After many hours of research, I have finally made my selection of the 6 best 4K TVs currently available on the market.
It wasn’t easy: the 4K TV market is ultra-competitive. That having been said, I believe that the LG C7V 55″ sets itself apart from the competition as being the best 4K TV on the market at the moment. As a matter of fact, it is the best and least expensive model of 4K TV employing OLED technology.
To learn more about my research methodology and in order to help you make your own selection, don’t forget to consult the buyer’s guide at the end of this article!
The best inexpensive 4K TVs
As with many high-tech products, navigating the world of entry-level 4K TVs can be difficult. Because of this, some of the more “innovative” entry-level 4K TVs often go overlooked.
The 4K TV market is highly competitive and no model in the entry-level price range can be expected to be perfect.
I have decided to only include 55″ models in my selection, and all of the models I have selected have a better than average display quality in addition to having a well thought out design.
It goes without saying that it is not possible to buy an OLED TV for under 1000€. The TVs with the best displays all invariably fall into the mid to high-end range! Entry-level models rely on LCD LED technology. This technology is capable of providing an enjoyable viewing experience but has mediocre contrast and latency values.
TCL U55C7006: the best inexpensive 4K TV
- Good quality to price ratio
- Bold and elegant design
- Android TV
- Good contrast levels and good overall image quality
- Rather mediocre built-in JBL speaker
- VA display panel
While the Chinese manufacturer TCL has sometimes been disappointing, the 2017 version of its 4K TV really impressed us; retailing for under 1000€, it has a very attractive quality to price ratio.
The first thing that interested me about this particular TV is its original design: from a distance, TCL’s 4K TV gives the impression of being a very thin panel. It is mounted on two rather skinny, shiny chrome legs in a V configuration – producing an overall effect of sober elegance.
Unfortunately, the U55C7006 does not fit well on all table tops since it requires a width of at least 20 cm. The TV itself measures only 5 cm in thickness – an impressive technical achievement in itself.
Surprisingly, while most manufacturers these days are opting for hidden speakers (often located behind the display, on its sides), TCL’s TV proudly displays its JBL soundbar (which covers its entire width).
All of this TV’s connectors can be found on its left-hand side and are contained within a box designed to help with cable management. This TV’s connectivity is very similar to that of the Samsung MU6175 which I will be speaking more about next. It features three HDMI 2.0 ports, one antenna connector, and one satellite connector; it also features an Ethernet port and an audio output Jack.
Its 55″ display panel employs VA technology. I invite you to take a look at my buyer’s guide in order to acquaint yourself with the problems this display panel technology presents – namely, in terms of image quality when viewed from a wide angle.
The U55C7006 has a glossy finish (making it more aesthetically pleasing when it is switched off) and its anti-reflective coating is quite effective. However, this TCL 4K TV should not be placed in direct exposure to sunlight since glossy displays are more susceptible to reflections than matte displays.
As far as the U55C7006’s image quality is concerned, it is beyond reproach. Its contrast levels are amazingly good for a TV in its price range: other entry-level 4K TVs are plagued by light leaks and problems with “clouding”. What’s more, its maximum luminosity is much brighter than that of the Samsung MU6175.
Its colorimetry is also near-perfect: TCL has made great strides in this regard. Its colors have good fidelity, are vibrant, and are well-balanced.
However, this TV does have one downside: its display panel only operates at a refresh rate of 50 Hz which is below the 60 Hz quality standard. As a result, it is sometimes prone to motion blurring – somewhat undercutting the efforts TCL has made to reduce its lag time. The U55C7006’s reduced lag time is among the arguments put forward by TCL in the promotion of its TV as “versatile” (meaning that it is suitable for gaming, except for slow games that don’t feature much fast movement; this is far from being true, however!)
And in terms of its sound quality, how good is its JBL soundbar? I’m sorry to have to report that it is more aesthetically pleasing than it is effective. With only 12 W of power, its results are not very convincing…It can’t compare to a good entry-level soundbar!
