What are the best TV brands?
The TV landscape has changed—it's time to check your brand loyalty.
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If you're still laboring under the idea that it's “Sony or nothing,” it might be time to update your notions, even if Sony does still make some of the very best TVs. It's true that in the 1990s, Japanese brands like Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba were dominant in the TV marketplace around the world—but there's been a lot of change since then.
Nowadays, Samsung and LG are two of the most popular TV brands in the world, while old mainstays Panasonic and Toshiba have all but exited the US market. China’s TCL and Hisense are gaining footing every year, and California-based Vizio has become one of the most competitive in terms of picture quality for your dollars. Sony has maintained its premium TV status, of course, but it has a lot more competition these days. Below we’ve laid out what you can expect from each of these top TV brands in a number of categories, to help you pick a brand and model that’s right for you.
(Note: the list below is not in any order of quality—we let our reviews and roundups do the talking there.)
Samsung has been one of the top TV brands for many years, thanks to a combination of advanced picture quality, innovative technology, and highly polished design aesthetics.
While Samsung may be moving away from LED TV production in favor of a brand new technology called microLED, the time when such TVs will be affordable for the average shopper are still a ways off. Folks shopping for a Samsung TV right now are still going to find a range of top-tier LED TVs that exhibit class-leading brightness and color.
Samsung’s “QLED” lineup—so called because the TVs use quantum dots to achieve more vivid color production—is where you’ll find Samsung’s best screens. In 2021, the “Neo QLED” line includes a range of high-performance 4K and 8K resolution HDR TVs like the flagship QN90A or the more affordable Q60A. Some of these TVs even combine Samsung’s lauded quantum dot technology with a new LED TV backlight called “mini-LED,” that uses, well, smaller LEDs that help create better contrast and make for a very impressive picture.
Generally, Samsung TVs tend to be more expensive than some of the competition, not only because of their picture quality, but also because Samsung polishes everything to a sheen. The company’s TVs are carefully sculpted, aiming for the thinnest of bezels around the screen, smooth-patterned chassis, and elegant tabletop feet. Many of them don’t even require screws to assemble anymore.
All Samsung TVs run on a Tizen OS-based smart platform called “Smart Hub.” Like most smart platforms, the Hub integrates all of the TV’s software-based features: picture, audio, and network settings; streaming apps like Disney+ or Prime Video; built-in internet TV content; and even occasional extras like calendars or web browsers. Because Samsung manufactures a whole range of connected devices—smartphones, soundbars, and appliances—their TVs also net you access to the “SmartThings” ecosystem.
When it comes to buying a Samsung TV, you’ll get the most punch from the QLED or Neo QLED models, where Samsung really—ahem—shines. The company also manufactures entry-level/midrange models such as the TU8000 we reviewed in 2020, or the newer AU9000, AU8000, and AU7000 series. In general, though, we’ve discovered better performance-to-price value from brands like TCL and Vizio in this category. That said, Samsung offers high-quality design and a name many have come to trust.
If LG is famous for anything right now, it’s OLED TVs, lauded by cinephiles, gamers, and—maybe most of all—TV reviewers. Thanks to the way they operate—with each pixel in the screen acting as its own light source—OLED TVs can deliver perfect black levels on screen, which makes for amazing picture quality.
You’ll find OLED TVs from Sony and Vizio, but LG deserves all the credit for pushing the technology into the mainstream. In 2021, LG continues to offer the widest range of OLED TV options to consumers, from the hyper-fancy Gallery OLED (the G1 series[https://www.reviewed.com/televisions/content/lg-g1-oled-tv-review]), meant to look like art on the wall, to the more practical (but no less jaw-dropping) C1 series. LG’s latest OLEDs deliver all the 4K and HDR posh you could hope for, which is why they dominate our roundup of the best OLED TVs.
LG doesn’t just offer OLED TVs, of course. You can also find a wide range of LED/LCD options, including a combination of mini-LED backlights and quantum dot color that LG is calling QNED.
