Smart TVs are quickly becoming the mainstream, replacing clunky set-top-boxes and serving as the central hub of all your TV-centric entertainment. If you’re looking to explore this new advancement in how we not only watch but interact with the once humble TV, you’ll likely have to find balance between screen quality and power, high-tech connective smart features, versatility, energy efficiency and value for money. All this and much more can be found in our Top Pick in smart TVs, the VIZIO D43-D1 LED Smart TV.
Offering a brilliant LED screen and a raft of easy to use connective feature and applications, the VIZIO D43-D1 LED Smart TV is one of our favorite smart TVs with good reason.
With one the best viewing experiences you ever seen coming from the very latest in screen technology, the LG OLED65E6P Smart TV presents the ultimate in a smart TV package with a price tag to match. You’ll soon see why it has people running back to watch their entire movie collections all over again.
Smarter than your average TV
First patented in 1994, a smart TV (sometimes referred to as connected TV or hybrid TV) is a television with integrated internet and web 2.0 features which essentially works as a combination of a computer, a set-top box and a TV. As digital television became the mainstream in the late 2000s, smart TVs were initially the domain of the high-end technology connoisseur. However, as of 2016 Nielsen reports that 29% of households with incomes over $75,000 a year have a smart TV, with Smart TVs expected to become the dominant form of television by 2020. Virtually every major TV manufacturer makes some form of smart TV today.
Besides the traditional functions of a TV and set-top box, a smart TV can also provide internet television and online interactive media as well as on-demand streaming media and home networking access using either an Ethernet connection or, more commonly, integrated Wi-Fi to connect to a home network. A smart TV’s operating system and software applications comes preloaded on the device and can be updated or installed on demand via an app store or marketplace very much like a smartphone. Most smart TVs support popular streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and Pandora, and interactive services and internet applications such as YouTube, Spotify and iTunes. Using a built-in camera or optional video-camera accessory, some high-end smart TVs offer video-calling services, such as Skype. They can also provide access to user-generated content either stored on an external hard drive or in cloud storage. Some smart TVs also come pre-packaged or can be optionally installed with social networking applications such as Facebook and Twitter.
How you use these applications can vary, with some smart TV’s interfaces using scrolling screens of icons to display options while others use tabbed windows or scroll bars along the bottom of the screen, and others using a 3D-style carousel of screens to sort and arrange all the available services.
Seeing is believing: helping you choose
At first glance, choosing a smart TV can be a more than a little daunting if you’re not familiar with the abundant amount of acronyms and technical terms being thrown around. Rest assured, though: selecting the right set for you doesn’t require a college degree with our helpful guide.
Gone are the days of the old-style cathode ray tube TV with slim and sleek flat screens being the order of the day since the early 2000’s with the introduction of far smaller Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screens. An LCD is a specially designed flat panel that can block light or allow it to pass, composed of segments with each block filled with liquid crystals. The colour and transparency of these blocks can be changed by increasing or reducing the electrical current, and as LCD crystals do not produce their own light an external light source is needed to create an image. Now largely relegated to computers screens, LCD in TVs has since been largely superseded by two primary and one more recent type of smart TV displays: plasma, LED and OLED.
Plasma screens are composed of two sheets of glass with a mixtures of gases stored between the layers. These gases are injected and sealed in plasma form during the manufacturing process, hence the name, and when charged with electricity the gases react and cause illumination in the pixels across the screen. Plasma is generally considered to be superior to LCD and LED in terms of contrast and colour accuracy. However, plasma TVs generate significant amounts of heat because they burn phosphors to display images, meaning they consume more energy. Additionally, static images on plasma panels can cause a screen-burn effect if left for too long, making them generally unsuitable for gaming console use. Due to production costs and a market shift towards LED, plasma is generally restricted to larger screens sizes, usually 40 inches or greater, with buying plasma tending to be the most cost effective option (initially) for getting the most screen for your dollar.
