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Best TV for 2021 – CNET

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The holiday shopping season is almost here and that means deals on TVs. Because of supply chain issues and chip shortages, cheap TVs will actually be more expensive in 2021, but sales on midrange and high-end TVs — in other words, those with the best picture quality — will be in full effect. We’ve reviewed many of the best TVs of the year already and picked our favorites for the list below.

TVs come in all sizes and prices so I concentrate on picture for the money. An OLED television will give you the best picture quality, but it’s expensive and might not be available in the size you want. LCD TVs with local dimming, Mini-LED and/or QLED TVs are usually less expensive, still support 4K resolution with HDR and perform very well too. Based on my years of experience and side-by-side comparisons in CNET’s test lab, I’ve chosen the best TV of every type and price. We’ll keep tracking new deals all season long and update this list periodically.

David Katzmaier/CNET

No TV I’ve ever tested offers this much picture quality for as little cash. The TCL 6 Series has an excellent image thanks to mini-LED tech and well-implemented full-array local dimming that helps it run circles around just about any other TV at this price. It’s also a solid choice for gamers with a THX mode that combines low input lag and high contrast. As if that’s not enough, the Roku TV operating system is our hands-down favorite.

This TV first came out in 2020 but will stay on sale throughout 2021 — in fact it just got its holiday price cut — and remains my top choice so far. TCL also sells an 8K version of the 6-Series, but I don’t think it’s worth the extra money, as well as a Google-powered version I have yet to review (although according to TCL its image quality is the same as this Roku version).

Sizes: 55-, 65-, 75-, 85-inch.

Read our TCL 6-Series (2020 Roku TV) review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

With picture quality as good as any TV I’ve ever tested and a price that’s not too crazy, the LG C1 OLED TV is my go-to pick for people who prioritize picture and are willing to pay for it. It beats any non-OLED TV on this list, including the Samsung QN90A below, with its perfect black levels, unbeatable contrast and superb off-angle viewing. It also has the best gaming features, making it the perfect companion to an Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5 or both. The C1 comes in the widest variety of sizes of any OLED TV, although the bigger models are really expensive.

Sizes: 48-, 55-, 65-, 77-, 83-inch.

Read our LG C1 series OLED TV review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

Looking for a high-end TV with spectacular image quality, but don’t want an OLED? The Samsung QN90A is your best bet. This TV uses QLED TV tech augmented by mini-LED for a brighter image than any OLED TV. The spectacular contrast of OLED still won out in my side-by-side tests, but the QN90A QLED screen comes closer than ever. 

Sizes: 50-, 55-, 65-, 75-, 85-inch.

Read our Samsung QN90A series (2021) review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

The three TVs above are amazing, but what if you can’t afford that level of picture quality? The Vizio MQ7 is one of the least-expensive TVs to feature full-array local dimming, which lets it reproduce TV shows, movies and games with enough contrast and pop to do HDR justice. It’s a 60Hz model, not 120Hz, but it still handles variable refresh rate games for extra smoothness. If you can’t save up for the TCL 6-series, the Vizio MQ7 makes an excellent consolation prize.

Sizes: 50-, 55-, 58- 65-, 70-, 75-inch.

Read our Vizio M-7 Series Quantum (2021) review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku is our favorite platform for live TV streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, and it’s even better baked into the TV. This TCL 4-Series can’t beat any of the models above on image quality — its 4K resolution and HDR performance don’t do much to help the picture — but it’s perfectly fine for most people, especially at this price. 

Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 65-, 75-, 85-inch. (The prices shown below are for the 43-inch size.)

Read our TCL 4-series Roku TV (2021) review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

What’s that you say? You just want the best TV and can afford whatever you want? Here you go. In my tests the LG G1 OLED TV and the cheaper C1 above were the best TVs I’ve ever reviewed, with unbeatable contrast, perfect wide viewing angle and excellent uniformity. The main advantage of the G1 is slimmer, more wall-friendly design compared to the C1, so if you value that style and can afford it, this is the TV to get. 

