Best TV 2013: what TV should you buy?
20th Jul 2013 | 11:50
Best LCD TVs and plasma TVs reviewed
Best TV: all your questions answered
What TV tech is best? Which is the best LCD TV? Which is best out of LCD and plasma? Which screen size is best for my living room? What's the difference between LCD and LED TVs?
These are the kind of questions that thousands of us have to ask every year.
Buying a new TV can be a stressful experience even for the tech-savvy, see - there are so many brands, so many features, so many screen sizes, colours, technologies and flavours to choose from.
So which one is right for you, your family and your living space?
Technology is moving on at a rapid pace and we're constantly being treated to new tech which comes hand in hand with new jargon.
So here you'll find all the buying advice you'll need for snapping up the top rated TV for you and your space, as well as all the best LCD TVs and best plasma TVs by size.
Because there is no 'best tv'. There is only the best TV for you...
Use the article index to find quick links on the right hand side to the info you're looking for or browse at your leisure!
10 best 32-inch TVs
The perfect size for bedroom TVs or sets for smaller rooms
Most living rooms can't physically take a TV much bigger than 32-inch, making this size by far the best for a lot of people in the UK.
But within this size division, there's plenty of choice. A basic HD-ready set can be found for less than £300 is you search hard, though it's just as easy to spend over £2k on the best ones.
There's only one certainty at this size – your new TV will be a LCD TV. If you're lucky it could have LED backlighting, but it won't be a plasma; LG used to make plasmas at this size, but there's not one on sale currently...
Read more... 10 best 32-inch TVs in the world today
10 best 40 and 42-inch TVs
The sweet spot for plasma TVs offers lots of bang for your buck
Once known simply as 'plasma screens' in the collective consciousness, the 40-42-inch size is where the flatscreen dream started in the late 1990s - and where it's still at its most innovative and best.
Now a lot more varied, with plasmas rubbing shoulders with (and quickly being outnumbered by) LCD TVs and their ultra-modern LED TV makeover, 40-42 inches is still the sweetspot for anyone not overly concerned with ruining the interior design of their living room.
As well as being the fastest growing sector of the market, this size also offers possibly the best value TVs around. Serious home cinema addicts have moved on to 50-inch and bigger screens, leaving this category a swarm of slashed prices...
Read more... 10 best 40 and 42-inch TVs in the world today
10 best 46 and 47-inch TVs
So the majority of TVs in this size bracket are now from the LED side of the wall, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. LED TVs these days are brighter than plasmas, they're thinner and there's a lot more variety on show. So here's our selection of the best 46-inch (and the odd 47-inch too) TVs for your perusal.
Read more... 10 best 46 and 47-inch TVs in the world today
10 best 50-inch TVs
These are for the home cinema enthusiasts and where the plasma screen begins to come into its own. You can find some real bargains in this price bracket but if you want the best, you're going to have to pay through the nose.
Read more... 10 best 50-inch TVs in the world today
10 Best 60-inch TVs and above
If you're feeling extravagant or want to furnish your big living room with a similarly big TV, 60 inches or more of television will certainly make a statement.
Best TV: Jargon explained
Unless you're a bit of a tech enthusiast, it can be rather difficult to work out what all those boring technical words mean. Here's a quick run-down of all the main types of TV, and how they differ from one another...
LCD TV: CCFL
Until recently, all LCD TVs were backlit by always-on, CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent) lamps. This ageing technology has been superseded by the superior LED method on more expensive sets, but is still standard on cheaper models.
LED TV: Direct LED
These displays are backlit by an array of LEDs (light emitting diodes) directly behind the screen. This enables localised dimming – meaning immediately adjacent areas of brightness and darkness can be displayed more effectively – and greatly improves contrast. LED TVs are also more power efficient and capable of a wider colour gamut than CCFL sets.
LED TV: Edge LED
The LEDs of the backlight are mounted along the edges of the panel. This arrangement enables radically slender displays and offers superior contrast levels to CCFL, but can't achieve the same picture quality as directly lit LED sets.