LED is the most popular format of TV on the market now due to its comparatively low cost and size versatility even though it is not considered the highest quality image available. LED TVs are not a completely new format of TV, but rather they are an updated version of the previous LCD generation. LED uses the same technology as an LCD TV, but instead of being illuminated by a florescent bulb from behind, they are lit by an array of Light Emitting Diodes ‘ LEDs. These are far more energy efficient and smaller in size, meaning the TV can be slimmer in profile. LED TVs can be broken up into two further categories: direct (back-lit) LED and edge-lit LED. Direct LED TVs are backlit directly behind the screen, enabling focused lighting areas meaning specific cells of brightness and darkness can be displayed more effectively. Edge-lit LEDs have lights set around the television frame, reflecting light into the centre of the monitor and are the thinnest, lightest TVs available since they have fewer lights in the centre of the screen. There are some downsides, though: LED TVs exhibit imperfections when displaying rapid motion on screen and they can lose some shadow detail due to pixels not being to go completely black. If you’re planning to buy an LED TV for a large room, also keep in mind that images fade when viewing off-axis, or from the side.
Despite what the name suggests, OLED is nothing like LED. Rather, it represents quite a significant leap forward in technology. OLED uses ‘organic’ materials such as carbon to create light when supplied directly by an electric current. Unlike LED and LCD TVs, an OLED TV doesn’t require a backlight to illuminate the screen, and without the restriction of an external light source, OLED screens can be extremely thin ‘ to the point of being flexible. As individual areas can be lit up directly, colours and contrasts and image processing are much better than LCD and LED and they can be viewed off-axis without loss of picture. The downside to this, of course, is that OLED TVs are the most expensive by a large margin.
Children of the resolution
While it’s safe to say that smart TVs get better and better looking as time and technology advances, the terminologies bandied around when it comes to screen resolution only makes for a murkier picture. In short, resolution describes the sharpness of the TV’s picture, most commonly in terms of numbers of horizontal lines of pixels. When you see numbers such as 720p and 1080p, this means the screen displays 720 or 1080 lines of pixels scanned progressively in a single pass. The most widely available format today is 1080p (spoken aloud as ‘ten eighty pee’) and was commonly known as ‘HD’ (High Definition) before 720p began to be phased out in all but the smallest TVs.
TV manufacturers are beginning the shift from this HD or 1080p format to Ultra HD (also called ‘4K’) displays, which have four times the numbers of pixels as current HD TVs. In this high-end format small objects have more detail and displayed text has significantly sharper detail. However, at the moment content producers are racing to catch up with these advances in screen technology with no standard or cable channels currently broadcasting in 4K and video media in Ultra HD format still being relatively rare. Keep in mind, though: if you’re willing to make the extra not insubstantial investment in Ultra HD or 4K, you’re future-proofing your smart TV for the next five years at least.
A new feature in 4K TVs is High Dynamic Range (HDR), meaning the ability to display yet more colours, better contrast levels and increased brightness. Again, though, media produced natively in this format won’t start to be seen for a time yet.
Another term you’re likely to encounter is ‘contrast ratio’ which describes the range of brightness levels a set can display, with better contrast ratios displaying more subtle shadows and hues and thus better detail. However, the way individual manufacturers measure such ratios varies widely and with such inconsistency, the specification has been largely discredited. In short, contrast ratios are generally only useful when comparing TVs made by the same manufacturer.
The pause that refreshes: refresh rates
A smart TV’s refresh rate, expressed in Hertz (Hz), describes how many times per second a picture is refreshed on the screen. The generally accepted standard refresh rate is 60 times per second, or 60Hz, but in video or games with rapidly moving objects a 60Hz refresh rate can make things look blurry or jittery. In higher-end smart TVs you can expect to see refresh rates of 120Hz and even 240Hz. Generally speaking: the higher this number, the better.
Some manufacturers prefer to use the term ‘effective refresh rate’ or ‘clear motion rate’, which can be misleading. TV manufactures can use a range of techniques to reduce perceived motion blur such as a scanning backlight or frame insertion which is often accompanied by some additional signal processing. These methods don’t change the actual native refresh rate but rather mimic some of the performance benefits of a faster refresh. An effective refresh rate or clear motion rate is most frequently stated as twice the actual refresh rate, so a TV with an effective refresh rate of 120Hz will still have a native refresh rate of 60Hz.