Voices are intelligible, but bass tones sound hollow and treble tones sound weak. It’s a shame that TCL decided to display such a mediocre soundbar so prominently on its TV. Although it would be somewhat redundant, you will probably want to equip yourself with a better-quality external soundbar.
Another of the U55C7006’s new features is its Android SmartTV capability: following in the footsteps of other major manufacturers such as Sony and Philips, TCL has entered into collaboration with Android TV.
Its Android applications are quite comprehensive. Of special interest is its good integration with VLC player (which is known for its wide compatibility with many different media file formats). One of the factors by which it is possible to best evaluate this TV is by its hardware. With 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage space and a four-core MediaTek processor, you certainly get your money’s worth. While it may not be a powerhouse, this TV has a very good quality to price ratio.
This TCL 4K TV also features Bluetooth and WiFi. My one regret is that it is not able to accept voice commands. While there are ways to get it to accept voice commands via Android software, unfortunately, its remote control does not feature a built-in microphone.
The U55C7006 has placed TCL in the mainstream. Its TV is one of the most competitive in the under-1000€ range. It is impossible not to notice the work that went into developing this TV’s hardware and software. Its integration of Android TV, in particular, makes this comprehensive TV very enjoyable to use. Nevertheless, the U55C7006 is far from being the most complete TV on the market when it comes to gaming and graphics or office work; for these applications, there are much better alternatives if you are willing to spend a little more!
Samsung UHD UE55: Samsung quality, affordable price
- Good quality to price ratio
- Bold and elegant design
- Good contrast levels and good overall image quality
- Rather mediocre built-in JBL speaker
- VA display panel
Samsung launched its MU6 product line in April of 2017 with the ambition of making UHD available to people on all kinds of budgets. And, while the MU6175’s features are not extraordinary, at least it features SmartTV!
The MU6175 has a rather conventional look, but there are a few noteworthy elements to its design. Contrary to many other entry-level 4K TVs, significant effort went into developing this TV’s design (it has the same design as the other products in Samsung’s MU6 product line).
In spite of the fact that it protrudes 20 cm towards the rear, the MU6175’s pedestal takes up very little room; it provides good stability while taking up as little surface area as possible, and it will fit on most TV stands without difficulty.
The MU6175’s narrow pedestal allows this TV to be placed in close proximity to a wall. Since its cables risk being bent and damaged by doing so, Samsung had the foresight to place all of the MU6175’s connectors on its side.
Among its connectors can be found one Ethernet port, three HDMI 2.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, one coaxial connector, and one optical audio port – the essentials. Of course, this Samsung TV is HDR10 compatible (the standard used most notably by Blu-Ray players and the newest gaming consoles).
However, this TV, like many others in the under 1000€-range, is equipped with a VA display panel. VA display panels offer very good image quality when viewed at a 90-degree angle – that is to say, head on.
Unfortunately, this LCD technology has a major shortcoming: its colors and its contrast levels are seriously degraded when the display viewed from an angle of less than 50 degrees (if viewed from the side, its image quality will appear seriously degraded).
Most VA TVs, namely Samsung’s, are able to offer an acceptable range of viewing angles of up to 90 degrees. That is to say, that the display can be viewed from directly in front or from an angle of up to 45 degrees to either side – this is how most people view their TV.
Beyond this angle, the TV’s colorimetry, black levels, and luminosity all experience a decrease in quality of up to 40%, significantly impacting visibility.
What about the MU6175’s image quality? While it has its strong points, it is not the best in any particular respect.
I was not able to detect any major light leaks or inconsistencies in this TVs black levels – usually a major problem with LCD displays. Because of this, the MU6175 is able to provide fairly good contrast levels.
However, its luminosity is a little lower than that of other models. This shouldn’t be a problem for most users, but it would make a big difference for anyone accustomed to a better-quality 4K TV.
The number of colors the MU6175 is able to display is relatively low and it is somewhat lacking in terms of its color saturation. Its color fidelity is adequate, so long as it is not being used for graphics work.
