Steve May rounds up the best TVs you can buy in the UK. From £249 to £4,000, there’s something for every budget and all have a superb picture, regardless of price
If you’re after a new TV and want the best there is, you’ve come to the right place. Over the following pages we look at the very best sets – including 4K and HDR models – available to buy in the UK right now. We’ve tested and rated specific models, but other sizes are available in all ranges, so if one is slightly out of your price range or you just don’t want such a large one, then our ratings apply to those models, too.
All but one of the TVs tested here have 4K resolutions. These UHD (Ultra HD) sets are the ones to buy now. Only go for a so-called Full-HD (1920×1080 pixels) model if you can’t afford a 4K model.
4K content is becoming more widely available, with broadcasters gearing up to show a lot of sport and drama in at this resolution throughout 2017. It’s also available over your internet connection (as long as it’s quick enough, around 15Mb/s or so) via Amazon Video, Netflix and Sky 0. Alternatively, you can buy a 4K Blu-ray player and buy physical discs.
BT also offers pay TV subscribers UHD sport (football, rugby, Moto GP, squash, to name but four) via its Infinity broadband delivered Sports channel. Because this streams at 2160/50p a much faster broadband connection is required. The firm will generally refuse to offer a 4K set-top box to those Infinity customers on less than a 45Mb/s connection.
TV buying guide
Choosing a… TV
A 32in Full HD TV costs around £200 and will suit smaller living rooms. TVs look much smaller in the shop than in your home, so measure the space available before you buy.
Curved TVs are becoming increasingly more common, but bear in mind that these typically take up more floor space than a traditional flat set.
A 1,920×1,080-resolution TV can display a 1080p image. You can still buy TVs with a 720p (1,366×768) resolution, but they’re no cheaper and the image won’t be as sharp. 3,840×2,560 Ultra HD resolution, or 4K, TVs are finally available at reasonable prices, although you’ll still pay a premium for one over a 1080p model.
Consider the number of inputs you’ll need to connect the rest of your equipment. Two HDMI ports should be the bare minimum, but many TV sets come with four HDMI connectors. You’ll need HDMI 2.0 if you want a future-proof 4K TV, as this is the only way to get 60fps video playback from external sources at such a high resolution.
If you want to plug a PC into your TV, you’ll need to use either HDMI or VGA inputs. Be aware that some TVs only let you use a PC on an analogue input, and others won’t display the Windows desktop at the TV’s highest resolution.
The contrast ratio tells you the difference between the darkest and the brightest shades that the screen will be able to display. The higher the number, the darker the blacks and the brighter the whites. A screen with a high contrast ratio is more likely to show a wider range of detail.
HD content is now becoming fairly widespread, but if you want Ultra HD content your options are more limited. Most Ultra HD TVs have Netflix built into their smart TV systems, but only BT is currently providing live Ultra HD video, with BT Sport Ultra HD.
Ultra HD Blu-ray players are due to arrive in 2016, but in the meantime Amazon’s Fire TV set-top box will stream its Instant Video service at Ultra HD resolutions.
The latest generation of 4K televisions combine 3840×2160-pixel resolution – that’s four times more than Full HD – with the latest HDMI inputs able to handle incoming 4K content sources, such as Ultra HD Blu-ray and media streamers like the Nvidia Shield and Amazon Fire 4K TV box.
The key specification to look out for when it comes connectivity is a HDMI version 2 input with HDCP 2.2 support. The latter is a new level of copy protection and is being used by all external 4K sources, so the more inputs that support it the better. If you buy a budget 4K set, it most likely will only have one HDCP 2.2 compliant input. This could prove to be a bit of an albatross when the content floodgates finally begin to open.
The prices of 4K UHD TVs has fallen dramatically. Most are typically priced where HD models where just a few years ago. Manufacturers are transitioning all their larger sets to 4K resolution, so you’ll probably end up with one even if it’s not that important to you. While the extra resolution that 4K offers is best appreciated on a large screen (55in plus), that hasn’t stopped smaller panels appearing. While there’s no reason not to buy a 4K TV at 40 inches, and the performance can be excellent, don’t expect to see overt picture improvements from typical viewing distances.
The general rule when buying a 4K set is to go larger than your HD screen and view at the same distance, or sit closer. Or do both.
