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Best TV for 2021 – CNET

Best TV for 2021 - CNET

After more than a year of COVID-related restrictions, many people are looking to make the most of their home entertainment space. This may entail upgrading your couch, rearranging your living room or tricking out your binge-watching setup for ultimate enjoyment, perhaps investing in a soundbar or upgrading to a bigger and better TV. 

If you’re looking to enhance your TV-viewing experience, we’re here to help. There are a lot of TVs on the market, but generally speaking, the best TV is the one that will fit your space and budget. An OLED television will give you the best picture quality but it’s expensive and might not be available in the size you want. That’s where this list comes in. I’ve gathered the best TVs I’ve reviewed at different prices, sizes and technologies — models with HDRUltra HD 4KQLED120Hz and HDMI 2.1 and more — based on my years of experience and side-by-side comparisons in CNET’s test lab (for the foreseeable future, that’s my basement). My focus is on finding the best picture quality for the money, regardless of TV brand.

In my comparisons I look at things like contrast ratio, local dimming, color and uniformity, gaming input lag and refresh rate, as well as the number of HDMI ports. All of these TVs have great picture quality, and while 4K resolution is nice, it’s not necessary for an excellent viewing experience. The other critical factor was how well the television supports your streaming app (or apps) of choice, like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling TV and Disney Plus. Here are my recommendations for the best TV to watch your favorite TV shows, movies and more, with the following notes to keep in mind:

  • Unless noted otherwise, all of the prices you’ll see are for 65-inch models.
  • Looking for a specific screen size? Check out: 32-inch TVs, 43-inch TVs, 55-inch TVs, 65-inch TVs and 75-inch TVs.
  • If you’re worried that new 2021 TVs will have some great feature or picture quality enhancement you’ll miss out on if you buy a TV now, relax. TVs are generally a mature technology and our advice is that if you need a new TV now, you should get one. 
  • Most of the TVs below came out in 2020. The new 2021 models just started becoming available and I’ve reviewed a couple so far. For the 2020 TVs on this list I’ve included a “2021 outlook” section with everything I know (so far) about the new models. 
  • This list is updated periodically.

Read more: Do this to your TV now: 9 crucial settings to improve the picture

David Katzmaier/CNET

No TV I’ve ever tested offers this much picture quality for this little cash. The 2020 TCL 6-Series has even better image quality than its predecessor, 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 new 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.

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

2021 outlook: TCL says this TV will remain on sale through most of 2021. I don’t expect it to be replaced until at least the fall, and it might stick around the entire year. An 85-inch version will be released “in the coming months.” TCL will also sell an 8K version of the 6-Series, but I don’t think it will be worth the money.

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

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

What’s that you say? You just want the best 65-inch TV and can afford whatever you want? Here you go. In my side-by-side tests, the LG G1 OLED TV is the best TV I’ve ever reviewed, with world-beating contrast, perfect wide viewing angle and excellent uniformity. This OLED TV beat the picture of the LG CX above, barely, and offers a slimmer, more wall-friendly design. If you can afford it, this is the TV to get.

Note that as of early June the G1 is difficult to find, and subject to long wait times, at most merchants.

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

Read the LG G1 series (2021) review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

Currently available for hundreds less than the G1 above, and with picture quality that’s almost as good, the CX from 2020 is a better choice overall for people who want a really nice OLED TV but don’t have money to burn. The G1 was slightly brighter in my measurements and has slightly better video processing, but it was really hard to tell the difference. The only real advantage to the G1 is that slim styling, but the CX is pretty slim itself.

Sizes: 48-, 55-, 65-, 77-inch.

2021 outlook: The new model, designated C1, is currently available for a few hundred more than the CX. I haven’t reviewed it yet. It adds a new 83-inch size, some minor new features and improved processing but I expect image quality to be largely the same as the CX.

Read our LG OLEDCX series 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 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 comes closer than ever. It’s also a bit cheaper than 2021 OLED TVs (but not cheaper than the 2020 CX) and available in a wider range of sizes.

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

Read our Samsung QN90A series (2021) review.

 

Aside from the TCL 6-Series above, this is the runner-up for best TV for the money. The TCL has a better picture and better smart HDTV system so it’s a superior TV overall, but it’s also a couple hundred dollars more expensive. If you can’t afford the 6-Series, this Vizio is a very good runner-up.

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

2021 outlook: Vizio hasn’t announced any new 2021 TVs, so this model will remain current until it does.

Read our Vizio M7-Series Quantum (2020) review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku is our favorite platform for a live TV streaming service 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 compatibility don’t do anything to help the picture — but it’s perfectly fine for most people, especially at this price. 

Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 65-, 75-inch. (The price shown below is for the 75-inch size.)

2021 outlook: The newest version of the 4 series has a “435” model number and is available in some sizes now, but TCL says image quality is the same as the 425 reviewed here. My advice, if you have a choice between the two, is to simply get the least expensive one.

Read our TCL S425 series (Roku TV) review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

Samsung is the TV brand that sells more TVs than anyone and our favorite for 2020 was the Q80T series. Its sleek design stands out compared to the other TVs on this list — although the ultrathin OLED models are even sleeker — and it also offers excellent image quality, next-gen gaming connectivity and a great smart TV system. If you want a Samsung TV and can’t afford the QN90A, this (or the 2021 version) is my recommendation.

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

2021 outlook: The successor to this TV is the Q80A, which I haven’t reviewed but expect to perform about the same, and it’s currently available at a similar price.

Read our Samsung Q80T series (2020) review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

For sizes smaller than 55 inches, and for people who value smarts over image quality, these non-4K Roku TVs make the most sense. The picture is “good enough” and the built-in smarts are superb — just enough to watch the final season of “The Office” or “Friends” content. And the price is perfect for a kids’ room or secondary room where you don’t need a massive screen.

Sizes: 28-, 32-, 40-, 43-, 49-inch. (The price shown below is for the 40-inch size.)

2021 outlook: Same story as the 4-Series above. The newest version of the 3-Series has a “335” model number and is available in some sizes now, but TCL says image quality is the same as the 325 reviewed here. My advice, once again, is to simply get the least expensive one.

Read our TCL S325 series (Roku TV) review.

 

Other stuff to know about buying a new TV in 2021

I’m pretty sure you’d be happy with any one of the TVs above, but a new set can be a big investment, so maybe you’re looking for a bit more information. Here’s a quick and dirty list.

  • In my opinion, bigger is better. Big TVs are cheaper than ever, and your money is best spent on large screen sizes rather than a slight upgrade in image quality.
  • If you don’t like the built-in smart TV system, you can always add a streaming device from Roku, Amazon, Google or Apple. They’re generally cheap and easy to use, and receive updates more frequently than most smart TVs. See our picks of the best streaming devices here.
  • The sound quality of most built-in speakers is terrible, so it’s worthwhile to pair your new set with a sound bar or other speaker system. Good ones start at around $100. See the best soundbars here.


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