TV technology has come a long way. These days, you can get an awesome TV for $500 or less. There’s still a fair amount of clunkers out there, but that's where we come in. We test TVs—from the most basic to the ultra-premium ones—to make sure you're getting a great product.
If you just want our favorite TV under $500, check out the TCL 5-Series(available at Amazon for $499.99). In addition to its decent performance chops, it also comes with Roku’s smart platform built right in. There are several other options on this list, however, so make a pick that works for you. Keep in mind that some of these TVs only fit our price criteria for specific sizes in their respective series.
Here are the best TVs under $500 we tested, ranked in order:
Vizio M-Series Quantum
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The TCL 5-Series isn’t the most robust 4K TV on the shelf, but what it lacks in performance it makes up for in value: This is a budget-friendly quantum dot TV with commendable picture quality that won’t break the bank.
While not as bright and colorful as other mid-range and high-end QLED TVs we reviewed this year, the TCL 5-Series is nevertheless brighter and more colorful than most of the slightly cheaper, entry-level TVs that occupy the same store shelf. And at this price point, it’s a steal of a deal that most bargain shoppers will appreciate.
Its motion handling and viewing angles aren’t particularly impressive, and it won’t net you any advanced features like VRR and ALLM, but the 5-Series is a better performer than you might expect given its price. Plus, being a Roku TV, it features a terrific, easy-to-use smart platform built right in.
If you’re looking for a bargain but you want to avoid scraping the bottom of the barrel for the cheapest possible TV, the TCL 5-Series is worth the minor price hike over the lowest-tier options. It's an especially great TV for folks who are upgrading to 4K for the first time.
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 seven-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 Buying a Television
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.
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 60Hz, this means it re-scans and updates for picture information 60 times per second; with 120Hz, it's 120 times per second. Currently, TVs only come in 60 or 120Hz. 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, 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
Vizio M-Series Quantum
Vizio's 2020 M-Series Quantum (available in 50-, 55-, and 65-inch sizes) combines Vizio's simple, cost-reducing designs and pared-down features with some of the latest and greatest in TV tech: 4K resolution, HDR10/Dolby Vision support, full-array backlights with local dimming, and quantum dot color. The end result is a TV that's affordable and commendable in terms of its price-to-performance ratio.
The main thing to know about this TV going in is that it's available in two variants: a "Q7" variant and a "Q8" variant. The Q7 variants are available in 50-, 55-, and 65-inch sizes, while the Q8 variants are only available in 55- and 65-inch sizes. Folks who are shopping for a TV in the $500 price range should favor the Q7 variants, as the Q8 variants are slightly less budget-friendly.
The difference is that the Q8 variants boast a higher local dimming zone count, which gives them a leg up in terms of total picture quality—on the other hand, they're also just a smidge more expensive. While we recommend particularly picky viewers go for the Q8 models, we think the Q7s look great, too; just be aware that with the Q7s you're only getting between 16 and 30 local dimming zones, while the Q8 models both feature 90 zones—a real step up.
What's the drawback here? Basically, for all the cool picture quality tech you're getting, these TVs are pretty bare-bones from every other angle. Their designs are fairly boring and the included smart features are fine, but you aren't getting cutting-edge processing or a fastidiously designed user experience either. Gamers should also note that the 2020 M-Series Quantum TVs, while good for HDR gaming, aren't the fastest guns in the west: their native refresh rate is 60Hz only, and if you're particular sensitive to input lag (or film judder) you may want to spring for something with a refresh rate of 120Hz.
But if you don't need a TV that's fancy in every possible way and just want one of the most affordable 4K/HDR performers around, the M-Series Quantum is a great choice.
The Hisense H8G is a dependable mid-range TV best suited for people who want the brightest possible picture for a relatively affordable price.
The H8G’s quantum dots are its best asset; its picture is brighter and more colorful than just about everything else in this price range. That said, its native refresh rate is only 60 Hz and the H8G also lacks features like VRR, ALLM, and eARC.
For folks with bright living rooms, the H8G is a fantastic option, as it gets bright enough to accommodate such rooms but doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. In general, it’s a great-looking TV with a flexible smart platform. If you’re concerned about not having features like VRR and ALLM, however, you might be better off with something else.
The Samsung TU8000 is an all-around decent TV, but you won’t find picture-enhancing features like quantum dots nor any next-gen gaming features here.
The TU8000 is available in six sizes, and the 43-, 50-, and 55-inch variants are typically priced at or below $500. There’s not much in the way of features (other than Samsung’s smart platform), but its performance is slightly better than some of the more affordable options in this price range. As long as you’re not sticking the TU8000 in a seriously bright room, its picture is just fine for most folks, offering good contrast and color for the cost.
Unfortunately, since the Samsung TU8000 doesn’t get much brighter than 300 to 400 nits, its HDR performance is pretty mediocre. In this price range, the TCL 5-Series, Vizio M-Series Quantum, and Hisense H8G offer better brightness and better HDR performance.
Still, even budget-friendly Samsung TVs are sleek-looking, dependable TVs with decent software, so the TU8000 is a great choice for folks who want something a bit nicer than the cheapest possible option.
The 2019 TCL 4-Series is a huge value/budget option. While it’s available in six screen sizes, the 55-inch model can be had for well under $500. You're getting 4K resolution, HDR10 compatibility, the Roku remote, and 60 Hz refresh rates—not bad specs for this TV’s price point.
In fact, the TCL 4-Series is one of the most affordable 4K TVs we've seen to date. Although its performance isn't remarkable, the 4-Series gets the job done for a ridiculously low price tag. Plus, being a Roku TV, you can expect to enjoy a smooth, easy-to-use smart platform.
The Vizio V-Series is one of the most affordable ways to secure a smart 4K TV with a big screen. Unfortunately, it wears its affordability on its sleeve, offering only so-so performance and almost no extra features beyond its smart platform.
The V-Series is available in a whopping nine sizes, ranging from 40 inches to 75 inches. At the time that this was written, seven out of the nine sizes (every size variant between 40 and 65 inches) could be purchased for under $500.
Folks who aren’t picky about picture quality will probably find the V-Series’ performance to be just fine, so long as their viewing environment isn’t flush with sunlight. Because the V-Series can’t get very bright, its HDR performance is almost identical to its SDR performance. In practical terms, this means that high-quality HDR content (newer movies, games, and streaming shows) won’t pop the way they’re supposed to.
And while we appreciate the built-in smart platform, you won’t find any extra features or gaming enhancements here—the Vizio V-Series is about as barebones as TVs come. It’s a great value for non-fussy viewers, but you can get better performance in this price range if you’re willing to spend a bit more.
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.