Why Buy A Budget TV?
The top performers in our review are the LG 55LH5750, the Gold Award winner; Samsung J5500, the Silver Award winner; and Hisense 55H5C, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a TV to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 TVs.
A good LED TV doesn't have to cost a lot of money. With the advent of OLED and quantum dot technology – as well as the prevalence of 4K resolution – it can feel as though great picture quality is unobtainable for the average person. The fact is that’s far from the truth. HDTVs with 1080p imaging still boast great picture quality and have quick enough refresh rates for ultra-smooth picture, which is great for Blu-ray movies and sports. As newer advancements catch the eye of the masses, 1080p HD LED TVS are cheaper and more affordable than ever.
Don't equate cheap with sub-par quality. When we mention cheap TVs, we are only speaking of the price, not the quality. While these TVs don't use the latest display technology, they offer many of the same smart features, streaming apps and fast refresh rates as the most expensive TVs. Consider these TVs a great way to get good picture quality in your home at an affordable price. On the other hand, if you are looking for the latest in TV display technology and don't mind spending the extra money to get it, check out our 4K LED TV reviews.
Budget TVs: 4K UHD vs. 1080p HD
Ultra high-definition TVs have roughly four times the pixels of 1080p HD sets. That means more information can be sent to the display, which results in better picture quality, but here is the caveat – this only matters if the display is big enough and you sit close enough to the TV to notice. A 45-inch 1080p TV looks the same to the naked eye as a 4K UHD TV from roughly 7 feet away – the distance the average person sits from the TV. In this situation, spending the extra money on a 4K set is not worth it when the difference in quality is minuscule at best. Ultra-HD matters most with the closer you sit and with bigger screen sizes.
While 4K UHD TVs have taken over the marketplace, the amount of 4K content hasn't quite caught up to the TV manufacturers. You will also need a media player that can process UHD content; 4K media players often cost $500 or more. If you are looking to upgrade your TV to a large 4K set, you'll want to consider each of these points. Unless you're ready to purchase a 55-inch (or bigger) screen and are willing to pay for the extra media player in order to receive limited content, it isn't a bad idea to save a few bucks and go with a cheap smart TV.
If you are worried that a cheap TV is going to leave you without the features found in a more expensive TV, you might be surprised. Many people use streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video to access their favorite television shows. Both expensive and budget TVs have smart interfaces to stream your favorite content from the streaming apps you subscribe to. You won't be left behind the curve with a 1080p TV.
Budget TVs: One Size Doesn't Fit All
One of the best things about shopping for budget HDTVs is the variety of size options. In some cases, you can find the TV you want as big as 60 inches or as little as 32 inches. It's nice having that variety when you realize that a 55-inch smart TV might be a hair too big for your kitchen countertop. For example, the Sony W600B LED TV is not only one of the best 60-inch TVs for under $1000, but it also provides you with three different sizing options – 40, 48 and 60 inches – to fulfill your spacing needs.
The Hisense 55HC5 is another TV you can find in many different sizes. The TV comes in a 55-inch set that is great for the living room all the way to a 32-inch model which is great for a bedroom or kitchen area. Keep in mind that if you are looking for a smaller TV, the price reduces with the size.
If you find yourself wanting more information on this subject matter, visit our articles on TVs. There you'll find articles on a variety of different TV subjects.
Budget TVs: What We Tested, What We Found
Testing TVs takes a lot of patience. In our case it meant watching the same 15-minute clips over and over again until we dreamed about the movie scenes. We watched clips from "Skyfall", "Mad Max" and "Gravity" repeatedly in a side-by-side comparison of the TVs to determine the sets with the best picture quality. To further test the TVs, we watched them from straight on and from an angle, both with the lights on and off. We also had a group of reviewers watch all of the TVs in a blind viewing test. All brand indicators were covered up so our reviewers did not know which TV they were watching. The reviewers scored each TV, and we collected and averaged the data.