Last but not least, despite being limited to a 60 Hz refresh rate (a fact which is sure to displease fast-pace gamers), it is equipped with BFI – or “Image Flicker”- technology which inserts a black frame between images in order to reduce image blurring. Unfortunately, it is not able to rival the performance of the 120 Hz gaming TVs marketed for gaming.
It is easy to see where Samsung saved on cost when designing the MU6175. Its VA display panel technology is far from being the best these days. That being said, the MU6175’s overall good performance makes up for its slightly lower luminosity.
As I mentioned earlier, the power and the fidelity of the built-in audio system of entry-level TVs is often disappointing. As a matter of fact, the performance of the MU6175’s audio system is rather mediocre: while it reproduces voices and mid-range tones quite well, its bass tones are far too present.
At high volume (over 80 dB), its performance is simply unsatisfactory. You will probably want to invest in an external soundbar if you end up purchasing the MU6175.
Unsurprisingly, Samsung’s SmartTV runs on a new version of Tizen – also called Smart Hub. Its interface is quite enjoyable, having been optimized for use on Samsung’s best 4K TVs. The built-in microphone on the MU6175’s remote control is capable of receiving voice commands which compensate for any shortcomings in the ease-of-use of the MU6175’s interface (namely, the need to go through lengthy menus to change the slightest setting).
Among this TV’s apps can be found Amazon Video, Netflix, YouTube, but also a multitude of the games and services that have been enriching the SmartHub platform for 4 years now. What’s more, in addition to featuring Ethernet connectivity, this TV also features built-in WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity.
In conclusion, I would like to say that it was not easy choosing the Samsung 4K TV with the best quality to price ratio. Most of the other models in the MU 6 product line retail for over 1000€ or have other negative aspects.
The MU6175 strikes a good balance, and because it is “only” a 55″ model, you will be able to allocate a larger portion of your budget to addressing other issues. Ultimately, this TV’s high-end SmartTV interface is a real asset.
The best mid-level 4K TVs
Once again, In this section, I have chosen to limit my selection to 55-inch models. All of the TVs I have selected are, of course, equipped with SmartTV technology and firmware similar to that used on high-end TVs; they also have adequate connectivity and reasonably good performance. The image quality of all the TVs I have selected is above average and considerable effort has been put into their design.
LG OLED 55 C7V: the best mid-level model
- Impeccable OLED display
- Intuitive navigation
- Good choice for gamers (120 Hz, no latency)
- Just decent speakers
- Connectors at the back
It is only by crossing the 2000€ threshold that you will be able to purchase an OLED TV. And yet, it may not always be worth doing so! Because of its pleasant design, good colorimetry, and good image quality, LG’s C7V is easily the OLED TV with the best quality to price ratio at the moment.
(Just an aside: I am aware that the OLED 55C8, a higher level model, was released in the spring of 2018 and that it looks very promising. However, I prefer to wait until I have seen more user-feedback concerning its performance before including it in my selection of the best 4K TVs).
It has an exceptionally thin 55″ display panel. It only measures 5 cm at its thickest point and towards its top edge, it measures a few millimeters at best (another advantage of OLED technology).
Because it has such optimized dimensions, it would have been nice to be able to mount the C7V on a wall. Unfortunately, unlike Samsung’s displays, the C7V’s rear cover does not have a uniform thickness and, therefore, cannot be wall mounted.
Its brushed metal pedestal has a sober appearance and a width of around 25 to 35 cm. Compared to some of the discrete stands used by Samsung’s displays, this TV’s pedestal seems to stand out from its very black OLED display.
The C7V’s connectivity is, unfortunately, not optimal: while three of its four HDMI ports (as well as one USB 3.0 port) are located on its side, most of the essential connections must be made at its rear where its WLAN, antenna and digital audio connectors are located (in addition to one more USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, and one Ethernet port).
LG’s C7V distinguishes itself as one of the best models of fall 2017.
