You can spend £300 on a 50-inch TV or £4000 on a 55-inch TV. So what's going on?
TVs are very diverse these days and there's a lot of options. A basic TV can certainly be bought for a few hundred quid, but don't expect the sort of performance you really want in your living room. These TVs are aimed at people who don't care. You're reading this, so you plainly do care.
You've got to take into consideration different panel technologies (direct LED, edge LED, and OLED); different resolutions (HD and UHD); whether or not you want high dynamic range and if you do what level of HDR performance you want; whether you want a curved screen or a flat screen… honestly, there's pretty much nothing the TV brands aren't trying in order to win over your hearts and wallets.
It's far more important to look for something that suits your needs. You need to work out for yourself which features matter to you and which don't, based on your viewing habits and personal tastes. Think in particular about what screen size you can manage, whether your room is usually bright or dark, and what sort of sources you're likely to be using.
So let's run through the list, and while we're doing it there will be some explanation about technologies included and why they matter.
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1. LG OLEDE6 Series
LG's latest OLED TV combines stunning contrast with an amazing ultra-thin design and exceptional sound
The OLEDE6's incredibly slim 'picture on glass' design technique creates simply the most gorgeous TVs ever made. They're certainly not just a pretty face, though. Especially since the way each OLED pixel produces its own light and colour independent of its neighbours means the OLEDE6 series delivers levels of contrast and light control just not possible with LCD. Unprecedentedly deep black colours sit right alongside even the brightest HDR whites without a hint of light 'bleed' - something just not possible with current LCD technologies. This works wonders for high-contrast HDR sources, as well as making today's standard dynamic range sources look better than on any other TV. A sound bar attached to the bottom of the screen, meanwhile, produces sound quality that wouldn't be out of place on an external audio system. The OLEDE6's lose some detail in very bright HDR areas, and occasionally suffer fleeting colour noise. They're not cheap, either. But none of that stops them being utterly brilliant.
2. Samsung KS9500 Series
These spectacularly bright TVs do a sensational job of revealing the full majesty of the latest HDR content
Samsung was the first brand to introduce a TV capable of showing high dynamic range pictures in 2015, and it builds on that achievement this year by delivering in the KS9500 series the brightnest TV the world has seen to date. This means it's uniquely qualified to unlock the full potential of HDR, delivering incredibly life-like, dynamic and dramatic pictures that also contain more detail and colour information in bright areas than we've ever seen before. The set even carries the best attempt yet at turning standard dynamic range pictures into HDR. The use of direct LED lighting with local dimming (meaning clusters of the lights behind the screen can have their brightness adjusted independently of each other) also means the KS9500 is able to deliver some gorgeously deep black colours alongside that ground-breaking brightness. You occasionally see clouds of extra light around very bright objects and some settings cause striping in HDR colours. There's no 3D support either. But with some seriously powerful sound joining the mostly barnstorming pictures these are simply the most cutting-edge TV of 2016.
3. Panasonic DX802 Series
Despite being aggressively priced, the DX802 TVs combine a gorgeous design with excellent picture and sound quality
Considering the Panasonic DX802 TVs sit just one rung below Panasonic's flagship TVs for 2016 (the DX902 sets that feature later in this guide), they're strikingly aggressively priced. Especially when you consider that their feature list includes an awesome-sounding 12-speaker external sound bar audio system, native UHD screens, support for high dynamic range playback, and a brilliantly simple smart TV system.
The DX802s also enjoy a unique design that finds their screens hanging within two easel-style silver legs, between which you also rest the external sound bar speaker (though you can remove the screen from the legs and wall mount it if you prefer). The DX802s' edge LED lighting sometimes means you can see bands and blocks of unwanted light around bright objects. Otherwise, though, provided you use the TVs' adaptive backlight feature on its highest setting, the DX802s produce lovely, refined pictures with HDR and especially SDR content that exude Panasonic's self-proclaimed obsession with making pictures look like their creators intended them to look. Especially since the way each OLED pixel produces its own light and colour independent of its neighbours means the OLEDE6 series delivers levels of contrast and light control just not possible with LCD.
Unprecedentedly deep black colours sit right alongside even the brightest HDR whites without a hint of light 'bleed' - something just not possible with current LCD technologies. This works wonders for high-contrast HDR sources, as well as making today's standard dynamic range sources look better than on any other TV. A sound bar attached to the bottom of the screen, meanwhile, produces sound quality that wouldn't be out of place on an external audio system. The OLEDE6's lose some detail in very bright HDR areas, and occasionally suffer fleeting colour noise. They're not cheap, either. But none of that stops them being utterly brilliant.
