Having one of the best TV panels in your living room is a joy. Whether you just watch TV occasionally, or you subscribe to all the streaming channels and have all the game consoles hooked up, we all love having the best TV we can afford in our homes. In 2021, you don't need to spend a fortune to get a good 4K TV either, as you'll find models from around $250 upwards. Sure, some super-buyers will spend $1000s on special OLED and QLED panels, capable of showing images in 8K resolution, but most don't need that kind of tech right now.
If you're spending big on one of the best premium TVs, we recommend going with either an OLED or QLED TV. You spend more, but the difference is noticeable from regular 4K TVs. OLEDs give deeper blacks, and you get thinner, lighter TV units. QLEDs give more vibrant colors, and deeper blacks then regular LED TVs.
What makes for the best TV right now? Well, for us it's a balance between performance and price. Most TVs will display at 4K, and even the cheaper sets have HDR capabilities, so this is enough for all broadcast TV signals and the vast majority of streaming services and video games. Almost all TVs are smart TVs too, so they'll have streaming capabilities and voice commands. If you 'just need a TV' you can probably get a 40"-55" LED model and get change from $500. Easily.
The best TV brands for most users are Samsung, LG, and Sony. Here you're getting quality panels, well-made TVs, and great user interfaces. These usually come with things like special game modes, better viewing angles, and special upscaling technology to make older shows look great. If you're going budget, pick from the likes of TCL, Philips, and Hisense. While they're not as feature packed, and the panels aren't quite as good (you'll struggle to notice much difference), budget TV brands have come a long way in the past few years, and you can go bigger for your money, or spend less overall.
1. LG C9 OLED TV: Best TV overall
The LG C9 OLED TV is our top rated television above all others. This is thanks to a blend of super picture quality, excellent ease of use, decent price for what you get and stunning looks. The screen produces some of the best blacks, with rich definition even in darker scenes, as well as some superbly punchy and intense colors. All that is enhanced by Dolby Vision HDR and the 4K resolution that this OLED offers along with its buttery smooth movement performance.
That makes this great for movies, perfect for sport, excellent for gaming and, of course, ideal for nature. It's even solid for anything else since skin tones are so expertly rendered, making it feel real. There are lots of apps all housed in the super easy to use webOS platform that's still one of the best out there.
OLED isn't cheap but then this is a TV that will stand out over even the higher priced competition. Plus it'll last you for years thanks to the tech onboard and the update support from LG. A very tough TV to top.
- Read our LG C9 OLED TV review
2. Samsung Q90R QLED TV: Best picture
The Samsung Q90R QLED TV is one of the best examples of how QLED is here to give OLED a real run for its money. The blacks are some of the best on any non-OLED TV yet, the key here, you also get really bright images - for our money, this is the best panel you can get today. That means the colors are fantastic, with real punch. From full-array local dimming to anti-reflection screen covering, this is the TV that's built for 2,000 nit bright and punchy images, making it ideal for daytime viewing or lighting up a whole room at night. You also get HDR10+, something much of the competition doesn't offer. There's also a 120Hz refresh rate making it great for gaming and sports action too. The Q90R looks great, offers impressive audio, and features a super easy to use operating system that makes this worth the money. The only real issue is the price, and the fact that it is a heavier panel than its OLED rivals.
- Read our Samsung Q90R QLED TV review
3. Sony A9G OLED TV: Best sound
The Sony A9G OLED TV is another television with a superb picture, thanks to that OLED panel and Sony smart processing, but this one also sounds good too. In fact it sounds great thanks to the Acoustic Surface Audio+ which is a unique tech that uses actuators to make the TV's glass vibrate to create sound. The result is truly immersive room filling audio that's superb quality and offers a defined and wide soundstage. So while this TV is expensive, you can at least factor in not adding a sound system to your costs. The upscaling of visuals is also excellent making all content fantastic with smooth tracking, rich colors, deep blacks and HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG support. A top-quality TV with a price to reflect that.
- Read our Sony A9G OLED TV review
4. TCL 6-Series QLED Roku TV: Best for affordable quality
The TCL 6-Series QLED Roku TV is an affordable way to get some of the best image performance thanks to this QLED panel. That means rich colors, deep blacks and decent tracking. You also get all the HDR formats including Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and HLG – something a lot of the big brands don't offer. This also has Roku built in so you can access a huge wealth of apps and features right from your remote. What's the catch? Motion isn't the best and the images could be brighter but even these caveats are only going to be noticed by the most discerning of eyes.
