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TV Buying Guide

How to choose a set you'll love watching for years

Steve Kindig has been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. He has written extensively about home and car A/V gear for Crutchfield since 1985. Steve is also a volunteer DJ at community radio station WTJU, where he is a regular host of the American folk show "Atlantic Weekly," as well as the world music program "Radio Tropicale."

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TV Room Photo

In a Nutshell

The latest TVs combine big, beautiful pictures with sleek, slender designs. When shopping, you'll hear lots of tech terms thrown around, but you really only need to know a few things to find the ideal TV for your situation.

What's the best screen size for your room and viewing distance?

Screen resolution: 1080p HD or 4K Ultra HD?

Display technology: LED-LCD or OLED?

2D or 3D? 3D movies are fun in a theater. Do you want that capability at home, too?

Which smart TV features are important to you?

Full Story

Whether you're shopping for your first TV or your twentieth, we have some tips to help you choose a set you'll love watching for years.

Trying to narrow the choices down to a single best TV is difficult because "best" means different things to different people. These days it's just about impossible to find a bad TV, but we'll help you find the best TV for you.

Start with you...and your room

What do you like to watch? Movies? Sports? Are you a gamer?

How big is your room? How far will you be sitting from the TV? Are the room's furnishings and layout "non-negotiable" or could you do some rearranging?

What's the lighting situation like? Do you generally watch at night or during the day?

Answering these questions will get you closer to a great TV than trying to decipher all the hype, jargon and techspeak.

Screen size: How big is big enough?

When it comes to TV screen size the most common recommendation is "bigger is better" — and that's good advice.

Nothing will add more to your viewing enjoyment than a big screen. We sometimes hear from customers who wish they'd bought a larger TV, but we're still waiting to hear from any folks who wish they'd chosen a smaller one.

Get the biggest screen your room, viewing distance, and budget will accommodate.

Your viewing distance is really important, too

We field hundreds of questions every day from TV shoppers.The most frequently-asked question — right after screen size — is how far away from the screen to sit.

Our general recommendation for screen size is "go bigger," and our advice for viewing distance is "sit closer." Doing one or both will make viewing much more engaging.

For screen size/viewing distance recommendations for HDTVs and Ultra HD TVs, plus other helpful tips on room considerations, see our article on choosing screen size and placing your TV.

Shop by TV size

If you're considering an 80" or larger screen, you may be a candidate for a home theater projector. See our article on how to choose a projector.

Important picture quality factors

When you're shopping for a TV it's easy to be overwhelmed by all the techspeak, marketing jargon, and endless specs. There are only a handful of picture quality factors you really need to keep in mind.

Screen resolution: 1080p HD or 4K Ultra HD

Numbers like 1080p and 4K refer to a TV's screen resolution — the more pixels a screen has the more picture detail it can show.

A 1080p TV screen is 1920 pixels across by 1080 pixels down, and when you multiply those numbers you get the total number of pixels, which is 2,073,600.

The latest screen resolution standard is officially known as Ultra High Definition, but is commonly just called "4K" because it's roughly 4000 pixels across.

To be precise, a 4K TV screen is 3840 pixels across by 2160 down, for an impressive 8,294,400 total pixels — 4 times the resolution of 1080p.

1080p graphic
4K graphic

The pixels of a 4K Ultra HD TV are much smaller than those of a 1080p HDTV, letting you see much finer picture detail.

Choosing between an HD or Ultra HD model was more difficult a couple of years ago, when 4K TVs cost way more than comparable HDTVs, and there wasn't much 4K content to watch. But now that 4K models start around $500, and Netflix and Amazon stream many of their original series in 4K, there's not much reason to consider an HD model, at least for your main TV.

Another big picture quality advantage of 4K TVs is HDR (High Dynamic Range). When you watch HDR-encoded video sources on an HDR-capable TV, you'll see an extended range of picture contrast and color. The improvement can be dramatic, and is often more noticeable than the added detail of 4K. Shop our 4K/HDR TV selection, and see our in-depth article explaining HDR.

