The holidays are coming up, and you know what that means: eggnog. Also, a huge upswing in tech sales because let’s, face it, everyone and their mom wants the latest and greatest TV, right?
Before you rush out and take advantage of Best Buy’s excellent Black Friday deals, it pays (sometimes literally) to do your research. So let’s talk smart TVs.
We’ve done the dirty work and narrowed it down to three brands for your consideration: Samsung, TCL, and LG.
Best overall: Samsung
What we like: Great picture quality and fast, built-in features
Drawbacks: Narrower viewing angles compared to OLED
Who it’s perfect for: TV watchers who don’t want to break the bank
We’ve named Samsung the best overall smart TV brand based primarily on its value. In other words, Samsung gives you top-notch picture quality for less money.
Right now, the best TVs on the market use organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. It’s a bit technical, but basically OLED makes the black on your screen blacker, which provides more contrast and makes the picture look better.
The downside? OLED is expensive, so Samsung doesn’t use it.
Instead, Samsung smart TVs use quantum dot LED (or QLED) technology. It doesn’t achieve those super-black blacks you get with OLED, and you can’t sit way off to the right or left of the TV without the colors and picture distorting—but it does get close to OLED quality, and it costs less.
Samsung smart TVs use an excellent interface with lots of compatible apps. You don’t get as many streaming options as you would with a Roku platform (like TCL models have), but you’ll definitely get Netflix, Hulu, and most other popular services.
Samsung also makes fast TVs, so they’re responsive to your controls and they feature low input lag. That makes them great for gamers and streamers alike.
Long story short, Samsung TVs are fast, convenient, and high quality—all for less than you’d pay for an OLED brand like LG.
Our 3 favorite Samsung smart TVs
Best budget option: TCL
What we like: TCL’s Roku operating system
Drawbacks: Smaller screen sizes, slower response times, and fewer features
Who it’s perfect for: Households looking for premium picture quality at budget prices
If you’re looking for a good TV but don’t want to spend more than $1,000, we’d recommend going with a TCL model.
Look, we like Samsung, Sony, and other top brands. And we know it’s really tempting to just buy a budget model from a brand you already trust. But here’s a little secret most people don’t know: most brands use lower-quality tech in their low-end models. Translation: you just don’t get the same kind of picture quality you would with a $2,000 model.
But TCL is different.
TCL has made an art out of offering high-end technology for less. TCL models deliver good color reproduction and accuracy, full-fledged HDR support, and low input lag. They also use the Roku operating system, so you get a metric crap-ton of streaming apps.
There are some trade-offs, though. For starters, TCL doesn’t make a screen larger than 65 inches (at least not in the budget price range). So if your heart is set on a ginormous TV that takes up your entire family room, you’d best move along.
TCL models also give you a limited port selection (so you may not be able to plug in all your devices), poor off-angle viewing, and slower response time. Plus, they have a reputation for being dimmer than Samsung and LG models, and they can be real power hogs.
In the end, TCL offers solid picture quality and low prices, but the drawbacks may outweigh the perks for some households.
Our 3 favorite TCL smart TVs
Best luxury option: LG
What we like: OLED technology makes for stunning picture quality
Drawbacks: So-so smart TV platform and issues with burn-in
Who it’s perfect for: Anyone who can afford it
LG is arguably the best TV provider in the industry right now, thanks in large part to its hand in pioneering OLED technology.
As we mentioned, OLED makes your picture quality crisper, with deeper blacks, excellent color fidelity, and superwide viewing angles. And bonus! OLED TV models are both lighter and thinner than QLED and LED/LCD tech.
LG also makes a lot of big-screen models, topping out at a gargantuan 86”. So if you were thrown off by TCL’s lack of take-up-the-whole-wall options, well . . . welcome to your dream come true.
Of course, it’s not all roses with this company. LG’s smart TV platform is a bit of a mixed bag.
On the one hand, it offers interconnectivity with Android devices, compatibility with Google Assistant and Alexa, and a remote that can be controlled with gestures as well as button pushing. But it also doesn’t have as many compatible apps as other brands.
The other drawback? There’s a risk of burn-in with OLED technology.
Basically, that means if you watch something for too long, the image gets “burned” into the screen and you’ll see a vague outline of whatever you were watching—sometimes permanently—even after the picture changes.
Still, if you’re looking for a frickin’ huge TV that packs a punch in the picture quality department (and you’re not afraid of the price tag that goes along with it), you can’t go wrong with LG.
Our 3 favorite LG smart TVs
Our verdict . . .
If price is no object, we’d recommend going with a sweet OLED TV from LG. But if you’re watching your wallet, TCL’s high-quality budget options are probably better suited to your needs.
For most people, though, Samsung’s solid picture quality and lower prices make it a good middle-of-the-road option.