The backlighting on OLED (organic light emitting diode) sets is achieved by passing an electric current through an emissive, electroluminescent film. This technique is thought to produce better colours and higher contrast and also enables screens to be extremely thin and flexible. As yet, though, the only commercially available OLED TVs are small and very expensive.
PDP (plasma display panel) TVs use glass panels containing millions of tiny cells filled with a mixture of inert gases. Electricity excites the gases, causing them to illuminate the pixels across the screen. Plasma, while arguably superior to LCD in terms of contrast and colour accuracy, is only viable on large (42in+) screens and has been dropped by all but a handful of manufacturers.
These are modern LCD (LED) or plasma screens with electronics able to display 3D pictures. There are two types of 3D technology: passive and active.
Passive 3D utilises screens with a polarised filter, combined with lightweight, cheap plastic glasses, much like those used at the cinema. The disadvantage of this is that because both pictures are displayed on the screen at the same time, the resultant image is not full HD.
Active 3D, meanwhile, creates a 3D effect by synchronising fast-shuttering glasses with the screen using IR (infrared) transmitters. Sources of 3D currently include 3D Blu-ray players and Sky's 3D TV channel.
Ultra HD and 4K
Full HD TVs have a resolution of 1920x1080 but the resolution of Ultra HD is exactly four times higher than that - 3840 x 2160. It means a far more detailed picture, with content requiring a lot more bandwidth and storage space.
4K TVs tend to be good at upscaling HD video to Ultra HD but there are currently very few options for watching native 4K content.
Best TV: Buying advice
Buying the best TV for you...
Buying a new TV can be traumatic and baffling - unless you're armed with our guide to the countless pitfalls and confusions that await you...
Buying a flatscreen television is a major investment and one that you can't afford to take lightly. Just popping into the closest store and grabbing the first plasma or LCD you see won't get you the best deal, the screen that suits your needs, or the gear you require to make the most of your new purchase.
People tend to pick the size of their flat TV based on the amount of space they have for it, this isn't necessarily wise. Flat TVs take up much less space than CRTs, so your new TV may end up a foot or two further away from your viewing position, making the picture appear smaller.
It's also important to consider that large screens can reveal the weaknesses in standard-definition (SD) images, unless you sit a long way from them.
With hi-def, you can have a bigger screen and the same viewing distance without worrying about seeing blemishes inherent to the source. As a rule we've found that sitting at a distance of four to six times the height of the set works well for standard pictures.
Any closer and you'll see noise, further away and you won't enjoy their full potential. HDTV's lack of noise means that the ideal distance to sit from the screen is three to four times the height of the TV.
How to calculate the right size HDTV for you:
The trick here is to ensure that your TV is big enough to fill your line of vision, but small enough to be sharp and clear. Remember, if you intend to only watch standard-definition sources, the bigger the screen gets, the worse the image will look.
The ideal screen size can be calculated by multiplying the distance that you intend to sit away from it by 0.535 and then rounding this up to the nearest size.
So, if you sit 80in away from your TV, the ideal size is 42-inch (80 x 0.535= 42.8).
Features are too numerous to go into here, but here are some things you should consider.
HD ready: Sets with the HD ready badge meet the requirements set by the European Information and Communications Technology Industry Association (EICTA). These criteria include at least one HDMI port and component video inputs as well as a resolution of at least 1,024 x 768-pixels.
Freeview tuner: As analogue TV broadcasts will be phased out by 2012, make sure your new TV has a digital tuner. Many now come with a Freeview HD or Freesat HD one built-in.
Photo viewing: If you have a digital camera, a TV that has a slot for memory cards or a USB socket for a card reader will let you view your photos onscreen.
Here are some of the things we look for when we review a screen, so you should, too...
Contrast: Bright whites shouldn't have any signs of green, pink or blue in them, while blacks should look solid and not washed out, grey, green or blue.
Colours: Look at how bright and solid they are; how noiseless their edges are; how 'dotty' richly saturated areas are and how natural skin looks, especially in dim scenes.
Fine detail: How much texture does the screen give? Does a tree look like a green lump, or can you see the individual leaves
Edges: Check for ghosting, bright halos and jaggedness, especially around curves.
