The best TV to buy in 2017-2018: Ultra HD 4K with HDR from 55-inch to 65-inch

Ultra HD 4K, 55-inch to 65-inch, big screen entertainment with HDR a-go-go and a side order of wide colour gamut

TODO alt text

Choosing the best TV at any given time is a damn hard task. Looking on the bright side, that's because, if you've got a decent budget to spend, they're all extremely good.

Television screen technology has raced ahead in recent years with the maturing of LED and the arrival, in no uncertain terms, of OLED. 

Add 4K Ultra HD – the next resolution jump from Full HD – as well as HDR (High Dynamic Range), the increasing sophistication of TV operating systems – making it easier to find the shows and films you want, whether via broadcast or the web – and case designs of ever improving sexiness, and viewers are truly spoiled for choice.

But which is the best TV?

By a margin almost as narrow as its own, wafer thin screen, my pick of the flagship or near-flagship tellies (largely around the £1,500-£2,000 rrp mark) is Sony's astounding KD-55A1.

With its innovative design, superb image quality whether in native 4K HDR or upscaled HD and brilliant, 'in the screen' sound system, it really is the complete package.

How to buy the right flagship TV for you

Think first 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.

These are big, flagship tellies that we wouldn't necessarily recommend putting in a small room, although really that's up to you. 

An old but still handy rule of thumb for HD was to divide the size of screen you want (in inches) by 6.42. The result is how far away experts think you should sit, in feet. So for a 55-inch telly, you'd ideally want to be able to position your sofa about 8 and a half feet from the screen. 

Scroll all the way down to the bottom of this buying guide (warning: your finger may get tired) and you'll find further handy TV shopping tips.

Buying a TV: why you should upgrade now

Now is the best time in years to get a new television.

The world of telly tech has certainly never been more exciting. The shift from 1080p HD to 2160p 4K not only introduced a massive upturn in resolution, but heralded a shift to Wide Colour Gamut panels and HDR (High Dynamic Range). TV images now boast real world dynamics, with expanded depth and colour richness.  

If you bought an early 4K telly, you might be kicking yourself by now – certain UHD standards aren't even supported any more, and image quality and upscaling of HD material has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years, alongside the rise of OLED.

But look on the bright side: all these technologies and standards are now established, and TV picture quality has never been better.

At the higher end of the TV market, you really begin to appreciate  the benefits that HDR with wide colour bring. All the TVs here can display sparkly spectral highlights and expansive colour, with many offering multiple variations of HDR, to better future-proof your viewing.

HDR comes in a variety of flavours. Static HDR10 is the standard. It’s commonly used on UHD Blu-ray and by streaming services. Dolby Vision is an upmarket alternative that optimises HDR characteristics on a scene-by-scene basis thanks to the miracle of dynamic metadata. It currently has limited support, appearing on select UHD Blu-ray titles, and some Netflix content. 

HLG is a broadcast HDR standard which is just starting to roll out but generally speaking, the more HDR standards your screen supports, the better.

These flagship 4K TVs also have enhanced sound systems, be it a bundled/built in soundbar or something more exotic. Not only is this good for your ears, it can represent a big saving on additional external audio systems.

At this higher end of the market, you’ll also notice that OLED screen technology has largely taken over from LED LCD. Thanks to their superior black level performance, and excellent near black detail, OLED has become the screen technology of choice for discerning videophiles.  

OK, now that we’ve set the scene, let’s reveal T3's Top TV buys of 2017-18.

The best TVs in order of preference

1. Sony KD55A1

Best 4K UHD OLED TV

Specifications
Screen size: 55-inches
Other sizes available: 65-inch, 77-inch
HDR: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG
HDMI: 4
USB: 3
Dimensions: 1228 x 860 x 78mm
Reasons to buy
+Dramatic design+Superb image quality+Innovative sound system
Reasons to avoid
-Clunky Android smart platform-Requires low AV furniture

Whatever way you look at it, the 55-inch Sony A1 is a drop-dead gorgeous OLED TV.  The design is elegant, and image quality outstanding. The A1 doesn’t use a conventional pedestal stand, instead it leans back on a hinged support which also contains an integrated subwoofer. 

The set doesn’t use conventional speakers either. Instead it boasts Acoustic Surface technology. On the rear of the panel are a pair of sonic actuators. These vibrate, to create stereo sound that emanates from the panel itself. While the actuators produce high and mid-range audio, the 8cm subwoofer handles bass. 

With the screen also effectively the speaker array you might very well think this would inevitably cause distortion to the sound, or issues with image quality. Well, you'd be wrong on both counts, and with a total audio output of 50 watts, the end result is astonishingly good.