4. Samsung KS7000 Series
The Samsung KS7000 series combines great value with ultra-bright HDR pictures and a slick smart TV system
Samsung's desire to bring quality HDR to a wider audience is epitomised by the KS7000s. Their combination of an ultra bright panel and Quantum Dot colour reproduction enables it to deliver levels of dynamism, colour vibrancy and punch with HDR sources that have to be seen to believed considering the range starts at just £1200. The sets are attractive too, featuring slim, metallic frames and minimalist desktop 'feet'. It's also nice to find the airy design kept relatively free of cable spaghetti by an external box that passes on picture and sound via a single cable.
The KS7000s make it easy to find favourite content via a new, improved version of Samsung's Tizen smart interface, too. Bright HDR objects can cause some backlight striping and blocking when they appear against dark backgrounds, and 3D fans will have to look elsewhere as Samsung has abandoned the feature for 2016. The bottom line, though, is that no other TV in its price range delivers HDR as successfully.
5. Panasonic DX902 Series
This stunning TV will take your breath away, it's that good
In a bid to deliver levels of light control beyond the typical capabilities of LCD TVs, the Panasonic DX902 series employs a new honeycomb panel designed to limit how far unwanted light around bright objects can spread.
Coupled with an exceptionally bright panel, brilliant black levels for an LCD screen and ultra-rich but also beautifully controlled colours (thanks to Panasonic's pro-grade 3D Look Up Table colour system), the new honeycomb approach really does work wonders for the most part on the latest high dynamic range pictures, giving them an intensity second only to that of Samsung's KS9500 models. And Panasonic's models are around £800 cheaper. The only catch with the honeycomb design is that in limiting the extent of light bleed in the picture it does sometimes make what light bleed there is look more pronounced. Fast motion occasionally looks slightly soft too. None of which alters the fact, however, that for their money the DX902s are really in a class of their own.
6. Sony W805/809C Series
This outstanding full HD range of TVs proves that you don't have to have a 4K resolution to deliver gorgeous picture quality
It's getting increasingly difficult to find a big-screen TV that doesn't carry a UHD resolution. Yet there are still plenty of people who have no interest in forking out for UHD sources, and so would rather get a high quality HD TV for the same money as a relatively low-quality 4K TV. Cue the Sony W805/809C series, which deliver probably the finest picture quality the HD world has ever seen while costing precious little by today's TV standards.
So good are these TVs, in fact, that they have actually been continued over from 2015 due to a combination of popular demand and critical acclaim. Ideally the Android interface would be sleeker and more customisable (though it does carry a huge amount of apps), and you might want to add an external sound system at some point to replace the rather flimsy built-in speakers. The W805C/W809C TVs' fabulous pictures, though, really are gorgeous enough to overwhelm any flaws elsewhere.
7. Sony XD9405 Series
If your tastes are more home cinema than mere TV, this spectacular 75-inch Sony beast could prove hard to resist
75-inch: Sony KD-75XD9405
If you're into movies and you've got plenty of space in your living room, Sony's 75XD9405 is our favourite 'giant TV' of 2016 to date. Its mammoth 75-inch screen gives you deliciously detailed, colourful, high contrast, clear and natural pictures with high and standard dynamic sources alike, and its enormity also does a great job of underlining the benefits of having a native 4K pixel count to work with. Its pictures aren't the brightest around, and some high-contrast HDR content causes light 'blooming' around bright objects.
Android TV's interface isn't the most helpful around either, and the low-profile buttons on the remote control are tortuous to use. For the vast majority of the time, though, the size and overall quality of the 75XD9405's pictures creates a stunningly immersive experience that could well make the idea going out to watch films a thing of the past.
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8. LG OLEDB6 Series
If you like the idea of OLED technology but can't afford LG's previously mentioned OLEDE6 series...
LG's taken an unusual approach with its 2016 OLED TV range, choosing to base the differences across the series in the range more on design than picture quality concerns. So it is that while the entry level OLEDB6 series isn't quite as ultra-slim and unfeasibly gorgeous as the premium 'picture on glass' OLEDE6 models, they do deliver broadly similar picture quality. Which is handy when you're talking about the sort of beautifully high contrast, colour-rich, HDR-capable, 4K pictures LG's OLED TVs are providing this year.
The OLEDB6 pictures lack some of the refinement of the more expensive OLEDE6 screens, and there's slightly more potential for noise in dark areas. There's also no support for 3D unlike LG's other 2016 OLED ranges, and audio is noticeably thinner than that of the sound bar-equipped OLEDE6s. All that will likely matter about the OLEDB6 series for many AV fans, though, is that they represent the cheapest way to get your hands on LG's latest and greatest OLED generation.