Sizes: 55-, 65-, 77-inch.

Read the LG G1 series (2021) review.

 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Vizio’s V-series is our favorite budget alternative to the TCL 4-Series Roku TV. We liked Roku’s smart TV system better (sound familiar?), but the V-series has some advantages, including a better remote with voice and more advanced picture settings. Picture quality between the two was basically the same, so if you don’t have a preference, it makes sense to get the cheapest one.

Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 58- 65-, 75-inch 

Read the Vizio V-Series (2021) review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

With excellent picture quality, anchored by full-array local dimming and plenty of brightness to make HDR content shine, the X90J is Sony’s answer to the TCL 6-Series and step-up Vizio models. This LED TV’s sleek looks and the Google TV operating system score additional points, as does its next-gen console support (it has 4K/120fps inputs and Sony promises VRR… sometime) and built-in NextGen TV tuner. If you want an “S” brand, this is one of the best values we’ve tested.

Read our Sony X90J series (2021) review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

Samsung is the TV brand that sells more TVs than anyone and one of the most popular is the Q60A series. Its sleek OLED screen design stands out compared to the other TVs on this list — although the ultra-thin OLED models are even sleeker — it offers better features and image quality than budget models like the TCL 4-Series, and it comes in a vast array of sizes. The TVs above are all superior values, but if you want a Samsung TV and can’t afford the QN90A, this is a great choice.

Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 60- 65-, 70- 75-, 85-inch.

Read our Samsung Q60A series (2021) review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

Most of the TVs on this list are bright enough for just about any room, but maybe you want a screen that’s as bright as possible. The U8G outshines others in its price range and was basically as bright as the significantly more expensive Samsung QN90A. Its image quality falls a bit short in other areas and its selection of sizes is limited, but if raw brightness is what you crave, the U8G delivers.

Sizes: 55-, 65-inch.

Read our Hisense U8G series review.

 

How does CNET test TVs?

Our TV reviews follow a rigorous, unbiased evaluation process. Our primary TV test lab has specialized equipment for measuring light and color, including a Konica Minolta CS-2000 spectroradiometer, a Murideo Sig-G 4K HDR signal generator and an AVPro Connect 8×8 4K HDR distribution matrix. We use in conjunction with Portrait Displays CalMan Ultimate software to evaluate and calibrate every TV we review. Similar TVs are compared side-by-side in various lighting conditions with different content, including movies, TV shows and games, across a variety of test categories, from color to video processing to gaming to HDR. 

TV FAQs

I’ll post the answers to commonly asked TV questions below. If you have any others, feel free to reach out on Twitter (@dkatzmaier), or by clicking the little envelope icon on my CNET profile page. Doing so will let you send a message straight to my inbox.

How big a TV should I get?

In my opinion bigger is better, and your money is best spent on large screen sizes rather than a slight upgrade in image quality. The answer also depends on room size and seating distance: If you have a big room and sit further away, you’ll want a bigger TV. At nine feet away, for example, we recommend a 65- or 75-inch TV.

What is OLED TV burn-in?

Burn-in is when part of an image — for example a channel logo, news ticker or a scoreboard on a TV — persists as a ghostly background no matter what else appears onscreen. Burn-in is possible with any OLED TV, but it’s not likely with normal use. The best way to prevent burn-in is to vary what you watch.

What is the best smart TV system for streaming?

At CNET our favorite is Roku for its simplicity, but different systems like Google TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung and LG have different strengths, in particular for voice commands. In any case we don’t consider the built-in smart TV system that important because you can always connect a streaming device to any TV.

How do I get the best TV sound?

Most TVs sound terrible because their thin cabinets don’t have room for decent-size speakers or bass. If you want to get good sound you should buy an external audio system. Even an inexpensive soundbar will deliver much better audio quality than a TV’s built-in speakers.


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