Perhaps the least confusing of all the smart TV display jargon, the size of the screen advertised by manufacturers is simply the measurement of the TV ‘ not the screen ‘ in inches taken at its widest point ‘ diagonally. The screen size itself slightly smaller than the advertised size, but not more than half an inch in most cases. While the urge to buy the largest amount of screen real estate you can afford may be tempting, practicality should be the deciding factor in what size of smart TV is right for you. Warranted screen size depends on the size of the room and how close you sit to the TV. Basically, if you can see the individual pixels of the screen, you’re too close. A good rule of thumb is that you should sit at a distance from the TV that is at least three times the height of the screen for a HD 1080p TV and at least one and a half times the screen height for 4K TVs.
How we picked
Even with our helpful guide, the hundreds of different smart TV options can make choosing one a daunting task. In our selection of the best of the best, there were several considerations that we looked for in each and every device.
Construction and reliability were perhaps first and foremost in our selection process. While the online market places the upmost importance on cost-effectiveness when it comes to smart TVs, these devices can cost upwards of $5000 – certainly an investment you won’t want to be making every time a new season of Game of Thrones comes around.
Versatility and user friendliness were also essential considerations in our selection. A smart TV with built for a variety of environments and with features such as options for wall mounting and a number of different periphery ports for multiple devices were looked highly upon. Also, TV smart functions with intuitive, easy to use interfaces were key. After all, what’s the point of having a TV with smart functions if you never want to use them?
Getting into the technicalities specific to smart TVs, obviously the better the screen resolution and refresh rate, the better. However, we looked for a balance between raw screen size, quality and power with practicality and value for money. After all, not every needs a 75′ monster in their spare room just for the gaming console.
Our Top Pick: VIZIO D43-D1 LED Smart TV
It is little wonder; offering performance, versatility, efficiency and ease of use, the D43-D1 presents exceptional value for money for a full 43′ of smart TV.
With a true screen size of 42.5′, the D43-D1’s backlit full-array LED offers HD viewing at 1080p with an effective refresh rate of 120Hz, and can display 16.7 million different colours. Measuring 38′ x 22.5′ x 2.52′ and weighing 19.5lbs, the D43-D1 comes with its own stand or can be wall mounted using a 200mm x 200mm mount pattern. This smart TV comes with integrated Wi-Fi as well as an Ethernet port, three HDMI ports, a USB port, ports for both analogue and digital audio outputs, and ports for composite components. The TV’s sound comes by the way of 10W stereo speakers that are supported by DTS StudioSound and TruVolume, which come preinstalled.
Where the ‘smart’ bit come in is in the D43-D1’s VIA Plus feature, which is extremely easy to use and gives you access to a huge variety of apps, streaming content services and internet radio services, including Netflix, Xumo, Pandora, Amazon Instant Video, iHeartRadio, Hulu Plus, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, and many more. You can also browse available content on your smartphone or tablet and play it directly to the TV with second screen ready mobile apps like Netflix and YouTube. The D43-D1 also supports USB music, images and video if you prefer to bring your own.
The D43-D1’s full-array LED means that the whole screen is lit from behind, resulting in no dull corners or edges. Another nifty feature is the D43-D1’s five active LED zones that support active dimming using an integrated computer program that adapts to what you’re watching to increase contrast, making for a better picture. The D43-D1 is also extremely energy efficient, complying fully with Version 7.0 of Energy Star’s Program Requirements for Televisions and, using only 40.7W when operation and less than 0.5W when on standby.
All in all, the D43-D1 is an excellently performing, energy efficient smart TV at an absolute bargain price. It’s also worth mentioning the D1 is also available in a variety of other sizes 24″, 32″, 40″ and 50″ with some models featuring full 4K resolution.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
While the D43-D1 offers a large number of apps and streaming services, it does lack some smart TV functionality you’d more likely see on higher-end models such as web browsing the ability to download new apps. Some user also found the D43-D1’s 10W speakers to be a little tinny in larger spaces and found it to be exponentially better with the addition of a sound-bar.
Our Step Up Pick: LG OLED65E6P Smart TV
If you’re serious about your viewing pleasure, you need look no further than the LG OLED65E6P Smart TV. Boasting the cutting edge in screen technology, sound and connective smart features, even at that price you can consider the OLED65E6P excellent value for money, providing the closest thing you’ll find to perfection in moving picture technology.
