Shopping for a new TV is a daunting task, not least because there are hundreds of different options, all packed with tech and features that clamor for your attention, and accompanied by marketing that seems tailor-made to drive your budget incrementally upward, especially if you aren’t sure exactly what you need.
You’d think that you could reduce the sheer variety of options by making a few choices, but even answering simple questions about what you need can sound pretty confusing. Do you need an Ultra HD TV, or will a standard HDTV suffice? What size TV is the right size for your living room, and for the distance between your couch and your TV? Do you need a smart TV, or is it OK to opt out of a smart TV in favor of the set-top box or streaming stick you already own, or have had your eye on? Can you tolerate a limited viewing angle, or do you need a TV that’s going to look great when your family is sprawled out across a capacious living room?
According to the TV buying guide compiled by Consumer Reports, there are a few easy ways to make all the right choices without losing sleep over the decision-making process. And once you figure out exactly what you need, we even have a list of the top TVs to give you a headstart on the shopping process. Read on for a quick guide to choosing the best TV for your priorities, and then to peruse our picks of the best TVs for your living room or family room.
Choosing the right screen size
Let’s start with the number that everyone thinks of first when they go TV-shopping: the screen size. Everyone says that a bigger TV is always better, but how big do you really need? If you’re shopping for a TV for your living room, you’ll most likely want one that’s at least 50 inches. To get an exact number, determine how far from the TV you’re going to sit.
If you plan to buy a standard 1080p set, measure the distance from your couch to your TV, divide that number by 1.6, then multiply the result by 12 to get the screen measurement in inches. (If your couch is 8 feet from where you’re putting the TV, then you’ll want a 60-inch TV.) With an Ultra HD TV, you can go even larger, and your seating distance can be as close as the screen diagonal. (So with a 65-inch UHD TV, you could sit as close as 5.5 feet from the TV.)
Selecting the correct resolution
Similarly, there are some easy ways to figure out what resolution you need. An HD TV, also called a 1080p model, has a screen resolution of 1920×1080. Ultra HD TVs, also called 4K TVs, have a resolution of 3840×2160, which results in four times the number of individual pixels as a standard HD TV. The benefits of a UHD TV are more apparent at screen sizes of 65 inches and above, or when you need to sit closer to the TV than would work with 1080p set (like in a small rental living room). Unless you need those benefits, you probably don’t have to pay extra for UHD resolution, especially because there isn’t a ton of native 4K content available yet.
Deciding whether you need a smart TV
Deciding whether you want a smart TV largely comes down to your current setup and the kind of content you want to be able to access on your TV. If you already have a set-top box, like the Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, or Roku 4, then you likely don’t have to make finding a smart TV a big priority as you shop. If you want to access things like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime on your TV but don’t own or don’t want to use a set-top box or streaming stick, then a smart TV may be the way to go.
Checking the viewing angle
Finally, you should be aware of one shortcoming that’s still associated with LCD TVs: limited viewing angles. A limited viewing angle means that the picture only looks its best from a narrow area right in front of the screen. You should check the TV from off to the side, from above, and from below the main part of the image, looking for dimming or loss of contrast and color accuracy. TVs that use IPS LCD panels generally offer wider-than-average viewing angles, so you can look for one of those if you know that a wide viewing angle is going to be a priority.
Clear on what you need and ready to cut through the noise of dozens of TV models that all start to look the same after a while? Then take a look at the top seven TVs that earned the highest ratings from Consumer Reports. Each one got a great score that accounts for picture quality, sound quality, viewing angle, ease of use, versatility, and other aspects that are all significant when you’re choosing the TV that’s going to sit in your living room (and enable your binge-watching on Netflix) for the next few years.
1. LG 65EF9500 TV
The 65-inch UHD 65EF9500 from LG earned a high score from Consumer Reports thanks to its great image detail and color accuracy, its virtually unlimited viewing angle, excellent ultra HD performance, and good 3D performance. It’s a new and pricy OLED TV, though its price has already come down significantly, and can be a great choice for users who want a high-performing TV for the living room or family room.
This UHD flat-screen TV benefits from features like LG’s webOS 2.0 smart TV platform, which offers access to the LG Content Store, a full web browser, plus streaming services including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, Vudu, YouTube, Pandora, Rhapsody, and Spotify. It also features three HDMI inputs, one component-video input, optical digital audio out, three USB ports, an Ethernet port, and Wi-Fi, which should make it easy to connect all of the other components of your setup.
2. Samsung UN65JS9500 TV
The 65-inch UN65JS9500, an ultra HD LCD TV from Samsung, numbers among the company’s flagship televisions. Consumer Reports says that it’s among the best TVs that the group has tested, with excellent picture quality and sound quality, plus great 3D performance, which is a plus if you (or your kids) really want a 3D television. The TV claims a 240Hz motion rate, but it actually uses a 120Hz mode that Consumer Reports attests is, nonetheless, excellent at reducing motion blur (an apt illustration of how easy it is to get confused by marketing).