As design goes, LG is more subdued than some brands on this list: The company’s entry-level and mid-range LED TVs utilize a soft gray plastic for their chassis on standard tabletop feet, while the super-popular OLED models tend to exhibit their wildly thin panels (roughly the width of a pencil) atop a variety of minimalist or “invisible” stands.
LG TVs are bundled with a remote called “Magic Remote,” which works with motion like a Nintendo Wii remote. LG’s sixth-generation smart platform, webOS, is designed with this functionality in mind, presenting a huge array of features—streaming services, games, a browser, and all of the TV’s picture or audio settings—as big, colorful wedges that are meant to be easy to click on. It’s a fun platform if you don’t mind on-screen cursors.
Like Samsung, LG produces a wide range of entry-level and midrange LED TVs every year as well. The most affordable models include the UP7000 and UP8000 4K TV series, but we’re much more excited about the new QNED models that combine mini-LED tech with quantum dots. However, if you’re shopping LG, it’s our opinion that you should be checking out the company’s top-tier OLEDs first and foremost.
Sony may not be the household TV name it once was, but the company’s BRAVIA televisions have continued to populate Best Buy’s AV-nerd “Magnolia” shopping spaces and the viewing rooms of serious cinephiles everywhere over the last decade.
These days, Sony not only produces powerful LED TV options like the X90J and X80J, but the company is also knee-deep in OLED TV production. Sony’s A90J OLED is one of 2021’s best TVs, though naturally it doesn’t come cheap. Almost every Sony model from 2021 is closer to “high end” than “entry-level,” and you’ll hardly find anything smaller than 50 inches, so if you’re browsing Sony TVs you can usually expect to fork over a decent amount of money.
Like many competitors, Sony also utilizes quantum dots in many of its higher-end LED TVs (a fixture usually called “Triluminos” or “Triluminos Display”). However, after years of testing, what we’ve found most fetching about Sony TVs is that their out-of-the-box settings tend to be very accurate, requiring little or no calibration for ideal viewing.
Sony has also continued to experiment by way of stock TV audio: the company’s premium TVs utilize a unique technology called “Acoustic Surface,” which turns the screen of a TV into a sound-producing device. While this technology hasn’t revolutionized TV audio nor replaced the general need for a good soundbar, it’s a cool Sony feature that might just seal the deal for some folks (though we recommend trying to listen in-store if you can).
Because almost every Sony TV available right now slots into upper-midrange or high-end price brackets, the designs tend to follow suit, favoring sleek, no-nonsense builds with tabletop feet that can be fitted into more than one orientation along the bottom of the panel. The latest Sony TVs also feature the Google TV smart platform, a shift from the Android TV platform of recent years, primarily delivering searchable (and castable) content within a zippy, cleanly designed interface.
The takeaway for Sony is that you’re unavoidably buying a more premium product: The most affordable 2021 Sony model is still above $500, while many of the best options will run into the thousands of dollars. But for many buyers, getting a Sony is well worth it.
Like most manufacturers, Vizio offers a range of TVs to meet the needs of consumers across multiple tiers of performance, from barebones entry-level TVs to premium, flagship-level models. Only Vizio often manages to do it while at notably lower price points. For example, Vizio debuted its first OLED TV in 2020, managing to capture all the awesomeness of OLED at a price that seriously swept the leg out from under competitors.
Vizio also delivers a full range of reliable LED/LCD TVs, as well. Rather than using alphabetic or numeric systems, Vizio uses a letter system. For example, in 2021 you can buy the entry-level Vizio D-Series, value-facing V-Series, midrange M-Series, or premium P-Series TVs. This can be confusing when multiple years’ models are still on the market at the same time.
Vizio has broken ground when it comes to bringing fancier TV technologies like quantum dots and full-array backlights with local dimming at affordable pricing. In fact, Vizio was the first company to release a quantum dot-equipped TV for less than $500. To get there, the brand tends to cut some corners to keep their costs low from a design standpoint. Their full-array LED backlights—a staple of Vizio’s picture quality—make them a bit thicker from front to back than some of the competition. However, they often don’t skimp on picture quality, delivering some of the best local dimming across multiple price brackets.