With a true screen size of 64.5′, the OLED65E6P’s OLED screen offers Ultra HD 4K resolution with HDR at 60Hz, future-proofing for at least five years. Measuring 57.5″ x 35.2″ x 2.2″ and weighing 50.3lbs this Smart TV comes with its own stand or can be wall mounted using a 400mm x 200mm mount pattern. The OLED65E6P comes with integrated Wi-Fi as well as an Ethernet port, four HDMI ports, three USB ports, ports for both analogue and digital audio outputs, and ports for composite components. This smart TV features 2.2 channel sound powered by 40W stereo speakers and 20W woofers. Sound quality can be overlooked in high-end TVs as manufacturers tend to assume customers willing to spend big on such a TV will most likely have an equally high-end speaker system in mind, and it is pleasing to see LG has not withheld in this regard. Additionally, for a smart TV of this magnitude the OLED65E6P is surprisingly efficient.
The OLED65E6P smart TV features are no less impressive with LG’s newest operating system, ‘webOS 3.0’, giving you access to a huge range of content and applications such as Netflix, NOWTV, Wuak.TV, Amazon Instant, BBC iPlayer and Sport, Google Play, Demand 5 and a stack more. Don’t forget that content from providers that produce it can be streamed in glorious 4K resolution. Use of this service is extremely simple with LGs proprietary ‘magic remote control’ which features a scroll wheel that does away with tedious repeated button pressing. This remote can also be used universally to control your external media players and sound equipment, making things even easier. Or, you can away with the remote control and use the OLED65E6P’s voice control and gesture recognition features, allowing you to change the channel or find something to watch simply by saying so or using the remote as a pointer. This unit also supports USB music, images and video.
Even with its striking list of smart TV kit, the OLED65E6P’s big selling point is still is its OLED Ultra HD 4K screen. Containing nearly 8.3 million pixels, this screen’s resolution is four times that of 1080p HD. This combined with the OLED’s ability to switch pixels completely off to create perfect black and therefore infinite contrast and the HDR making for brilliant brightness and colours makes for a picture than has to be seen to be believed. The OLED65E6P also features ‘4K upscaling’, meaning that physical media content produced in a lower resolution gets upgraded to 4K automatically. A common thread among reviewers was that they immediately felt the urge to re-watch all their favourite movies and TV shows just to re-experience it in this ultimate format. This smart TV also features option passive 3D viewing (meaning 3D at 1080p rather than 4K) and comes with two pairs of 3D glasses.
It’s hard to describe the OLED65E6P anything but a cinema where you decide when and what to watch and, hopefully, with rubbish on the floor. It is simply an extraordinary piece of technology with a price tag to match its calibre. The OLED65E6P’s cost may seem excessive but once you’ve seen it in action everything else just seems like a massive downgrade.
Our Budget Pick: TCL 32S3800 LED Smart TV
The TCL 32S3800 LED Smart TV also comes very highly regarded.
With a true screen size of 31.5′, the 32S3800’s LED screen offers 720p resolution at a 60Hz refresh rate. Measuring 30″ x 17.3″ x 3.2″ and weighing 10.6lbs, this Smart TV comes with its own stand or can be wall mounted using a 200mm x 200mm mount pattern. The 32S3800 comes with integrated Wi-Fi, three HDMI ports, USB port, ports for both analogue and digital audio outputs, and ports for composite components. Sound is provided by 8W stereo speakers. When it comes to power consumption the 32S3800 offers the outstanding efficiency that comes with an LED.
The 32S3800’s smart TV functionality is provided through Roku TV, delivering one of the simplest but most comprehensive smart TV experiences available. An extremely user friendly interface with a customisable home screen gives you easy access to over 3000 streaming channels as well as cable TV channels and other devices like gaming consoles and media players in one place for easy access without complicated input switching. A clever remote control features a pointer for easy searching and dedicated buttons that give you instant access to Netflix, Amazon Instant, Rdio and Vudu. A free Roku mobile app lets you control the TV from a smartphone or tablet and also allows you to cast photos, videos, and music from your smartphone to the TV screen, as well as with Netflix and YouTube apps.
While it may not have the raw screen and audio power of our Top and Step Up Picks, the 32S3800 still makes a compelling case for itself for an entry-level smart TV with its thanks to an awesome smart TV suite and its bargain price. It’s easy to see why the 32S3800 is an obvious choice for so many.
