There was a time when purchasing a ‘budget’ flat screen TV meant giving up on performance, features, and even brand names. No more. As technology has advanced, the mid-to-entry level HDTV segment has enjoyed continually improved picture quality and added a bevy of other options once reserved for the premium tier.
To help you get the best bang for your buck, we’ve picked out our favorite TVs in the under-$500 category. Pricing being the fickle animal that it is, the deals listed may fluctuate to some degree from week to week. It also comes with the territory (for the time being, anyway) that most TVs at this price live in the 40-inch neighborhood. If you want to go really big without taking a big hit on picture quality, it’s still gonna cost you. But if you’ve got $500 burning a hole in your pocket, and a lack of high definition picture burning holes in your retinas, the list below will help take care of that. Get some.
Vizio’s E420i-A0 has been an entry-level favorite of ours since we reviewed it last year, and it continues to hold its value well. Offering an intuitive smart interface, solid picture performance, and a screen size that’s right in that sweet spot for the average living room, the E420i is a beautifully blended balance of performance and features.
We could’ve easily dug up an off-name brand when seeking out the biggest screen we could find within our tight budget parameters, but Sharp’s 50-inch Aquos LE442U is such a screaming deal right now, we didn’t have to. While the TV may not offer premium performance, it does boast 1080p resolution, good dynamic contrast, and an ultra-slim edge-lit LED display. If you’re looking for big and bold size at a modest price, Sharp’s LE442U is worth a serious look.
It’s not easy to find a quality plasma TV for under $500, but it is possible. Case in point: Samsung’s 43-inch F4500. While you won’t get any smart TV features, and resolution is limited to 720p, this model packs a punch where it counts: picture quality with smooth motion. While 720p TVs are slowly being phased out, it should be noted that most content delivered by cable and satellite companies still lives at that resolution and, besides, 720p still looks fabulous on screen sizes 42-inches and under . With better contrast and black levels, and overall higher picture quality when the lights go out than an LED set, this uber-affordable plasma offers plenty of reasons to keep it in the conversation.
Like its plasma counterpart above, the R400A also offers a max 720p resolution. However, since it boasts only a 32-inch screen size, that concern borders on immaterial. And at $300, this is just about the cheapest way we’ve found to purchase yourself some of that brilliant Sony glow. The R400A is known for its great color contrast, excellent black levels, and clean shadow detail, making it a prime choice as a bedroom TV for catching a late-night flick or binge-watching your favorite TV show.
Our second choice from Vizio on the list, the M401i-A3 is another great example of the rising company’s knack for marrying performance and features to create excellent value. This updated model comes in a multitude of sizes – all the way up to 70-inches if that’s your pleasure – but the 40-inch version rests just below our hallowed $500 price line. Highlights include a freshly designed smart hub stocked with apps, decent contrast via local dimming, and above-average motion performance.
An all-star in the Samsung line-up, this oldie but goodie from early 2012 just won’t seem to quit, continually reigning as a top seller. The TV is heralded for its brilliant picture quality, solid smart hub, and seriously good black levels and contrast for an LED TV. Its 60 Hz refresh rate won’t be stellar for fast-motion content, but it does offer 1080p resolution, so even though it’s getting on in years, it’ll hold up well for the vast majority of high-end content you’ll encounter in the near future.
Bright, lightweight, and loaded with apps, this entry-level job from LG is a great way to grab a piece of the Korean titan’s solid HD action. At 39-inches, the TV is just a shade smaller than Samsung’s 5300, but nothing that you’re likely to notice unless they’re stacked side by side. The LN5700 does get low marks for its less-than-stellar black levels, but its vivid luminance makes it a great fit for those who do most of their watching in the bright light of day.
Those with an eye for a super-slim design need look no further than Samsung’s F5500 series. This 40-inch display is perfect for mounting, boasting a panel that’s less than two-inches thick, yet still manages to put out solid picture quality, and even some decent sound. The TV is praised for its gorgeous color palette, and the smart hub ties up the feature set nicely, making the 5500 another excellent choice from the Samsung family.