OLED provides unrivaled contrast levels (I will explain why in the buyer’s guide). OLED technology provides intense black levels, excellent contrast levels, and is not subject to light leaks. The C7V’s OLED display panel is also very good at pixel differentiation and offers better luminosity than the displays in LG’s B6 and B7 product lines – which were already considered to have very good luminosity. While this display’s performance is slightly inferior to that of top-of-the-line IPS displays, its anti-reflective coating does an excellent job of optimizing its performance – even in a brightly lit room.
Since the C7V does not use VA display panel technology, it is able to provide very wide viewing angles – its display’s color and contrast fidelity remain very satisfactory up to a viewing angle of 60 degrees.
The C7V also scores high marks in terms of its colorimetry despite a slight imbalance in its red and blue colors. This TV’s color balance can easily be adjusted via its intuitive settings. By playing around with these settings, it is easy to obtain near-perfect colorimetry (except perhaps for the purposes of very demanding graphics work).
LG’s C7V does a great job at minimizing motion blurring thanks to its 120 Hz refresh rate and its OLED display panel’s near-zero response time. As a result, the C7V is currently one of the best TVs for gamers on the market.
Surprisingly, this LG TV has rather good sound – a rare thing to find on an ultra-thin TV! Nevertheless, demanding users, like myself, will still prefer to use an external soundbar with the C7V.
Why? Mainly because this C7V’s bass tones are to present and its treble tones don’t sound sharp enough – especially at high volume. Nevertheless, its built-in audio system is quite intelligible and reasonably loud.
Discussing the C7V gives me an opportunity to speak about the third SmartTV operating system in use these days: LG’s WebOS, which has changed a lot over the years, was one of the first operating systems to be implemented on a TV. Because LG’s WebOS is so easy to navigate, there are very few navigation buttons on the C7V’s remote control – a good sign.
And since the C7V is, of course, equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, it is able to access a host of different services: Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Google Play, as well as a good number of French-language applications such as news and weather apps. Its application library is quite extensive.
The C7V’s comprehensive and intuitive settings are more than satisfactory: you should be able to obtain the best possible image without the need for a degree in audio-visual engineering – the same cannot be said about all TVs these days!
Lastly, while the C7V’s design is not its strongest suit, it isn’t too bad either. And, the C7V excels at all the rest. All in all, it is currently the best TV retailing for under 2000€. Given the imperfections plaguing entry-level models and the price of high-end models (which has skyrocketed since 2016 and which can reach upwards of 8000€), it is not hard to see why this TV has the best quality to price ratio of any mid-level 4K TV.
PHILIPS 55POS9002: a new processor for a successful OLED TV
- Very thin-profiled design
- Ambilight system
- Good overall image quality
- Mediocre audio quality
Released in August 2017, the 55POS9002 is Philips’ second OLED TV. Equipped with Ambilight technology, this TV also distinguishes itself by its new processor – the Philips P5 – which takes image processing to new heights.
The 55POS9002’s design is even more impressive than that of the LG OLED 55 C7V: its maximum thickness is only 4.8 cm. However, the depth of its central pedestal is 22.8 cm, meaning that it will take up quite a bit of room on your TV stand.
Generally speaking, its connectivity is rather conventional. On its side can be found two (of its four) HDMI ports, two USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0), one PCMCIA port (for a decoder card), and one headphone jack. The TV’s digital optical audio port, Ethernet port, and antenna connector are located on its rear side.
Even though the 55POS9002 uses a display panel dating to 2016 (the same one that was used on the LG 55B6V – an older version of the LG TV that I presented above), it is able to deliver the high image quality expected of a 4K TV. And, thanks to its effective anti-reflective coating, the 55POS9002’s semi-glossy display delivers excellent results, even in a brightly lit room.
The 55POS9002’s display panel relies on OLED technology. As a result, it has good color fidelity, good colorimetry, and breathtaking contrast levels – even when viewed in a pitch-dark room.
