Best TV Buying Guide: Settle in for TechRadar’s round-up of the best TV sets you can get your hands on in 2018.
Picking a TV is no simple task. If you’re a movie buff, this screen may end up as your best friend not just for the coming months, but years – while we replace our phones on a fairly regular basis, the best TV screens should sit prettily in our living rooms for a good long while. They’re pricey purchases, and we expect to get our money’s worth. With the 2018 World Cup ready to take over screens this summer, football fans may be particularly keen to upgrade.
And with so many features to consider, with new TV technologies being introduced all the time, making a decision is getting harder all the time. A brand new top-of-the-line TV can offer such a wide range of different technologies and features that it can be hard to know what you’re looking for. With the major manufacturers in a yearly arms race to outdo rivals, keeping up with all the latest developments isn’t always easy.
You could get the TV that promises to pack in every new technology out there, but it’s not all essential. Sky Q may support HDR10, but it doesn’t bother with the more advanced Dolby Vision. Neither does the 4K Xbox One X.
If you’re a Sky Q and Xbox One X user, then, you probably won’t want to bother forking out the extra money for a TV that supports Dolby Vision.
For more, watch our TV buying guide video above.
- Confused about high dynamic range? Don’t miss our guide to HDR
Feeling flummoxed? Don’t worry, TechRadar is here to be your guide. Our guide to the best TVs available will help you separate the cheap panels from the best 4K screens. We’ll help you find an awesome flatscreen without wasting hours of research comparing spec sheets.
If you’re looking for a buying guide that deals with TVs that only support the new Ultra HD resolution, check out our guide to the best 4K TVs. If getting a flatscreen on the cheap is your main concern, check out the best 4K TV deals.
But, if you’re looking for the best-of-the-best TV out there today without limits or stipulations, this is the place for you.
“So, should I buy a TV now or wait it out?”
We hear this question a lot. Like most technology, TVs are getting incrementally better all the time – which means, yes, if you wait a year there will probably be a bigger, flashier TV out there for less money.
But, that said, there has recently been a huge flurry of progress as manufacturers have rushed to embrace new display standards including Ultra HD, Wide Colour Gamut and HDR.
The majority of TV manufacturers now support these next generation of features, but you’ll have to check the small print in a few cases.
So long as your next TV purchase supports these technologies (looking for an Ultra HD Premium certification is a good way to go), we reckon you won’t be kicking yourself in six month’s time when the next batch of sets arrive
OK, but let’s say you do want to know what’s coming next for TVs. If that’s the case we’d be remiss if we didn’t let you know about the new HDMI 2.1 standard, which as well as allowing support for 8K at 60 frames per second and 4K at 120 will also allow for a range of new gaming features to be supported over HDMI.
It’s cool technology for sure, but unless you’re seriously into your gaming then we reckon you’re safe making a purchase now.
After an underwhelming debut, Samsung’s QLED technology really needed to bounce back in style in 2018. It didn’t surprise us in the least, then, to discover Samsung threw the kitchen sink in with its new Q9FN QLED Series of TVs.
As well as being even brighter and more colorful than last year’s equivalent model, Samsung’s 2018 flagship screens use a completely different lighting system to combat its predecessor’s contrast problems: Full Array Local Dimming rather than edge-lit LED lighting. The FALD panel works in tandem with Samsung QLED Quantum Dots to produce a picture that’s brighter and more colorful than near any we’ve seen come from the South Korean manufacturer.
Do those features alone make Samsung Q9FN the best TV on the market? No, but throw in technology like HDR10+ and Q HDR EliteMax – what Samsung bills as its maximum High Dynamic Range experience that’s exclusive to the Q9FN – and there’s very little doubt in our mind that this is Samsung’s best TV ever
Read the full review: Samsung Q9FN QLED TV
At the top of our list for 2018 is the LG C8 OLED – available in both 55 and 65-inch iterations. It’s here because it combines an impressive picture, an extensive set of features, an attractive design and its unrivaled smart platform, to deliver one of the best TVs we have seen to date. It’s not as bright as an LCD TV but those deep blacks make a huge difference to the dynamic range of the image. It’s also capable of vibrant and gorgeous colours, not to mention an astounding level of detail with native 4K content.
There are other OLEDs worth considering this year (see: Sony’s A1 and AF8 OLED or LG’s own E8 and W8 OLED models) but we think the OLED C7 offers the best price-to-performance ratio of any TV under the sun in the year 2018.
Read the full review: LG OLED C8 (OLED55C8, OLED65C8)
From the moment we laid eyes on the the XBR-65Z9D we’ve been desperate to get our hands on one. It’s a TV able to combine the extreme, high dynamic range-friendly brightness of LCD technology with a backlight arrangement capable of getting LCD closer than ever before to the stunning light control you get with OLED technology.
This backlight arrangement comprises more than 600 LEDs that sit behind the 65Z9D’s screen that are capable of outputting their own light levels independently of their neighbors. This should enable the TV to produce more of the extremes of light and shade associated with new high dynamic range (HDR) technology while suffering less than other LCD TVs with distracting clouds, stripes or halos of unwanted, extraneous light.
As if this wasn’t already attraction enough, the 65Z9D also sports Sony’s new ‘X1 Extreme’ video processing system and the latest version of Sony’s reliable Triluminos wide colour technology for unlocking the extended colour spectrums associated with HDR sources, even if you’re ‘only’ feeding it SDR content.
It’s LCD panel can’t quite pull off the same black level of our top choice, the LG C7, but the ZD9 shows off the best LCD is capable of in 2018.