Motion: Check moving objects and quick camera pans for smearing or blurring, trailing, jerkiness and fizzing dotty noise.
Image artefacts: Look for blockiness, colour bands, grain, smearing, dot crawl: anything that looks like it's added by the TV picture processing or a weak TV tuner. Tinker with a TV's picture settings before making a final decision. Factory settings are rarely good for everyday viewing.
What about sound?
To provide the best audio to complement the pictures, your TV should be hooked up to a surround sound system, but this isn't always an option. So, here's what we listen for when testing a TV's speakers:
Bass: Deep, rounded rumbles that don't cause the set to rattle or speakers to distort, cramp or overwhelm the rest of the sound; but that expand when needed.
Vocals: Voices should sound open, rich and clear, not boxed in, nasal or thin.
Trebles: Treble effects should sound clean, rounded and smooth in loud scenes and shouldn't dominate the soundstage.
Soundstage width/depth: A good TV should throw the sound away from the TV, to the sides, forward and back, to give an extra dimension to what's on screen, without losing any coherence.
Lip sync: Check if actors' mouths move in time with the words they're saying. Some older flatscreens can take so long to process pictures, that images can lose synchronisation with the sound.
Buying your TV...
It's important to try to shop around as much as possible in order to find yourself the best price for your chosen TV.
Specialist dealers: These are usually the best place to go to get a decent explanation of how a product works alongside a proper hands-on demonstration.
End-of-line discounts: New TV lines are released a few times each year. This means stores have to get rid of older models to make room for the new gear. Buying end-of-line sets can get you a genuine bargain.
Price comparison websites: Enter the product you want into these sites' search engines, and you'll be given a list of internet retailers stocking it and how much they're charging. This is an extremely quick way of finding the best deals around. All of our reviews have a link to our website, where you can find excellent prices, but shop around.
Haggling: The number on a TV's price tag is an 'invitation to sale' – the store's saying 'Would you like to pay £1,500 for this TV?' By handing over your credit card, you say 'Yes. I'll pay that amount.' But you have the right to refuse to pay that and make a counter-offer.
To do this you need backup in the form of prices that rival stores are charging, some guts, and the willingness to walk away from the sale.
Remember, the store needs your money far more than you need to give it to them. They can, of course, refuse your offer.
Cash: Offering to pay in cash can encourage a salesperson (especially those in independent stores) to make a deal. Because they won't have to pay a bank or processing company to clear the payment, they can offer you a price cut, and still make more money than if you pay in plastic. If your salesperson won't make a deal, ask to speak with their manager.
Know your rights:
There are three main rights that protect you as a buyer: the item you're buying must be of satisfactory quality, fit for its purposes and as described. These rights always apply.
Of satisfactory quality: the item's condition must meet reasonable expectations given its price, age and what you're told about it. A new TV should be in perfect order. If you're told what the faults are and you buy it anyway, you've got no comeback.
Fit for its purposes: if you asked for a TV with a digital tuner, you can't be sold an analogue set.
ls as described: whether it's an in-store notice or the salesman's patter that tells you the TV has a 32-inch screen, digital audio output and three HDMIs, that's what it should have. This also means you must be told of any faults.
Sellers can offer credit notes, free repairs or exchanges, but they can't refuse to give your money back. But if you sign an agreement that says you aren't allowed a refund or if you accept a credit note, it'll be nearly impossible to recover your money should something go wrong.
Making a complaint
- Inform the seller of any fault, be sure to contact them within two days.
- If you phone the seller, make notes including the name of whoever you speak to, the time, date and what is said.
- Inform your contact what you bought, when and where the sale took place and how much you paid. Explain what's wrong, what action you've taken to correct it, and the names of whoever you've spoken to.
- Say what you'll accept as a remedy: refund, replacement or repair. Always send photocopies of documents – never originals – and copy any emails, faxes and letters. Use recorded or special delivery to check your letters arrive.
- Don't be fobbed off, don't listen to the 'It's the manufacturer's responsibility – speak to them' excuse. The seller must repair or replace a faulty TV. You should only contact the manufacturer if the fault hurts you or does more than £275 worth of damage to your property. If this happens you may be able to claim for compensation under product liability rules.