- Read our TCL 6-Series QLED Roku TV review
5. Hisense H8F ULED TV: Best budget-friendly TV for gaming
The Hisense H8F ULED TV is a budget friendly television that offers lots of features. ULED means this uses full-array local dimming to get better quality pictures that avoid light bleed and can offer great contrast. This also offers top HDR compatibility with all the formats supported. The 120Hz refresh rate means this offers really smooth video that makes it a great option for gamers that want a big screen. While the stand is a little awkward and the audio was thoroughly average, these are minor gripes when you consider what you're getting at this price.
- Read our Hisense H8F ULED TV review
6. Samsung Q950TS 8K QLED TV: Best 8K television
The Samsung Q950TS 8K QLED TV is about as future-proof as you can get right now thanks to its 8K resolution HDR panel. There isn't a lot of 8K content at the moment and the price of this screen, even at its smallest, is prohibitively expensive. But the key here is that this can upscale content, so even current 4K feeds look better on this screen. Factor in how long this will last you and suddenly that price doesn't seem so steep. With the bright performance, wide color gamut and smooth motion handling, this is a superb TV that should stay that way for years to come.
- Read our Samsung Q950TS 8K QLED TV review
7. Vizio M-Series Quantum 4K TV: Best for QLED color on a budget
The Vizio M-Series Quantum 4K TV is a really great way to get QLED technology for less. That means you get all the rich and punchy colors that this panel has to offer backed by local dimming for excellent blacks. The HDR, which supports Dolby Vision and HDR10, helps to show how well this TV can deliver both contrast and that wide color gamut. You also get the SmartCast 3.0 operating system which is limited on apps but offers all the big streaming platforms plus you get Google Cast and Apple AirPlay control built in. It's a genuinely good looking TV too with minimal bezel that helps show off that great picture quality.
- Read our Vizio M-Series Quantum 4K TV review
What does 4K actually mean?
When people talk about 4K TV what does that actually mean? 4K refers to the maximum resolution that the TV can display images at. Almost all modern TVs are 4K, which is a resolution of 3840x2160 pixels displayed in the standard 16:9 format (that's the shape of your TV). You may also hear 4K described as Ultra High Definition (UHD or Ultra HD), but the resolution is exactly the same. We call it 4K because it is four times the pixel resolution of regular HD.
Full High Definition, or FHD, is 1920x1080 pixels. You'll often see it referred to as 1080p, which is talking about how the picture is generated by your display. The 'p' stands for progressive scan, which basically means that when your TV displays a picture it is showing 1080 lines all at the same time, updating them each time a frame changes. Technically, the lowest resolution of HD is 1280x720 (or 720p), and images shown at this size are still classed as High Definition.
You should also consider that not all movies and TV broadcasts are 4K. In fact, a surprising number are only in Full HD or lower. So, regardless of the maximum display potential of your TV, it could be that you're only watching content in regular HD (1080p). Many TVs will attempt to artificially upscale images from HD to 4K, but you'll never get the same result as footage that is created in 4K originally.
What is the difference between OLED and QLED?
OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode, and is a technique in TV panels that allows each individual pixel to be switched on and off independently of the others. This means you can get sharper pictures, for sure, but how does that explain OLED's famously deeper black tones? Well, regular LED panels use either back lights or side lights to illuminate their LEDs, and they do so in groups. So, no matter how accurate your back or side-lighting is, you will always get a slight halo or blooming effect around LEDs, and you won't be able to switch areas of the panel off completely to obtain those levels of absolute black. The advantages of OLED panels is they can be incredibly thin (you don't need to house a backlight!) and can show sharp images with deep blacks. The disadvantages is that they're expensive, and can't get as bright as QLEDs. Speaking of which...
QLED is Samsung's preferred technology, and works differently to OLED, despite sounding remarkably similar. QLED stands for Quantum Dot Light Emitting Diode, and it works by placing a Quantum Dot filter over the LEDs inside the TV. Inside the filter are crystal semi-conductor particles that can be lit to form precise colors, at higher brightnesses than regular LEDs. This means you're able to produce more vivid color ranges, while retaining accuracy, despite the fact that QLED panels are technically back lit, like regular 4K TVs. The pros of QLED is that you get brighter images and better, more accurate colors. The downside is that panels are heavier and slightly thicker than OLED and, oh yeah, they're very expensive too.