Best 4K TV for 2021 – CNET

Nowadays, just about every television set with a screen size that’s at least 32 inches is available in 4K resolution. Prices for 4K TVs are basically equivalent to older, lower-resolution 1080p TVs, so 4K is no longer an expensive step-up feature. In fact, if you’re shopping for a 50-inch screen or bigger, it’s hard to find any model that isn’t 4K.

The best 4K TV screen may be more affordable than you think. The popular TCL 4-Series, which I like a lot as an entry-level option, starts at a budget TV price of $250 for the 43-inch model.

As you might expect at those prices, 4K resolution on a screen doesn’t necessarily mean great picture quality. All those millions of pixels — 8,294,440 to be exact — don’t have much of an impact on how good the image looks. The best-performing TVs in our reviews and the best TVs for the money excel in other areas of picture quality, such as contrast, dynamic range, peak brightness and HDR performance. If you’re looking for a gaming TV, you’ll also want to consider factors like input lag. These TVs have 4K resolution, too, but that’s basically table stakes these days.


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The list below represents the best 4K televisions (which are, let’s face it, the best TVs, full stop) I’ve reviewed in CNET’s test lab, where I compare them side by side to see which ones are most worth buying. I considered factors like picture quality, design, smart TV functionality, connectivity and more (basically, everything you need to watch your favorite TV shows and make the most of your Fire TV stick or streaming apps). Here are my latest 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 TVs43-inch TVs55-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 will start becoming available over the next few months. Where applicable I’ve included a “2021 outlook” section with everything I know (so far) these TVs’ replacements. I’ll update it when more information, particularly pricing, is revealed.

Sarah Tew/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: The new model, designated C1, will ship in spring. 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 I expect the CX to 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, but pricing is still unknown.

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. 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 series 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.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

TCL’s 8-Series also features mini-LED and the result is superb contrast, brightness and high dynamic range that beats the less expensive 6-Series in my side-by-side comparison. The overall image quality doesn’t quite hit OLED TV levels, but it comes pretty close and costs a lot less, especially in the 75-inch size.

Sizes: 65-, 75-inch.

2021 outlook: It’s been out for more than a year but the 8-Series is still current and still an excellent choice. TCL hasn’t announced a direct replacement and I don’t expect one to be available until summer at the earliest. I wouldn’t be surprised if the replacement was 8K resolution and a lot more expensive.

Read our TCL 8-Series (2019 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: Samsung hasn’t announced a direct replacement for this TV but the QN85T, one of its Mini-LED-equipped Neo QLED models, is the closest equivalent I know about. I expect it to be brighter and deliver somewhat better image quality, but it’s also significantly more expensive than the Q80T, starting at $1,600 for the 55-inch size.

Read our Samsung Q80T series (2020) review.

 

Other stuff to know about buying a new 4K TV

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 (like a Fire TV stick or Roku box). They’re cheap and easy to use, and receive updates more frequently than most smart TVs. See our picks of the best media streamers.
  • Most built-in speakers sound terrible, so it’s worthwhile to pair your new set with a soundbar or other speaker system. Good ones start at around $100. See the best soundbars.

Looking for even more info? Here’s everything to know about buying a new TV in 2021

More guides for finding the perfect TV 

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