Where to get help
- The Citizens' Advice Bureau provides excellent advice on consumer law. (www.adviceguide.org.uk).
- Consumer Direct gives free advice by phone (08454 040506) and its website (www.consumerdirect.gov.uk).
- Local Trading Standards offices investigate breaches of consumer law. They'll also give advice to consumers.
Best TV: Questions to ask before you buy
Taking the time to consider these questions will make choosing the best TV easier...
HD ready or full HD?
The vast majority of new TVs are HD ready, which means that they display high-definition discs or broadcasts at a minimum resolution of 720 vertical lines (720p).
This is fine for DVD, most broadcasts and basic Blu-ray playback and is about as many pixels as you need on TVs up to 32-inch. The next step up is full HD, which increases the vertical resolution to 1,080 lines, and is what you need to unlock the full potential of Blu-ray (1080p) and higher-spec, hi-def (1080i) satellite or cable broadcasts.
This is rarely found on anything smaller than 37-inch, but does exist on a handful of 32-inch sets.
What size do I need?
This is dictated by the dimensions of the room where the TV is going and the amount of cash you're prepared to spend. As a general rule of thumb, work out how far from the set you'll be sitting (in inches), multiply that distance by 0.535 and then round up the result to the nearest screen size. Bear in mind that a decent smaller telly is often a more sensible investment than a larger, less accomplished one.
How many HDMI sockets do I need?
Make sure you have at least as many HDMI inputs as you have HDMI-equipped sources. Most self-respecting TVs from 32-inch upwards should carry three, while four is becoming increasingly common on the largest sets.
Can I connect my older, analogue kit?
Most new sets carry no more than two Scarts, while S-video is fast approaching obsolescence. Check that your new TV can hook up to older digiboxes, VCRs or DVD decks that you might want to plug into it.
What picture type do I prefer, LCD or plasma?
LCDs and plasmas produce different sorts of pictures. Broadly speaking, the former's are usually sharper, brighter and more densely saturated, while the latter's tend to be richer, more natural and produce better black levels. Decent dealers should be able to arrange a side-by-side demo for you.
Do I want to hang my TV on the wall?
First off, you'll need to consult a construction expert to check that the wall in question is strong enough to support a flatscreen. Then find out if the set you want is designed to be wall-mounted and, if so, ask if the relevant bracket is included in the basic package or as an optional extra.
Will I be connecting it to a home cinema?
If the answer is no, you might want to think more carefully about your set's audio performance. Look for a screen that can go as loud as you'll need without distortion or cabinet rattle. Consider how dialogue sounds and how much low-end rumble the bass is capable of.
Conversely, it's pointless paying out more cash for exceptional built-in speakers if you already have a decent home cinema system.
What processing engine does it have?
Most leading brands have proprietary image 'engines' to enhance the picture, some of which are more effective than others. Personal picture preference is, of course, subjective, so ask for a few demonstrations and base your decision on which looked best to you, rather than on manufacturers' dazzling claims.
Non-proprietary features to watch out for include 100Hz scanning (for smoother motion) and 24p (playback at 24 frames per second).
How green is it?
TVs aren't inherently green devices, but those with an environmental conscience should look for an Off button, (as opposed to merely a Standby mode), 'eco' power-saving modes, intelligent backlight adjustment and, in a few recent cases, motion sensors that are capable of detecting an audience (or lack of one) and then turning the screen off if no one is watching.
You might also want to take into account a set's recycling potential or any green production processes mentioned on manufacturers' websites.
Are there any extra features?
If you've got this far and are still undecided, perhaps an extra gizmo or two can make up your mind. These come in all shapes and sizes and may include a USB port, Bluetooth capability or internet connectivity, or perhaps something a little more substantial, such as a built-in hard-disk drive or satellite TV tuner.
By now you should have some idea of what kind of TV you're after. Draw up a shortlist, shop around for best prices and don't be afraid to ask for demonstrations of your chosen models.