LED-LCD or OLED?

Most shoppers look first at LED-LCD TVs, because there are tons of models to choose from covering a wide range of screen sizes and prices.

As long as you stick to top-tier brands, you should have no trouble finding a TV that suits your needs.

If picture quality is your top priority, and you're comparing higher-end LED-LCD TVs, you owe it to yourself to check out the latest OLED TVs, too. Their picture quality is amazing and their prices have plummeted recently.

OLED viewing angle illustration
LCD viewing angle illustration

Compared to LED-LCD TVs, OLED offers superior off-axis viewing. Picture contrast and colors remain vivid even for viewers sitting or standing off to the sides.

OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) is often described as a near-perfect display technology, combining the best qualities of LCD and plasma (plasma TVs are no longer being made). Like plasma and unlike LCD, OLED is self-illuminating and needs no backlight. Picture contrast, black levels, and off-axis viewing match or exceed the capabilities of even the best LCD and plasma TVs.

When you see OLED in person you can't help but be wowed by both the ultra-thin panel — we're talking less than 1/4" — and the simply gorgeous picture quality.

OLED TVs still cost more than LED-LCD TVs, but only the very top LED-LCD models come close to matching the picture quality of OLED.

For an in-depth comparison see our OLED vs LED TV article.

2D or 3D

TV makers cut way back on the number of 3D TV models in 2016 and eliminated them altogether in 2017. We still have some 2016 3D models available for fans of immersive viewing. 3D TV picture quality can be quite good, but most people don't want to wear special glasses to watch TV at home.

For in-depth information on 3D TVs, read our 3D TV FAQ.

Screen refresh rates

LCD TVs, and to a lesser extent, OLED TVs, sometimes suffer from motion blur. It's just what it sounds like — a blurring of on-screen objects, especially noticeable watching fast-action sports or movie scenes where the camera pans from side to side.

Both LCD and OLED TVs — unlike CRT- or plasma-based TVs — draw a complete image, then hold that image onscreen until the next frame comes along. Our eyes can actually respond faster than the images are presented, so we see some blur. Some people are more sensitive to motion blur than others.

Increasing a TV's screen refresh rate reduces motion blur. The normal frame rate for video in the US is 60 frames per second, usually written as 60Hz. By doubling the screen refresh rate to 120Hz, an additional video frame is created for each original frame, and each frame appears for only half the original time. Our eyes perceive this faster frame rate as clear, seamless motion.

Higher refresh rate graphic
Lower refresh rate - motion blur graphic

TVs with a higher screen refresh rate usually are less prone to motion blur.

Every TV maker calls their motion blur technology something different. Samsung uses Motion Rate, while Sony uses Motionflow™. And sometimes you'll see numbers that seem impossibly high, like "Motionflow XR 960."

TV makers use these higher numbers to describe the effective refresh rate: a made-up figure that's supposed to represent the motion blur improvement of the refresh rate combined with other technologies like a blinking backlight. So, Samsung's Motion Rate 120 is actually 60Hz, and Motion Rate 240 is 120Hz; Sony's Motionflow XR 960 is 120Hz.

While things like blinking backlights and other types of video processing can reduce motion blur, we make an effort to track down the native refresh rate for every TV we carry so that you can more easily make apples-to-apples comparisons.

By the way, no 4K TVs have refresh rates higher than 120Hz, no matter what manufacturers might claim.

OLED TVs have some motion blur, but because OLED panels generally operate at 120Hz, and OLED pixels switch on and off much faster than LCD pixels, motion blur is less noticeable.

Smart_TV_image

Samsung's latest smart TVs feature their Smart Hub interface, which makes it easy to quickly switch from live TV to streaming video.

Smart TV features

If the term "smart TV" makes you roll your eyes, you need to check out the latest models, because TV makers have really improved the TV/web experience. They've beefed up the on-board processing power, cleaned up the on-screen interfaces, and added a bunch more apps for streaming services.

