At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, tech giants like Sony, Vizio, LG, Samsung and Panasonic unveiled their hottest new devices. TVs don’t dominate the conversation anymore — virtual reality headsets, wearables and autonomous driving technology all had a more prominent stage presence. However, the evolution of TV tech continues to redefine innovation and dazzle us with new capabilities. Advancements like these don’t come cheap, but savvy shoppers can upgrade their TVs by understanding where the technology is and where it’s going before they decide what to buy.
For the best TV models available by price, jump down to the best of the best TVs section in this article.
Otherwise, these tips will help you find the right TV for both you and your budget in 2016:
Tips for the Right TV Type
Think 4K, Not 8K
At last year’s CES, 4K TV technology was heralded as a game changer for its ability to quadruple the number of pixels found in a standard HD picture. This increase in resolution adds stunning detail, greater depth and vibrant color to images. At this year’s event, LG and Samsung unveiled 98-inch 8K TVs. These are stunning but ultimately irrelevant to the consumer conversation, with prices over $100,000 and a shortage of 8K content.
Meanwhile, 4K technology is no longer reserved for only the wealthiest technophiles. Prices for 4K sets are increasingly affordable, with many available right now in the $500 to $1,000 range, including the versatile Vizio M-Series. And perhaps most importantly, 4K programming is beginning to roll out while 8K content remains years away.
Choose Flat, Not Curved
Taking a cue from the bowed theater screens that can be found at many venues around the country, tech companies started to develop curved-screen TVs. These new sets promise a wider field of view and a more immersive experience, but there’s one big detraction — your viewing angles are limited with a curved-screen TV. If you’re eyeing something like the Panasonic CZ950 when it becomes available, you’ll need to design your entire living room around your TV.
Manufacturers are developing a curved and flat version of big-screen models. The Samsung UN78JU7500 (curved) and Sharp LC 80UH30U (flat) are both top-notch big screens. Curved TVs will continue to trend because they look cool, but all things considered, we think a traditional flat screen will serve you well in 2016 and for years to come.
LCD vs. OLED
No matter how revolutionary new TV technology is, for most of us the decision comes down to value and quality. Take, for instance, the competition between LCD (less expensive) and OLED (more expensive) televisions. The main difference between the two comes down to light emission — pixels in LCD televisions are illuminated as a whole, while new OLED sets illuminate each pixel individually. OLED is impressive, but it’s still being perfected.
When CNET pitted the two formats against each other, OLED won out in black level, contrast, viewing angle and uniformity. LCD’s only meaningful advantages were found in color gamut and refresh rate, and these were deemed “for now” victories. If you want an OLED that unlocks the full potential of single pixel illumination, go with the Panasonic CZ950 when it becomes available or pick up the LG EF9500 — these models have addressed such concerns. Budget-minded consumers, however, should stick with LEDs until more companies develop OLEDs and they drop in price.
3D’s Last Stand
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of 3D’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Ranked among the hottest new TV trends of 2013, the format has admittedly been slow to catch on with general consumers, but it’s too early to write it off completely.
Continued breakthroughs in autostereoscopic technology (glasses-free 3D) is the only potential savior of the technology. Stream TV Networks unveiled glasses-free 3D this year (dubbed “Ultra-D”), while the big manufacturers kept their focus on 4K and 8K technology. As of now, active and passive 3D (which requires glasses) viewing remains a feature on most higher-end TVs, but the quandary of consistent viewing quality and content remain. 2016 will be the year that glasses-free 3D either takes off or fades into obscurity.
Best of the Best
Determine the best TV by:
4K and 3D
Price Range: High
LG Electronics 65EF9500 ($6,000)
Overview: Panasonic may have mastered OLED with their signature TV (see below), but LG delivers a valiant effort for nearly half the cost. It measures in with a width of 0.25 inch at the top and a 2-inch enlargement for connection ports. The picture quality and contrast is probably the best you can buy at this moment, with only minor judder and edge dimming issues reported. CNET put it bluntly: “If you have the money and you want a 65-inch TV, you should buy the LG 65EF9500.”
Pros: Only top-rated OLED TV on the market, stunning picture and design
Cons: Only 3 HDMI ports, minor judder and edge dimming issues
Price Range: Mid
Panasonic TC-55CX850U ($3,499)
Overview: Panasonic’s flagship TV for 2015 is still one of the best around in terms of value and quality. The TV has a simple look, with 3 HDMI ports and Firefox OS for Smart TV operating. The HDR-capable TV attempts to follow up on the AX900 from 2014, which astounded reviewers but cost around $8,000. This simplified version for half the price didn’t lose much in quality; it’s one of the few TVs on this list to receive THX certification, which means you won’t be let down by the color quality.
