Best Cheap TVs
$400 - $500Cheapism
$500 - $1000Mid-Range
$1000 and upHigh End
Published on By Michael Sweet
This buying guide features a lineup of affordable TVs for buyers on a budget. We've tapped expert and consumer reviews to put together a list of top picks that includes a range of models, from 4K ultra-HD TVs to lower resolution 1080p TVs that offer a bevy of sought-after features -- including smart TV functionality -- at a bargain price.
TCL 50UP130 Review
Despite some disappointment from reviewers with the overall picture quality of this ultra-HD TV, the 50-inch TCL50UP130 still wins praise as one of the best budget choices among Roku TVs.
Vizio E50u-D2 Review
With 4K ultra-HD clarity, accurate color, solid black levels, local dimming support, and a user-friendly smart TV interface, the 50-inch Vizio E50u-D2 feels like a more expensive model.
Insignia NS-50DR710NA17 Review
Don't expect amazing contrast from the 50-inch Insignia NS-50DR710NA17, but the colors on this ultra-HD, Roku-equipped Best Buy set are said to be almost perfectly accurate sans adjustment.
TCL 55FS3750 Review
Springing for ultra HD may not always be worth the added expense. The 1080p TCL 55FS3750 is a lower-res model that delivers a decent picture on a 55-inch screen alongside the popular Roku platform.
Sony KDL-48W650D Review
This 1080p TV is a budget option from a top brand, but critics say the 48-inch Sony KDL-48W650D suffers from issues with screen uniformity, brightness, and color accuracy, in addition to limited app choices.
Choosing a Cheap TV
In recent years, TVs have become more packed with features and less expensive than ever. Not only are 4K TVs with ultra-high-definition screens now available at prices that will appeal to even the most frugal buyers, but consumers searching for a TV fully loaded with streaming options and mobile-device compatibility can find many such models on a budget. Cheapism's research has turned up several truly "smart" choices among the current TVs on the market -- both ultra HD and 1080p -- at prices that won't break the bank.
Manufacturers of cheap TVs include well-known brands, such as Sony, LG, and Samsung, that automatically spring to mind when thinking of consumer electronics in general. However, our 2017 recommendations suggest that buyers may get more value for their money with a name such as Vizio, the Chinese company TCL, or Best Buy's in-house Insignia brand. Expect more screen when moving beyond the mainstream, too: Whereas a 43-inch model from a big-name brand can easily push the $500 price ceiling, all our top picks deliver a minimum of 50 inches on the diagonal.
The 50-inch Vizio E50u-D2 (starting at $498) is a 4K TV outfitted with Google Cast that reviewers say ranks among the very best in the budget realm and provides truly outstanding image quality. Those willing to scrimp a bit on picture quality in favor of a wealth of streaming content might set their sights on a TV equipped with the widely popular Roku smart TV platform. The 50-inch ultra-HD TCL 50UP130 (starting at $472) is a top performer that sports the added perk of an Enhanced Roku remote with voice search and a built-in headphone jack. More price-conscious Roku TV fans might consider the 50-inch Insignia NS-50DR710NA17 (starting at $400), the cheapest 4K model in our lineup. The TCL 55FS3750 (starting at $448) has slightly downgraded 1080p resolution but boasts a 55-inch screen. While Sony's budget line of TVs has produced some strong players in the past, consumers might want to steer clear of the Sony KDL-48W650D (starting at $448). Reviewers say the picture and performance of this 48-inch, 1080p model leave a lot to be desired.
4K vs. 1080p Resolution.TVs with 4K technology (also known as ultra-high definition or UHD) promise amazingly sharp images with four times as many pixels as 1080p "full-HD" TVs. This technology is now available on many budget TVs -- the majority of our choices are ultra-HD models -- but there's no reason to be wedded to this image upgrade. The fact is that 4K TVs don't boost picture quality as much as consumers might expect. Many experts maintain that it's hard to tell the difference between 4K and 1080p TVs. While some improvements might be noted on a large screen (say, 65 inches and up), in UHD TVs from 50 to 65 inches, gains over 1080p sets are hardly obvious, and in TVs 48 inches and smaller, they're pretty much undetectable. That said, 4K TVs have dropped so much in price that they barely cost more than 1080p TVs. Ultra-HD resolution is often one of many attractive features on a bargain buy that's just too good to pass up.
HDR, or high dynamic range technology, on the other hand, is an enhancement that certainly merits the extra outlay for some buyers. Unlike UHD, this feature noticeably improves color, brightness, and contrast, creating a beautiful, more realistic image, reviewers say. Alas, HDR hasn't yet drifted down to the realm of truly "cheap" TVs, although TCL claims it will be releasing some inexpensive options in the very near future. For now, be prepared to pay well over $500 for a high-end TV with that feature, or perhaps consider the more affordable, although not impeccable, LG 49UH6100 (starting at $547).
TV Reviews: What We Considered
To evaluate the performance of models in our price range, we pored over TV reviews on sites such as Reviewed.com and Rtings.com, which conduct extensive testing. LCD TV Buying Guide similarly reviews and recommends models based on editors' firsthand experience. It compares many different models and often goes into great technical detail. High-profile technology sites such as CNET and PCMag have also tested and reviewed some of the TVs on our list.
We gave much greater weight to these expert takes than to online reviews from consumers, most of whom have limited knowledge of or access to TVs apart from the models they've purchased. Expert reviewers have the advantage of comparing many TVs side by side, which makes subtle differences in between sets more readily apparent. Not surprisingly, picture quality -- particularly color accuracy, black levels, and contrast -- is paramount in reviewers' minds, but the interface used to control the TV and its smart functions are also very important.
