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Some TV connoisseurs talk about about “cutting the cord” to regular cable by investing in a media streaming device. Then there are those who prefer to carry their independence a step further by ridding themselves of boxes altogether. If you’re one of these people, you may wish to consider a smart TV.
If you want to learn more about smart TVs, we’re here to help. At BestReviews, we interview experts, conduct extensive market research, and test products in our lab. We never accept “free” manufacturer samples because our goal is to provide honest, unbiased reviews you can trust.
Our mission is to arm our readers with the information needed to make the best use of their money.
So dim the lights, curl up in your favorite chair, grab the remote, and browse our smart TV shopping guide. If you’re inclined to make a purchase, please see our top five list, above, for our best smart TV recommendations.
Debate continues as to which kind of television is the best, LED or plasma. LED TVs shine light from behind the screen and illuminate the pixels to create an image. Plasma TVs use cells that take an invisible ultraviolet light produced by a neon or xenon gas and turn it into red, blue, or green light we can actually see.
When it comes to smart TVs, however, there’s really only one good option: LED.
Due to cost, lifespan, and weight issues, plasma TVs have lost their momentum in North America. As a result, most manufacturers make LED smart TVs only.
Yes, it’s still possible to purchase a plasma smart TV if you have your heart set on that technology. But buyer beware: plasma production has slowed considerably over the past two years, which means service and replacement parts will be harder to find down the line.
LED TVs generate a lot of heat when left on for long periods of time. The Sony Smart LED is currently the most advanced in terms of heat reduction, but it still produces a fair amount.
Every TV in our product matrix comes with a stand and mounting instructions.
While we can’t personally advise you how and where to mount your TV, we can tell you that the Samsung and the LG models include extra mounting fixtures that would aid in securing it to your wall.
If you’re simply using a stand, the TCL Roku Smart and LG Ultra have the most durable attachments, as they utilize a V-frame stand on each side of the TV for balance.
The VIZIO’s stand has been known to snap when standing on a poor surface, so an alternate TV mount may be required for this product.
Almost every television is equipped with a WiFi receiver which should be able to pick up most WiFi modems and routers within 30 feet. (An exception on our shortlist is the Samsung, which does NOT include built-in WiFi and works primarily from a direct connection to the internet.)
Of the remaining models, only the TCL Roku Smart comes with a dual-band system that works with different types of WiFi signals. The TCL would likely stay connected to the web in the event of a WiFi fluctuation. It also has a greater chance of reconnecting immediately to the signal if it’s lost for some reason.
For those who don’t have WiFi at home — or have issues connecting devices that are situated far from the modem or router — always check to see if there’s an Ethernet port on the TV you wish you purchase.
Most of today’s smart TVs are solely HDMI-compatible. This is good because HDMI offers a better picture and clearer sound than old-school RCA connectors and HD cables. But depending on the TV you purchase, you may or may not have an adequate number of inputs.
Potential buyers should keep in mind that the Samsung, TCL, and LG in our product matrix include four HDMI inputs apiece. The others only include two.
Each television uses a built-in operating system, or OS, to help you navigate through your options. However, no single OS exists for all smart TVs. Each model has its own functions, capabilities, and pre-loaded apps.
For example, the Sony Smart LED TV includes software that helps you utilize the functions of Playstation 4, even while the system is on standby. The VIZIO includes Vudu, a streaming service that many other TVs don’t use.
Ultimately, the OS impacts the way a TV functions very little, though some systems (like the LG) can be sluggish and even freeze up at times. The issue with the LG is that occasionally, if it’s been programmed to do too many things at once, system errors occur. The OS needs adequate time to process all of the commands, especially when overloaded.
Most smart TV systems can download third-party apps such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Crackle, and Hulu. Manufacturers do this because millions of people subscribe to these services already, and it makes it easier for people to use their TVs when the apps are already built in.
None of the televisions listed above will reject these apps. In fact, most already include their services as part of their programming. All that’s required is login info.
Most smart TVs lag behind in the audio department. You won’t find surround sound elements in a smart TV — at least not without a secondary system hooked up to it. However, the audio capabilities are still satisfactory for most people.
A smart TV projects its audio through small speakers that usually sit around the frame of the monitor. According to customer surveys, the only model on our shortlist that had any real issues with audio was the TCL.
At the time of this writing, TCL is the only company that has a working deal with Roku, a popular streaming media player system. TCL’s OS uses their menu software and layout, as well as the same multi-channel services. If you like Roku, the TCL Roku Smart could be the right choice for you.
Each remote control includes its own set of controls. Some have been simplified for easy use, and others have been programmed to give you total control. Below is a short guide as to what each remote can do —
Most smart TVs have switched to complete HDMI and you may need to purchase adaptors for tech compatibility.
As noted above, some smart TV remote controls have built-in microphones. This allows voice-to-text within the OS, which makes searching for items by name or finding menu options quite convenient.
Smart TVs like the LG and Samsung even allow you to control basic functions (lowering the volume, switching to a different channel) by voice. However, these functions aren’t foolproof; at times, the TV may have trouble “understanding” what you’re saying.
Every OS includes the option of going directly to a device (Blu-ray player, video game console, cable/satellite system) from the home screen. Once you’ve set everything up, you’ll be able to switch between systems with ease.
However, if you ever disconnect a device, the TV will recognize that you’ve removed it, and it won’t save your settings. In order for the system to recognize the device again, you’d have to reset your OS options.
A smart TV with a small number of HDMI inputs isn’t a “lesser” TV. After all, one of the major perks of owning a smart TV is the fact that you don’t have to deal with lots of extra devices.
Smart TV prices range from $2,000 to $6,000. In general, the larger the smart TV, the higher the price — as is the case with most regular TVs.
If you want a really large screen, consider the LG. With a screen of 75 inches, it costs far less than some other big-name brands, and it offers many of the same options.
If you don’t mind a smaller set, consider the TCL Roku Smart, which has 4K capability. The VIZIO Smart LED is also a great smaller choice.
Q: Will my TV require updates?
A: Yes. The software requires regular updates so it can better interact with your media. All smart TVs should automatically update when connected to the internet, but check your system’s options menus to make sure.
Q: Do smart TVs ever crash?
A: Yes. Just like a computer, your TV comes with a hard drive, programming chips, memory, and processing power. Some apps may cause a smart TV to freeze, shut off, or even go blank for a period of time. This is a good reason to keep your software updated.
Q: Are smart TVs vulnerable to viruses?
A: Usually not. However, malware could become an issue if you download an infected app from an untrustworthy source or link your TV to a hard drive with a virus on it.
Q: How is a smart TV different from a streaming device?
A: Aside from the fact that one is a TV and one is a box, both operate under the same principals with their software. However, you cannot hook up external players to a streaming device like you can a TV; you would need to switch between inputs to use everything.
Q: Can I get local channels on my smart TV?
A: Only if you have cable, satellite, or an HD antenna connected to it. Smart TVs don’t automatically pick up local programming.
Q: Can I browse the internet on my smart TV?
A: It depends on the manufacturer. Some smart TVs have browsers; others don’t.