Thanks to Sony’s 4K HDR X1 Extreme image engine, picture quality is also outstanding, with both 4K and HD sources. Blacks are deep, detail high and HDR wonderfully effective, with HDR10, DolbyVision and HLG are all supported.  The set’s object-based HDR remastering also does a brilliant job boosting highlights on material filmed without HDR (standard dynamic range or SDR).

The smart platform, Android with Chromecast built-in, is a bit ‘meh’, but you can't have everything. Console yourself with the 4K content on Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube. A YouView app replaces the standard Freeview HD programme guide, combining live TV with catch-up TV services such as iPlayer.

Overall, a hugely impressive high-end TV that more than justifies its price at 55 inches, even if the 77-incher is a slightly more sphincter-tighteningly priced, at £20,000 rrp.

2. LG 65OLEDB7

Best value 4K OLED TV

Specifications
Screen size: 65-inches
Other sizes available: 55-inch
HDR: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, Active HDR
HDMI: x4
USB: x 3
Dimensions: 1229 x 708 x 48.6 mm
Reasons to buy
+More OLED inches for your buck+Great picture quality+Excellent webOS smart platform
Reasons to avoid
-Unimpressive sound

The B7 is hands down the best value model in LG’s current OLED line-up. It shares the same panel and image processing chipwiffery as its stablemates further up the range; the principal difference is cosmetic, though it still looks upscale thanks to a slim silver bezel and crescent stand. 

Picture quality is delicious. OLED’s trademark black depth and wide colour are a spectacular combination here. The set also has bright, effective HDR, for convincing spectral highlights.   

This LG support for a wide variety of HDR standards: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG and even Technicolor.

Inevitably, audio is less impressive. The set uses down-firing stereo speakers which can politely be described as functional. The set warrants partnering with a good AV system, as it has a Dolby Atmos decoder onboard, which means immersive 3D sound can be routed out over HDMI.

LG’s webOS smart platform offers access to a host of streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube and Now TV, while a Freeview Play tuner simplifies catch-up TV. There’s also 360 degree video playback and even an OLED still image gallery.

3. Loewe Bild 3.55

Best 4K HDR OLED for design and style

Specifications
Screen size: 50-inches
Other sizes available: 43-inch, 49-inch
HDR: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG
HDMI: 4
USB: 3
Dimensions: 1230 x 742 x 98 mm
Reasons to buy
+Beautiful design and build quality+High quality integrated audio system
Reasons to avoid
-Rivals offer better smart platforms

The 55-inch Bild 3 may be the cheapest OLED TV from Loewe, but it still looks reassuringly premium. With an ultra slim bezel and integrated soundbar with fabric grille in light grey or 'graphite' (ie: dark grey), it’s fashionably svelte, and comes with a smart aluminium pedestal stand that can be swivelled for the optimum viewing angle.  

Picture quality is very fine indeed. The set supports HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG HDR, while colours are wide and vibrant. Being OLED, the black level performance is profound.

The set’s sound system is also potent.  Featuring four drivers and two passive radiators, and driven by 2 x 40 watts of amplification, you could comfortably use it as a living room audio system.

While still not class leading, Loewe has made improvements to its Smart portal and UI. It doesn’t attempt to do as much as some rivals, but it's clean and intuitive, and key streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Video, Netflix, Youtube and Tidal are all on board. It also allows you to customise graphics for inputs and channels. 

Overall, a premium screen at a great price.

4. Panasonic TX-50EX750

Best UHD TV for 4K gaming

Specifications
Screen size: 50-inches
Other sizes available: 58-inch, 65-inch
HDR: HDR10, HLG
HDMI: x 4
USB: x 3
Dimensions: 1115 x 647 x 40mm
Reasons to buy
+Vivid wide colour+Excellent detail+Premium build quality
Reasons to avoid
-Complex picture settings-HDR isn’t overly bright

This 4K Pro Panasonic is a positive steal compared to some of the sets here, but it still combines an advanced image engine with top-notch build quality. The X-shaped pedestal is height adjustable, and swivels for optimum viewing clarity, while the thin chrome bezel adds a glint of luxury. The tuner choice is Freeview Play or Freesat.

The Smart OS is My Home Screen V2.0, built on the open source Firefox TV OS. It’s minimalistic but highly customisable. Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube all stream in 4K. There’s also a full complement of catch-up channels.

Picture clarity is high. The set upscales HD well and looks razor sharp with native 4K. But it’s the colour performance which really makes images sing. The set is HDR10 and HLG compatible, but isn’t nova-bright. We would rate HDR just on the right side of effective, which makes it an easy screen to live with (overly bright HDR can lead to eye fatigue).

