How We Tested
Reviewed has been testing TVs since some of its current employees were in middle school. While many proud TV testers have come and gone through Reviewed’s labs, the current Home Theater team consists of Michael Desjardin and Lee Neikirk. Michael is a senior staff writer and a six-year veteran of the Reviewed tech team. A film enthusiast and TV expert, he takes picture quality seriously but also understands that not every TV is a good fit for everyone.
As Reviewed’s Home Theater Editor, Lee doesn’t do as much testing these days. However, he designed the company’s current TV testing methodology after receiving calibration certification from the Imaging Science Foundation.
It’d be an understatement to say that we’re serious about TV testing. The lab in our Cambridge location is outfitted with much of the same equipment you’d find at a factory that manufactures and calibrates television.
On the hardware side, we’ve got things like a Konica Minolta CS-200 tristimulus color meter, an LS-100 luminance meter, a Leo Bodnar input lag tester, a Quantum Data 780A signal generator, and more Blu-rays than we can keep track of. For software, we use CalMan Ultimate, the industry-standard in taking display measurements and calibrating screens to specifications.
Our testing process is equally complicated and has been honed over many years to gather data that is marginal enough to satisfy curious video engineers, but also relevant to the average person’s viewing experience. We measure things like peak brightness, black level, hue and saturation for primary and secondary digital colors, the accuracy of the TV’s electro-optical transfer function—you get the idea, it’s complicated.
Weighting for our performance tests is based on how the human eye prioritizes vision, which means we put “brightness” data (monochromatic eye based on light sensitivity) higher than colorimetry, which is also scaled by the eye’s sensitivity, and so on.
Outside of the strictly technical tests, we also spend a lot of time just watching and using each TV, getting a feel for the at-home experience of doing things like dialing up streaming video service, connecting a Blu-ray player and watching movies, using the smart features, and checking out the TV’s ports, remote, and on-set buttons—anything and everything that might be relevant.
What You Should Know About TVs
While everyone has different eyes, generally, our vision all functions the same way: we prioritize dynamic information and bright, compelling colors over subtler hues and resolution (sharpness). Generally, a TV can be considered a good TV when we forget that we’re watching a TV. We don’t see pixels creating mixes of red, green, and blue to simulate colors; we see the real world, lit and colored as it is, in fluid motion.
In simpler terms, this means a TV that can get very bright and dark without obscuring details; produces accurate colors (compared to various color standards designated by the International Telecommunication Union); possesses proper bit-mapping and the right codecs and decoders for video processing; and can properly play the various types of content thrown at it without judder, blurring, and so on.
Note that specs alone (pixel count, measured brightness) aren’t automatic indicators of quality, much like intense speed is not automatically an indicator of a good car.
What TV Terms Do I Need To Know?
When it comes to knowing what you’re paying for, almost no category is rifer with subterfuge and tomfoolery than TVs. While knowing the specs of the TV you’re shopping for is only half the battle, it’s the bigger half. Here are the key bits of jargon you’ll want to know while browsing:
LED/LCD: This refers to Light Emitting Diode and Liquid Crystal Display. LEDs are the backlights used in LCD TVs, also sometimes called a LED TV for this reason. The LED backlight shines through a layer of a semi-solid substance called “liquid crystal,” so named for its ability to morph in reaction to tiny electrical volts and allow light to pass through.
OLED: This means Organic Light Emitting Diode. This is an altogether different panel technology than LED/LCD. Rather than an LED backlight element shining through an LCD panel element, OLED TVs essentially combine the backlight and crystal array, using sub-pixel strata that produce light and color individually.
4K/UHD: Usually 4K refers to resolution—specifically, 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. This is the current standard/mainstream resolution for most TVs. UHD means Ultra High Definition, and actually refers to a suite of picture improvements like 4K resolution and Wide Color Gamut, which can display many more shades than HD TVs.
High Dynamic Range: Like “UHD,” High Dynamic Range (or HDR) refers to both a type of TV and a type of content that expands on the typical range of brightness (luminance) and color that a TV will produce. HDR TVs are newer and usually a bit more expensive, but can have many times the brightness and 30% more color production than non-HDR TVs. Current top HDR formats include HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision.
60 Hz/120 Hz: These numbers refer to what is called a “refresh rate,” with Hz (hertz) representing “times per second.” So if a TV’s refresh rate is 60 Hz, this means it re-scans and updates for picture information 60 times per second; with 120 Hz, it’s 120 times per second. Currently, TVs only come in 60 or 120 Hz. A higher refresh rate is always better, but not always necessary.
