignia and Sanyo both have bad reputations due to poor-quality products with ongoing issues, so steer clear of those brands. Sharp’s TVs are falling behind the competition too—it seems to be more dedicated to the other appliances in its large lineup.
What is viewing angle?
Viewing angle refers to the side angle farthest from the center of the TV where you can sit and still enjoy a high-quality picture. Sitting at any angle that isn’t straight on to the TV may result in a loss of color and contrast, so it’s important to check alternate angles.
How much does viewing angle matter?
If you’re going to watch your TV only from straight on, any TV will be fine. But if you have multiple seating arrangements in front of the TV, you’ll probably want to consider viewing angle so everyone watching can have a good view.
Which specs should I look out for?
You should be sure the resolution, weight, dimensions, and inputs will meet your needs. Beyond that, most other specs are just there to make a TV look impressive without saying anything meaningful about picture quality.
What is screen resolution?
Screen resolution refers to how many pixels per inch your TV has, which affects how clear and crisp the image is.
What screen resolution should my TV have?
Currently, the best TV resolution is 4K Ultra HD, so go for 4K Ultra HD if you want an amazing picture. However, 4K Ultra HD doesn’t really make a difference on TVs smaller than 32″, so Full HD (1080p) or even Standard HD (720p) will do just fine for smaller TVs.
High Dynamic Range (HDR)
How does HDR affect TVs?
TVs with HDR have a wider range of colors, which greatly improves the picture’s vibrancy and contrast.
Are all HDR TVs the same?
No, picture quality still varies from TV to TV, but HDR specs aren’t very helpful to determine which TV will be best. There are a variety of competing standards for HDR content that are all trying to improve your viewing experience in different ways, but any type of HDR will still support most content.
Smart TVs vs. Non-Smart TVs
What is a smart TV?
“Smart TVs” have an internet connection, usually supported by both an Ethernet port and Wi-Fi connectivity. This connection allows you to stream TV shows and movies through a variety of apps, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.
Is a smart TV worth it?
Streaming directly from your TV is awesome, but you don’t have to have a smart TV to do it. You can smart-ify any non-smart TV with an HDMI input by attaching a streaming device like Roku or Fire TV. Streaming devices like these do the same thing as a smart TV, and they aren’t very expensive. Don’t let “smart TV” be a make-or-break deal for you.
What is display type?
Also called “TV lighting,” “display type” refers to how your TV screen is lit. These days the most common form is LED-LCD, also called LED, which is the modern version of LCD. These TVs use a liquid crystal display, which is a panel that either blocks or allows light through in specific areas on your screen. The screen is lit from the top, back, or sides by light-emitting diodes.
Another display type called “OLED” incorporates the light directly into the display with organic light-emitting diodes, eliminating the need for liquid crystal displays. This allows for rich color contrast that LED can’t duplicate. The technology is expensive, but if you can afford it, you’ll get a fantastic picture with a wide viewing angle.
Screen Refresh Rates
What are screen refresh rates?
The refresh rate is how often the frame—or picture—on your screen changes. This is what makes video look like it’s moving. Traditionally, this happens sixty times every second, a spec that’s represented by “60 Hz.”
How much do screen refresh rates matter?
If you’re watching sports or action movies, the picture will look less choppy with a refresh rate of 120 Hz or 240 Hz.
However, pay attention to whether the refresh-rate number is listed with a marketing term like “smooth” instead of the bona fide “native refresh rate.” Overly market-y terms or a ridiculously large number like 600 Hz usually mean the high speed is achieved with motion interpolation.
Motion interpolation still makes a picture look crisp—maybe too crisp—but it’s just flashing the same frame multiple times to trick your brain into seeing it that way. The result is often referred to as the “Soap Opera Effect” because all that crispness can make your shows look like cheap daytime television.
For those who purchase a TV with a high refresh rate that relies on motion interpolation, you should be able to turn that feature off to avoid the Soap Opera Effect if necessary.
What is TV connectivity?
TV connectivity refers to how you connect your TV accessories to your TV. It’s important to check that a TV has the correct ports to interface with your DVRs, streaming devices, game consoles, and soundbars.
Which connective ports does my TV need?
Most modern TV-associated devices use HDMI ports, since only HDMI can deliver 4K Ultra HD and the best sound available. If you have some outdated analog accessories, like an older game console, double-check if the TV you’re buying has the ports for the cables or connectors they require.
Should I invest in a sound system?
That depends on the size of your TV room and your personal preference for good sound. For the best experience, a large home theater should be paired with at least a 5.1 surround sound system. But in smaller rooms, a soundbar can do a fine job on its own.
No matter which sound system you’re interested in, it will be better than the built-in speakers on your TV. Modern TVs are too thin to be equipped with powerful built-in speakers.
When to Buy a TV
When is the best time to buy a TV?
To keep things simple, between November and February is when you’ll normally find the best deals. Don’t shy away from the previous year’s models—you can get some killer deals on them too.
Should I buy a TV antenna?
For cord-cutters, pairing a TV antenna with your new TV is a great way to get local channels in HD. But if you already have a cable package, it’s a little redundant, so don’t worry about it.
How long do TVs last?
Both OLED and LED-LCD screens can last about 100,000 hours with medium settings. If you’re watching the national average of five hours of TV per day, that comes out to be fifty-four years. As long as you’re not buying a lemon, you can look forward to many years of great entertainment.
Ready to buy your new TV?
Now that you know all the ins and outs of buying a TV, it’s time to make your final decision. Let us know which TV you go with in the comments below. And to get the most out of your new TV, pair it with a great deal on your television service from a provider near you—enter your zip code below to see your options.
Rachel’s catchphrase is “I’ma Google that.” This go-getter writer has a talent for finding incredible and bizarre facts on the web, and she is happy to pass her knowledge on to you.