Eight years ago, I bought a 50-inch Samsung that had a basic design, full-HD resolution, and no smart features. It cost over $800—and that was its sale price! Back then, I never would have found a 50-inch TV for under $500.
Nowadays, you can get pretty big, feature-heavy TVs for $500 or less. But nailing down the best one for the most people still means testing those relatively affordable displays as thoroughly as we do the ultra-premium ones. Fortunately, we test TVs from $300 to $3,000 all year, and have a lot of recommendations.
If you just want our favorite TV under $500, check out the 2019 55-inch Vizio M Series Quantum(available at Amazon for $498.00). However, there's a handful of solid TVs you can get right now for under $500, so read through to see how everything stacks up. The picks on this list are currently limited to Vizio and TCL TVs, but for good reason: at present, we feel these two brands offer the best value in this price range.
Here are the best TVs under $500 we tested, as of March, 2020:
55-inch Vizio M Series Quantum (M557-G0, 2019)
65-inch TCL 6-Series (2019)
55-inch Vizio V Series (V556-G1, 2019)
55-inch TCL 4-Series (2019)
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
When it comes to new, value-packed TVs, it’s hard to top the 55-inch Vizio M Series Quantum (M557-G0), which offers a taste of quantum dot performance for a price most people can justify.
The M Series Quantum doesn’t get quite as bright as TVs in higher price brackets, but that doesn’t mean its contrast is anything to scoff at; the TV’s brightness and deep black levels come together nicely on the full-array panel. Colors pop, too, on account of the M Series’ quantum dots.
A noteworthy caveat, however, is the M Series Quantum’s native refresh rate of 60 Hz, which might be a dealbreaker for folks who’d rather pay a little extra for a TV with smoother motion performance. Gamers who are looking for an affordable gaming TV, for instance, might be more inclined to spend a little more on a TV with a native 120 Hz refresh rate.
The M Series Quantum is also available in 43-, 50-, 65, and 70-inch models, and some sizes feature alternative models with more local dimming zones. For our purposes, we recommend the 55-inch model (M557-G0)–it’s a great TV for anyone looking to upgrade to a dependable HDR TV without breaking the bank.
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. Our lab in 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 services, connecting a DVD 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 incredible 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 more rife 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, albeit on the surface they work similarly. 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, Wide Color Gamut, and High Dynamic Range.
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 four times the brightness and 30% more color production than non-HDR TVs, at least. Current leading HDR formats include HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
60 Hz/120 Hz: These numbers refer to what is called a "refresh rate," with Hz (hertz) meaning "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 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 at present. These are microscopic nanocrystals that produce intensely colored light when struck with a light source. 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 contrast 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 Under $500 We Tested
TCL 6-Series (2019)
The TCL 6-Series, available in 55- and 65-inch models, is a budget-friendly QLED TV that brings the benefits of quantum dot technology (namely better brightness and color production) to a price bracket that most folks can actually afford.
Full disclosure: As of early March 2020, this TV carries a price of around $599. That said, we’ve decided to include it in our round-up of the best TVs under $500 for two reasons. First, it’s just a really great TV with a ton of value. Secondly, it’s almost certainly going to see a price cut in the coming months.
We were quite impressed with the TCL 6-Series’ contrast; the TV’s relatively deep black levels look all the better thanks to its ability to get very bright, particularly during HDR content. We also love the TV’s built-in Roku software, since Roku is our favorite smart platform of all the major players.
That said, you can’t really offer a QLED TV in this price bracket without some concessions. The 6-Series’ motion handling isn’t as good as higher-end QLED TV’s whose panels feature a native refresh rate of 120 Hz. Additionally, the 6-Series’ viewing angles are quite limited.
Still, this TV is jam-packed with value, especially if you’re hoping to land a TV that’s bright enough to accommodate a room that gets a lot of natural or artificial light.
The Vizio V Series comes in a wide variety of sizes and options, and a handful of them feature slightly different hardware in the form of LED zones with local dimming.
The 55-inch Vizio V Series that we tested (V556-G1) features 10 local dimming LED zones, which means its contrast is slightly better than the V Series models that don’t feature local dimming, though not significantly.
The V Series is a great pick for folks who just need to upgrade to a 4K/HDR TV but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on bells and whistles. The performance in a vacuum isn’t much to write home about, but the performance given the V Series’ price point is something to celebrate. It’s not the type of HDR TV that will demonstrate the superiority of HDR content, but it doesn’t really need to be.
The V Series isn’t the best TV on the block, nor is it the best budget-friendly TV on the block, but most folks will be happy to own one—especially people who are upgrading to 4K for the first time.
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.
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.