The screen handles motion particular well, retaining detail in fast moving action without introducing unwanted artefacts. That makes this TV a top choice for armchair sports fans, and it's also a cracking 4K gaming display, once you track down the Game screen mode, which is hidden away from the image presets, in the Picture Setting Options menu. Using a stopwatch, I measured input lag at just 14.1ms.

Audio quality is largely unremarkable, but don’t let that dent your enthusiasm. 

5. Philips 55POS901F/12

Best lifestyle 4K OLED TV

Specifications
Screen size: 55-inches
HDR: HDR10, HLG
HDMI: x 4
USB: x 3
Dimensions: 1229 x 752 x 49mm
Reasons to buy
+Ambilight integration+Excellent soundbar
Reasons to avoid
-No Dolby Vision HDR support-Not the brightest OLED panel

Philips' TVs are generally pretty good, but what elevates them is their use of Ambilight, splattering colours over your walls that compliment the onscreen action. I'm a sucker for Ambilight. When that mood lighting tech is partnered with OLED, I can only love it just that little bit more. 

Design wise, this 9-series model looks the part. An integrated soundbar ensures audio performance is fittingly high, while the chrome bezel adds a bit of bling. 

The Smart OS is unadorned Android, with Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube streaming. Picture quality is razor-sharp, although as the set uses a 2016-vintage OLED panel, it doesn’t have quite the the same level of HDR zing as its rivals here. With regular HD content, the set offers benign upscaling, while Philips Perfect Colour processor does a fabulous job enhancing hues.  And of course, that forward-facing sound system offers pronounced stereo, with plenty of volume (30w in total).    

Presented here in three-sided guise, Ambilight is the perfect high-tech mood enhancer. You can also integrate it within a wider Hue lighting system, which is seriously cool. 

A great overall package, in short. Part TV, part work of animated art.

6. LG OLED55E6V

Last year's model, still going strong

Specifications
Screen size: 55-inches
Other sizes available: 65-inch
HDR: HDR9
HDMI: 4
USB: 3
Dimensions: 1237x767x56.7
Reasons to buy
+Superb black levels+Stunning thin design
Reasons to avoid
-Missing details in bright areas-Still very expensive
Today's best deals

The OLED E6's incredibly slim 'picture on glass' design technique made for just about the most gorgeous TV ever when it appeared, and it's still a cracking telly. 

Although newer OLED tellies narrowly beat it in various ways, the way that deep black colours sit right alongside even the brightest HDR whites without a hint of light 'bleed' is still a thing of wonder. 

The OLEDE6 loses some detail in very bright HDR areas, and occasionally suffers fleeting colour noise. The sound bar attached to the bottom of the screen, meanwhile, produces sound quality that wouldn't be out of place on a separate audio system. If you can find it going cheap, as its lifespan comes to an end, the E6 is still worth snapping up.

7. Samsung UE65KS9500

The best curved 4K TV

Specifications
Screen size: 65-inches
Other sizes available: 78-inch
HDR: HDR1000
HDMI: 4
USB: 3
Dimensions: 1442 x 833 x 116 mm
Reasons to buy
+Impressive picture quality+Curved screen (if you like curved screens)
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Curved screen not for all
Today's best deals

Samsung was the first brand to introduce a TV capable of showing high dynamic range (HDR) in 2015, and it built on that achievement  by delivering in the KS9500 series the brightest TV the world had seen to date, at the time. 

Since it doesn't support Dolby Vision or HDR 10, the long-term value of this could be questionable, but it does a great job of 'upscaling' non-HDR footage and that, let's be honest, is the most important thing at this point, with so little native content available. 

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 delivers 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, but it's still an excellent curved option.

It's time to dump HD and go 4K

The resolution of 4K/Ultra HD is exactly four times higher than full HD at 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, and native 4K content is gradually becoming more prevalent. 

The most important thing is that standards for HDR and 4K now seem to be broadly agreed. Some (slightly) older UHD tellies are already well on their way to being obsolete, as they went with proprietary or poorly-received codecs and standards.

Read more about Ultra HD and 4K

HD TVs still exist (though there are none in this list of flagship sets). They come in two resolutions: Full HD TVs have a higher resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, while you can still get a few 'HD ready' TVs with a minimum 720p picture – the norm is 1366x768 pixels. These sets tend to be either very small or very cheap.

What types of TV are there out there?

OLED TV The lighting 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 was the 'holy grail' display technology and only in 2014 did a big screen OLED TV go on sale. Thanks largely to the efforts of LG, OLED has become established very rapidly as the go-to screen tech for the discerning buyer, however

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.

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.

Quantum Dot
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.

What should I look out for in the shop/online?

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...

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.