I would now like to say a few words about the 55POS9002’s famous P5 processor – Philips’ first consumer-level image processor. Its main advantage is making it possible to display Full HD content on an Ultra HD display without degrading the content source in any way. The end result is an amazingly detailed Full HD image which has been corrected for sharpness. The P5 processor also compensates for the motion blurring sometimes associated with OLED displays (when displaying motion that is too fast for the eye to follow).
Another of the 55POS9002’s advantages over other models in my selection is its Ambilight system. This system was originally designed to project light (of the same color as the image being displayed) onto 1, 2, 3 or even 4 of the TV’s sides, depending on the model (in this case, 3 sides: left, right, and top). However, the 55POS9002’s Ambilight system is an improved version: it can be programmed to provide mood lighting based on the TV’s visual or auditory content. It can also be connected to Philips brand smart bulbs in a Hue environment.
What really disappointed me about this Philips TV is the quality of its built-in audio system: with a power of only 30 W, its performance is mediocre, making an external soundbar almost mandatory.
In terms of SmartTV, as I mentioned earlier, Philips is part of the Android TV family. As such, it has access to the wide assortment of application available to the Android operating system. As an added bonus, Philips has also incorporated its own menu system which provides quick access to a number of its TV’s settings – a user-friendly feature that is definitely worth highlighting! The 55POS9002’s remote control is capable of receiving voice commands. It also features a complete keyboard on its rear side, which greatly simplifies such operations as entering your WiFi password. The cherry on top is that this Philips TV is equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity.
In summary, putting aside the mediocre quality of its audio system, the Philips 55POS9002 is an excellent TV with very good image quality. Philips’ innovative Ambilight system also deserves special mention.
The best high-end 4K TVs
In our discussion of 4K TVs retailing for under 2000€ we were confronted by two main limiting factors.
The first of these is display size – which was limited to 55″ in our previous discussion. However, in this section about high-end models, we will be discussing even larger TVs (the largest TVs can reach 75″)!
The second limiting factor we encountered was the mediocre quality of built-in audio systems. While high-end TVs are expected to incorporate a soundbar, demanding Home Cinema users will likely still prefer to equip themselves with high-quality external audio equipment.
LG OLED 65 E7: the best high-end model
- Excellent OLED display
- Ultra-thin, high-quality OLED display
- Very refined design
- Good choice for gamers (120 Hz, no latency)
- Very decent speakers
- Its connectivity has a negative impact on its design
- High price
In many respects, the LG OLED 65 E7 is similar to the C7V; it also has the best quality to price ratio of any very large TV.
The E7’s design is more refined than that of the C7V: its edges have been thinned out to the point of almost disappearing. As a result, this TV’s display almost appears to float atop its pedestal.
While its anthracite gray soundbar does not spoil its overall design, I would have preferred a less visible pedestal. Just as with the C7V, the E7’s light gray color pedestal seems to clash with its display’s very deep blacks.
The LG E7 isn’t the thinnest display on the market either. It has a maximum thickness of 6 cm at its base (which does taper off to almost nothing towards its top).
Most of this TV’s connections are located on its rear side – which somewhat complicates cable management. While I may be a little obsessive when it comes to cable management, I feel that connecting to the E7’s four HDMI ports and two USB 3.0 ports from its side would ruin the beautiful silhouette created by its ultra-thin edges.
Among its rear-facing connectors can be found one WLAN port, one IN port, and one optical audio port.
Because OLED technology is so standardized, in many respects, the LG E7 has similar performance to a number of its OLED competitors: near-zero lag, extremely deep black levels, well-defined contrast levels, and almost non-existent motion blurring.
There is, however, one downside to this technology: image persistence. When an image is displayed for too long, it leaves behind an impression on the screen for a few seconds. While this phenomenon is not a big problem, the LG E7’s persistence rate is quite high.
In terms of colorimetry, the E7’s performance is slightly inferior to that of the Bravia A1 (which has truly remarkable color fidelity, and about which I will be speaking next).
With a native refresh rate of 120 Hz and almost non-existent motion blurring, the LG E7 is very well-suited to gaming purposes.
