The best TV for 2021: LG OLED, Samsung and TCL QLED, Sony and Vizio compared – CNET

Like most big purchases the best TV really means the best TV that will fit your room and budget. An OLED television will give you the best picture quality but it’s very 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.

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 and how well the television supports your streaming app (or apps) of choice, like Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus. Here are my recommendations, 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 TVs65-inch TVs and 75-inch TVs.
  • If you’re worried that upcoming TVs announced at CES 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 but I haven’t reviewed any yet. Where applicable I’ve included a “2021 outlook” section with everything I know (so far) about these TVs’ replacements. 
  • This list is updated periodically.

Read more: Best TVs for PS5 and Xbox Series X, Series S: LG CX OLED, Sony X900H, TCL 6-Series and more

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.

David Katzmaier/CNET

What’s that you say? You just want the best TV, money no object? Here you go. In my side-by-side tests, the 2020 LG CX is the best TV I’ve ever reviewed, with world-beating contrast, perfect off-angle viewing and excellent uniformity. If you can afford it, this LG OLED TV is the TV to get.

Sizes: 48-, 55-, 65-, 77-inch.

2021 outlook: LG’s 2021 OLED TV pricing was announced in late March, when the first models started shipping. The replacement for the CX is called the C1. 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. As usual the CX will cost significantly less than the C1 throughout the spring and summer while the two coexist. LG also announced a new G1 series with a brighter panel as well as a cheaper A1 version. Here are all the details.

Read our LG OLEDCX series 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

If you value Sony’s brand X900H is an excellent choice, with image quality on par with the TCL 6-Series and a price that’s not that much more expensive. And its suite of connections is actually better than the TCL’s. It also has 4K/120Hz HDMI input capability to maximize the potential of the new Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, and right now it’s the cheapest TV that works with ATSC 3.0 antenna broadcasts.

Sizes: 55-, 65-, 75-, 85-inch.

2021 outlook: The successor to this TV, the X90J, will ship in spring and starts at $1,300 for the 55-inch size. Sony added a massive 100-inch size and touts improved “cognitive” processing, but as with LG I’d be surprised to see a big improvement in image quality, and the X900H will likely remain less expensive than the X90J for the first half of 2021.

Read our Sony XBR-X900H 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 is the Q80T series. Its sleek design stands out compared to the other TVs on this list — although the ultra-thin LG CX OLED is even sleeker — and it also offers excellent image quality, next-gen gaming connectivity and a great smart TV system. The TVs above are superior values but if you want a Samsung anyway, this 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 a similar price. There’s also the QN85T, one of Samsung’s Mini-LED-equipped Neo QLED models I expect it to be brighter and deliver somewhat better image quality than the Q80T, but it’s also significantly more expensive, starting at $1,600 for the 55-inch size.

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 media streamer. They’re cheap and easy to use, and receive updates more frequently than most smart TVs. See our picks of the best media streamers.
  • 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.

Looking for even more info? 

Now playing: Watch this: TCL 6-Series: Best TV for the money in 2020


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