In recent years, while large TVs have become increasingly affordable, extra-small, 32-inch TVs have continued to serve their niche, too. In fact, smaller TVs are often the perfect solution for spaces like kitchens, dorm rooms, guest rooms, or tight apartments.
The 2019 TCL 3-Series (SKU: 32S327) is our pick for the 32-inch TV that’s best-suited for most people. Its performance isn’t awe-inspiring, but given its cost and its built-in Roku functionality, the 3-Series is just what the doctor ordered.
The 3-Series certainly isn’t the brightest TV on the block, but its peak brightness of around 250 to 300 nits is perfectly suitable for rooms with average lighting conditions. The 3-Series pairs its relatively bright highlights with respectable black levels, and for the most part, high-definition content looks decent. There’s no HDR support, but given the TV’s cost and classification, that’s to be expected
The best thing the TCL 3-Series has going for it is that it’s a Roku TV, meaning our favorite streaming software is built right into the menu. Roku combines an incredibly simple interface with a diverse collection of downloadable apps, making it easy enough for neophytes and versatile enough for tech-savvy viewers.
There’s a newer version of the TCL 3-Series on our list (SKU: 32S325), but that version has a maximum resolution of 720p, and the difference in cost is negligible. Simply put, this particular 3-Series offers the best blend of features and affordability.
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 32-Inch 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.
A good TV doesn't have to be a colossal TV. In fact, a smaller TV is generally more affordable and can fit just about anywhere. Some of them offer HDR, which heightens a picture's dynamic range, but the vast majority of 32-inch TVs aren't going to have the flashy features you'd expect in a larger model.
Next let's talk about resolution. We think it's safe to say that most 32-inch TV's have a resolution of 1080p (full HD), but as you’ll learn, there are 4K options available. With such a small screen size, however, 4K resolution is not necessary for most use cases.
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.
60Hz/120Hz: 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 32-inch TVs We Tested
Of all the 32-inch TVs we tested for this roundup, the Samsung Q50R is the one that offers the best performance. Unfortunately, thanks to some flashy hardware, the Q50R is the priciest TV of the bunch, in addition to having the best-looking picture.
Unlike the rest of the TVs we’ve tested, the Q50R is a 4K TV, so 4K games and streaming content will be displayed in their native resolution. The TV’s display is also equipped with quantum dots, which is why its color reproduction is both accurate and voluminous; according to our lab tests, the Q50R covers 100% of the Rec.709 SDR color gamut and an impressive 92% of the wider DCI-P3 HDR color gamut.
Unfortunately, even with quantum dots in tow, the Q50R doesn’t get much brighter than 300 nits. Technically speaking, the Q50R is an HDR TV, but with a panel this dim, you won’t experience much of a difference between SDR and HDR content.
So while the Samsung Q50R is the most impressive 32-inch TV on this list due to its performance and hardware, it’s also probably not worth the cost. To put this TV’s price into perspective, consider the fact that the 55-inch version of the TCL 4-Series—our favorite entry-level TV—is about $100 less than the 32-inch Q50R.
Unless you’re sitting inches away from the panel, its 4K resolution is not a critical feature. And although the Q50R comes with Samsung’s Tizen smart platform built into the TV’s software, we much prefer the Roku experience offered by the TCL 3-Series. If money’s not a factor and you simply want the best possible performance, the Q50R offers a far better picture than the rest—it’s just a bit overstocked for its size.
If you don’t want to spring for the kitted-out Q50R but still want to stick with Samsung, the 32-inch Samsung N5300 is probably your best bet.
The N5300 is a full-HD (1080p) TV that, technically speaking, supports HDR, but it doesn’t get bright enough to showcase the benefits. Still, its peak brightness of around 300 nits is among the highest we measured in the 32-inch class, and while the Q50R is capable of similar highlights, the N5300 costs significantly less.
As is the case with the Samsung Q50R, the N5300 features Samsung’s Tizen smart platform, which will get you by in a pinch, but you might miss the flexibility and ease of use typically associated with Roku.
If you desire a Samsung-branded TV and don’t want to fork over the cash for the somewhat-overstuffed Q50R, the Samsung N5300 is a great compromise.
This version of the TCL 3-Series (SKU: 32S325) released in 2020 and, with the exception of its display resolution, provides a similar experience to the version of the 3-Series in the top spot of this roundup.
Its performance is similar to the version of the 3-Series at the top of our list, with average brightness and decent black levels. Its performance is reliably decent across all types of content. Like the other 3-Series, this TV does not support HDR. Fortunately, its Roku smart platform is just as dependable and easy to use.
As mentioned, this version of the 32-inch TCL 3-Series features a resolution of 720p. This is quite low for contemporary TVs, but typical 32-inch TV viewing conditions don’t usually cry out for high resolution. In other words, if you’re planning on placing this TV in a dorm, kitchen, or guest room, you shouldn’t have to worry about the 3-Series’ 720p resolution. That said, we still recommend investing in the older, full-HD version of the 3-Series that secured our #1 spot, if possible.
For a blend of decent performance, generous features, and affordability, consider the 32-inch Vizio D-Series.
This full-HD (1080p) TV doesn’t get very bright (we measured a peak brightness of around 130 nits), but its full-array panel pairs a low black level with tight contrast control. This means that most content will generally look fine, but the D-Series certainly benefits from a dim or outright dark viewing environment.
Being a smart TV, the 32-inch D-Series offers a small stable of apps and web-based content, but the software—dubbed Vizio Internet Apps Plus—is limited, and there’s no way for users to download additional content from an app library. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon Video are accounted for, but there’s not much else. If you’re hoping to use your 32-inch TV as a robust streaming option, your best bet is to pair it with an external streaming device.
All told, the Vizio D-Series is a decent option for folks who want a decent-looking TV with some smart functionality, but the TCL 3-Series is still a better option for most people shopping for a small smart TV.
While this is a 2016 model, when we tested it we found it to be a surprisingly excellent 32-inch option. You can still find it kicking around online and at some retailers for around $300.
While it's pricier than the 32-inch D-Series, it delivers a sleek design and picture quality that (for 2016) was as good as TVs twice as expensive. The fact that it's still widely available is a testament to this TV's abilities.
For what you're paying, you're getting full-HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution, smart features, and a very lightweight but sturdy product that's dressed a cut above most of the TVs in this price range. If you can track this one down, it's a winner.
Michael Desjardin graduated from Emerson College after having studied media production and screenwriting. He specializes in tech for Reviewed, but also loves film criticism, weird ambient music, cooking, and food in general.
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.