9. Panasonic DX600 Series
Fancy a 4K TV but don't have much space or money to spare? Then say hello to the Panasonic TX-40DX600
Please note that we're only recommending the 40-inch DX600. The two larger DX600s use different kinds of panel which struggle to deliver useful amounts of contrast. The 40DX600, though, is a really appealing model for its sub-£500 price. Its native 4K screen produces sharp, clean pictures that benefit from an unusually assured contrast performance for such an affordable 4K model. Colours look bold, punchy but also surprisingly subtle.
Panasonic's Firefox smart system is also exceptionally well presented and easy to use too, and comes backed up by Freeview Play to let you access on-demand content from the main UK broadcasters via a TV listings screen that scrolls back through time as well as forwards. All in all, while the relatively small 40-inch screen doesn't sell the TV's native 4K resolution all that well and you can't watch it from much of an angle before colour and contrast start to lose their intensity, the 40DX600 gives you an awful lot of bang for precious little buck.
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10. Samsung K5600 Series
Samsung's best HD TVs for 2016 combine high-contrast, colourful pictures with aggressive prices and a crisp design
While all four models in the K5600 range are worthy HD contenders, we're particularly fond of the 32-inch and 40-inch models, since they bring a level of quality to the small-screen/second room TV markets that's rarely found these days. Their pictures, for instance, enjoy much more contrast, brightness and colour vibrancy than the vast majority of other small-screen TVs these days, and they also offer more smart features - including Netflix, Amazon and all the 'big four' UK catch up TV services - than you'd usually expect to find.
You can view content on your smartphones and tablets via integrated sreen mirroring, and there's even an optional extra SmartThings hub available that introduces features like the TV turning on as soon as you enter the room, and being able to adjust connected lights and speakers. Even the K5600 design is a cut above the flimsy plasticky finishes associated with most non-4K TVs now.
What resolution tech should I go for?
HD TVs come in two resolutions. Sets with the HD ready are required to be able to display a minimum 720p picture, and generally has a screen resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. Meanwhile, Full HD TVs have a higher resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. It's highly advisable that you don't go for anything less than full HD in this day and age.
Ultra HD and 4K
The resolution of Ultra HD is exactly four times higher than full HD - 3840 x 2160. It means a far more detailed picture, with content requiring a lot more bandwidth and storage space. 4K TVs tend to be good at upscaling HD video to Ultra HD but there are currently very few options for watching native 4K content. Read more about 4K.
What types of TV are there out there?
There are a lot of different screen types out there, all working in different ways to produce the same results. Each technology has its own unique strengths and weaknesses so here are some basics to consider:
LCD TV: CCFL
Until recently, all LCD TVs were backlit by always-on, CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent) lamps. This ageing technology has been superseded by the superior LED method on more expensive sets, but is still standard on some cheaper models.
LED TV: Direct LED
These displays are backlit by an array of LEDs (light emitting diodes) directly behind the screen. This enables localised dimming – meaning immediately adjacent areas of brightness and darkness can be displayed more effectively – and greatly improves contrast. LED TVs are also more power efficient and capable of a wider colour gamut than CCFL sets. Because of the extreme cost of mounting these arrays of LEDs, Direct LED TVs have largely been out muscled by Edge LED...
LED TV: Edge LED
With these TVs, LEDs of the backlight are mounted along the edges of the panel. This arrangement enables radically slender displays and offers superior contrast levels to CCFL, but can't achieve the same picture quality as directly lit LED sets. However, they do come in far cheaper which is why most LED TVs out there now use this technology.
The backlighting on OLED (organic light emitting diode) sets is achieved by passing an electric current through an emissive, electroluminescent film. This technique produces far better colours and higher contrast and also enables screens to be extremely thin and flexible. This is the holy grail display technology and only in 2014 did a bigscreen OLED TV go on sale. So it's new, it's expensive and the top brands are still struggling to get their heads around it. To date, only LG has been able to release full sized OLED TVs.
As yet we're not quite at the stage where we're going to get self-emitting quantum dot LEDs, but they're a-coming. What we do have though is Samsung producing its Nanocrystal filter based on quantum dot technology to produce a seriously improved colour palette and contrast levels that get mighty close to the pinnacle of OLED.
PDP (plasma display panel) TVs use glass panels containing millions of tiny cells filled with a mixture of inert gases. Electricity excites the gases, causing them to illuminate the pixels across the screen. Plasma, while arguably superior to LCD in terms of contrast and colour accuracy, is only viable on large (42in+) screens and has been dropped by all but a handful of manufacturers. You'll be lucky to find one on the shelves these days.
Some manufacturers are now making TVs that have slightly curved screens. But unlike old CRT TVs, the curve is inwards rather than outwards. The idea is that this makes every pixel equidistant from your eyes, delivering a more satisfying picture. However, there are drawbacks for this type of screen - the main one being that if you sit far enough to one side – more than 40 degrees or so – the curve clearly starts to affect the image's geometry, foreshortening content near to you and compressing the image's centre.