Most reputable sales outlets should be happy to oblige their customers. Above all, don't panic: remember that this list is designed to get you thinking rather than telling you what to buy and, above all, be confident in your own preferences when it comes to picture and sound.
Best TV ranges 2012
If you're looking for a bargain, it's often helpful to look at the best products from previous years - many will be available at discounted prices. Here are all the best TV ranges from 2012...
Panasonic Smart VIERA WT50 Series
Dual Core processor makes these multi-tasking LED TVs very smart candidates
For long one of the biggest brands in telly, Panasonic was until recently all about plasma. We still love plasma as a tech – it's unbeatable for home cinema and 3D – but it's great to see Panasonic now pouring its efforts into top class LED-backlit LCD TVs, too. The WT50 range is the Japanese giant's smartest TV yet in more ways than one; a gorgeous glass and metal design and a bezel so slender it wouldn't look out of place on one of the LG or Samsung's high-fashion models is paired with a Dual Core processor. The latter enables multi-tasking of the many apps on VIERA Connect, with Wi-Fi, Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners, too.
Sony Bravia HX853 Series
A stunning picture performance and an aggressive price put Sony back in the game
Whether or not its Bravias make Sony any money is none of our business, but the HX853 definitely puts Sony back on the flap telly map. Its flagship range is built around Edge LED panels, combining a stomach-able price with a slimmer, sleeker variation of its dull Monolithic designs from 2011. Although it does offer active shutter 3D, there are no 3D specs included and, besides, it's the 2D picture quality that wowed us most anyway, particularly where contrast and motion handling are concerned. If its X-Reality PRO processing works well, equally as welcome is its Sony Entertainment Network smart TV dimension, which thankfully is propelled by built-in Wi-Fi. A classy collection indeed.
Sony's HX853 Series comprises the 40-inch KDL-40HX853, 46-inch KDL-46HX853 and 55-inch KDL-55HX853.
Toshiba ZL2 Series
Glasses-free 3D and a native 4K resolution for the first time on a domestic TV
There is only one TV in this Series – the 55-inch 55ZL2 – but it's impossible to ignore in any round-up of the greatest flatscreen TVs around. A one-of-a-kind TV that not only enables you to watch 3D without any glasses on, but also sports a native Quad HD or 4k resolution, the ZL2 boasts truly amazing pictures.
It's oh so expensive, but the £6,999 is designed to get any tech obsessive's pulse racing; its extremely powerful CEVO Engine processor produces stunning 4k images and awesome HD, and though specs-free 3D isn't perfect and Toshiba Places is an under-nourished smart TV system, we're already convinced. The 55ZL2 is a remarkable achievement for Toshiba, and a genuine landmark in TV technology.
Samsung ES8000 Series
An ultra-thin bezel and silvery finish hides 2012's most innovative TVs
An improved Smart Hub interface, comprehensive smart TV online service, a touchpad remote that's joined by voice and gesture controls, and a gorgeous space-saving design – what more do you want? How about some of the best picture quality the LCD TV world has to offer, including active shutter 3D support? Dual Core processing helps boost the Smart Hub online platform, while digital media streaming over a home network and USB playback also impress, though it's those all-new control features we like most.
Philips 9000 Series
Direct LED meets a brushed metallic finish and a Moth Eye filter
The years roll by and our TV wants and needs change with the weather, but Philips' annually refreshed 9000 Series is always a collection to watch out for. The key technology is Ambilight, an array of coloured LED lights on the rear rim of the TV that projects dynamic coloured light on to walls, which change with each movement of colours on the TV screen itself. If that's sublime, so is the 46-incher's Moth Eye filter, a panel nanostructure that eliminates reflections (to increase contrast by a power of ten!), and it chums-up with something that's increasingly rare in the LED TV world; direct (not edge) LED backlighting. The latter also adorns the 52-incher, as does what Philips calls 3D Max – active shutter 3D. And did we mention the luscious, unique brushed metallic finish? As high-end as its gets this side of a Bang & Olufsen telly.
Philips' 9000 Series comprises the 46-inch 46PFL9706H and 52-inch 52PFL9706.