4K scales really large without revealing the pixels themselves, so it’s comfortable to view up close.
It’s worth remembering though, that the 4K UHD specification is an ever-evolving beast. Unlike previous leaps in TV quality (black and white to color, SD to HD), it’s not intended to launch fully formed. Hence a rolling calendar of phased updates, which will continue past 2020, maxing out with 8K resolutions screens. A new generation of HDR (High Dynamic Range) UHD TVs arrived in 2016, which offer higher peak whites and better color depth than we have now. However, to appreciate these capabilities you need to feed your HDR 4K TV with HDR content, and there isn’t much around.
How we test TVs
All TVs are put through their paces with a variety of Full-HD and native 4K content. To further help assess motion resolution, color performance, black levels and greyscale, we employ a variety of industry-grade test patterns.
All TVs are viewed with real-world content, delivered via onboard tuners, and with a selection of favored Blu-rays, including Kill Bill Vol 2(Uma Thurman’s burial is a dastardly test of dynamic contrast) and Interstellar. All 4K TVs will ‘upscale’ HD content to a lesser or greater degree (it won’t simply appear as a small box in the middle – it is ‘stretched’ to cover all eight million pixels).
It’s a task some do better than others.
Where appropriate, we also don 3D glasses to see just how convincing a dimensional experience the TVs deliver, with a little help from Disney’s Tangled and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Of course, to really gauge the value of these UHD screens, you’ll need a native 4K source, and the only real options currently available are Amazon and Netflix (and 4K Blu-ray discs). Some sets have 4K services integrated, for the rest we delivered them via the Amazon 4K Fire TV box, a £79 streamer.
Finally, file-playback tests comprised accessing a collection of audio and video clips, comprising various codecs and wrappers, from USB and a DLNA-capable ONAP NAS running Plex and Twonky Media.
While the extra resolution that 4K offers is best appreciated on a large screen (55in plus), that hasn’t stopped smaller panels appearing
Group test: Best TVs 2017
SONY ZD9 SERIES tv
The 65in Sony ZD9 may come with a steep price tag, but it’s also one of the best implementations of HDR on an LED TV we’ve seen. Key to its success is Sony’s unique full array Backlight Master Drive, which comprises an unspecified number of precision calibrated LED lights controlled by a proprietary lighting algorithm. These allow the ZD9’s backlight to work with uncanny precision. The set has no problem delivering the kind of spectral highlights that really make HDR shine.
Design is also striking. The bezel of the ZD9 is trimmed in a rose gold, while connections are hidden behind removable panels. There are four HDMI inputs, all HDCP 2.2 ready, plus digital optical audio output and Ethernet/Wi-Fi. Active 3D is also supported.
The ZD9 runs the Android TV OS. This can be inelegant at times, but there’s no shortage of streaming services. These include Netflix, Amazon Video (both 4K capable) and YouTube, plus a full complement of Catch-Up TV, courtesy of a YouView TV guide overlay.
Picture quality is outstanding. In addition to that Backlight Master Drive, the set has an XlExtreme HDR image processor which does a remarkable job with all sources, even when they’re not 4K resolution.
If the set does has an Achilles heel, it’s the audio. A small carp (which is what it sounds like), given the general excellence of this superb set. And you’ll probably use a soundbar anyway.
LG OLED65E6 (E6 SERIES) tv
LG has been refining its OLED TVs for a number of years, and if the E6 is any indicator, it’s been time well spent. By any measure, this is a spectacular flat screen set.
The design is gorgeous – indeed, this might be the prettiest TV you can buy right now. It features an ultra-thin picture-on-glass design that really shows off the unique form factor of OLED. A Harman Kardon designed soundbar adds a level of industrial detail.
Connectivity includes four HDCP 2.2 HDMIs and three USBs. There’s also an optical digital audio output, legacy video, plus Ethernet/Wi-Fi. LG’s webOS smart portal, now in its third iteration, provides a slick user interface. Apps, channels and inputs are all accessed via a bar at the bottom of the screen, navigated by LG’s magic remote cursor/pointer.