Our Specialised Picks
Upscaling your viewing experience doesn’t necessarily mean correspondingly upscaled price tag. Case in point: the surprisingly affordable Hisense 50H7GB2 LED Smart TV. You can get a not insubstantial 49.5″ of LED screen with Ultra HD 4K resolution at an effective smooth motion rate of 480Hz. This smart TV measures 44.3″ x 25.6″ x 3.2″, comes with a stand and is suitable for wall mounting using a 200mm x 200mm mount pattern. The 50H7GB2 comes with integrated Wi-Fi, four HDMI ports, three USB ports, ports for both analogue and digital audio outputs, and ports for composite components. The 50H7GB2 is also extremely efficient for its 50′ designation. The 50H7GB2’s smart TV functionality is relatively basic, featuring an Opera browser for surfing the internet and apps for the most popular streaming services, including Netflix, Pandora and Amazon. However, there are fewer than 20 apps in total, and there’s no support for Spotify or Hulu Plus.
The 50H7GB2 is well worth a look if you’re in the market for a buget 4K smart TV without too many bells and whistles.
The absolute cutting edge in screen technology doesn’t always mean having to spend a lot with the likes of the LG 55EF9500 OLED Smart TV. Sporting a glorious 54.5′ OLED screen with Ultra HD 4K resolution at a 60Hz refresh rate, the 55EF9500 is certainly a sight to behold. Supporting 4K upscaling, the 55EF9500 also features optional passive 3D and comes with two pairs of 3D glasses. Measuring 48.3′ x 28.3′ x 2′ and weighing 30lbs and comes with its own stand or can bell wall mounted. The 55EF9500 comes with integrated Wi-Fi as well as an Ethernet port, three HDMI ports, three USB ports, ports for both analogue and digital audio outputs, and ports for composite components. The sound comes from 20W stereo speakers. As with the LG OLED65E6P, the 55EF9500 is surprisingly efficient for such a powerhouse.
Extremely easy to use, the 55EF9500’s smart TV function comes through LG’s webOS 2.0 which provide access to a host of content and streaming services such as Netflix, VUDU, Hulu Plus and Amazon Video. The 55EF9500 also comes with the same ‘magic remote control’ as the OLED65E6P, offering such features as the scroll wheel, universal control of external devices, voice control and gesture recognition. The 55EF9500 also supports the LG TV Remote app, allowing control of the TV with a smartphone or tablet.
Best Smart TV for the gamers or sports fan
If you’re serious about your play, you need look no further than the Samsung UN60H7150 LED Smart TV for providing a flawless moving image even at the highest of speeds. The UN60H7150 features a 59.5′ LED screen with HD 1080p resolution at blistering native 240Hz refresh rate, virtually eliminating motion blur ‘ ideal for those who are looking for absolute clarity in viewing rapidly moving objects on screen. The UN60H7150 is also capable of full active 3D and comes with two pairs of 3D glasses. Measuring 53.9″ x 31.4″ x 1.2″ and weighing 43.7lbs, this smart TV and comes with its own stand. The UN60H7150 comes with integrated Wi-Fi as well as an Ethernet port, three HDMI ports, three USB ports, ports for both analogue and digital audio outputs, and ports for composite components. Sound is provided by 20W stereo speakers. Like most LED TVs, the UN60H7150 is also extremely energy efficient.
Also featuring an easy to use smart TV interface with five quick-access panels, a remote control with voice and motion control, and dual screen capability, the UN60H7150 is an excellent buy for gamers and sports fans alike.
Most popular curved smart TV
Whether or not you necessarily believe TV manufacturer’s claims of enhanced immersion when it comes to curved TVs, you can’t argue with the numbers regarding the Samsung UN55JU6700 Curved LED Smart TV. The UN55JU6700 boasts a 54.6′ curved LED screen with Ultra HD 4K resolution at an effective refresh rate of 120Hz. Measuring 48.9″ x 28.2″ x 4.4″ and weighing 35.7lbs, this smart TV and comes with its own stand and can be wall mounted using a 400mm x 400mm mount pattern. The UN55JU6700 comes with integrated Wi-Fi, four HDMI ports, three USB ports, ports for both analogue and digital audio outputs, and ports for composite components. The UN55JU6700 also is remarkably energy efficient for such a large TV.
