With the holiday season just around the corner, it’s a great time to buy a new TV. Most stores will start sales soon, where you can expect to get some exciting deals on new televisions. It helps to know which TVs to look out for, so you don’t get blinded by a good price.
Most televisions you look at now will be smart TVs. What is a smart TV? A smart TV is any television that can connect to and browse the Internet without needing external apparatus. You don’t need a smart TV, to be honest, but that’s most likely what you will get. And you’ll need to know a few other common TV terms as well.
What Is a Smart TV?
The concept of Smart TV has actually been around for quite some time. The first Smart TV related patent was filed in 1994, though it’s only in the last 5 years that we’ve seen features in commercial sets.
There is no one answer which can describe exactly what a Smart TV is. Generally speaking, Smart TV refers to a trend of integrating Internet-connected technologies into a TV set; a convergence of computer-like features.
More specifically, Smart TVs may have one or more of the following features, though not necessarily all – the term is used for marketing purposes, not as an international standard. Features vary by manufacturer and by age of the TV. My 4 year old Smart TV will have a lot less features than a new Smart TV bought this year, for instance, but they both adopt the moniker.
- Video Playback Via DLNA/USB. This is a much base level feature for Smart TVs and has been for some years now, though format support varies, particular on older devices that would play video through USB, but were restricted to FAT32 formatted drives and AVI files only. With DLNA streaming, a server application on the network can often take care of transcoding to compatible formats, but this isn’t foolproof, and a server machine is needed somewhere to do the actual conversion.
- Apps & Games; Angry Birds on your TV? That’s a thing now, along with catch-up and on-demand streaming such BBC iPlayer, Netflix, and YouTube.
- PVR/DVR Functionality; the ability to schedule and record shows without using a separate device. You may also be able to search for media across a variety of sources, similar to TiVo or Roku.
- Gesture & Voice Control; embedded Kinect or Wii Remote-like devices enable control of the TV from the sofa without using a traditional remote. Just wave your hand, or shout at the TV. I can’t comment on how effective these are as I havn’t tried them out, but if it’s anything like the Kinect then I expect it’s quite frustrating once the initial wow factor wears off.
- Social Networking; because you can’t ever have enough Facebook. Some will also have Skype video conferencing.
- Web Browsing.
- Smartphone Connectivity; for streaming media and sharing content to the big screen.
- 4K and UHD: High-resolution 4K or Ultra HD televisions are gaining popularity. Again, you don’t need 4K unless you’re buying a TV over 80 inches and sitting 10 feet or more away from it. Don’t reject 4K if it’s fitting in your budget. But don’t extend your budget for 4K, or consider it a must-have feature.
- HDR: High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a new standard in television technology that is catching on fast. HDR tech gives you better colors and contrast ratio, but only if the content you’re playing is also HDR compatible — and not much is, at the moment.
- 3D: 3D TVs are dead, plain and simple. No one is making content to take advantage of 3D TVs anymore, and it will slowly become obsolete. Don’t be swayed by 3D support in a smart TV, it’s not necessary.
Once you know the basics differentiating between televisions, you can pick any of the models listed below. They’ll give you the best bang for the buck in their price range and features.
Best Value for Money: Vizio P50-C1 or Vizio P65-C1
If your budget is $1,000 or your budget is $2,000, your choice is clear. Go with the Vizio P50-C1 or the Vizio P65-C1, respectively. Every reviewer thinks these are the best TVs in their price range.
Both are full-array LED TVs, so the picture quality is substantially better than LCD-LED TVs in the same price. In fact, CNET praised it as the best picture quality they’ve seen at this price. Yup, better than models by Samsung, LG, and Sony. Most important among its many features: The TVs support 4K resolution with built-in upscaling. At the moment, neither television offers HDR. However, a software upgrade promises to bring that soon. But perhaps most important is their “smart TV” tech.
Vizio has integrated a Google Cast device into the TV, and called it SmartCast! That’s right, you don’t need to buy a separate Chromecast. Plus, instead of a traditional remote control, you get a 6-inch Android tablet. Cast Netflix, Hulu, or whatever else to the TV and you’re good to go. It also means you can cast the tablet’s screen for apps that don’t support Chromecast, like Amazon Prime. Of course, you can use your own phone or tablet too.
The only thing to keep in mind is that the 50-inch model has 60Hz refresh rate. If you like the “soap opera effect” on TV (demonstrated above), you should ideally have a refresh rate over 100Hz. In that case, consider the 55-inch P55-C1 model for $1,099.