Meeting all the standards imposed by critics is more of a challenge for entry-level TVs. Although the picture quality is better than ever, it's important to keep expectations at realistic levels. The images, though sharp and rich on the best cheap models, simply aren't what you'd see on a TV costing well above the $500 mark. Nevertheless, while the current crop of cheap TVs tend to be slightly flawed in one way or another, the best ones hold their own in terms of features and performance. Overall our top picks garner relatively positive appraisals in reviews.
Color Accuracy.Color accuracy is a critical element of picture quality. The colors on the screen should be vibrant, not under-saturated, and neither too warm or too cool; skin tones should look natural. Perfect color accuracy is hard to find even in pricier TVs, and many cheap models struggle on this front, reviewers say. Luckily, most of the budget TVs we recommend have very good color accuracy from the get-go, and many require very little fine-tuning. The Insignia NS-50DR710NA17, despite its incredibly low price, proves to have especially accurate color, according to an expert from PCMag, requiring almost no tweaking of the settings. The Sony KDL-48W650D, on the other hand, receives poor marks on this front from Rtings.com, and the reviewer says sparse calibration controls compound the problem.
Black Levels.Ideally, black levels should be deep and dark -- truly jet black, never gray --without losing detail in the shadows. This is one area where budget TVs underperform nearly universally, although the 1080p TCL 55FS3750, which falters somewhat on color accuracy, is said to have very respectable black levels.
The best cheap TV for black levels is the Vizio E50u-D2. This set uses a feature called local dimming that helps improve a TV's black levels, and reviewers from both CNET and Reviewed.com rave about the difference this technology makes. Although it's usually confined to more expensive sets, local dimming makes different portions of the screen brighter and darker as needed to improve contrast. While pricey TVs have hundreds of different zones that can be manipulated for ultimate picture quality, even the paltry 12-zone dimming capabilities of the Vizio E50u-D2 produce noticeable results. The same local dimming can be found in the Vizio D50u-D1 (starting at $498), a close cousin of our top pick and a solid alternative for those who receive local broadcasts with a TV antenna, as the E50u-D2 lacks a built-in tuner.
Screen Uniformity.This is another steep challenge for cheap TVs. Most budget models have at least a little inconsistency, meaning that some parts of the screen, usually around the edges or corners, appear just a little brighter or darker than other parts of the screen. This can obviously be distracting. It's a weakness of our "Think Twice" pick, the Sony KDL-48W650D. That model's gray uniformity is particularly poor, according to Rtings.com. Reviewers also knock the screen uniformity of the more expensive, HDR-enhanced LG 49UH6100. Experts and several unhappy buyers complain of light bleeding on the screen.
Motion Blur.Reviewers look for on-screen movement to be fluid and free of lag, particularly in sports and video games. To ensure good performance in this area, experts generally recommend looking for a high refresh rate, which indicates how often the TV redraws the image on the screen. Refresh rates of 120 Hz or higher improve the fluidity of movement onscreen and reduce the likelihood that blur will become an issue, but TVs with 60 Hz refresh rates may suffer from occasional motion blur. Some manufacturers use digital processing techniques to reduce or eliminate motion blur on 60 Hz screens, so they become, as a TV maker might say, "effective 120 Hz" displays. The success of these kinds of processing tricks varies, however, and some of the claims made by manufacturers are pure marketing gimmicks, so we relied heavily on expert reviews for feedback on this aspect of performance.
Reports of noticeable motion blur were few in reviews of our Cheapism picks. The TCL 50UP130 could be better in this arena, according to an expert at Reviewed.com but those who don't watch a lot of action films, sports, and other fast-paced programming should be content with this pick. The TCL 55FS3750 manages fast-moving content particularly well, says a Rtings.com reviewer, and the Vizio E50u-D2 and LG 49UH6100 also proved to be fast TVs in testing.
Smart TV Features.Smart TV support is now firmly entrenched in the budget TV landscape. All the TVs we reviewed are smart TVs, although the smart TV experience varies depending on the brand purchased. Roku-based TVs, such as those from TCL and Insignia, provide the best overall smart TV experience, according to experts. The simple and responsive interface allows users to control the TV's settings and manage thousands of apps and streaming channels with ease. The Vizio E50u-D2 uses Google Cast for its TV platform (and requires purchasers to download an app to a mobile device to control these functions) while the other Vizio model we mentioned relies upon the brand's proprietary VIA platform. Some other manufacturers, such as Sony and LG, also use their own smart TV platform. With most of these smart TVs, all that's needed is a wireless internet connection to stream video and audio directly to the TV from online sources such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, and Pandora.
Connections.The whole point of buying an HDTV, even a budget model, is to get top-drawer picture quality. HD inputs are required when transferring video signals to the set from other devices, like a Blu-ray player or video game system. Most cheap TVs feature several types of inputs and outputs. The highest quality input supported by budget TVs is HDMI, which supports high-definition video and audio signals (including 4K signals via the relatively new HDMI 2.0 specification). The better low-cost models, including the Vizio E50u-D2 and D50u-D1, as well as both TCL sets we picked, have at least three HDMI connectors. The Sony KDL-48W650D, on the other hand, has only two.
Wi-Fi connection is also important. Some TVs support newer 802.11ac connections while others are limited to 802.11n. Our picks vary on this front, but all of our 4K top choices include 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The Sony and LG models we researched have 802.11n Wi-Fi connections, but they also support Wi-Fi Direct, which allows for quick and easy sharing of content between devices.