A wealth of web streaming options — movies, TV shows, music, and more

It's hard to think of anything that's changed the TV watching experience more than the ability to instantly stream movies and TV shows via online services like Netflix®, Hulu™, and Amazon Instant™. And streaming services are often the first source to deliver content with the latest picture quality enhancements, such as 4K and HDR. 

In fact, the selection and convenience of web streaming is contributing to the rise of "cord cutters" — people who are cutting back or eliminating their cable or satellite TV service. Lots of folks are able to get all the programming they want through a combination of an antenna for over-the-air broadcasts, plus web streaming.

Having said all that, you don't necessarily need a smart TV to stream web content. If you find a TV with the picture quality and features you want, but lacking internet capability, go ahead and buy it. It's easy (and inexpensive) to add internet capability via devices like an Apple TV® or Roku streamer, a networked Blu-ray player, game console, etc.

Screen mirroring

Most Wi-Fi-equipped TVs offer "screen mirroring" from compatible smartphones and tablets to the TV's screen. Some can also send whatever's on the TV screen to your device.

Built-in Wi-Fi® is now standard equipment

Virtually every current internet-ready TV includes built-in Wi-Fi. It has many advantages, most importantly, simplifying connections and placement of your TV. With Wi-Fi, you don't have to worry about running an Ethernet cable to the TV. As long as you're within the coverage area of your home network, you should have no trouble streaming programs wirelessly to your TV.

Wi-Fi also opens the door to some cool control options. Most TVs from major brands offer free downloadable smartphone apps for compatible Apple® and/or Android™ devices. You can then use your smartphone to operate the TV in place of the TV's remote. You'll have one less remote to keep track of, and because the commands are sent via Wi-Fi, you don't have to aim your phone precisely to get results, the way you do with a typical TV remote.

Having a fast internet connection can make a big difference in the picture quality of streamed video — especially high-definition and 4K content. And if you're using Wi-Fi, you may want to upgrade your Wi-Fi router if you plan to watch services like Netflix and Amazon. The latest version of Wi-Fi is called 802.11ac, or sometimes just "ac." It can operate on two bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Most 2015 and newer 4K TVs feature dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

See our wireless router buying guide

The not-so-humble remote control

A lot of basic TVs — even entry-level internet-ready models — still come with the conventional-style button-based "clicker" that we've all loved (and lost). Higher-end TVs usually include more advanced remotes that feature some degree of voice and/or gesture control. These new remotes operate more like a trackpad or wireless mouse you'd use with a laptop. Samsung and LG are leading the way with these smart remotes.

LG Magic Remote

The Magic Remote is included with many of LG's upper-end TVs. It has a built-in microphone for voice commands, plus point-and-click motion control like an air mouse.

LG's Magic Remote is one of the best examples of the new smarter remotes. A built-in microphone lets you speak into the remote to use the internet apps, web browser, and social networking. The gesture control feature lets you search and select web entertainment just by pointing and clicking — it's a lot like using a wireless videogame controller.

Even the best of these remotes can still be tedious to use if you're entering lots of text, like searching for a title. You have to tap out one letter at a time on the on-screen keyboard. For any text-heavy application, you might consider picking up a wireless keyboard. These keyboards operate via Bluetooth®, and most TV makers offer one that's compatible with their own models.

Now you know the basics

Hopefully you'll come away from this article with a few basic ideas about what to look for in a TV. It's worth taking your time because a TV is an investment that you'll enjoy for many years. One of the quickest ways to find the right TV for you is to give us a call. Our expert Advisors can answer all your TV-related questions.