If you’re in the market for a curved smart TV with the added plus of Ultra HD 4K resolution, the UN55JU6700 is excellent value for money.
Most popular 3D smart TV
Depending on whether you think 3D viewing is an essential part of the cinematic experience or a passing fad will largely determine whether the Sony KDL50W800C LED Smart TV is for you. You may want to give this 3D smart TV some considering either way. The KDL50W800C features a 49.5′ LED screen with HD 1080p resolution at 120Hz capable of true active 3D viewing. Absurdly though, this 3D smart TV does not come with 3D glasses required for the 3D viewing experience with Sony requiring these to be purchased separately. Measuring 44″ x 25.8″ x 2.5″ and weighing 30.2lbs, this smart TV and comes with its own stand. The KDL50W800C comes with integrated Wi-Fi as well as an Ethernet port, Bluetooth connectivity, four HDMI ports, two USB ports, ports for both analogue and digital audio outputs, and ports for composite components. Sound is provided by 20W stereo speakers. Like most LED TVs, the KDL50W800C is also extremely energy efficient.
One feature of the KDL50W800C’s smart TV function definitely worth mentioning is that this Android TV platform enables you to play a constantly updating list of Playstation 3 directly to the TV without the required console provided you have a Playstation Plus subscription and a controller.
Most popular plasma smart TV
If you’re looking for the superior picture quality of a plasma screen and don’t mind the addition to your power bill, making a very strong case for this format is the Samsung PN51F8500 Plasma Smart TV. Featuring a 50.5′ plasma screen with HD 1080p resolution at an astonishing 600Hz refresh rate also capable of full active 3D (four pairs of 3D glasses included), the PN51F8500 is certainly a serious piece of machinery. Measuring 46.9″ x 28.0″ x 1.9″ and weighing 46.1lbs, this smart TV comes with a rather sleek-looking integrated pedestal rather than a stand. The PN51F8500 comes with integrated Wi-Fi, four HDMI ports, three USB ports, ports for both analogue and digital audio outputs, and ports for composite components. Sound is provided by 20W stereo speakers. Significantly more power-hungry than comparable LED TVs.
Also featuring an easy to use smart TV interface with five quick-access panels, a full web browser, a built-in pop-up web camera for Skype calls that hides within the TV when not in use, a remote control with voice and motion control, and dual screen capability, the PN51F8500 can be considered excellent value.
The largest smart TV: Sharp LC-90LE657U LED Smart TV
When it comes to the opinion that bigger is better, they don’t come much bigger than the Sharp LC-90LE657U LED Smart TV. The LC-90LE657U features a whopping 89.5′ LED screen with HD 1080p resolution at a 120Hz refresh rate capable of true active 3D viewing (two pairs of 3D glasses included). Measuring 80.8” x 47.7″ x 4.5′ and weighing a hefty 141.1lbs, this smart TV and comes with its own stand and, somewhat astoundingly, can be wall mounted using a 600mm x 400mm mount pattern. The LC-90LE657U comes with integrated Wi-Fi as well as an Ethernet port, four HDMI ports, two USB ports, ports for both analogue and digital audio outputs, and ports for composite components. Sound is provided by 20W stereo speakers and a 15W sub-woofer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the LC-90LE657U isn’t quite as energy efficient as smaller LED smart TVs.
As well as being the biggest kid on the block, the LC-90LE657U can also boast a dual-core processor, web browsing, split-screen capability, and smartphone and tablet remote and streaming connectivity. The LC-90LE657U’s price tag can certainly be said to match its dimensions.
Wrapping it up
Hopefully, through our exhaustive explanation section and selection process, we’ve made choosing the right smart TV a little less daunting. In our considerations for making our selection of recommended smart TVs build quality, features, versatility and ease of use were all paramount deliberations. In the VIZIO D43-D1 LED Smart TV. you will find all of this in a smart TV that also offers unparalleled value for money. In the LG OLED65E6P Smart TV you will find a TV with all the smart features you could ask for on a screen that is second to none. In the TCL 32S3800 you will find a smart TV with a raft of smart features that puts the more expensive sets to shame. Happy viewing!