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TV Buying Guide

Buying a new TV can seem pretty simple when you think about it, but once you get to the store, it's LED this, 4K that, do you want 55 inches or 75 inches . . . you get the idea.


Don't get frazzled; our TV buying guide will give you the tools you need to buy the TV that's right for you.

See also: TV Deal Picks

Price

Want to watch the big game on a massive screen, or do you just need something to get the news and the weather, no frills attached? Your TV-viewing preferences are a major influence on what kind of TV you buy and how much you'll end up paying. Here's what you'll get within the standard TV price ranges:

$400 or less

The TVs in this range will be on the smaller side (think 32 to 40-inch), and it'll be hard to find a smart TV here, too. If all you need is a TV for watching the news or hooking your laptop up for big-screen Netflix viewing, this is a good price point for you. Most of the TVs in this range are store brands, like Best Buy's Insignia, so they're made with less expensive parts than the big name brands like Samsung. Don't expect high quality out of this group. You'll get the best bang for your buck with slightly older models of name-brand, non-smart TVs, especially if you don't care how cutting edge the tech is. If you want a smart TV experience at the budget level, consider a Roku TV, which has a price range of $180 to $400, depending on screen size.

$400-$800

This price range adds a few extra features (and inches) to TVs and is also where you'll find the most TV sales. You can often get good deals on high quality, usually very expensive TVs when they go on sale, so keep an eye on our TV deals page for when those show up. Feature-wise, you can mostly find HD and smart TVs in the 50-inch to 60-inch range (and most folks don't need anything bigger). Keep an eye out for Samsung and LG smart TV deals, like the Samsung 50-inch Smart UHD 4K TV.

$800-$1,000

In terms of features, this price range differs very little from the previous one, but you might get lucky and find a 4K TV on sale for around $1,000. If you have the cash, splurge a little on a lower-end name brand TV, like a smart HD 55-inch Sony rather than a 4K Ultra Vizio that will probably die on you in a year or so.

$1,000 and up

This is where the big league TVs live: the 4Ks and plasmas and the 80-inchers for game day parties and family movie nights. Here, you'll get much higher quality TVs that will last longer and have the backing of veteran tech companies like LG, Samsung and Sony. We recommend investing in the LG OLED 65-inch for top-notch tech and picture quality. Only serious TV-watchers need apply in this price range.

TV Price Ranges & Feature Comparison

Purpose

If you're a minimalist who doesn't watch much TV, you're fine with a lower-end, cheaper, basic TV. But if you want to make a production out of switching on your new electronic baby every time, whether it's with a game-day party, all-night “Call of Duty” session or movie night with the fam, you're looking at a substantially more expensive (and more exciting) TV. Know what you want before you buy, and you'll have a much easier time sifting through all the choices.

Size

Is bigger always better? Some people would say, “When in doubt, go bigger,” but we're a bit more thoughtful here at FatWallet. The size you want directly corresponds to a number of factors, including where you plan to watch TV and if you have enough space in the room you plan to put it. Measure your space (twice) before committing to any particular range of sizes, whether it's the wall where it'll be mounted or the entertainment center you're planning to use. The general rule is you should get a 48- to 65-inch TV if you plan to sit six feet from the TV. Go bigger if you'll be farther away from the TV than that. Otherwise, it's pretty much common sense. Get a smaller TV for smaller rooms like bedrooms and kitchens and bigger for bigger rooms like living rooms or family rooms. But, hey, if you want a 60-inch TV in your bathroom, you do you.

TV Buying Guide - Size Comparison

Resolution

You won't find many 4K TVs at a size lower than 55 inches, so take that into account when you're planning out your new living room setup. And don't even think about buying a 720p TV; there is absolutely no point to getting one of those, no matter how cheap and attractive it seems. You'll end up with a distorted picture and extra blur from the lower resolution. If you have the cash, splurge on a 4K TV because its underutilized ultra definition resolution will be the norm in a few years as more programs are filmed using that tech.

TV Buying Guide - Resolution Comparison

TV Monitor

Some of you might be wondering whether or not you can use a computer monitor as a TV screen. The answer is that you totally can, but it's not going to be great for anything other than hanging out in the kitchen as a noisemaker. Considering the small screen and the usual viewing distance, a monitor would be better suited for a casual watching experience or in a child's room as their first TV.

TV Buying Guide - TV as Monitor

Refresh Rate

The “refresh rate” of a TV or monitor is the number of frames (still images) per second it can display. This contributes to the amount of blur you get when you're watching something, and since most things aren't filmed at a higher refresh rate than 60Hz, you don't need to be buying anything with a higher refresh rate than that (unless you want to be ahead of the tech curve).

TV Refresh Rate Illustration

TV Tech

Ah, television terminology. All the acronyms and initialisms anyone could ever want. But how do you pick a TV from all the LEDs and LCDs and OLEDs out there? Go for LED (which is really LED-LCD) or OLED (which is true LED), otherwise you won't be getting the color saturation and crisp images you deserve. Straight up LCD TVs aren't really worth it (and generally don't last as long), and you can't buy tube TVs anymore (thankfully). Plasma, while fancy, has too many downsides (like severe fragility) for us to recommend it as the go-to TV to get.

TV Tech Illustration

Extras

Content

Everyone's been talking about “cutting the cable cord,” and a lot of people are actually doing it. If you're one of those people, you probably already know about the cheaper alternatives to regular network programming from companies like Netflix and Amazon. On your computer, their streaming capabilities can be limited (due to browser constraints and poor screen quality), so if you're dissatisfied with your current viewing experience, you should get a smart TV so you can stream 1080p HD shows and movies. Another factor to think about is 4K content. While 4K is SO hot right now, it's not imperative to buy a TV with 4K capability. Not a lot of media is being filmed in 4K, so the sharpest thing you can watch might just be your TV's pre-programmed preview video. If you're not worried about being prepared for future 4K content, don't buy a 4K TV for a while. Go for the smart TVs and leave the 4Ks for future sales.

Content Streaming Services

Smart TVs

A smart TV is an internet-connected television that often comes with apps preinstalled and the ability to connect to other devices, like phones or tablets. If you do ANY kind of streaming, be it Netflix, Hulu or YouTube, you need a smart TV. It saves you the hassle of hooking up your PC any time you want a big screen experience and saves you the money of purchasing an add-on like a Roku or Apple TV. The Samsung H Series is a perfect choice for a starter smart TV because it doesn't come totally preloaded with apps, so you can fully customize your experience.

Smart TV Illustration

3D

3D TVs are . . . well, you don't need one. You will probably never, ever need one. Its main selling point (the 3D) only works for the minimal media that has been filmed in it, and it's not something that everyone can enjoy (a lot of people get headaches from watching 3D media, and there are ongoing medical studies about 3D's effects). No one's stopping you from wasting your money on a 3D TV, but we don't recommend it.

3DTV Illustration

Curved TVs

Curved TVs give us the same feeling as 3D TVs. They distort the viewing angle, meaning you have to sit directly in front of them to get the best image, and they're just kinda . . . weird. There's really no reason to get one, and they're not easier on your eyes, no matter what pseudo-science they quote to get you to buy one.

Curved TV Example

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