Streaming services include Netflix and Amazon, Now TV and Catch-Up TV services. Both Netflix and Amazon Video support 4K. The E6 also handles Dolby Vision HDR, currently seen on certain Netflix shows. Picture quality is superb. What’s immediately noticeable is that all content, both HD and 4K, benefits from the set’s rich black performance – Sky HD looks stunning. Audio quality is also top draw. The Harmon Kardon sound system has pronounced stereo separation and delivers a well-balanced sonic performance.
Overall, we rate the E6 a cracking TV, both in terms of design and all-round performance.
PANASONIC TX-58DX802B tv
Panasonic isn’t a brand normally associated with ostentation, but the TX-58DX802B is a real peacock of a panel, not least because of its fancy easel design. The set’s look isn’t going to be for everyone, but fashionistas should love it.
The Active 3D capable screen is supported by two triangular stands, with the soundbar connected to the panel by a proprietary lead. The finish here appears to be mesh, but it’s actually patterned fabric. Designed by Harmon Kardon, this 12-driver soundbar does a cracking job of delivering, wide, crisp audio.
Connections include four 4K-ready HDMIs with HDCP 2.2 support, three USBs, digital optical audio, legacy AV and Ethernet.
The My Home Screen v2.0 smart portal is powered by the Firefox operating system. It’s a minimalist interface which offers welcome customization. You can pin shortcuts to your favorite channels, services or inputs directly on the home page.
The set comes with Freeview Play, the new connected iteration of the terrestrial TV standard.
Image quality is commendable, although its HDR presentation doesn’t quite hit the highs of full-array backlit 4K HDR sets.
Color and detail are excellent. Inconsistent edge-lighting is disappointing though, and can become noticeable when watching a letterboxed movie.
Combine a keen price, with superior aesthetics and decent image quality though and you have a screen to shortlist.
SONY KD-55XD9305 tv
Sony attempts to give OLED a run for its high-style money with this ultra slim edge-lit 4K HDR set. Key to the KD-55XD9305’s design is a clever Slim Backlight Drive, while cosmetic niceties include a strip of gold running around the frame.
There are four HDMIs, all HDCP 2.2 enabled, plus AV inputs, three USB ports, optical digital audio and Ethernet/Wi-Fi.
The Smart platform is Google’s Android OS, coupled to a YouView EPG (Electronic Program Guide) that delivers a full set of mainstream Catch-Up services. The television boasts two satellite tuners and dual Freeview. Streaming services include Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, both 4K enabled. The TV is also 3D capable.
Picture quality is high. That Slim Backlight Drive cleverly pairs two LED light modules with dual light guides which split screen coverage 50/50. The technique allows the set to boost contrast.
Picture processing is first class. Tinkering with Black Adjust (Medium), Auto Local Dimming and X-Tended Dynamic Range, delivers a really cinematic look. Motion handling remains a Sony strength, making this a great set for sports viewing.
Audio performance is largely functional. You’ll want to resort to a separate sound source at some point.
Overall, the XD93 is an innovative UHD screen. If you’re after a beautifully designed HDR-capable LED TV, it merits an audition.
SAMSUNG KS7000 tv
The KS7000 sits in the sweet spot of Samsung’s Quantum Dot SUHD TV range. This 49in set is 4K HDR enabled and boasts a top-flight Tizen-powered smart connected platform. Smart Hub apps include 4K Netflix and Amazon plus key Catch-Up TV services, and a wealth of casual games. Navigation is fast, thanks to a quad-core processor.
The Freeview HD/satellite 7-Series set uses Samsung’s separate One Connect junction box. This tethers to the screen via a dedicated umbilical cable. Connections include four HDMIs, which all support HDCP 2.2, three USBs, digital optical audio output, plus Ethernet/Wi-Fi. It also ships with two controllers, one traditional, the other simplified.
The HDR picture performance of this mid-ranger is extremely good, producing effective peak highlights that really add depth to TV and games. Unusual for a bottom-edge-lit set, it warrants Ultra HD Premium certification, which is a guarantee of 1,000 nits peak brightness, although it can’t hold this level of illumination for long. Using a Quantum Dot filter, the set also delivers deep, accurate colors. Black levels are outstanding. Motion resolution is also high, making this a great choice for sports enthusiasts.
Audio performance is less remarkable, although the two downward firing microspeakers have a fair amount of welly at 40W.
Overall, Samsung’s high performing 4K HDR television should be considered excellent value.