Vizio’s smart interface, called “SmartCast,” is a Chromecast-like smart platform that offers a mix between onboard apps like Netflix, Apple TV, and Disney+ and the ability to stream video directly from apps on your phone. Vizio’s latest TVs also let you stream content from iPhones via Apple AirPlay 2. SmartCast makes casting from your phone to the TV exceedingly easy to do, but it also skips out on things like an app store, browser functionality, or smart home integration.
The main thing to know about Vizio is that the company tends to put picture quality first and foremost. If you’d rather not spend any money on flash and just want key features like full-array backlights, quantum dots, 4K resolution, and gaming enhancements, there’s almost definitely a Vizio TV that’ll fit your size and price needs.
China’s TCL is new enough in the US marketplace that many of our staffers remember when the company debuted its tech products big-time at CES, but in the few years since the company has made some notable waves in the consumer TV space. To everyone’s surprise, TCL quickly became a major player stateside, delivering 4K/HDR TVs with performance metrics that were almost too good for their price tags.
The company’s 6-Series TV has been a perennial favorite: our review noted “the harmonization of picture quality, forward-thinking features, and affordability amounts to one of the best TV releases of the year.” TCL also impressed with last year’s 8-Series, a mini-LED equipped set with performance chops to rival TVs that were thousands more expensive at the time.
From a design perspective, TCL’s TVs tend to deliver perfectly modern sets with the same wide-set tabletop feet that are so ubiquitous in the industry, but like Vizio, TCL eschews fancy design elements in favor of performance to keep prices low.
However, it’s TCL’s mix of impressive picture performance for the money and a great smart platform that has helped the brand stand out most. Many TCL TVs utilize a built-in version of Roku, a content-agnostic streaming brand (unlike competitors like Apple and Amazon) that's simple and easy to use. Getting Roku right out of the box is one of the top-selling points for many TCL TVs. TCL announced during summer 2021 that it would also begin producing TVs equipped with the Google TV platform.
We expect TCL to continue bringing future-facing sets replete with 4K and 8K resolution, quantum dot color, layered mini-LED backlights, and awesome built-in Roku smart platforms. While the company’s lower-end sets (the 4-Series and 5-Series) don’t shine as much as the higher end, they’re still generally excellent TVs at a great price point for less fussy shoppers.
Hisense TVs have come a long way in the last few years. While the company has struggled to get a clean foothold in the US market, generally Hisense TVs (which include Sharp-branded sets in the states) offer good quality for the money. The main issue with Hisense has been availability. We've tested some excellent high-end Hisense TVs only for them to be "back ordered" for months on end. That does seem to be getting better, but it pays to do your research to make sure the Hisense model you're about to buy is actually worth it.
On the lower end of things, Hisense TVs tend to be more readily available and frequently compete with the best TVs around $500. That said, Hisense surprised us in 2021 with its excellent Hisense U8G 4K/HDR TV, delivering whopping HDR stats like 2,000 nits of brightness and huge color saturation for hundreds less than competing models.
Like Vizio and TCL, Hisense TVs keep TV design generally simple. The higher-end models sometimes iterate interesting tabletop stands, but chassis and bezel details tend to be fairly standard for LED sets—there’s less of an emphasis on the thinnest possible bezels or sculpted chassis plastics a la Samsung. The latest Hisense TVs we’ve tested still utilize the Android TV smart platform—having not “upgraded” to Google TV yet. In our time with it, we’ve found Android TV to be flexible and highly customizable, but still so-so in terms of navigation and clarity. We still prefer Roku by a wide margin.
Hisense’s relatively low pricing and excellent HDR performance, which relies on high screen brightness and expanded color saturation to showcase a more robust form of content, may end up being the best reason for most to consider the brand going forward, especially if the 2021 Hisense U8G is any indication of the company’s prowess.