To double down on our testing efforts, we used Calman software, our test pattern generator and sensor to test each TV's contrast ratio and color accuracy. We took all of this data into account to recommend the budget TV with the best overall picture quality.
After all the data was collected, we found the LG 55LH5750 has the best picture quality in our comparison. It scored better in our software testing than any other TV for color accuracy and has great contrast. The picture had minimal flaws in our in-depth viewing testing and impressed the reviewers in our blind testing. The picture quality does not disappoint.
Our efforts continued with remote control testing. This testing consisted of gauging how handy and comfortable the remote was to use. The size of the buttons, feel of the buttons along with size and weight of the remote control were all considerations in our grading.
Budget TVs: What Else Is Important
We evaluated the user interface on each of the budget TVs. Most of the TVs in our lineup have some form of smart platform that offers up a handful of streaming services. Exceptions include the Samsung K5100 and Insignia, both of which are not smart TVs. Since you'll be spending plenty of your time navigating your TV's interface to use streaming apps to watch movies or search the internet, we graded each one on the web browser usability, ease of use and organization.
Vizio's SmartCast is one of the best smart interface platforms you'll find on a budget TV. SmartCast uses Google as its web browser, making it easy to surf the web. You can also download the SmartCast app to access all of the smart features from your phone. Your phone then becomes the central hub for all of the streaming apps available on SmartCast. The smart interface alone gives major appeal to this budget TV.
You want to make sure you have enough HDMI ports to connect all of your gaming consoles, Blu-ray players and other home media devices to your TV. TVs with at least three HDMI ports are desirable.
The last thing you want to do is shuffle behind your TV to unplug one device to connect another. The Sony TV offers more HDMI cable inputs than any other TV we reviewed, so you can plug all of your media players, gaming systems and Blu-ray players into the TV at once. No more squeezing between your wall and your TV to get to the inputs.
Budget TVs: Our Verdict and Recommendations
If you are looking for that 55-inch TV that is going to be the centerpiece of your home entertainment center and price doesn't concern you, then take a look at our 4K LED TV reviews. But if you are looking to score a cheap flat screen TV for your basement, kitchen or dorm room, 1080p is an affordable and smart alternative.
Best Budget TVs
The LG 55LH5750 is our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner. This budget TV boasts the best picture quality and a great smart interface. "Mad Max" and "Gravity" both looked great on this cheap 55-inch TV. The picture had deep blacks and vivid colors with little picture grain. This is a top recommendation for a cheap 55-inch TV with great picture quality. This TV only comes in 55 inches, which might be too big for a bedroom and is certainly too big for a kitchen countertop.
The Samsung J5500 is our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winner. The Tizen OS interface is one of the easiest to navigate, and it features all of the most popular streaming apps including Netflix and Amazon Video. Good picture quality follows the convenient interface. Although the TV is sharp, we did catch a handful of flaws in our viewing testing that weren't present in the LG. This Samsung TV does provide more HDMI cable inputs than the LG as well as more size options. If you are looking for a good bedroom TV, we recommend the 40-inch model. For living room areas, you should opt for the 49-inch display.
The Hisense H5C is our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winner. This TV won over our reviewers in our blind testing. Many of them enjoyed the vivid coloration of the TV. The Smart Central interface is not as pleasant to use as Tizen OS or webOS, but it does at least have a web browser, something the light version of webOS lacks. This TV is a little less expensive than both the Samsung and LG and is available in more sizes. Even though Hisense is a lesser-known name than LG and Samsung, it impressed us enough to make its way toward the top of our lineup.
Best TV under $300
Our ultimate budget pick is the Samsung K5100. This TV tested highly among our test group and displayed great color accuracy and contrast in our software testing. Unfortunately, this is not a smart TV. This TV cannot connect to the internet and does not feature any streaming services. If you are looking for a 40-inch bedroom TV with great picture quality and don't mind the lack of features, this is a good option.