What every best TV has

  • Great or at least very good performance. Factors such as black levels, contrast ratio, color accuracy and saturation, accurate signal processing, screen uniformity and screen reflectivity can make or break the TV viewing experience. The set that nails all of these perfectly has yet to be made -- and likely never will be -- but the best sets hold their own in all or most of these performance categories.
  • Useful and usable features. The exact lineup of features a TV might have will vary by its category and technology. Smart TV platforms are found now in even budget priced TVs. High-end TVs might include 4K resolution, advanced signal processing and the ability to display more colors than cheaper TVs. Some may have advanced remotes with voice recognition, touchpads or even the ability to move an on-screen pointer with a wave. All LCD sets are now LED TVs with LED backlights, but high-end LED TVs might use a technique like local dimming to improve picture quality, especially during dark scenes. Fast refresh rates can help with motion artifacts such as blur on LED sets, but be sure that you look at the actual refresh rate instead of an "effective" or similar rate that's more about marketing than improved performance. Regardless of the specific features, each should be easy enough to use that you won't need a manual or an engineering degree to do so.
  • Function over form. Flagship TVs are often designed to look like pieces of modern art when they're off, but even basic sets are rarely offensive. Even more important are the number of connections: Make sure there are enough to handle all of your gear and that they're easy to access. And don't overlook the remote: It's how most people control their TVs, and poor ergonomics or an illogical key arrangement can make that challenging.

Know before you go

How big a TV should you buy? According to the experts at THX, buying a TV that's too big for your room can actually harm your viewing experience. They add that one of the key considerations is how far away you plan to sit, and to find the right balance of screen size to seating distance, divide your screen size by .84. Therefore, a 65-inch screen is right if you are sitting about 6.5-feet away, but if you will be closer, say 5-feet, something in the 50 inch range will be more appropriate. THX notes that even these screen sizes might seem large to some, but they help ensure that viewers can get the immersive viewing experience that a wide screen HDTV can deliver.

LED ... or OLED? LED TVs are the best-selling type of flat-panel TV. They look terrific under a wide range of viewing conditions (like well-lit rooms); are thin and light; and are energy efficient. LED TVs are also available in a wide range of sizes to fit any wall or countertop. Their biggest drawback is that they struggle to produce the blackest blacks possible -- a must for high contrast and top picture quality. Viewing angles are also often very narrow -- the farther you sit to the side, the worse the picture will look

OLED is an emerging technology. These sets can create blacks that are extremely deep, have colors that are accurate and well saturated; have wide viewing angles, are very energy efficient; and the screens are incredibly thin. Up to now, OLED was really not a consumer product. High prices, technology bobbles, and limited availability were all issues faced by first generation sets. Prices have dropped, however, and while the very best, 4K OLED sets remain very expensive, some very impressive standard HD sets are now available at mid-range prices.

What is unilateral pricing? Most top-tier consumer electronics companies have put in place unilateral pricing policies that set a limit on the lowest price that an authorized retailer can offer on certain products, including many TVs. To put teeth into those policies, companies have threatened to cut off the supply of products to retailers that deviate from that pricing. Lower prices can sometimes be found at non-authorized dealers, but many manufacturers will refuse to honor warranties or offer support of any kind for products purchased outside of their dealer networks. Some retailers will substitute their own warranties for the manufacturer's warranty, although the value of that warranty will obviously vary, and could become completely worthless if the retailer goes out of business. Shoppers will need to carefully weigh whether a lower price offered by a non-authorized dealer is worth that trade-off.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Best TVs | Important TV Features | Best Value TVs | Best Cheap TVs | TVs with the Best Picture Quality | Our Sources