Pros: THX certified, high-end picture quality
Cons: Hard to find, backlight dimming issues
Price Range: Low
Samsung UN65JU7100 ($2,000)
Overview: As Panasonic and LG focus on maximizing OLED capabilities while meeting 4K and 3D demands, Samsung has been selling more 4K TVs than anyone else. Predictably, their variety in UHD options seems endless and gets confusing with so many model numbers. The LED-powered JU7100 is a solid choice for the lower price tier. Its sleek design rivals the other two recommendations in style and slimness. The picture quality won’t leave you breathless like the OLED competitors, but this model rivals anything out there for those looking for an all-in-one package without a steep price tag.
Pros: Slick, flat design with nearly every desired feature in 2016, highly rated remote
Cons: Good (not great) picture quality for price, doesn’t include 3D glasses
Panasonic TX-65CZ950 ($11,000)
Overview: Panasonic’s CZ950 is more suited for showrooms and trade shows with an astonishing price tag of £7,999(roughly $11,000). But it’s worth mentioning, because this TV is a glimpse into the future. The 4K Pro system tackles the OLED light emissions issues by masterfully controlling each pixel’s light and color, resulting in one of the finest picture qualities ever seen. Panasonic brought in renowned Hollywood colorist Mike Sowa (Kill Bill, Oblivion) to help configure the TVs “True Cinema” setting. The stunning picture quality is combined with a super-slim design and clip-on back panel which covers four HDMI ports.
Pros: Unlocks the power OLED technology, perhaps the best TV ever manufactured
Cons: Unrealistic price tag, curved screen, U.S. release date pending
Price Range: High
VIZIO M55-C2 ($848.00)
Overview: If you’re ready to take the 4K leap but not for more than a grand, look to the Vizio M-Series. It delivers deep black levels, excellent contrast and includes five 4K-compatible HDMI inputs. It doesn’t have 3D compatibility and some of the other high-end features, but with sizes ranging from 43 inches to 80, you’ll find a quality TV at your ideal price point
Pros: Great value, local dimming feature for better picture quality
Cons: Lacks 3D and advanced Smart TV features, doesn’t compete with higher-end 4K picture quality
Price Range: Mid
Samsung PN51F8500 ($700)
Overview: How can a TV from 2013 be on the list for best TVs in 2016? Well, the F8500 is the last great plasma TV. Plasma TVs didn’t lose out to LED and OLED technology due to quality, as plasma consistently outperformed in terms of black level, processing speed, side angle viewing quality and contrast. Rather, its death was a concoction of manufacturing cost, consumer confusion and OLED technology hitting its stride (see the Pana CZ950 and LGEF9500). For the plasma purist who couldn’t afford the best available model a few years ago, snag it in 2016 for less than $1,000.
Pros: Outstanding picture quality, Smart TV suite despite being years old
Cons: Obsolete technology means low resale value
Price Range: Low
Hisense 40H4C ($279)
Overview: If you scoff at calling a TV upward of $500 a “bargain,” the Roku Smart TV may be for you. Developed by Chinese manufacturer Hisense, the 40H4C scores big in UI. Roku’s interface and channel market is one of the most intuitive available. Don’t expect stunning picture quality, but this may be the ideal choice for an apartment dweller who needs a binge-ready device for their TV shows.
Pros: Easy-to-use, intuitive UI, Roku-powered
Cons: Picture quality doesn’t compare to higher end models
Price Range: High
Epson LS10000 ($8,000)
Overview: It would be remiss to talk BIG screens without throwing one of the finest projectors available in the mix. The LS10000 projects a 100-inch diagonal screen with deep black levels and impressive color. At 8 grand, it’s not the best projector in terms of value, but it does use a laser light engine instead of replaceable lamp bulbs which justifies the cost to a point (bulbs cost $300-$500 to replace after 3,000 hours of use).
Pros: No replacing lamp bulbs, launches in less than 30 seconds
Cons: Expensive, weighs 40 pounds
Price Range: Mid
Samsung UN78JU7500 ($5,200)
Overview: This 78-inch behemoth will quench your craving for a giant screen with 4K potential. It delivers the contrast ratios, color saturation, brightness and style expected from Samsung. As a cousin of the Samsung listed above, it shows the overall performance of this class and brand.
Pros: Good 4K quality with massive screen
Cons: Relatively pricey, a bit bulkier than other options
Price Range: Low
Sharp LC 80UH30U ($4,300)
Overview: Another giant 4K option is the 80-inch Aquos model from Sharp. If you’re willing to stray away from the big players, Sharp might muster enough in specs and features to win you over. Not only does it come cheaper than the bigger brands, it earned a certification from THX studios which means it’s visually on par with the original filming of major films (only the Panasonic CZ950 holds the certification from this list).
Pros: THX certification, cheaper than bigger brands
Cons: Smart TV coordination issues, image dimming beyond 25 degrees off center