While its audio quality is not able to rival that of a good-quality external soundbar, the LG E7’s audio system is quite good. Its stereo effect, which can be heightened via directional optimization, is quite convincing. While more demanding users will most likely want to use external audio equipment, most people will find the E7’s built-in audio system to be satisfactory.
The fidelity of this TV’s audio is all the more noteworthy because it does not vary significantly with volume level; its audio remains intelligible and does not lose any of its depth or vividness.
The last point I would like to make is that the LG E7 uses the same OS as the C7V. Like the Philips 55POS9002, its remote control is also capable of accepting voice commands (a feature you will quickly become accustomed to using). Furthermore, the E7 features both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity.
All in all, the respectably large, 65″, E7 provides one of the best images you can buy for less than 4000€. However, if you are not especially interested in a very large TV, you may prefer the C7V.
That having been said, in terms of its quality to price ratio, it is still the best 65″ TV currently available on the market.
Sony Bravia A1: an excellent OLED TV
- Excellent OLED display
- Can be wall mounted
- Superb minimalist design
- Good choice for gamers (120 Hz, no latency)
- Slightly tilted display (4 degrees)
- Price is a little high
Sony’s Bravia line of OLED TVs is excellent. Since the quality of Bravia TVs is comparable to that of the LG C7V, you may be wondering why we didn’t select a Bravia TV as our best high-end 4K TV. The answer has to do with price. While the quality of Bravia TVs may be near-perfect, they are quite expensive.
(I would just like to point out that I am aware that a new model has just been released – the KD-55AF8, which retails for a more affordable price. As I explain in my buyer’s guide, I would like to see how it performs over the course of a few months before including it in my selection).
The first thing you notice about the Bravia A1 is the almost non-existent thickness of its display panel. Exploiting the compactness of OLED technology to the fullest, Sony was able to create a display that more closely resembles a pane of glass than it does a TV – its thinness is truly remarkable.
This effect is reinforced by the A1’s pedestal. Instead of equipping the A1 with a conventional pedestal, Sony preferred to make the Bravia A1’s wall mount hardware dual purpose. As such, it can be tilted – in the manner of a picture frame – to support the TV’s weight.
In this discrete and elegant configuration, the A1 appears to gently rest on the piece of furniture it is placed on. However, this solution does have its drawbacks. First of all, using the A1’s wall mount in this configuration causes the TV to be tilted backward at a slight angle (even though this tilt is hardly noticeable when the TV is switched on). Perhaps more importantly, this configuration is quite bulky (requiring a width of at least 35 cm).
Fortunately, most of the Bravia A1’s connectors are located on its support, and they mostly face downwards – a solution that should work well whether the TV is being wall mounted or resting on a piece of furniture.
Its connectors include four HDMI 2.0 ports, three USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0), one Ethernet port, one IR port, one composite connector, one 3.5 Jack, and one optical audio connector – the essentials.
Let’s speak for a moment about this TV’s performance. As I’ve already mentioned, the main advantage of OLED technology is its ability to offer near-perfect contrast levels. Furthermore, OLED displays are not susceptible to light leaks and have excellent black levels.
The downside of OLED displays is their luminosity which is often inferior to that of competing technologies. Part of the problem seems to be due to software: HDR tends to be overzealous and to reduce a display’s luminosity in the process.
The Bravia A1’s color fidelity is, however, impeccable. Thanks to Sony’s upcoming software update, the Bravia A1 will soon become Dolby Vision compatible, meaning that it will go from using the 10-bit HDR10 standard to a 12-bit standard (basically, it will have more colors).
While Bravia TVs come with rather good pre-calibration color fidelity, a little bit of tweaking will make a Bravia TV suitable for most types of graphics work.
Especially since the Sony Bravia A1 is also pretty good at handling motion. Like most OLED displays, it has near-zero latency and an extrapolation system that allows for rendering at up to 120 fps.
I was fully expecting this high-end TV to provide good-quality audio. And, as it turns out, the A1 scores some points for the directional optimization of its sound.
