The holidays are here, and one gift that keeps on giving throughout the year are televisions. Whether it’s game days, movie nights, or endless catalogs of reality dramas of “Real Housewives of Whatever-the-Hell” (if that’s your thing) the winter and the coinciding shopping season usually offer the better deals around.
This also happens to be the age where 4K resolution (also marketed as Ultra High Definition) has finally become viable on a broad level, with prices literally dropping from hyper-exclusive to within reach for the mainstream. It’s almost a no-brainer that you next home entertainment centerpiece should come equipped with at least double the pixel clarity of 1080p, although not a definitive end-all.
However, we shouldn’t forget the advent of High Dynamic Range (HDR) which can tremendously expand color subsampling and gamut into the trillions for realistic detail and contrast ratio. In fact, many videophiles already know this and normal people have seen the splendor that the enhancement provides, making it an equally much-have feature for any current TV.
We have chosen our favorite picks based on a number of important perquisites: performance, functionality (i.e. Smart TV integration), and overall value below a thousand dollars. Each TV on this list was tested in some capacity with enough hands-on time to judge fairly, and without assistance or influence from their respective manufacturers. Now without further ado let’s get to it.
A Surprising TV You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Who’s Hisense? Well, I don’t blame you for asking because even they call themselves “the biggest technology company you’ve never heard of”. I consider this a somewhat fair statement because their H8 Series is an absolute bargain that’s the cheapest on our list, a relative unknown that seems to be relying on word-of-mouth advertising. This only an assumption because we were actually supposed to have a review unit come our way a few months ago, until one of their freights ended up being damaged during shipment (a convenient freak ‘accident’ I know) and true to their slogan heard back from them.
Despite that, we did eventually pick one up and get some quality time with the 55-inch H8 (also available in a 50-incher) and we found the model to be a surprising option that will only set you back a cool $500. The general picture quality is better than expected thanks to its VA (vertical alignment) panel, which is made to combine the production flexibility of common TN panels and the pushy colors of IPS displays — and although not life-changing in scale, the hues and contrast are nicely dialed in for everyday usage.
The H8 can punch moderately above its weight with believable color balance and respectably dark blacks, even with its limited local dimming LED arrangement. However, sitting dead-center of this TV is highly recommended since viewing angles degrade rapidly beyond 40°, making it a fight for visibility when catering to large groups or room-filling families. Fortunately, these most of these faults can be forgiven since it’s one of the cheapest TVs available to have HDR (technically known as HDR10), which is the H8’s definitive trump card.
We’ve been familiar with the ‘XBR’ moniker ever since its ’90s heydays, and once again with the Sony XBR-X800D, using this model to put both the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One S through their paces. In fact, this TV does a great job on delivering a fantastic image even though intended to be an cheaper-tier option with only edge-lit LED backlighting, no dedicated picture processor, and a basic motion enhancer (Motionflow XR 240) to aid the standard 60Hz.
It’s also the smallest TV in this showdown at 48.5-inches and the priciest out of the group, but there’s still a lot going for it if you’re a beginner videophile or long-time brand loyalist. The TRILUMINOS display handles colors with astounding reds blossoming with vibrancy, cool blues, and very pronounced greens — when adding HDR into the equation. Applying the increased color gamut into the mix makes this one of the best-looking TVs below our budget ceiling, with existing movies and games looking almost intense in depth and contrast.
But the biggest caveat is with Google and the Android TV platform. After their previous jumbled attempts at smart TV (they’d desperately like us to forget about Google TV and the Nexus Q) we tried to give this foray a fair chance, but like everything else they touch involving media it’s a half-baked hub consisting of choppy navigation, fragmented integration between Google Play and voice search, and hobbled compatibility between existing apps. It really is the worst aspect of an otherwise awesome 4K TV best suited for small living rooms or oversized monitor.
To again reiterate: the XBR-49X800D is awesome, as long as you avoid the absolute mediocrity of Android TV.
Piling on the Premium; Without the Premium (You Also Get A Tablet Remote)
Vizio became a household name by selling the most TVs at the most unbelievably low prices, however. Since then, they’ve gotten bigger and their aspirations have turned to going premium. But their current M-Series 4K TVs are a sweet spot in the mid-priced flagship range. If you want to play it safe for the family or want more variety in screen sizes, then Vizio has something for everybody.
The M-Series has both value and quality in spades relative to any budget, in 50”, 55”, and 60” sized models thanks to all of them being on sale for less than $1000 right now. Secondly, a 6-inch Android table is included and acts as a touchscreen remote with the SmartCast app versus the regular clicker (which is also included). This grants you access to the largest selection of apps and to wirelessly cast content to the TV itself, from regulars like Netflix and Hulu, to Twitch, Pluto TV, and PlayStation Vue.
The general picture is excellent before diving into the advanced settings , with its deep blacks and contrast by full-array local dimming. Standard color and uniformity is equally good for any living room, although HDR performance is an mixed bag. We believe a lot of this has to do with its preferred choice towards Dolby Vision which is like HDR and looks just as good, except its proprietary and not as widely adopted. As a result, the Sony XBR-49X800D appeared to have a noticeable edge during a side-by-side exhibition, but hardly diminished as a whole.
Regardless of the minor quirks though, the Vizio M-Series is easily the best all-around pick out of the bunch.
Those three models impressed us the most but there were others we had for consideration too, but didn’t quite make the cut. First off was LG who did have a couple of 4K/HDR models below a grand (UH6100/UH6550), but they seem to be more focused on OLEDs since their offerings are woefully basic. Samsung was another contender that initially had promise but ultimately priced out of our roundup. A prime example was the UN49KU7000FXZA which instantly hit our price ceiling without a lot of specs to back it up — a far cry from their humbler and more well-rounded years.
So, there you have it. Our three favorites for the best value-oriented 4K/HDR TVs. You can pick any of these models up either at Amazon, or your local retailer. May your holidays be brighter and clearer with a nice big screen in your living room.