Ah, the television. Affectionately known as the telly, the squawk box, the boob tube, or any number of goofy nicknames, the glowing screen-and-speaker contraption has long been the centerpiece of living rooms across the world. With the relatively recent proliferation of on-demand streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, we rely on our TVs more than ever (despite a downtick in live TV ratings).
After all, the average American watches more than five hours of TV per day. And whether you’re looking for the absolute best TVs on the market, a high-performance cheap-seat model, or something in that lovely Goldilocks Zone in between, you don’t want to waste your time staring at a fuzzy screen or fumbling through frustrating menus, right? As such, we’ve put together a guide to all the top TV brands — past and present — so, when the time comes to upgrade, you’ll know where to start your search.
At a glance
|Sony||Heavyweight||X1 Extreme processor|
Note: Our categories, by and large, represent the U.S. TV market. Some companies (like Sony) are less prevalent worldwide, while others (TCL) sell more sets in the Chinese market. Further, for the purposes of this guide, we avoided putting a great deal of stock in a TV’s operating system considering the popularity and accessibility of streaming sticks and set-top boxes.
These are the big boys. The brands which occupy premium real estate on both physical and digital shelves everywhere.
South Korea’s Samsung is the de facto market leader in the world television space, leading competitors like LG and Sony by a wide margin in terms of overall sales. That’s partly a result of the company’s size (Samsung ranks 15th on the 2017 Fortune 500, placing it as the second most valuable electronics company, behind Apple), but mostly it’s because Samsung makes really great TVs with a focus on accessibility.
Operating system: Tizen
Technically, it’s called Samsung Smart TV Powered by Tizen, but let’t just go with Tizen. Tizen, similar to LG’s WebOS (see below), places all your apps in a row along the bottom of the Smart Hub (read: home screen). It’s got all the popular streaming apps as part of a 2,000+ app library, and a neat feature which activates when you select an app, showing you popular sub-categories (like Netflix shows, or Spotify playlists) for that app.
QLED, Samsung’s own LCD display technology, uses quantum dots to enhance performance by producing purer light than LEDs are capable of on their own.
Perhaps most impressive are the ways in which Tizen works with the Samsung app family, including SmartThings, Smart Connect, and Smart View (which will be getting rolled into the SmartThings app soon anyway). You can use those to mirror content from your phone — even iPhones — to your TV, or send TV playback directly to your phone (only on Samsung phones). If you’ve got compatible smart home devices, you can also use the TV as a control hub.
In addition, Samsung’s newer models — QLED and otherwise — offer some cool features like importing app logins from your phone to save time and the Samsung One Connect box, built to simplify messy cable nests behind TVs (and to enable cleaner wall-mounting).
Calling card: QLED
Samsung has so far avoided producing OLED displays like those of LG. So, instead of striking a deal to use LG’s panels, Samsung branded its own LCD display tech QLED. For a detailed breakdown, check out our QLED vs. OLED comparison, but the general gist is this: QLED uses quantum dots to enhance performance by producing purer light than LEDs are capable of on their own. In practice, QLED televisions are brighter than less expensive LCD TVs, and unlike OLED, can be more affordably built into large displays (100 inches and beyond).
Another South Korean company, LG may not be as massive as Samsung, but thanks to its OLED display technology, it has minimal competition when it comes to top-of-the-line picture performance.
Operating system: WebOS
WebOS — currently in its fourth iteration, WebOS 3.5 — works similar to Samsung’s Tizen, arranging apps horizontally at the bottom of the screen, but with some added panache. LG’s Magic Motion Remote can be used traditionally with navigational buttons, but it also works like a Wiimote, allowing you to move the cursor by pointing the remote at the screen and waving it around.
LG recently debuted an open-source webOS platform to encourage developers to work together and create more apps for the operating system. As with Tizen, webOS allows users to screen share (using Miracast), though that ability is limited to Android devices and Windows computers. The most recent update added VR capability to webOS, in case you’ve got any 360-degree videos or photos you’d like to view.
Calling card: OLED
OLED — Organic LED — is the premier display technology today. OLED panels are capable of reaching black levels never before seen, with better contrast across the board, and because the pixels themselves light up, OLED televisions boast quicker response times (and less lag) than other types of displays. To see how OLED stacks up against regular old LCD, take a look at our head-to-head comparison.
Sony, standing as the last great Japanese TV manufacturer in the US (sorry, Panasonic, Toshiba, and JVC), doesn’t market as many proprietary technologies as Samsung or LG, but they have all the tech they need to create awe-inspiring TVs.
Operating system: Android TV
Android TV — versions of which run on many other devices, like the Amazon Fire TV family — isn’t quite as slick as webOS, but it’s arguably more powerful. Unlike webOS and Tizen, the Android TV home screen is laden with apps and suggestions, and you can scroll down for even more.
Sony is the only company other than LG to offer OLED televisions.
Further, it’s got built-in support for Google Assistant (via a microphone in the remote or in your phone) and Chromecast, for both video and audio. Plus, as with Tizen, Google Smart Lock can automatically sync logins from your mobile device to your TV.
And, if that’s not enough, you can download the Logitech Harmony app to control your smart home devices from the couch. Our gripe with Android TV implementation is that its implentation feels sluggish and unresponsive at times.
Calling card: X1 Extreme processor
Sony is the only company other than LG to offer OLED televisions, thanks to a deal between the two companies allowing Sony to build TVs with LG panels. Thanks to the new X1 Extreme processor, Sony’s Bravia flagship series offers some of the best contrast we’ve ever seen. Another cool touch: Sony’s 2018 TVs use Acoustic Surface technology, which turns the screen itself into a speaker using vibrations and adds a small subwoofer at the TV’s rear.
Among the brands in the “heavyweights” category, Vizio offers the most affordable TVs. Don’t take that as a sign of lower quality, though; Vizio’s 2018 lineup features some absurdly thin bezels designs, panels with Dolby Vision HDR support, and powerful local dimming for excellent contrast.
Operating system: SmartCast
Prior to 2017, all Vizio’s smart TVs ran a system which required users to download an app on their phone or tablet, which would essentially cast directly to the TV, no matter what you wanted to do. In fact, those “displays” (which Vizio didn’t even call TVs) didn’t even have coaxial inputs or TV tuners.
These days, they’ve split the difference by loading TVs with most of the big-name streaming apps — Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Prime Video, etc. — and reintroducing those missing components, though for some stuff you’ll still need to use a mobile device. SmartCast is versatile, but last year’s models were somewhat laggy, so we’re interested to see what other improvements have been made this year.
Calling card: Quantum
As with Samsung, Vizio is hanging its proverbial hat on quantum dot-powered panels. The 2018 lineup boasts vastly improved brightness levels — top-line models can reach a ridiculous 2,000 nits peak! — and similarly improved local area dimming capabilities, with some displays utilizing up to 120 individual dimming zones.
For what it’s worth, 2018 Vizio televisions also support voice control via both Alexa and Google Assistant; Google Assistant is a little more powerful, as it can search through apps for programs, while Alexa is a little more limited. (They do have universal text search, though, a la Roku.)