What else should I consider?
Buying a flatscreen television is a major investment and one that you can't afford to take lightly. Just popping into the closest store and grabbing the first plasma or LCD you see won't get you the best deal, the screen that suits your needs, or the gear you require to make the most of your new purchase.
People tend to pick the size of their flat TV based on the amount of space they have for it, this isn't necessarily wise. Flat TVs take up much less space than you might think, so your new TV may end up a foot or two further away from your viewing position, making the picture appear smaller.
Also, with hi-def, you can have a bigger screen and the same viewing distance without worrying about seeing blemishes inherent to the source. HDTV's lack of noise means that the ideal distance to sit from the screen is three to four times the height of the TV.
How to calculate the right size HD TV:
The trick here is to ensure that your TV is big enough to fill your line of vision, but small enough to be sharp and clear. Remember, if you intend to only watch standard-definition sources, the bigger the screen gets, the worse the image will look.
The ideal screen size can be calculated by multiplying the distance that you intend to sit away from it by 0.535 and then rounding this up to the nearest size.
So, if you sit 80in away from your TV, the ideal size is 42-inch (80 x 0.535= 42.8).
What features should I look out for?
Features are too numerous to go into here, but here are some things you should consider.
Photo viewing: If you have a digital camera, a TV that has a slot for memory cards or a USB socket for a card reader will let you view your photos onscreen.
Here are some of the things we look for when we review a screen, so you should, too...
Contrast: Bright whites shouldn't have any signs of green, pink or blue in them, while blacks should look solid and not washed out, grey, green or blue.
Colours: Look at how bright and solid they are; how noiseless their edges are; how 'dotty' richly saturated areas are and how natural skin looks, especially in dim scenes.
Fine detail: How much texture does the screen give? Does a tree look like a green lump, or can you see the individual leaves
Edges: Check for ghosting, bright halos and jaggedness, especially around curves.
Motion: Check moving objects and quick camera pans for smearing or blurring, trailing, jerkiness and fizzing dotty noise.
Image artefacts: Look for blockiness, colour bands, grain, smearing, dot crawl: anything that looks like it's added by the TV picture processing or a weak TV tuner. Tinker with a TV's picture settings before making a final decision. Factory settings are rarely good for everyday viewing.
What about sound?
To provide the best audio to complement the pictures, your TV should be hooked up to a surround sound system, but this isn't always an option. So, here's what we listen for when testing a TV's speakers:
Bass: Deep, rounded rumbles that don't cause the set to rattle or speakers to distort, cramp or overwhelm the rest of the sound; but that expand when needed.
Vocals: Voices should sound open, rich and clear, not boxed in, nasal or thin.
Trebles: Treble effects should sound clean, rounded and smooth in loud scenes and shouldn't dominate the soundstage.
Soundstage width/depth: A good TV should throw the sound away from the TV, to the sides, forward and back, to give an extra dimension to what's on screen, without losing any coherence.
Questions to ask before you buy
Taking the time to consider these questions will make choosing the best TV easier...
HD or 4K?
4K TVs are stunning and even though there is currently little native 4K content to enjoy, the good ones are able to upscale HD to 4K very well. That being said, unless you're buying a very large TV - we're talking 65-inches plus - full HD should be adequate.
What size do I need?
This is dictated by the dimensions of the room where the TV is going and the amount of cash you're prepared to spend. As a general rule of thumb, work out how far from the set you'll be sitting (in inches), multiply that distance by 0.535 and then round up the result to the nearest screen size. Bear in mind that a decent smaller telly is often a more sensible investment than a larger, less accomplished one. And if you're going to buy a 4K TV, you can sit much closer because of the higher resolution.
How many HDMI sockets do I need?
For a living room TV you should be looking for a minimum of 3 HDMI inputs. If you want to attach a set-top box as well as games consoles etc, those HDMI ports will fill up fast.
Can I connect my older, analogue kit?
Most new sets carry no more than two composite connections, while S-video is fast approaching obsolescence. Check that your new TV can hook up to older digiboxes, VCRs or DVD decks that you might want to plug into it.
Do I want to hang my TV on the wall?
First off, you'll need to consult a construction expert to check that the wall in question is strong enough to support a flatscreen. Then find out if the set you want is designed to be wall-mounted and, if so, ask if the relevant bracket is included in the basic package or as an optional extra.
Will I be connecting it to a home cinema?
If the answer is no, you might want to think more carefully about your set's audio performance. Look for a screen that can go as loud as you'll need without distortion or cabinet rattle. Consider how dialogue sounds and how much low-end rumble the bass is capable of.
Conversely, it's pointless paying out more cash for exceptional built-in speakers if you already have a decent home cinema system.
Liked this? Why not read What is HDR? - The next-gen future of TV and cinema explained