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The best TV you can buy

Well that settles it. These are the 5 best TVs you can buy right now

The first few months of any new year is an awkward time to buy a new TV. Most of the new models coming in 2017 have been announced at CES, but none of them will be available until the spring, and most of 2016’s top models are selling out fast. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the best 2016 TVs still available, most of them at their lowest prices ever, with a promise to update this list once the new breed arrives in March and April.

Our pick

LG B6-Series 4K OLED TV

Why should you buy this: LG’s least expensive OLED offers the best overall picture quality available at any price.

Who’s it for: Those who want perfect blacks, amazing contrast, and stunning 4K picture quality with support for all HDR formats

How much will it cost: $2,000 – $3,500

Why we picked the LG B6-Series 4K OLED TV:

LG’s OLED TVs reign supreme when it comes to overall picture quality, and they shine brightly enough to perform well in daytime viewing environments. OLED display technology affords ultra-thin panels with perfect black levels, outstanding contrast, and rich color. LG is also one of the few premium TV manufacturers to offer support for both HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR standards, whether from streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime or Ultra HD Blu-ray.

The B6 series has everything you want in OLED picture quality at LG’s lowest price for a premium OLED. For a curved option, check out the C6-Series at identical pricing.

We try not to gush too much in our reviews, but LG’s OLED TVs make us crave watching TV. While brighter TVs are available (see below) and some are much better suited for gaming, the LG OLED is a movie-lover’s dream, and a favorite from a design/décor perspective thanks to the extremely thin profile. Others come close, but nothing else woos every viewer who sees it quite like LG’s OLED.

Our full review

The best Ultra-Premium LED/LCD TV

Sony Z9D Series

Why should you buy this: Sony’s Z9D series televisions offer the best available brightness and overall LED/LCD picture quality for a dazzling picture particularly well-suited for 4K Ultra HD HDR content, especially in bright rooms and during daytime viewing situations.

Who’s it for: Those who crave an ultra-bright 4K Ultra HD TV with some of the most dazzling HDR performance available on the market, paired with outstanding picture processing, smooth motion, and cinematic splendor.

How much will it cost: $5,500 – $9,000

Why we picked the Sony Z9D series:

There’s no doubt that Sony’s Z9D series is exceedingly expensive, but no other LED/LCD TV we reviewed in 2016 could quite match it in terms of picture performance. Credit Sony’s no-holds-barred engineering approach and advanced backlighting system for the Z9D’s ability to produce extremely bright images with a minimum of backlight bleed or halo effect.

4K Ultra HD content in HDR looks resplendent on the Z9D – among the best we’ve seen on the market, and Sony’s premium processing results in blur-free fast-action sports and arguably the best cinematic motion available, thanks to minimal judder.

Movie lovers will embrace the Z9D for its ability to produce bright images in any ambient light setting, and nearly anyone can appreciate this TV’s ability to make any source look better thanks to its outstanding 4K up-scaling. Color is another of the Z9D’s fortes, with expanded color gamut that shows you movie colors much closer to what the director and colorists intended.

Read more here

The best curved LED/LCD TV

Samsung KS9800

Why should you buy this: Samsung’s KS9800 offers outstanding LED/LCD picture quality with high brightness, solid black levels, and excellent color, all in a curved TV.

Who’s it for: Those who like the look of a curved TV and want the best possible picture quality.

How much will it cost: $3,500

Why we picked the Samsung KS9800:

Samsung’s best TV in 2016 is a winner, but it’s a curved TV, which isn’t for everyone. Were it flat, it may have toppled the Sony X930D as our best LED/LCD pick for the year. If you like the curve, though, the KS9800 is a feast for the eyes.

Samsung’s KS9800 is the finest SUHD TV the company ever produced, with class-leading black levels, intensely bright color capability, and blistering HDR rendering. The KS9800 won’t process Dolby Vision HDR, but reproduces the HDR standard, HDR10, with aplomb.

Off-angle viewing is not the KS9800’s forte, but for those tend to sit right in front of the TV, the picture quality is outstanding. Add in the fact that Samsung’s SUHD TVs offer the lowest lag-time of any competitor, and they make for excellent TVs for gamers.

Our full review

The best overall LCD/LED TV

Sony X930D Series

Sony XBR-930

Why should you buy this: Sony’s X930D series offers the ultimate blend of form, function, and price

Who’s it for: Someone who wants the best picture quality available in a flat LED/LCD TV without completely draining their savings account.

How much will it cost: $1,600 – $2,200

Why we picked the Sony X930D Series:

The Sony X930D redefined our expectations of edge-lit LED/LCD televisions. Thanks to Sony’s proprietary Slim Backlight Drive technology, the X930D manages to maintain excellent black levels and minimal halo effect, even when producing bright images on a dark background.

The X930D’s color capabilities are among the best available after calibration, and its HDR performance is dazzling as well. What always sets Sony’s TVs apart from the competition is their processing, which is some of the best in the business. Expect highly cinematic movie watching experiences and blur-free sports with a minimum of “soap opera effect.”

Our full review

The best aspirational TV

LG Signature OLED 65W7P W7

Why should you buy this: No other TV tops the picture quality or impressive design of LG’s Signature OLED 65W7P W7.

Who’s it for: Those who can afford to be on the bleeding edge of incredible display tech.

How much will it cost: $8,000

Why we picked the LG Wallpaper TV

If you’ve got pockets deep enough and a wall wide enough, the LG Signature OLED 65W7P W7 “wallpaper” TV will make for a jaw-dropping center piece to any home theater. The TV’s “wallpaper” alias comes from the extremely thin form factor of the screen, which is a ludicrous 2.57mm thin, looking more like piece of fine art than a television. What’s more, the TV presents the best picture quality of any TV currently available, regardless of the ultra-cool form factor. Alongside brilliantly rendered 4K Ultra HD resolution, the TV supports all major HDR formats meaning it’s as future proof as it gets right now and ready to display the very best array of colors, contrast, and picture resolution on the market.

