With all of the different feature options to consider — image quality, size, CPU power, operating system and games performance, just for starters — picking the right TV is damned hard work.
The good news is prices have never been lower and with their ability to act as a one-stop shop for free-to-air, web and on-demand streaming services, smart TVs can be a clean, easy choice.
But ultimately, buying a TV at any price point still comes down to two main criteria — size and image quality. And here’s one thing to remember — more often than not, a larger TV from a lower-quality series will near-on price-match a smaller TV from a high-level series from the same vendor.
If you’re working to a budget, you decide which factor matters more. But our top tip is make sure you try out the remote control before you buy a TV. Traditional and ‘magic’ remotes often work very differently and, given the prevalence of new smart OSs, you must try before you buy.
To cut down on the run-around, here’s our top TV picks for various needs and budgets.
Also be sure to check out our guide to the operating systems commonly installed on your TV.
Compact TV: Sony KDL32W700C
Our assumption here is if you’re after a compact TV, it’s for single- or two-person viewing at most, possibly even for gaming use. We considered any TV up to 40-inches fair game for this one, but settled on Sony’s 32-inch W700C.
It’s not a Triluminos panel, it’s not an Android TV and it uses the old Sony Entertainment Network smarts, but it has a number of important features.
First, its picture quality is excellent — colours look beautifully natural, the 1080p resolution in a 32-inch panel means you should never see a pixel, and although only an edge-LED-backlit LCD panel, it’s not the worst for contrast you’ll see by any stretch.
Viewing angles were excellent, particularly off-centre with no obvious colour inversion. It has Netflix on-board, no Stan, but Chromecast will soon fix that. You get Wi-Fi built-in, it supports Miracasting and doesn’t waste money on 3D.
We’re not particularly enamoured with the base, however, as it seems a bit small and light.
If Android TV doesn’t do it for you, but you still want the classy Sony image quality in a compact size and at a bargain price, here’s your first stop.
Verdict: This isn’t the smartest TV, but the colour and detail are excellent and more than compensate.
4K TV: LG 55EG960T
If ever there was to be a TV match made in heaven, it’d be combining OLED display technology with 4K resolution. Right now, Korean giant LG is the only brand to have this marriage available in Australia.
The 55EG960T is the smaller of the two models, but given the 65-inch 65EG960T sells for not far off double the street price, this 55-inch version will do nicely.
First up, image quality here is simply brilliant. If you’re used to living off LCD TV, the depth of blacks from OLED are exceptional, almost overpowering to the point of sucking out your eyeballs and there’s so much resolution available, you’ll need Netflix 4K and plenty of bandwidth just to show it off.
WebOS 2.0 is a decent OS and with quad-core processing, the EG960T is nimble through the menus. Throw in Netflix and now new support for Stan on-demand streaming and you won’t be short of entertainment.
But personally, I’m not sold on the screen curvature here, particularly if you’re sitting off-centre. Otherwise, if that doesn’t bother you, this is about as good as TV gets right now.
Finally, a quick shout-out to Samsung’s Series 9 JS9000 as runner-up.
Verdict: Beautiful image quality, WebOS 2.0, Netflix and now Stan on-demand streaming. Not sold on curved panel though.
Under $1,000: Samsung UA40J6200
To be fair, comparing a 49-inch TV with a 40-inch model is difficult when you also try to base judgements on image quality at the same price. However, we think the Samsung does enough to compensate, with better detail and colour accuracy.
Still, if size matters, we suggest you compare them yourself (most retailers should have both on display). Reports are the J6200 does better for input lag, making it the better of the two from a gaming perspective.
The Australian J6200 comes with Samsung’s Tizen ‘Smart Hub’ OS and not a bad choice. WebOS does have an extra generation under its belt, but the two both have Netflix and now Stan, so although their respective app stores aren’t overflowing, there’s sufficient support coming through from service providers.
There’s no 3D here, which just means you’re not wasting money on tech you’ll likely never use. We didn’t notice any colour dimming on wide-angle viewing. All up, a good choice at this price.
Verdict: Plenty of choice under $1000, but couple Tizen with good image quality and you have a winner.
Under $2,000: Samsung UA55JU7000
The more entry-level 55-inch Series-6 UltraHD JU6400 sells for $1,700, but the JU7000 gives you a better panel — it’s a true 100Hz model and features dual DVB-T tuners whereas the JU6400 is only 50Hz and has only the single tuner.
Just check the off-centre colour stability with the JU7000 — there are reports that viewing on an angle results in colour loss at the opposite screen edge, but we looked closely for it and couldn’t see any issues.
The word is that input lag is also excellent, so it should be fine for gaming.
The JU7000 gives you Samsung’s Tizen OS, coupled with a minimalist smart remote where you rest your thumb on the activity sensor to activate the OS cursor. Menu performance is smooth, thanks to the quad-core CPU underneath.
Hopefully, by the time you read this, the price should be close to dipping under $2,000 — either that or learn to haggle…
Verdict: Yes, it’s slightly over $2,000, but the JU7000 is a beautiful 4K TV worth the money.
Under $3,000: Samsung UA55JS8000
This was also a difficult choice. LG’s 55-inch EC930T Full-HD OLED TV just dipped under $3,000 on the street for the first time during testing, putting it up against the same-sized 4K-pixeled JS8000 LED LCD model from rival Samsung.
In the end, it was like choosing between chocolate and cheese, but we just came down on the side of the JS8000.
The LG features WebOS version 1.0, albeit with a free 2.0 update available, but it’ll still be a dual-core model up against the JS8000’s quad-core chip and Tizen OS.
The EC930T delivers perfect contrast, thanks to its OLED pixels, but the JS8000 counters that with excellent image quality through its processing and 4K resolution.
Personally, I don’t like the distorted geometry of curved panels, which helped in choosing the flat-screened JS8000. Both offer smart remotes, meaning gyroscopic cursor control and few function-specific buttons.
It’s true the only 4K content you’ll likely see over the next year is whatever Netflix and your broadband connection can deliver, so it’s still a difficult choice. However, the LG being curved and essentially last year’s tech gave us the nudge towards the JS8000.
Verdict: OLED for under $3,000 is tough to pass up, but the JS8000 does enough to warrant selection.