PANASONIC TX-65DX902B tv
Panasonic has enlisted the help of Hollywood cinematographer Vanja Cernjul to help tune this flagship television – and in terms of colour fidelity and fine detail, the results are absolutely mesmerising. Images have a consistent, cinematic quality. To achieve high contrast HDR, the TX-65DX902B uses a full array backlight with 512 LED lights. This generally works well, but can sometimes create visible halos around illuminated objects.
The set is beautifully built. Its pedestal feet have a distinctive engraved finish while the panel itself has a textured trim. Handsome springs to mind. Connections include four HDMIs, all HDCP 2.2 compatible. There’s also three USBs, component and composite video, plus an optical audio output and Ethernet/Wi-Fi.
There are twin tuners for Freeview Play and Freesat. The set comes with two remote controls, a Bluetooth touchpad and a posh IR pointer. It supports Active Shutter 3D. The Smart platform is built around Firefox and is simple to use. Services include Netflix and Amazon Video (both 4K), plus YouTube, Wuaki TV and Chili Cinema. All Catch-Up services are provided The TV’s audio performance is adequate, with considerable volume and stereo separation.
Overall, the Panasonic TX-65DX902B is a premium television capable of an outstanding performance.
HISENSE 65M5500 tv
Hisense’s budget 65in 4K HDR has a spec that belies its price tag, and could be a good bet for big-screen bargain hunters.
The 65M5500 looks classy from a distance, but up close is a bit plasticky. There are four HDMI inputs, but only two support HDCP 2.2. There are also three USBs, digital audio, legacy video outputs and Ethernet. The tuner choice is Freeview HD or satellite.
The Smart platform is basic, but you will find some key streaming services. Both Netflix and Amazon support 4K; there’s also BBC ¡Player and YouTube. The media player offers wide file support, including MKV and FLAC. It isn’t 3D capable, though.
Image quality is better than you might expect for the price. Detail and colour vibrancy are high. Blacklight uniformity is a little uneven, but this only really because evident on fully dark sequences. The HDR mode gets a little unruly though, as the backlight intensity is often boosted to a point where detail is lost.
Perhaps the Hisense’s biggest weakness is motion handling, there are no interpolation modes here which help retain detail and the Ultra Smooth Motion image processor is only used to smooth out horizontal pans.
Audio isn’t great either. Make do with it while you can, but budget for a soundbar. Overall though, this 65in Hisense 65M5500 can be considered a solid value buy.
FINLUX 48UXE304B-P tv
This 48in Finlux is the cheapest 4K TV to offer a Freeview Play tuner. When it comes to forward looking features, it’s clearly facing the right direction. Freeview Play mixes internet delivered catch-up with a roll-back programme guide and over the air DVB.
All four HDMI inputs are 4K HDCP 2.2 enabled, there’s also a trio of USBs, legacy AV, PC VGA, optical audio and Ethernet/Wi-Fi, but no 3D TV compatibility.
While the basic specification is leading edge, the Finlux Smart Platform looks somewhat dated. Available services include 4K Netflix, YouTube and Tuneln. There’s also a capable media player for USB devices and network attached storage. Image quality is reasonable, but there’s a little devil in the detail. To ensure 4K content looks its best, you’ll need to delve into the menu modes and switch the default Picture Zoom setting from Auto to Full.
It’s only when you do this that the set can display clean, crisp 2160p video. Left unchanged, UHD detail can be obscured by a curious moiré pattern. This edge-lit set doesn’t support HDR, but images still have snap. There are backlight uniformity errors, but these are in keeping with the budget price tag. The set’s audio performance is pretty average.
In all, Finlux’s 48UXE304B-P is a reasonably well specified budget UHD flatscreen.
PHILIPS 65PUS8901 AMBILUX tv
Philips televisions are unique in offering Ambilight, that funky mood lighting created by LED strips on the back of the set. Now with Ambilux, it’s taken the idea to another level entirely. Instead of the usual LED bulbs, Ambilux features nine LED projectors, arranged in a half circle on the back panel. These literally cast images behind the set. This may sound nuts, but it can also look pretty cool, particularly when gaming. The catch is that Ambilux requires that the TV sit precisely 9cm from any (white) wall.