Direct LED lighting makes this flagship NANO LED set one to watch
We love a good flagship TV range, and though it slightly disappoints on ultimate home cinema standard black levels, LG's LM960V is an absolute joy to live with.
A brilliantly invisible bezel is what catches our eyes first – it's truly wonderful – though the LM960V still somehow matches its outstanding colour and brightness with decent audio. Its uses a Wii-style Magic Remote that puts a cursor on the home screen, which itself is a thing of wonder; we're talking a spectacular combination of online Smart TV features, full integrated into the core user interface, and with multimedia playback from USB sticks or PCs/Macs. Smart TV redefined, it makes the Apple TV interface seem shamefully basic.
The LG LM960V Series comprises the 47-inch 47LM960V and 55-inch 55LM960V.
Panasonic Smart VIERA ST50 Series
Thoroughly affordable 3D plasma with VIERA Connect and an enticing smart TV service
Plasmas: fat, old-fashioned and expensive, right? Err … wrong. So wrong. Slimmer and more glamorous than you'd usually expect a Panasonic plasma TV to be, and aggressively priced to boot, the ST50 Series offers contrast and clarity to die for. A radical reboot of last year's debut NeoPlasma panels, each ST50 plasma offers a mind-boggling 5,500,000:1 native contrast ratio and a response time of just 0.001ms – go looking for that on a LED TV.
Featuring active shutter 3D, digital media streaming and a thoroughly impressive VIERA Connect smart TV dimensions and the ST50 is pretty much unbeatable for its price. An unmitigated success.
Panasonic's ST50 Series comprises the 42-inch TX-P42ST50, 50-inch TX-P50ST50, 55-inch TX-P55ST50 and 65-inch TX-P65ST50 sizes.
Philips Cinema 21:9 Series
Banish those black bars with these two-of-a-kind CinemaScope screens
The strange, stretched shape of Philips' Cinema 21:9 Series will instantly make sense to committed movie buffs, many of whom yearn to watch 2.39:1 (rounded-up to a 21:9 shape by Philips) CinemaScope Blu-ray films without those pesky black bars above and below the print. However, can you stomach the flipside; black bars on the sides of normal widescreen TV programmes? Of course not, which is why Philips has fitted its two monster Cinema 21:9 screens with clever processing that stretches regular TV fare to fit the enormous real estate. If that particular feature just about works, the rest is a total success; super-wide Edge LED panels boast awesome pictures and even a choice of 3D flavours.
The Philips Cinema 21:9 Series comprises the ever-so-slightly gold-tinged metallic silver cased 50-inch 50PFL7956T Cinema 21:9 Gold, which sports the Easy 3D 'passive' system, and the 58-inch 58PFL9956 Cinema 21:9 Platinum, which includes the pricier, more detailed active shutter 3D system, called 3D Max by Philips.
LG LM670T Series
Cinema 3D joins-up passive 3D with some polished networking in a striking design
Five pairs of 3D glasses, Dual Play specs for full-screen 2D gaming on two-player mode, and Smart TV for a gateway to a world of web-based apps. There's a lot to play with on LG's Wi-Fi fuelled LM670T Series, not least of which is Smart Share 2.0, a scintillating approach to disparate forms of digital media – we're talking instant cover art for random video files stored in far-off places in what is a well thought-out, integrated approach. You'll also find an ultra narrow bezel and a Magic Remote that allows gesture control and cursor operation alongside oh-so comfortable Passive 3D images and some decent upscaling of SD sources.
The LG LM670T Series comprises the 42-inch 42LM670T, 47-inch 47LM670T and 55-inch 55LM670T.
Panasonic Smart VIERA E5 Series
Eschewing the third dimension this good value Smart VIERA is all about apps
Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Acetrax, Twitter and Facebook all take a starring role is what is probably the most polished smart TV interface around – and it comes with a low price. If you're not interested in 3D but do insist on Edge LED backlighting and a Full HD resolution, the E5 Series is a quality, good value choice; a good value panel that can stream digital files across a home network and even manages above average audio. Performing best with HD sources, its integrated Freeview HD tuner plays a starring role.