How did LG make the TV so slim? Instead of storing the processing components behind the screen, the guts of the 65W7P W7 reside in the included (and required) soundbar. Admittedly this makes for a larger than average soundbar that needs some serious shelf space. However, the sound quality makes up for it’s large footprint. This minor gripe aside (and the obvious concession that this is going to set you back a cool $8,000), there isn’t a more impressive display on the market.

Our full review

How we test

We begin each model year by bringing in the top-tier televisions from each of the major brands, including Samsung, Sony, LG, and Panasonic. These premium televisions help set the highest standard for the year, managing expectations for each model below them, and providing context among the competitors.

We begin testing by setting up each TV in a completely dark room and adjusting its picture settings using tools and methods readily available to consumers – just like you might do at home. From there, we use a series of test patterns and familiar content, from streaming services to Ultra HD Blu-ray to over-the-air (OTA) TV, to judge each TV’s performance characteristics, including color production, motion resolution, black levels, backlight influence, brightness, HDR quality, and detail resolution.

Once we’ve analyzed a TV’s picture quality, we move on to elements that affect the user experience, including each set’s smart TV interface, user settings interface, remote control, external device recognition and control, and other essential touchpoints.

When possible, we’ll place two competing models side-by-side to provide additional context for the pros and cons each TV exhibits. Finally, we make a determination as to which type of user a TV might appeal to. For instance, some TVs provide better bright-room performance, which others are better for dedicated home theater performance. Some are better for sports while others are better for watching movies or playing games.

In short, we make a thorough evaluation to determine not only which TVs offer the best picture quality, but those which offer the best overall user experience. After all, you’ll be living with your new TV for years to come, and using it should be a joy, not a pain.

Read our complete test methodology for more information.

Helpful tips

When shopping for a new TV, it pays to do some research, but keep in mind that specs are often loaded with misinformation. Trust reviews from multiple review sites (including Digital Trends, of course), then go see the TV in action at a local retailer.

If you can, try to get a hold of the TVs remote control and play around with it a bit. Ask an associate to take the TV out of store demo mode and look at some of the set’s built-in picture presets if possible. Moreover, try to determine if the TV’s user menu and smart TV interface are easy to navigate and intuitive.

Finally, make sure the retailer you are going to purchase from is an authorized retailer for the brand, and ensure they offer a fair and hassle-free return process. Most authorized online retailers are very accommodating when it comes to returns or replacements.

Glossary of terms

Here’s a rundown of some popular terms associated with today’s TV technology.

4K ULTRA HD

In television, a display resolution that is four times that of 1080p HD. A 4K Ultra HD TV’s pixel resolution is a 3,840 x 2,160 grid in a 16:9 aspect ratio, resulting in nearly 8.3 million pixels. This increase in density adds striking detail and realism to an image and allows larger screens to be viewed from closer distances without individual pixels becoming visible.

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

High dynamic range is probably most familiar to people through the HDR mode on their digital cameras. It’s designed to deliver a picture that has greater details in the shadows and highlights and a wider range of colors. HDR in televisions pursues the same goal. The color palette is wider, blacks are deeper, and whites are brighter. Presently there are two major HDR formats: HDR10 and Dolby Vision. The former is the HDR standard, but Dolby Vision offers a premium experience. Consider a TV that supports both.

Full Array Local Dimming (FALD)

Refers to an LED TV’s backlighting system. A FALD display contains an array of LEDs spread out in a grid behind an LCD panel, rather than just at the edges of the TV. This LED array is broken up into zones that can be dimmed when necessary to achieve better black levels. Another benefit is more uniform brightness across the screen.

Wide Color Gamut (WCG)

The expanded color reproduction abilities of a 4K Ultra HD TV — closer than ever to what we see in a digital cinema. By approaching the Digital Cinema Initiative’s P3 color specification, a 4K UHD TV can produce billions more colors than a 1080p HD TV.

Quantum Dots

A layer of film loaded with tiny nano-crystal semiconductors that is placed in a TV’s display panel to help produce a wider array of colors. Quantum dots work by altering the light coming from a TV’s backlighting system before it is passed through the TV’s color filter.

Phosphor-coated LED

An alternative to Quantum Dots, phosphor-coated LEDs have a chemical coating to alter the light’s output. When used in a TV, this results in a purer backlight that’s more easily manipulated by a TV’s color filter, resulting in a wide color gamut and increased color accuracy.

HDMI 2.0a

The latest version of the HDMI spec. Compliance with this standard assures a 4K Ultra HD display or source is capable of providing all the digital information needed for 4K Ultra HD resolution, HDR, and Wide Color Gamut, all at up to 60 frames per second.

HDCP 2.2

The latest version of the High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection technology, which provides copy prevention specifically of 4K Ultra HD content. Any source device that requires HDCP 2.2 will require a 4K Ultra HD TV with an HDCP 2.2 compliant HDMI port for a compatible connection.

HEVC (H.265)

Stands for “High Efficiency Video Coding.” A new compression technology developed to make large 4K UHD video files smaller and, therefore, easier to stream over broadband Internet connections. HEVC is said to double the data compression ratio over H.264, the predominant encoding technology used today for 1080p videos, while retaining the same video quality. A smart TV or streaming set-top box must be able to decode HEVC in order play back 4K Ultra HD video from sites like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

VP9

An alternate to HEVC developed by Google and used predominantly for encoding 4K Ultra HD YouTube videos. In order for a smart TV or streaming set-top box to play back 4K Ultra HD YouTube videos, it must be able to decode VP9 videos.

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