A family watching TV

Many of us spend more time in front of our TVs than we do in our cars, kitchens or backyards. It only makes sense to do a bit of research before choosing a new model. But there’s a lot to think about, from screen size to resolution and display technology. We promise to keep it simple. Read on to learn exactly what to look for when buying a TV.

Already know what you’re looking for? Check out our top picks.

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1What TV size should you choose?

With TVs, bigger isn’t always better. Imagine a screen door. From across the room, the mesh is invisible. Move closer, though, and you start to make out the individual squares. That’s basically what it’s like with TVs. The bigger the TV, the bigger the individual pixels. The resolution also plays a role but, for now, let’s assume we’re talking about 4K Ultra HD TVs—the most common type of TV.

To figure out the ideal TV size for a room, use this chart:

4K UHD TV Size (inches) Best Viewing Distance (feet)
40 3.3 to 5
50 4.2 to 6.5
55 4.5 to 7
65 5.5 to 8.1
75 6.3 to 9.5
85 7 to 10.5

Keep in mind that bigger TVs tend to provide a better viewing angle from the side, which is important if you’ll have guests seated to the right or left.

That said, viewing distance is still the most important factor when it comes to picking a size. If you think your white wall will look bare, the solution isn’t always a bigger TV. It’s best to stick to the size that matches the viewing distance and add art or shelves around your screen.

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How to Measure a TV
TV screens are measured diagonally, from one corner of the viewable area to its opposite. The upshot: TVs aren’t as wide as you might think. A 60-inch panel is only about 53 inches wide, depending on the bezel width. Knowing the height and width of the TV (as opposed to just the screen size) will help you imagine the TV on your wall or ensure it fits into a cabinet.

2HD, full HD, 4K or 8K: What resolution should you pick?

TV resolutions for HD, 4K UHD and 8K UHD

Think of resolution as clarity. It’s the number of pixels used to create a picture and more pixels can help provide more sharpness and detail. The higher the number the better.

Currently, the industry standard is 4K Ultra HD, but this table will help you better understand the differences between specific resolutions.[1]

Resolution What It Means Pros Cons
High Definition

(a.k.a. HD)

1,280 x 720

(about 1 million pixels)

  • Suitable for small rooms
  • Inexpensive
  • Relatively low detail
  • Not ideal for movies or games
Full HD

(a.k.a. 1080p)

1,920 x 1,080

(about 2 million pixels)

  • Picture clarity not as good as 4K
  • Can’t take full advantage of 4K Blu-rays or the latest games
4K

(a.k.a. 4K Ultra HD)

3,840 x 2,160

(about 8 million pixels)

  • Great clarity
  • Loads of current content is in 4K
  • Game consoles like PS5 and Xbox Series X were developed with 4K in mind
  • Might be more resolution than you need for YouTube and reality TV
8K

(a.k.a. 8K UHD)

7,680 x 4,320

(about 33 million pixels)

  • Stunningly clear and detailed, especially in sports and movies
  • Can be viewed from very close range
  • Very expensive
  • Not much content available in 8K format
  • Still unclear whether this will actually be the next big thing in TV[2]

Shop Popular 4K TVs

3LCD, LED, QLED and OLED: Which display technology is best?

We’ve broken down the four main technologies on the market today. Consider plain old LCD at the bottom of the scale and OLED TVs at the top.

Display Technology What It Means Pros Cons
LCD

(Liquid Crystal Display)

Standard LCD panels use fluorescent backlights to light up the screen.
  • Proven and reliable
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Inferior picture quality, especially in black levels
  • May have limited viewing angles
LED

(Light-Emitting Diode)

LED panels (also referred to as LCD-LED) are LCD panels that use light-emitting diodes to light pixels.
  • Slimmer in size and a better picture than LCD
  • Consumes less power than most other technologies
  • Typically less expensive than QLED/OLED
  • Backlight still tends to wash out brighter scenes
  • Shadowy images lack detail
QLED

(Quantum-Dot Light-Emitting Diode)

QLED panels place a quantum filter between the backlight and the pixels to improve colour and brightness.
  • Fantastic picture quality, with especially brilliant whites and vibrant colours
  • Excellent upscaling capability
  • Terrific viewing angles
  • Can be pricey, though mid-range models are more affordable
  • OLED still wins out when comparing black levels[3]
OLED

(Organic Light-Emitting Diode)

OLED TVs employ a thin, electrified film rather than a backlight to individually light and colour each pixel.
  • Exceptional picture quality, especially in dark and highly saturated scenes
  • Great for movies, sports and games
  • Thin and lightweight
  • Much pricier than other display techs
  • Uses more power[4]

4What is HDR and how important is it?

