Finding the perfect TV
If you're in the market for a new TV you're in for a treat as prices for HDTVs have dropped dramatically and performance has improved just as much. That is unless you are hankering for a TV using an emerging technology -- such as 4K or OLED. But, and here's the rub, finding the perfect TV for you and your family can be a bit of a juggling act.
Thin and wall mountable, LCD TVs have emerged as the number-one choice among TV buyers. The bulk of this report will focus on LCD sets, now largely called LED TVs because they use an LED backlight. We will highlight the best LED TVs as well as the best value LED TVs, including some cheap LCD TVs worth considering. We will also look at the latest 4K LED TVs -- which offer roughly four times the resolution of standard HDTVs -- to see if their performance is worth their sometimes prodigious bottom line.
Plasma TVs had long been the favorites of those who prize picture quality over everything else. But plasma's drawbacks -- real and perceived -- have marginalized that technology to the point where it is virtually extinct. Panasonic stopped making plasma sets in 2013, and Samsung has announced that 2014 will be the last year it will manufacture plasma sets. That leaves LG as the only maker that has not officially pulled the plug on the technology (at least as of September 2014), but reports out of Korea say that it's a matter of when, not if, LG will exit that business as well. That means that if you are interested in a plasma TV, the 2014 holiday buying season will likely be your last, best chance of purchasing one.
Manufacturers have long promised sets with OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology. The lure of OLED is picture quality that is better than is currently seen on any set using any other technology. However, initial efforts at introducing OLED sets have been halting. Makers have struggled to get the technology right and to reduce prices that up to now were prohibitively high. That's why LG's sub-$3,500 55-inch OLED set may be a breakthrough product. It's profiled in more depth in our discussion of OLED TVs.
LED sets are now available in wall-filling sizes, but the largest sets come with a wallet-emptying price tag. If you are interested in a screen size over 90 inches, a home-entertainment projector might be a worthwhile, cost-effective alternative. However, projectors require more care than standard TV sets. We will focus on the details of that care and name some projectors to consider elsewhere in this report.
What makes a TV "perfect" for you?
In an attempt to get consumers to buy a new set, TV makers have been adding lots of high-tech goodies to their offerings. There's 3D, of course, and "Smart" features that let you access content directly from the Internet or from your personal computer. Things we never had to consider before, such as refresh rate, are now front and center on the features list and in advertisements.
On the other hand, maybe you just want a TV with a great, or simply a good, picture at a price that's easy on your wallet. Image quality is defined by a few different factors, including how deep a level of black a set can obtain, how accurate and saturated colors appear, how uniform the picture looks across the screen, how well it handles fast motion, and how free the picture is of image-processing bobbles like curved lines that are slightly jagged rather than perfectly smooth.
How much do you need to spend on a TV? If you're a perfectionist, be prepared to dig deep as cutting edge TVs can cost $4,000 or more -- and sometimes much more depending on the technology and screen size. However, others can find TVs with images that look perfectly fine -- in fact, pretty darn outstanding -- at $500 or even less. Keep in mind that even today's budget TVs can produce a picture that might have been state of the art just a few short years ago -- and we spotted one budget set that gives most current HDTVs a serious run for their money in terms of picture quality.
How we found the best TVs
This report discusses the features and specifications that matter when selecting your next TV. We examine professional and user reviews to identify the sets that shine in terms of image quality, features, design and value, and name those our Best Reviewed choices. We also look at some TVs that don't fall too far behind and can be excellent options in their own right. Experts we consult include CNET, PCMag.com, Reviewed.com, ConsumerReports.org and many others. User feedback is drawn from popular retail sites such as Amazon.com and BestBuy.com.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Important TV features: Today's TV are loaded with tons of goodies. Which ones matter, and which ones don't? Editors sort it all out for you based upon expert opinions and their own analysis.
Best 4K LED TVs: Is HDTV already obsolete? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. We explore what all the excitement is about with 4K sets (also called Ultra High Definition, or UHD) and name the best choices.
Best LED TVs: LCD TVs with LED backlights, often called LED TVs, are the number one choice of most TV buyers. Editors look at the best current sets and name the ones that are most likely to delight.
Best Value LED TVs: If price is as important as performance to you, that doesn't mean you have to settle for a lousy TV picture. We look at the top cheap --- but not cheap-performing -- LED sets and point out the best choices in a variety of screen sizes.
Best Plasma TVs: The light has just about gone out for plasma TV. But if you act quickly, some terrific-performing plasma TVs are still available. Editors name the best ones.
Best OLED TVs: OLED TVs are breath-taking performers, with price tags to match, but does LG's latest OLED set change the equation? Editors offer their take.
Best Home-Entertainment Projectors: Do you want the biggest possible picture at the lowest possible price? If so, a home entertainment projector might be for you. Editors explain the pros and cons, and name top picks.
Where to Mount a Flat TV: Flat-screen TVs just scream for a treasured spot on a wall. Editors explain the right way -- and the wrong way to do the job
Buying Guide: Confused about all the information you need to know to find the right type of TV for your budget and your needs? Editors explain the important considerations in this useful guide.
Our Sources: These are the expert and user review sources editors consulted in naming the top TVs. They are ranked in order of their expertise and helpfulness in finding the best choices.