But Ambilux is just one attraction of 65in 4K UHD 65PUS8901. This 4K screen also offers great picture quality and excellent audio. There are four HDMI inputs, all of which support HDCP 2.2. Plus SCART and component, optical digital audio, three USBs and Ethernet/Wi-Fi. That remote control has a touchpad on one side and a thumb keyboard on the other. There’s no support for 3D.
The smart platform is Android. Apps include BBC iPlayer, Netflix with 4K and YouTube. Media playback is good, coping with a variety of file types. Image clarity is extremely high. Colors are vibrant, but Philips’ Micro Dimming Pro backlighting system struggles to deliver deep, nuanced blacks.
Audio quality, courtesy of a 30W sound system, is surprisingly beefy. The concept of Ambilux may sound bonkers (because it is), but in the right room, it looks extraordinary. We think Ambilux is well worth checking out.
PHILIPS 55PUS6401 tv
Philips has made some serious upgrades to its 6 Series UHD TVs for 2016. Available in 43-, 49- and 55in screen sizes (43PUS6401, 49PUS6401 and 55PUS6401 respectively), these sub-£1,000 mid-rangers offer two-sided Ambilight plus HDR (High Dynamic Range) 4K compatibility plus all the trappings associated with the Android TV smart platform.
And they all look decidedly upmarket, too. The bezel of the 55in 55PUS6401, while not ultra narrow, has a distinguished gunmetal grey finish, with a so-called ‘pinch’ stand, basically two bolt-on A-frame feet. The look is classy, not cheap.
Rear connections comprise four HDMIs, two of which are labelled ARC and one MHL, plus three USBs, including a fast 3.0 input. There’s also a SCART, component with phono audio, Ethernet and digital audio output.
It should be noted that only two of the HDMIs support HDCP 2.2, which is required for 4K content sources like UHD Blu-ray and set top boxes. Tuner choice is Freeview HD or generic satellite.
The remote control is a standard IR pointer.
The Android TV smart platform isn’t as rough as it once was, although it’s still prone to tedious software updates and moments of failure. The Home page features Google’s Play and Games offerings, as well as BBC ¡Player, Vimeo, Netflix (which supports 4K streams), Wuaki.tv, Chili Cinema, DailyMotion, Deezer and casual games.
In truth, it’s not a comprehensive collection, but Amazon Video has recently been added in an update and there should enough to keep most people entertained. There’s also an internet browser, but frankly you’ll encounter so many weird formatting problems with sites in the wild that it’s not really that usable. A quad-core processor helps keep navigation lively and games playable.
Picture quality warrants a thumbs up, with UHD detail and colour vibrancy outstanding. There’s genuine precious metal to be enjoyed during the rise of the Golden Army in Hellboy II (Blu-ray), but our titular hero does verge a little on the orange rather than his trademark hellish red.
In many ways, the set proves a great partner for Sky UHD. Ultra HD movies played from a Sky 0 Silver, look superb. The screen relishes the detail. Philips Pixel Plus HD image processing supposedly aids definition, allied to a Natural Motion processor. The latter doesn’t use its algorithms to maintain motion clarity though, more it smooths out horizontal picture judder.
JVC LT-42C550 tv
Prices may be tumbling on 4K UHD sets, but there’s still demand for cheap Full HD TVs. If you’re buying one for a second room or bedroom, your budget may well dictate fewer pixels.
The JVC LT-42C550 is just one such cheapie. Connectivity includes a trio of HDMIs, plus legacy video, a VGA PC input, digital audio output, single USB and Ethernet, as mandated by the Freeview HD specification. There is no smart connectivity.
The USB port can be used to timeshift to a connected hard drive, or for media playback.
While you shouldn’t expect too much in the way of fancy image processing, 1080p images look pleasingly crisp. Beware the presets, though. Standard, Movie and Dynamic all come with excessive edge enhancement, and can’t be altered. There is, however, a User setting which allows you to drop Sharpness and cure the ugly contours.
Color performance is typical for a low cost LED LCD TV (skin tones look a tad unnatural) and there’s no true black level. But drop the brightness and boost contrast and you’ll get a punchier picture. Audio performance can kindly be described as grim.
Those looking for a low price HD TV will find the JVC LT-42C550 does what it needs too. Just don’t expect anything other than a budget performance.