Why you shouldn't buy a cheap TV

Spending a little extra to get a good TV can be worth it

Finding a bargain without getting a lemon

Need to know 

  • Don't look for a TV that's cheap, look for a TV that performs well for the price. 
  • The big-name brands also have really cheap TVs – approach all TVs with realistic expectations.
  • Our TV tests have shown some great performers in the mid-priced area.

The premium ranges of TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, and more recently Hisense will generally deliver a very good result. But testing more than a thousand TVs in the CHOICE labs has shown us there's a significant variance in performance between models at all price points, and poor performance is not restricted to the cheapest models.

If they all look good just buy the cheapest, right?

If you haven't bought a new TV for several years, you may be surprised when you hit the stores to find TVs of the same size can vary in price by several thousand dollars. 

And you may be confused to find the video shown on the TV that costs $1000 looks just as good as the $5000 TV next to it.

Well, that's because the content shown on the TV in store is often selected because it looks great on most TVs; this is usually an animation or a slow-moving scene in high resolution. 

The colour and brightness settings will also be different instore to those you'll use at home. The shop mode increases the brightness and colour saturation to ensure the image pops off the screen and has an immediate impact. 

So, in short, the quality of the cheaper TV may be much lower than the more expensive TV – it can just be hard to tell instore.

How to find the best TV for your budget

  • If you have a favourite DVD movie, bring it with you when looking for a TV and ask to see it on the models you're interested in buying. Being familiar with the movie means you can look for scenes that will display better, or worse, than on the TV you have at home, so you can avoid buying a cheap TV that doesn't meet your standards.
  • Look out for details in dark areas of different scenes, and any instances where the subjects appear jittery or blurred in any fast-moving segments. You may be surprised at how different even the more expensive TVs on the shop floor look when presented with less-than-perfect video.

Want to know which models to steer clear of? Our 3 TVs to avoid reveals a few models that performed poorly in our labs.

What about sound?

Our testing has found that sound quality, particularly in the last year, varies significantly between TVs. But this is largely due to design decisions rather than price points. While most of the latest TVs that have arrived in the labs throughout 2019 deliver better sound than previous years' models, some TVs costing several thousand dollars have been let down by their audio performance.

One reason for poor sound may be the design: the move to incredibly thin panel housing for the latest slimline TVs makes for a very attractive design, but it's often a poor environment for speakers to deliver powerful and accurate sound to people sitting in front of the TV.

CHOICE recommends TVs that don't have great sound – what gives?

Readers have asked a very good question: how can we recommend TVs with sound that isn't as good as the picture? 

Sound is crucial to your TV-watching experience, but many people add a soundbar to their entertainment centre, which takes the TV speakers out of the equation. You can improve the sound of your TV with added speakers, but you can't improve poor image quality.

Sound accounts for 5% of each TV's overall score in our TV reviews. Decide how important sound is to your experience: if you're not going to use a soundbar, look for a higher sound score from the TV. 

Enough already! How do I bag a bargain TV?

While there are always exceptions (and we get very excited in the CHOICE labs when we find a very cheap TV that scores well), consider buying a TV that's been reduced because it's a 2018 model, rather than a cheap 2019 model. 

The price for a TV is largely made up of the cost of producing it, plus a profit margin. Cheap TVs are cheaper to make than expensive TVs due to each component being less expensive. The processor, materials, even the panel itself are a step below the higher-priced models. 

But the premium TV from a previous year has higher quality materials, is often built better, and the processor will be easily as good as the cheap 2019 model. That's a bargain!


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