This television features a curved screen and full-array LED backlight. It also has the ability to display high dynamic range (HDR) content, and has quantum dot technology to reproduce wider color gamut content when it’s available. The TV also features an eight-core processor, plus Samsung’s new Tizen smart TV platform. It has four HDMI inputs that, along with other connections and the processor, are placed in an external box that you’ll be able to replace in the future to upgrade the television to newer specifications and features. However, it does have a moderate viewing angle that isn’t quite as good as that of some of the other LCD sets the group tested.
3. LG 55EG9100 TV
The 55-inch 55EG9100 HDTV from LG is a 3D-capable OLED television that numbers among the highest-rated TVs that Consumer Reports has tested. That’s thanks to its excellent high definition picture quality, its virtually unlimited viewing angle that’s better than that of most LCDs, and its “benchmark-setting” black levels. The group reports that the television showed excellent color accuracy, great contrast, and the deepest blacks yet observed from a flat panel television.
This curved-screen television integrates LG’s webOS 2.0 smart TV platform, which enables you to access content with a row of graphic tiles displayed across the lower part of the screen. It also benefits from LG’s TruMotion feature, which is designed to reduce motion blur (a problem associated with most LCD TVs). While the TV does display 3D content, the television’s 3D performance is “a notch below the better 3D displays.” Similarly, the TV has good sound quality, and while it does fall short of better performers, most people will find the quality completely acceptable.
4. Sony Bravia XBR-65X930C TV
The 65-inch Bravia XBR-65X930C ultra HD TV from Sony offers excellent high-definition picture quality and excellent ultra high-definition performance. This television integrates large, powerful speakers on each side of the display, and according to Consumer Reports, it’s one of the best-sounding TVs the group has tested. That makes it a great choice if sound quality is a priority for you, and it can connect to a wireless subwoofer for even more powerful sound.
Like other Sony UHD televisions, this one uses Google’s Android TV smart TV platform, which offers access to Google Cast for streaming from mobile devices, in addition to access to Google Play apps and a number of different streaming services. The television also supports voice search when you use a compatible Android device, and it’s a “Netflix Recommended” television thanks to some features that make Netflix use easier.
5. LG 55EF9500 TV
The 55-inch 55EF9500 OLED ultra HD TV from LG is the smaller sibling of the 65-inch model that tops Consumer Reports’ ratings, and offers similarly excellent high-definition picture quality and benchmark-setting black levels. The television also offers excellent UHD performance and very good 3D performance. Like other OLED televisions, it also boasts a virtually unlimited viewing angle. While it’s a pricey TV, Consumer Reports notes that it “represents the current state-of-the-art TV technology for discerning viewers who have the budget to indulge their passion.”
This television is equipped with LG’s webOS 2.0 smart TV platform, three HDMI inputs, and offers brightness levels that make it suitable for most rooms. The quality of the picture doesn’t vary with the viewing angle, and Consumer Reports notes that it should provide the same picture quality, with fewer problems that most LCD sets, in typical viewing conditions, such as when your family (or you and your roommates) are seated across a long sectional or in chairs positioned to the sides of the television.
6. LG 55EG9600 TV
The 55-inch ultra HD 55EG9600 OLED TV from LG is “one of the best TVs we’ve tested,” according to Consumer Reports. The curved-screen television has excellent high-definition picture quality, good ultra HD performance, and the black levels that can be expected from great OLED televisions. However, this television doesn’t earn a top ranking due to a few issues that the reviewers experienced, including a few unusual effects, some issues with image retention, and an issue with the TV reverting to a sharpened mode after it had been turned off.
Nonetheless, this television benefits from LG’s smart TV platform and comes with the company’s point-and-click Magic Remote control. The television delivers slightly compromised 4K picture detail and good HD-to-UHD upconversion. It supports the streaming of 4K content from Netflix, YouTube, and other sources, and the television performs well when displaying 3D content. It also offers good sound quality, and Consumer Reports notes the speakers can play to fairly loud volumes without obvious distortion, which is a benefit for users with larger living rooms or noisy environments.
7. Samsung UN65JS9000 TV
The 65-inch UN65JS9000 LCD ultra HD TV from Samsung is a step below the JS9500 series but still offers excellent performance and a great assortment of features. The television offers excellent high-definition picture quality and ultra high-definition performance, though it probably won’t be your top choice if excellent 3D performance is high on your list of priorities.
Compared to Samsung’s pricier JS9500 series, the differentiating features of this television are its usage of an edge (rather than full array) LED backlight with local dimming, and Peak Illuminator Pro (instead of Ultimate) high dynamic range technology. This TV also lacks a built-in camera, though it can accept an optional one. It has a curved screen and like other Samsung models, has quantum dot technology to reproduce wider color gamut content. It also uses Samsung’s Tizen smart TV platform, and its four HDMI inputs are placed in an external box that you’ll be able to upgrade in the future.