The answers to the following key questions will help you find the right set.
What’s 4K, and is it worth it?
The hottest trend in flatscreens, 4K refers to the TV’s resolution — it has four times more pixels than standard HD screens — and the images are genuinely jaw-dropping. But the sets are pricey, and there just isn’t that much 4K content. (Regular HD is now upscaled to fit the screen.) Netflix and Amazon are slowly increasing their 4K libraries, and though it might take years, ultra HD (an umbrella term for nearly any resolution better than 1080p) will overtake HD, especially for large TVs, where the bump in detail is most noticeable. Those who are intrigued by 4K but not enough to shell out for a top-tier model may consider the 60-inch Vizio M ($1,500; vizio.com), a 4K-ready set that’s a deal even if the promised deluge of ultra-HD content doesn’t materialize during its life span.
Are curved screens a gimmick?
Not in the slightest. A curved screen creates fewer reflections, which winds up increasing its effective contrast. So the darker portions of a given image look darker, and the brighter sections appear brighter. In addition, you don’t need to sit on the couch directly across from your TV to get the best view — curved screens increase the number of good viewing angles, making almost every seat the best in the house. Because their concave shape is actually pretty subtle, they even look great when mounted on a wall. The only trouble is the cost. Premium models, like the stunning top-of-the-line Samsung 78-inch JS9100 ($12,000; samsung.com), are an extravagant purchase. There are curved models for less, but if you care enough about picture quality to buy in, then you’re going to want to be all in.
I’m tempted by an enormous flatscreen. But will it be too big?
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much TV. The bigger the screen and the closer you sit to it, the more likely you are to stop seeing a single, smooth image and to start picking out blocky individual pixels. Experts recommend that for the average consumer, who sits roughly nine feet from the TV, the maximum screen size should be 70 inches for HD content and 80 inches for the sharper 4K content. In other words, a 50-inch, like the Samsung LED J5200 ($1,200; samsung.com), offers relatively modest dimensions but is more than enough screen for just about any room. As a bonus, this 1080p model has built-in technology that combats the distortion of fast motion, so the action on Sunday’s gridiron will appear as impeccably sharp and realistic on your TV as from the sidelines.
Should I consider an OLED TV?
Short answer: Yes. OLED (organic light-emitting diode) is a cutting-edge technology that really makes a difference. By ditching the comparatively dim backlights used to illuminate pixels in traditional LCD TVs, OLEDs — basically pixels that generate their own light — are placed closer to the surface of the screen. The result is a display with much deeper blacks and more vibrant colors than anything else on the market. LG is the only major manufacturer still trying to make OLEDs cheap enough for mainstream consumers, and while its new 65-inch, 4K-ready EG9600 ($6,000; lg.com) isn’t exactly a bargain, the price of LG’s 55-inch EC9300 has dropped to just $2,300. It’s an older TV, but it’s nowhere near obsolete and is still the most gorgeous television we’ve ever tested.
Do I need to buy a smart TV?
Although most new TVs are WiFi-enabled, only some deserve to be called smart. Here are the internet-connected features worth looking for.
Most smart TVs can stream video from services like Amazon, HBO Now, and Netflix without having to attach another device (such as an Apple TV). If a set doesn’t come preloaded with your favorite services, make sure they can be downloaded at home.
TV makers are finally cleaning up their onscreen interfaces, replacing endless pages of options with more intuitive pop-up menus. We found that the best interfaces for switching between apps were on new TVs from LG and Samsung.
In an appeal for brand loyalty, some companies make it easy to use smart features across products. Samsung is the leader — if your smartphone is a Galaxy and your TV is a Samsung, you can wirelessly display your photos on the big screen.