The Sony Bravia A1’s audio system is also impressive from a technical standpoint. Since it has been calibrated for faithful reproduction of voices, it has a tendency to emphasize mid-range tones. Like many other built-in audio systems, it also has a tendency to overemphasize bass tones and reduce treble tones at high volume. With a maximum volume level of 90 dB, it should be able to satisfy most users, especially those not specifically looking for a truly exceptional Home Cinema experience (who would undoubtedly prefer to use an external soundbar)!
As I mentioned earlier, Sony TVs run on the Android TV OS. While it may not be the easiest platform to navigate, it does feature the most comprehensive list of applications. The microphone built into the A1’s remote control is an advantage for anyone looking to avoid navigating through extensive menus.
In the end, had the Bravia A1 been just a little bit less expensive, it would have been at the top of my list because of its audacious design, its near-perfect image quality, its comprehensive connectivity, and its ability to be wall mounted. The A1 is one of the most elegant and comprehensive TVs currently on the market. I must admit that I am eager to hear user-feedback about Sony’s newest model; if it is able to offer the same quality as the Bravia A1 for a lower price, I will be the first one to buy it.
How do you choose a 4K TV?
Have you been following the changes taking place in the world of flat-panel TVs these last few years? If you haven’t, don’t worry! I will recap the most important changes before going any further.
Technical data sheets can be intimidating: manufacturers have a tendency to confuse their customers with a lot of technical characteristics that only really make sense from a marketing perspective. In this confusion, many less well-known brands attempt to pass off their products as better than they really are.
That having been said, it is actually quite easy to tell an excellent TV apart from a bad one (and to avoid falling into a trap) once you learn what to pay attention to.
What are the important characteristics to look for in a 4K TV?
The golden rule is not to let yourself be distracted by labels that sound good but don’t really mean anything: LG “Super” UHD, ULED, UltraHD PREMIUM, SUHD TV, etc. While it is perfectly legal to invent a label that sounds like it is describing a revolutionary innovation when it really isn’t, 4K will always remain 4K, no matter what label is used to describe it.
The different display types
I have brought up this subject many times when speaking about different TVs – for good reason: there have been some significant changes in display panel technology in the last few years!
First of all, let me just say that plasma technology is dead. Do not buy a plasma TV; the future is LCD and OLED technology.
LCD technology relies on a series of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to light up the display. These diodes are distributed across the display’s entire surface in such a way as to optimize dark and light zones.
Only rather expensive LED displays are capable of delivering very precise images and an LED display’s contrast levels will never be as good as those of an OLED display.
Caution: QLED is not the same thing as OLED! QLED is the abbreviation for “Quantum Dot” LCD. While QLED technology offers more precise illumination and fewer light leaks, it is not the best technology on the market.
Contrary to LCD technology, OLED technology illuminates each pixel on an individual basis meaning that when a pixel is displaying black, it is really black. OLED is the way to go when making a long-term investment. As a matter of fact, most media sources will progressively transition towards OLED technology because of its excellent contrast levels.
LG is currently the world leader when it comes to OLED displays. However, Panasonic, Philips, and Sony have all entered the OLED TV market since 2017 – with mixed results.
On average, expect to pay 500€ more for an OLED TV.
The main downside to OLED technology is the long-term risk of “burn-in”. Burn-in is a phenomenon of image persistence that mainly affects mobile phones and other small devices with OLED displays. If an image remains displayed for too long, it becomes “imprinted” onto the display and becomes like a watermark superimposed onto other images (this is what is know as “ghosting”). Because of this problem, you should avoid low-end OLED TVs. When in doubt, Google the name of the 4K TV you are interested in (preferably one that has been on the market for at least 6 to 10 months) and add the term “burn-in” to your search query. If you get an alarmingly high number of hits, you should forget about purchasing that particular TV!
Another, more bothersome, downside to OLED technology is its lower luminosity than that of most LCD displays. Personally, however, I feel that the contrast levels offered by OLED TVs are sufficiently good so as not to require an excessively high luminosity level.
