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Sony vs. Samsung: Whose TV belongs in your living room?

When it comes to TV shopping, the sky is truly the limit, it seems. Not only are there a number of different brands to choose from, but every dignified TV maker has a myriad of models to choose from, and that changes nearly every year. For those looking to lay down a few hundred or thousand dollars for a new living room set, differentiating between brands and choosing the best TV for your home can be a nightmare.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to pit one TV brand against another in an ongoing series until we’ve exhausted as many variations as possible. Because the truth is, different brands do exhibit distinct characteristics, and understanding those characteristics can help make a buying decision easier. Today, we weigh in on the great debate of Sony versus Samsung.

Sony versus Samsung

Sony was once the undisputed king of televisions; its older Trinitron and newer Bravia series are often regarded as synonymous with the concept of a premium TV. But then along came a little South Korean company called Samsung, which has worked its way up to become the number one TV manufacturer in the world, snatching a little over 26% market share.

Just because you’re the biggest doesn’t necessarily make you the best, though. While Samsung may be a TV titan, Sony hasn’t lost its chops, and over the past few years, its prices have come down a little. Aside from all that, these two companies make very different products. Let’s take a closer look at what differentiates the two.

Aesthetic design

Samsung has a sort of obsession with making the thinnest possible TVs with the thinnest possible bezels. The company’s 2021 QN90A sets have an average depth of just an inch, which is pretty thin. This changes some as you move down Samsung’s line-up, but you can usually count on Samsung to deliver a smallest-in-class bezel and cabinet depth. That doesn’t always play to Samsung’s advantage, however. We’ve seen some of the company’s mid-level televisions showing more edge-light bloom because of their skimpy bezels.

The Samsung QN90A TV with an owl on the screen.
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Sony makes a great-looking TV, but bezel and cabinet designs tend to be a bit on the bulkier side. Take a look at Sony’s XBR65A8H, for example. Some might argue that 1 inch of difference in depth is splitting hairs, and we might tend to agree. For most, the bezel and cabinet on Sony TVs are plenty slim, and we’ve found that as you move down Sony’s line, the small amount of additional bezel can even help hide some edge-light blooming.

When it comes to TV stands, we’ve become indifferent. It used to be that we preferred Sony’s to Samsung’s considerably because Sony supplied higher-quality glass stands with its top-tier models. Now, both companies tend to use either chromed-up plastic stands in various swooping shapes or plastic feet on each side of the set. Meh.

Picture quality

For LED LCD televisions:

This would be so much easier if we were only comparing the top-of-the-line models from both manufacturers. In that sort of head-to-head, we would praise Sony for its outstanding color accuracy but give a nod to Samsung for its above-par black levels and brightness. The thing is, the outstanding black level that the Q90A achieves is thanks to the TV’s advanced micro-LED dimming technology that you don’t get with lesser models. And although Samsung’s black levels tend to be very good from model to model, the difference between it and Sony is much less stark without the microLED dimming involved.

Sony, LG, and a host of other TVs are all about OLED picture technology, especially when it comes to flagship performance. The aforementioned XBR65A8H utilizes the OLED panel’s ability to completely shutter unused pixels during dark scenes to achieve the ultimate TV black levels. Couple that with the set’s X1 Ultimate processor, and you’re looking at a TV with brilliant colors with top-notch accuracy.

Samsung QN90A TV
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

We will say this: Sony’s televisions have always had a certain look to them that is distinctly Sony, and a lot of folks love that look. If you’re one of those people who’s always loved the look of a Sony TV, then you should know that Sony’s still got it.

On the other hand, Samsung makes TVs that can get exceptionally bright, and sometimes that brightness is necessary to combat lots of ambient sunlight. If you need an eyeball-scorching TV, Samsung’s LED backlit sets will usually do the trick.

Smart TV

Both Samsung and Sony offer intuitive, easy-to-use smart TV platforms that give users access to hundreds of apps, movies, TV shows, web browsing, photo sharing options, screen mirroring, and more. Let’s start with Samsung.

For a while now, Samsung smart TVs have been powered by Tizen operating systems (Tizen 6.0 being the latest OS). The current overlay that runs on top of the Tizen OS is called Eden. With Eden, users are greeted to a ribbon at the bottom of the screen that displays the TV’s various apps, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and YouTube. By selecting Apps from the same ribbon, users are able to download even more Samsung apps through their Samsung account. Accessing content is straightforward, and Tizen does a great job of jumping users from input-based TV watching (HDMI 1) to inside-the-app interfaces (Netflix).

Currently, most Sony smart TVs are running off the Android TV OS, but not for long. Pretty soon, Sony will be moving over to an all-new Google TV OS, with perks including a reimagined home screen loaded with content based on your watch history and preferences. For now, Android TV is still the main smart TV overlay, and it’s a great one. After tapping Apps or Google Play on the TV remote, users are greeted to screens filled with popular smart TV streaming services, games, Google Assistant capabilities, and the option for Chromecast casting, allowing you to “cast” mobile apps from your phone or tablet to your TV.

User interface

Not only does the user interface vary from tier to tier within each manufacturer’s line-up, but the term “user interface” is itself very broad. So, for the sake of this piece, let’s say the user interface has to do with the experience of navigating through a TV’s various menus in order to make changes to the settings. In that regard, the contest is a draw. Both companies provide a menu navigation experience that is intuitive enough to get through, and both leave something to be desired in terms of explaining what certain menu options actually do. Neither has reached perfection, but considering how complex these TVs can get, we’d have to say both brands have done a decent job. There are some manufacturers with pretty lame user interfaces, and we’ll be getting to them later in this series.

Remote control

Samsung QN90A TV remote
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

This category can be difficult to judge based on whether or not you like your TV remotes to have a lot of buttons or very few. Samsung remotes tend to represent the latter. Most mid- and top-tier Samsung TVs come packaged with a sleek-looking Bluetooth remote that handles all the essentials, including volume controls, channel up/down, power, and a home button that fires up the smart TV menu. If you’re into loading apps up with voice commands, there’s even a built-in mic for doing so. While minimalist and comfortable to pick up, one thing we’ve noticed with this lineup of remotes is that the Bluetooth can get a little wonky from time to time, resulting in an “un-paired” remote (especially when the battery level is low). Fortunately, re-pairing is as simple as holding a few buttons down, but we thought we’d mention this little inconvenience.

Sony X900F
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Sony remotes are certainly more button-packed. On mid- and top-tier models, you’ll find pretty much anything you would expect from a modern TV remote, including numerics, volume controls, a home button for smart TV functions, jump-to-app buttons like Netflix and Google Play, and a mic button for voice commands. Sony remotes also have a more traditional TV remote appearance, compared to Samsung’s more futuristic design.

The one minor bummer for both brands: No backlighting. It’s never fun to pick at buttons in the dark, and neither Samsung nor Sony has a button on their remotes for illuminating buttons.

Internet connectivity

At this point, both Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections are standard on both Sony and Samsung Smart TVs. This really shouldn’t be a consideration.

Now go look at some TVs, will ya?

We hope you’ll walk away from reading this with some sense of how Sony and Samsung compare to each other. But we think the most valuable takeaway here is that you get out there and go put your hands on a TV and its remote for a while to get the feel of things. We suggest you forget about the sales guys on the floor and just start playing around. That’s what those TV displays are for. Have fun!

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