Smart TV: The term “smart TV” has evolved a lot over the years, but all it really means is that the TV connects to the internet. Most smart TVs these days are just a way to watch streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video on your TV. Some smart TVs have browsers, calendars, or even Roku or Android functions. All smart TVs have ethernet or WiFi built-in.
Quantum Dots: Quantum dots are used in LED/LCD TVs only. These are microscopic nanocrystals that produce intensely colored light when illuminated. Quantum dots can be used to vastly improve the red and green saturation of a TV, and are one way that LED/LCD TVs can match the color spectrum of OLED.
Local Dimming: OLED panels look great because each pixel can operate independently. LED/LCD TVs can imitate this functioning via a process called local dimming, where localized clusters of LEDs dim or boost depending on whether the screen needs to be darker or brighter, sometimes vastly improving their performance and worth.
What Is a TV Series?
You may notice the TVs listed in this roundup don’t follow the traditional naming convention you might see in a store or online. That’s because rather than nominating a single size of TV (such as the LG OLED65C8PUA, aka the 65-inch LG C8 series OLED), we nominate the entire range of sizes within a “series.”
Typically these TVs are identical in performance but differ in price and size. We do this in order to offer you more flexibility in your decision, but also because it’s the most accurate representation available.
Other TVs We Tested
Additional TVs We Tested
These additional TV models—most of them older—might be a bit harder to track down. Nevertheless, we’ve included them here just in case you’re still on the fence.
It might be a bit difficult to track down the LG C8 as it’s a 2018 release, but those who find one will probably be thrilled by its performance. This 4K OLED TV delivers the high-level performance we’ve come to expect from LG’s OLED TVs: exceptional contrast, incredible color production, and the built-in webOS smart platform. It’s an excellent choice if you’re interested in newer formats like HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos. Get the LG C8 from Amazon
The Samsung Q80R, released in 2019, delivers searingly bright highlights, a 120 Hz native refresh rate, and produces vivid, well-saturated colors. It’s an appealing alternative for shoppers who’re seeking a premium picture but don’t want to splash out on a higher-end TV. Get the Samsung Q80R from Amazon
The 2019 Vizio P-Series Quantum is a fantastic QLED TV that makes a strong case for itself in the all-important category of premium-but-not-too-premium TVs. It features quantum dots, a native 120 Hz refresh rate, full-array local dimming, and a performance report card that’s chock-full of good grades. It’s a great choice for shoppers who want a premium TV but who might not want to commit to the price of an OLED TV or a better performing QLED TV. Get the Vizio P-Series Quantum from Amazon
While the 2019 TCL 6-Series is not quite as impressive as its 2020 successor, it’s still a great TV for the money, offering a taste of quantum dot power and a built-in Roku platform for an affordable price. Unlike the 2020 model, this 6-Series does not come with various software and hardware enhancements aimed at gamers (like VRR and ALLM), but if all you’re looking for is a terrific picture at a good price, the 2019 6-Series is definitely worth a look. Get the TCL 6-Series from Amazon
The 2019 Vizio M Series Quantum was our previous pick for Best Value. It’s a relatively good choice for folks who are hoping to land an affordable quantum dot TV, but it might be wise to compare the Vizio M Series Quantum to the 2019 TCL 6-Series in order to determine which one is better for you. Regardless, the M Series Quantum is a dependable performer and comes in a wide array of sizes. Get the Vizio M Series Quantum from Amazon
The Samsung TU8000 won’t turn any heads, but it marries middle-of-the-road performance with an affordable price, so it should satisfy shoppers who are looking to upgrade to a 4K HDR TV but don’t need a bevy of special features. If you insist on the Samsung brand and you don’t want to spend too much on your next TV, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option this year. Get the Samsung TU8000 from Amazon
The TCL 4-Series was one of the most affordable 4K HDR TVs of 2019, and you can still find it available at major retailers. Although its performance isn’t remarkable, the 4-Series gets the job done for a ridiculously low price tag. Available in six screen sizes, you’re getting 4K resolution, HDR10 compatibility, and a smooth, easy-to-use Roku smart platform. Get the TCL 4-Series from Amazon
The LG E8 might be two years old, but it’s still an excellent TV that provides OLED’s usual inky blacks, crisp highlights, rich colors, and flawless viewing angles. You’re getting 4K resolution, High Dynamic Range support, the webOS smart platform, and a sleek, futuristic design. Get the LG E8 from Amazon
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