The different display panel types
With the exception of OLED displays – which are mainly used in TVs, smartwatches, and smartphones (often protected by GorillaGlass) – the display panels found in TVs are often the same as those found in computer displays.
A reminder, there are three main display panel types:
While TN display panel technology has been around the longest, it remains a popular alternative for use in entry-level products. TN displays have quite low latency, making them a good choice for gaming. They have higher luminosity and are more power-hungry than other displays, and they are also the most inexpensive. However, they have rather restricted viewing angles meaning that their colorimetry, contrast, and luminosity levels are only assured when viewed head-on.
IPS displays often have more precise colorimetry and wider viewing angles, but their black levels are not as good (as a result, neither are their contrast levels). Newer generations of IPS displays do, however, have very good responsiveness.
VA displays combine the best features of IPS and TN displays. However, the latency of VA display panels is higher than that of other types; their viewing angles are also questionable. The “ghosting” effect generally precludes using VA displays for gaming.
HDR is becoming an increasingly popular technology, namely in the world of smartphone photography. To purchase a TV that you will not regret buying after 6 months, choose one that is HDR compatible (all of the models in my selection are compatible with this technology).
Also known as “High Dynamic Range”, HDR is currently all the rage in the world of audiovisual technology. Nowadays, most TVs retailing for at least 800€ are HDR compatible; if the TV you have in mind isn’t, don’t buy it!
HDR improves two of the most important values used to determine a display’s image quality: contrast and colorimetry. HDR digitally processes the parts of an image that are intended to be the brightest; in so doing, it gives more depth to the image (you can see the results in the following picture… not bad, right?).
What is the best OS for SmartTV?
More and more TVs feature the “SmartTV” label. Just like smartphones, these TVs are connected devices that offer access to a host of different applications. You will need to choose your TV’s operating system wisely since it will determine what services you will have access to, how easy your TV will be to navigate, and how frequently you will receive software updates.
Test and opinions: Android TV – the best for apps
Put simply, Android TV has the same pros and cons as the version of Android for mobile devices. It is compatible with a vast array of applications such as Netflix and YouTube. There is also an Android version of VLC player which I am personally very fond of because of its ease-of-use and its extensive media format compatibility.
Android TV is able to accept voice commands. Don’t know what to watch? Just speak the words “Best series of 2017” into your remote control and let your TV guide you. What’s more, Android TV features a system similar to Chromecast that will allow you to stream content from one platform to another.
While Android TV’s frequent updates keep it feeling modern, it is not the easiest OS to navigate.
Test and opinions: Firefox TV – simple, easy, minimalist
Panasonic acquired Firefox TV – Mozilla’s colorful, fun, and intuitive operating system – at the end of 2016. While it has fewer applications than Android TV, it still has the essentials: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, AccuWeather, iPlayer, iTunes…
However, this platform seems to be declining in popularity. We’ll have to wait and see how it fares in 2018.
Test and opinions: Samsung Tizen – an alternative for smartphone compatibility
When compared to Android TV and Firefox TV, Samsung’s interface appears more serious while, at the same time, remaining very usable. It features extensive settings and a growing number of applications are striving to become compatible with the Tizen OS. It also features well-optimized smartphone compatibility – especially with Samsung Galaxy smartphones (which are Tizen-based).
Tizen’s functionality is somewhat more limited than Android TV’s; it also doesn’t (currently) have access to as many applications as Android TV.
Test and opinions: LG WebOS – the best SmartTV OS?
LG made a new image for itself when it launched WebOS in 2014. WebOS has become highly successful, in large part thanks to its software upgrades. Its dynamic navigation system gives it the ability to toggle between its applications – which are steadily growing in number.
One of its main advantages is its extremely fast speed (which can be attributed to the excellent hardware performance optimization of LG TVs). It does lack some of the personalization options that Tizen has developed over the years.
However, as far as its applications are concerned, WebOS rivals Android TV and includes such apps as BBC, Amazon, iPlayer, Google, YouTube, Netflix (in their most up-to-date and optimized versions).