A TV with and without HDR

High dynamic range—better known as HDR—is an image rendering technology that can dramatically improve picture quality. There are a couple of competing HDR formats (HDR 10 and Dolby Vision) but they both do the same thing: bring out details and colours in dark and light areas of the screen.

HDR is most beloved by gamers and film buffs, who both tend to want the best possible image quality. But regular folks can see the difference, too. Just keep in mind that not all content supports HDR, and that it needs to be switched on to see the difference.

Shop Popular TVs with HDR

5Does TV brand matter?

Brand isn’t necessarily the best indicator of quality, because most TV brands have a both higher- and lower-end models.[5] First and foremost, choose a TV based on the specs that matter most to you including size, resolution and display technology. Then, if you’ve found a few different TVs that all check your spec boxes, you can compare the brands.

  • Premium TV brands: TVs from LG, Samsung and Sony are consistently well-received, but they also tend cost more.
  • Budget TV brands: Hisense, RCA and TCL are generally considered budget brands, so their quality may not be as good, but you will save money.

If you’re wondering whether a pricey premium model is worth it, a recent study from Consumer Reports[6] suggests that spending more typically results in a better-quality picture, a superior product and a better experience. That said, the report also notes that budget-brand TVs are constantly improving and narrowing the quality gap.

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A Word on Aesthetics
Regardless of price, today’s TVs are thin with narrow, minimalist bezels (a.k.a. frames). No matter which model or brand you choose, your new TV will likely look clean and modern in your space. Hooray for one less thing to worry about!

6What is a smart TV and do you need one?

Most TVs these days are smart TVs. All this really means is that they connect to the internet and support a library of apps for streaming video, accessing social media and browsing the web, potentially eliminating the need for external devices. Of course, you can still use after-market devices like Apple TV and Google Chromecast with these TVs if you prefer.

High-end smart TVs may have some additional features, such as voice control or integrating social media within the TV viewing experience so you can see how Twitter is reacting to the latest episode of your favourite show.

Shop Popular Smart TVs

7What other factors should you consider when buying a TV?

If someone in the family’s a gamer or sports fan, or you tend to watch TV with a crowd, there are some additional things you may want to think about when buying a TV. Here are a few of them:

  • Refresh rate: Measured in hertz (Hz), refresh rate is the number of times your TV refreshes a video image. Faster speeds (120Hz to 240Hz) result in a smoother picture during fast-action gaming or sports.
  • Upscaling: When a lower resolution image is displayed on a higher resolution display, the TV typically enlarges the image to make it fit. Better upscaling processing makes for prettier pictures.
  • Viewing angle: The wider the viewing angle, the less likely the image will appear washed out or oddly coloured to those sitting to the left and right of the display.
  • HDMI: The most common means of connecting devices to TVs these days is an HDMI cable. But not all HDMI ports and cables are equal. There’s a newer standard called HDMI 2.1 that provides superior data speed and bandwidth. It’s essential for some higher resolution content sources including the latest game consoles.
  • Speakers: The built-in speakers on most TVs these days are middling at best. Panels and bezels are simply too thin to incorporate large, powerful audio drivers. You may want to add a soundbar or home theatre system to your wish list if rich sound is important to you.

Still not sure where to start? Check out our roundup of the best TVs for movies, games and more.

8How much is a new TV going to cost you?

The most popular choice for a TV these days is around 65 inches. These panels can range from $600 to upwards of $5,000, depending on brand and technology. Interestingly, smaller panels don’t get that much cheaper; 40-inch displays start around $400.

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