“where cheap is chic” — wisebread

What We Looked For in LCD TV Reviews

In LCD TV reviews, one performance criterion towers over the rest: The picture should look fantastic. In general, a $500 TV can't deliver the stunning image quality displayed by a $2,500 TV.

Related Guides:
3D TVs, Blu Ray Players and Home Theater
High-end HDTVs can produce deeply saturated colors and have much faster refresh rates -- not to mention larger screens, more inputs, and more smart TV frills. However, this is not to say that the average consumer will be disappointed in the best cheap models. Although they tend to be slightly flawed in one way or another, our current crop hold their own in terms of image quality. We pored over LCD TV reviews by experts and consumers who have tested TVs in this price range to choose the models that perform best according to the following criteria.

Color Accuracy.

This is a critical part of a good-looking picture. The colors displayed on the screen should be vibrant and accurate and skin tones should look natural. Perfect color accuracy is hard to find even in pricier TVs, and many cheap models struggle on this front. We chose the Toshiba 39L1350U (starting at $369) in spite of expert gripes about its color accuracy, because among hundreds of consumer reviews, only a few mention poor picture quality. The Insignia NS-39D400NA14 (starting at $280) receives similar treatment in LCD TV reviews. However, consumers and experts who have positive things to say seem to be adjusting their expectations based on the low cost of this model, using phrases like "good for the price." An editor at Reviewed.com excoriates this TV's color accuracy. We passed on this model because consumers don't need to spend much more for much better color accuracy and overall picture quality. For example, a CNET reviewer praises the accurate skin tones rendered by the Vizio E390i-A1 (starting at $390). The Vizio M401i-A3 (starting at $498) stands out for particularly true-to-life colors, according to an LCD TV review from Reference Home Theater.

Deep Black Levels.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for inexpensive LCD TVs is displaying deep black levels and depicting shadowy areas without losing any detail. Oftentimes cheap models display more of a dark gray than a deep black. One reason we recommend the Vizio E390i-A1 is that it does a superior job displaying blacks (thanks to a firmware update), according to an expert from CNET. It creates enough contrast for the viewer to make out forms even when the entire screen is dark. The editor who tested the Toshiba 39L1350U for Reviewed.com says that TV also excels at rendering deep blacks, even as some pricey LCDs fall short.

Review continues below

Just be sure to follow the advice of experts: Don't settle for the pre-set, out-of-the-box settings. Take the time to calibrate black levels and white levels, sharpness, color saturation, and color tint to suit the viewing environment and your own visual preferences, rather than a brightly lit store.

Minimal Motion Blur.

Any movement on-screen should be fluid and free of lag. LED TVs with 60 Hz refresh rates suffer from motion blur occasionally. If you're watching a fast-paced football game, for example, you might notice a bit of "ghosting" as the players run around the field. LED TVs that advertise 120 Hz refresh rates are much less likely to suffer from motion blur. Again, though, many cheap models that make this claim are 60 Hz TVs that use processing tricks to emulate 120 Hz. Some of these do a pretty good job, but others do not. The Samsung UN40F5000 (starting at $455) struggles to eliminate motion blur, a CNET expert reports. He cites this as a weak spot in a generally positive LCD TV review. The Toshiba 39L1350U likewise does not handle motion blur very well despite its ClearScan feature, according to LCD TV Buying Guide.

If you don't watch a lot of action films, sports, or other fast-paced content, you can get by just fine with one of these 60 Hz screens. There are plenty of other cheap TVs, such as the Sceptre X405BV-FHD (starting at $280), that unapologetically declare their 60 Hz refresh rates.

Review continues below

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

Back to top »

Sign up for our
Free Newsletter
Cheapism.com on Facebook
From our blog
What to Buy and Not Buy in December

December is an excellent month to take advantage of sales on electronics such as HDTVs, kitchen cookware, wedding dresses, cars, and more.

Updated Black Friday 2014 Store Hours

This list of Black Friday opening hours for 2014 includes popular chains such as Best Buy, Target, Toys R Us, and Walmart.

Black Friday Predictions: Are They Accurate?

Find out if the good deals predicted for Black Friday 2014 are on the money.

All Our Blog Posts