Built-In Roku: TCL S3800 40″ to 55″
One of our favorite media streaming devices, Roku, has teamed up with television maker TCL. The result is a series of TVs that have the Roku TV platform built in, and come with a special remote control too. You don’t need to attach any external streaming device.
The S3800 series goes up to 55-inch sizes with Full HD resolution, and you don’t need 4K at that size. The 28-inch and 32-inch models are 720p HD resolution.
The TCL S3800 is all about ease of use. It’s the best way to cut the cord and still find life easy. The preloaded apps that Roku supports will give most services that anyone would want from their TV anyway. And it’s simple enough that your parents can use it.
You should know that the TCL series of TVs don’t have the best picture quality in this price range, even though it’s full-array LED. For that, again, Vizio is the king. If you’re okay with adding a media streaming device like the Roku, I’d suggest picking up a Vizio E series TV, which comes with built-in Smartcast or Google Cast technology.
Best Mid-Range: Vizio M Series 43″ to 80″
The Wirecutter, CNET, Reviewed.com, What Hi-Fi, and every other respectable TV reviewer agrees. The Vizio M series of TVs was the best mid-range television in 2015, and probably still is in 2015. Its successor, the Vizio D series, hasn’t received reviews that are as promising and unanimous.
The Vizio M series has all the basics you could want of a modern TV. The picture quality is top-notch, again beating anything in its class. In fact, an M series TV of $500 would beat a Samsung or LG of $750.
The 2016 model has built-in Smartcast or Google Cast, like the P series, with a tablet remote control as well. You can still get a media streaming device for it if you want. It has 4K Ultra HD resolution, built-in Wi-Fi, 120Hz refresh rate, and five HDMI ports—not something you often see in mid-range TVs.
The Vizio M series is also one of the few TV lineups to get praise for its sound. It doesn’t get very loud, mind you, but it’s clearer and richer than others.
Since this article was published, Vizio released a new version of the Smart LED TV, the Vizio D50-D1.
Best Picture Quality: LG 55EG9100 OLED TV [No Longer Available]
The LG 55EG9100 fails in many areas. For example, it does not have 4K Ultra HD support. The LG 55EG9100 does not support HDR. The LG 55EG9100 is curved, not flat, which seems gimmicky. The LG 55EG9100 also comes with WebOS 3.0, so you will probably need to spend more to get a Roku media streamer. So why should you pay $1,400 for this TV?
It’s the OLED screen, my friends. It’s real, and it’s spectacular. I got to see a movie on this TV, and nothing–nothing–I’ve watched has come close to it. The OLED screen is so far ahead of even the best full-array LED TVs, it’s not even a comparison.
If you’re looking for the best picture quality possible without spending an ungodly amount of money, then this is the TV to get. If you’re trying to choose between a 65-inch 4K TV and this 55-inch Full HD TV, this is the TV to get. If you love your eyes and have the money, this is the TV to get.
The Best TV Today: LG OLED E7P
LG has a monopoly on making OLED televisions right now. And OLED is the best display technology at the moment. So it should be no surprise that it makes the best TV you can buy today. And having a monopoly means you can charge whatever you feel like.
The LG OLED E7P is mainly about bragging rights. Spending $5,000 on a television set is a little crazy. But hey, if you have the money, go for it. This too runs LG’s WebOS, so you might want a media streaming device to go with it.
Heck, even a Chromecast can make a smart media center. But if you’re spending 5K for a TV, I’m guessing you don’t really care about the additional expenditure of that streamer.
Should You Buy One?
If you’re in the market for a new TV, it’s actually going to be difficult to not buy a Smart TV. Regardless of whether you want the features or not, most new TVs are going to have some form of Smart TV functionality built in to varying degrees. It’s a similar situation to 3D – if you’re buying a good TV, then chances are it will also be 3D capable, purely because 3D features require good quality components.
That said, if you already have a TV that you’re happy with, the new Smart TV features are certainly nothing worth upgrading for. If you already have a computer, an Apple TV, Xbox 360 (all great media center devices), or an iPad – these perform the same job better, and your Smart TV isn’t going to offer anything new. If you don’t already have a PC or other device hooked up to your TV, then you will undoubtedly find some value in a Smart TV.
Do you have a Smart TV, and do you actually use some or all of the features? Why did you chose that manufacturer in particular? Are you going to buy a new TV this year, and do Smart TV features sound like something you might want? Let’s discuss in the comments section below.
Original article written by James Bruce. Updated by Mihir Patkar on Sept 20, 2016