Last updated March 30, 2017
  • David H from San Jose, CA, USA

    Posted on 7/10/2015 1:31:08 PM

    You omitted an important quality factor - Color Gamut - that is the ability to display rich colors. I am a photographer, and hope to get a 4K TV that will also be used to display my images. I use a computer monitor that can display the "Adobe RGB" color gamut, which is considered a requirement for photographic imaging. However most monitors only display the less rich "sRGB" color gamut. And just having an Adobe RGB color gamut is not enough, the TV must also have brightness and color fidelity control. Most TVs are sold with the image adjusted too bright and too saturated. It is said that this is done to make the set look better to consumers comparison shopping in a store. For optimizing my computer monitor for photography, I use special hardware and software to periodically calibrate my display and establish a color profile. Another quality factor you did not mention is the directionability of the display. It should have the same brightness and color from a wide range of viewing angles. This is particularly important for a large, high-resolution display like a 4K TV. I predict that a large 4K TV will become the device of choice for viewing photographic images, but the image quality needs to be good enough before I will buy one. I will wait.

  • Roland Cardoza from Redmond, WA

    Posted on 7/26/2015 1:23:18 PM

    You have provided the best buying guides I have ever read. All for free and all without asking but many times curious to find answers. I am guilty I have not bought anything from Crutchfield yet but plan to next week. I also tried your help line including chat. Incredibly knowledgeable and professional. I have purchased expensive gears from local stores in the past but never got the technical help I needed from them. Crutch field has a new customer and wish many more !!

  • Basheer from Chennai

    Posted on 7/27/2015 3:00:28 PM

    Thank you.This article has given a very simple explanation about led TV. Now it will be easier to settle down for a TV as per one's requirements and taste.

  • John from Palmyra, VA

    Posted on 8/16/2015 3:34:48 PM

    I NOTED THAT THID GREAT ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN 2013. DO YOU PLAN AN UPGRADE FOR THR 2015 INNOVATIONS?

  • Alan Becker from North Hills

    Posted on 9/3/2015 8:21:53 PM

    A couple of important points that should be included in your update. * First the ambient light in the room directly affects the choice of TV. If your room is bright (lots of windows) you should choose an LCD because they are inherently brighter than Plasma tvs. If you could darken the room the Plasma would be the better choice as they have better blacks. LCD panels try to make up for this with led lights around the picture to make the blacks better. OLED are still too new to see how they will fit in but some reviews of initial OLED's say they have great blacks like plasma's but are brighter than plasma's. Another big difference between LCD and Plasma is viewing angle. To see the best LCD you need to sit front and center but not with Plasma. * Second always get at least a 1080p TV especially if it's the main TV. TV's under 30"( as secondary TV's) will not show the less amount of pixels because of it's size. * Thirdly there's virtually no product to play in 4K format at this time. The only reason to buy this now is future proofing but there's no timeline for this to happen and new Bluray discs that will be 4K will certainly be more expensive than the 1080p versions. To upgrade to 4K you will need a new receiver that will pass this signal through and new HDMI cable with the new 4K standard and the new color gamut which has not been finalized yet. * Lastly current straight screens vs curved screens. Most reviewers don't see any benefit with a curved screen unless it's over 80

  • Jon from El Dorado

    Posted on 2/18/2016 6:20:21 PM

    Very informative article; thank you. As another reader asked, will you do an update? I would be most appreciative.

  • OQ from Dubai, UAE

    Posted on 3/28/2016 6:50:51 AM

    Best TV guide I have ever read. It really helped me a lot! Thanks

  • Sandy Wollesen from North Tonawanda

    Posted on 4/22/2016 7:10:47 PM

    As a 72 year old woman Who has never bought a TV on her own , I found your article to be fantastic in answering questions I never even thought of . I feel I can choose a new TV now with more confidence .

  • Steve Captano from Nairobi

    Posted on 11/17/2016 4:42:43 AM

    This is the Best and most informative TV choice guide article I've ever read. Its a great. I found it quite helpful. Consider necessary updates. Thank you

  • dave

    Posted on 11/28/2016 1:31:09 PM

    We are planning to replace a 19 inch CRT TV with a new flat screen TV. The space is limited, so it will likely be 32 inches. Most TV's 32 inches and under have resolutions of 720, which leaves me with a concern - what happens when programming is 1080p or higher? Will the TV work, and if so, will I be disappointed in the picture? Thanks, Dave

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