The FZ952 is a luscious OLED that puts performance first. Its colour handling is class-leading, and its HDR talents are a match for any of its rivals. In fact, it just might offer the best picture performance that we’ve seen on a 4K OLED to date.
The FZ952 isn’t the complete package, lacking as it does Dolby Vision and Atmos compatibility, but it wins more arguments than it loses. We suspect you’ll appreciate the easy sophistication of its smart platform, the quality of that low-lag game mode, and the sheer musicality of the Technics soundbar.
If LG’s OLED isn’t your thing, spend some time checking out Sony’s version.
The 55A1 – and the A1 OLED series overall – are crowd pleasers in just about every way. Their ‘picture only’ design has been beautifully realized, managing to be simultaneously subtle and dramatic.
Their vibrating screen delivers a far more powerful and effective sound performance than I’d thought possible, too. The real stars of the show here, though, are the A1’s exquisitely detailed, contrast-rich and colourful pictures.
These prove emphatically what we’ve long suspected: More brands using OLED technology can only lead to good things.
Only it’s exceptionally high price tag prevents it from toppling LG’s budget panels.
Having potentially pushed the hardware capabilities of its current OLED screen technology as far as they can go, LG has for 2018 turned its attention to the software that drives these screens – and this shift in focus has yielded surprisingly impressive results, improving and even removing many of the residual niggles associated with 2017’s already in truth outstanding OLED sets.
The OLED65E8 loses a bit of ground sonically from its predecessor, and there’s some stiff competition this year from Samsung’s new Q9FN flagship LCD TV, but all the growing legions of OLED fans will probably need to hear is that the OLED65E8 is comfortably the best OLED TV LG has ever made.
Read the full review: LG E8 OLED (55OLEDE8, 65OLEDE8)
OK, so if you can’t afford Sony’s new A1 OLED or the fantastic-but-pricey ZD9, check out the all-new XF90 series from Sony. With superb 4K image clarity, powerful SDR-to-HDR remastering, and a smooth direct LED backlight, Sony is offering something very different with the XF90. We loved the consistency of its images, motion being handled superbly for football fans, the eye-popping vibrancy of its wide color gamut panel and its easy-to-watch HDR – you get spectral highlights without accompanying eye fatigue.
Given this set’s high-but-fair price point, any niggles we have are negligible. The XF90 is highly recommended and deserved our Recommended award.
Read the full review: Sony Bravia XF90 (KDL-65XF9005) review
We’ve already recommended a couple of different OLED sets on this list, and the B7 is the most affordable of the bunch.
But rather than compromising on that glorious panel to hit a more wallet-friendly price point, LG has instead compromised on sound.
This puts the LG B7 in a slightly weird situation audio-wise. It technically supports Dolby Atmos, but played through its mediocre downward-firing speakers the technology lacks most of what makes it impressive.
Thankfully you’re of course able to plug in an external sound system, and we’d advise you to do.
If that’s something you’re prepared to do then you’ll find the B7 has every bit the talent of its more expensive siblings at a fraction of the cost.
Read the full review: LG OLED B7
It’s an open secret within the TV industry that every OLED TV uses panels produced by LG Display, meaning that whether you’re buying a Sony, a Philips, or a LG, the OLED panel at the heart of each set is the same hardware.
However, Philips has a bit of a trick up its sleeve thanks to its Ambilight technology, which projects colors onto the wall behind it that mirror those shown on the TV itself.
The result is that the company’s flagship OLED series, the 9002, is a really stunning piece of tech, and its P5 picture processing engine is great at getting the most out of its OLED panel.
You’ll be paying a slight price premium over LG’s more budget sets, but Ambilight could be exactly what you need to justify that premium.
Read the full review: Philips OLED 9002
The XE93 Series builds on last year’s XD93 series in a few important ways, the first of which is by including one of Sony’s new X1 Extreme chipsets. These are around 40% more powerful than the original X1 chips, and introduce separate databases to help the TV analyze noise and upscale sub-4K sources to the screen’s native 4K resolution. Add in an apparently much-improved sound system and Sony’s Triluminos technology for delivering today’s wider colour ranges and the XE93 series seems to tick all the right boxes.
Unfortunately, though, even an improved version of Sony’s Slim Backlight Drive can’t completely hide the fact that with current edge LED technology there’s always a backlight-based price to pay for all that HDR-sating brightness.
Continue on to page two to read about what to look for when buying a TV!
- Want better audio? Check out our guide to the best soundbars available.
- Once you’ve decided on a panel, make sure you read our guide on to make sure you’re getting the most out of it.
- Are you looking for the best universal remote for your new home theater setup?
What TV technology is best? Which is the best LCD TV? Which screen size is best for your living room? What’s the difference between LCD and LED TVs?
The answers aren’t always obvious. In fact, buying a new TV can be stressful even for the tech-savvy – there are so many brands, so many features, so many screen sizes, colors, technologies and flavors to choose from.
So which one is right for you, your family and your living space? In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about buying a new TV.
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 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.
Potentially the next big thing in TVs, HDR produces astounding levels of visual fidelity and can be found in some of the latest Ultra HD TVs. Arguably the shift to HDR video could make a more dramatic difference to your viewing experience than moving from HD to 4K. Like still HDR images, the moving version expands the range of both the light and dark ends of spectrum, providing more detail for both. HDR needs new filming methods though – at the moment there is no way to backfill HDR into existing video. It also needs new TV tech too, with Samsung the only ones to create specific screens, though LG and Sony are going be able to update some of their existing stock to be compatible.
- What’s the best smart TV platform around today?
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.