Everyone could use a little help scoring the best TVs for the money. Timing your TV purchase right is one way to get a great deal. Consumer Reports recently teamed up with Gap Intelligence, a retail and e-commerce market research company, to run an analysis of television pricing to determine the best times of the year to buy a new set. (Find out when to get the lowest price on your next TV.)
Not surprisingly, Black Friday is indeed the time for the deepest discounts. But we're fast approaching the second best time of year to buy a set at a discount: the two weeks before the Super Bowl, which will be played Feb. 5 this year.
But that doesn’t mean you should just grab your wallet and head out to a store (or go online) uninformed. We’ve put together some general guidelines to help you understand which features to expect within three budgets. Armed with that information, you can check through our complete TV ratings to find a model with the size, price, and performance you desire.
40 to 43 inches: $170 to $400
49 to 55 inches: $250 to $700
60 inches and larger: $500 to $1,100
Don’t need a super-fancy TV loaded with features? You can still get a basic set that delivers great picture quality at a surprisingly low price. The key with an entry-level set is to focus on the few features you care about and understand what you can live without.
What you get. Unless you’re shopping for the largest screen sizes, you’ll probably be choosing a regular 1080p high-definition screen rather than a higher-resolution 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV. That's fine because that extra resolution isn’t really noticeable until you get into the jumbo sizes—65 inches or larger. Also, expect a set with 60Hz refresh rates rather than one with a claim of 120Hz or higher. (Higher refresh rates can help reduce the motion blur that can occur during fast-motion scenes.) And the TV will probably come with a basic remote and one or two HDMI ports.
What you don’t get. If you do manage to score a 4K TV at a budget price, its performance will probably be lower than that of a higher-priced set. Entry-level televisions may also lack the more advanced color- and picture-processing technologies found in more sophisticated sets. And some don’t come with smart-TV capability.
Is it for you? If your main priority is to have a decent-sized screen to watch sports, TV shows, and an occasional movie, you may not need all of the fancy features you get with higher-priced sets. Check our ratings, pick out a few models in your desired screen size with at least very good picture quality, then shop around for the best deal. You can always add smart-TV capability later with a streaming player.
40 to 43 inches: $350 to $550
49 to 55 inches: $650 to $1,200
60 inches and larger: $950 to $2,300
Midpriced sets almost by definition represent the sweet spot of the market. These models usually offer the best balance of price, performance, and features.
What you get. High-resolution 4K screens are now common on mainstream sets. You can also expect some level of high dynamic range (HDR) capability, technology that boosts the contrast between the lightest and darkest images a TV can produce with HDR-enabled content. On pricier sets, our testers have found that HDR can reveal richer detail and more dramatic highlights, but the results aren’t always so impressive in this price tier.
Most TVs 40 inches and larger are now smart TVs and come with built-in WiFi for connecting to home networks. You’ll also probably get a faster 120Hz refresh rate plus local dimming, a feature that can turn off some zones of a TV’s backlight to create deeper blacks and better contrast. And you can probably count on at least three, maybe four, HDMI inputs for connecting your gear.
What you don’t get. Companies reserve their highest performance features for top-of-the-line models. Why else would you spend more? So sets in this range usually don’t have very effective HDR performance, precise local dimming, or the most advanced video processing.
Is it for you? Midlevel models are the best option for most people, especially if the TV will be the main set. Getting a 4K model may also help future-proof your purchase.
40 to 43 inches: $400 to $800
49 to 55 inches: $750 to $3,000
60 inches and larger: $1,600 to $6,000
These TVs are the priciest in a company’s lineup and offer the best performance and all of the latest features. Many also have slim profiles and designs with ultrathin bezels. (You’ll also see a lot of curved TVs in this price range, though that’s no longer exclusively a top-tier feature.) The most fully featured sets are typically available only in larger screen sizes.
What you get. This year, sets from major manufacturers are all 4K models with 120Hz refresh rates and bright screens that highlight HDR content. You’ll also get more of those contrast-enriching local dimming zones as well as the brand’s most sophisticated video processing, which can produce sharper images and better results when upconverting lower-resolution 1080p content to 4K resolution.
Top-tier sets are where manufacturers roll out their most sophisticated smart-TV systems and more advanced remote controls. These remotes often have built-in microphones for voice-controlled searches (“play ‘Stranger Things’ ”).
What you don’t get. You get everything except a low price.
Is it for you? Top-of-the-line models guarantee the latest technology that manufacturers have to offer, as well as the top level of performance. Just be aware that the higher-end features found in this year’s top-level TVs will often be available on next year’s midlevel sets at far lower prices.
Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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