Best TVs 2013
If you want a new TV but either don't know where to start or don't know the best TV to go for, you've come to the right place. From small bedroom sets to 50in Panasonic plasma monsters, we review as many TVs as we can. And our TV experts know what makes a great television. Before you hit the buy button, there are a number of questions you need to ask yourself.
Which TV is right for me? Size matters
One of the first things you need to sort out is how a big a TV you'll need. It's important to get a TV that suits the room it'll end up in, as cramming a large TV into a tiny room will not only look a bit silly, but will also make the room seem smaller - and cramped.
A good rule of thumb is to calculate the viewing distance you'll be sitting at, and working it out from there. If you're going to be around 1.5m or further from your TV, we recommend opting for a large 42in or 50in set. Anything less than a metre and you should be looking at a much smaller TV.
The positive thing about today's TV design trends is that bezels are getting smaller, fitting in more TV into a smaller space. And regardless of the size of your room, a larger TV will always produce more cinematic images than a little 22in set. Size becomes even more important if you care about 3D, as it alters your perception of the size of the display.
3D or not 3D?
If you're out for a TV of 42in or above, and are buying from the big names, the question of whether to "go 3D" is starting to become a non-issue. The majority of sets feature it as standard, with only ultra-budget TVs and some low-mid range plasmas in current ranges leaving it out.
However, if 3D is a concern, you do have to choose between active or passive technologies. Active 3D uses powered shutter glasses, while passive 3D uses non-powered polarising glasses - a bit like the ones you get at the cinema.
Active 3D generally offers a better 3D experience, but make sure you factor in the cost of extra pairs of glasses. Most TVs don't come with many, and some companies' sets are pretty expensive. However, they have come down a lot in recent times - with sets from LG, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic available for around £40-50. If you need to buy for a whole family, though, the cost will soon mount up. Passive glasses can be bought for pennies.
Read our comparison of Active 3D and Passive 3D >
While we're still on the subject of the practicalities of buying a TV, if you want to wall-hang a set make sure you don't get one that weighs a ton. Even very large LCD tellys are fairly light, but Plasmas universally weigh a good deal more.
Try and wall-hang a 50in plasma TV on a plasterboard wall and the whole lot could well come down. A strong brick wall should be able to handle just about anything though, when matched with a good VESA wall stand.
LCD or plasma? What about LED?
There's a great many differences between LCD and Plasma technologies other than weight, though. Plasma is considered by many a dying technology, but will almost always provide a better watch in a darkened room than an LCD TV of the same level.
LCD TVs are great at supplying high brightness - which comes in particularly handy in dealing with the dimming effects of 3D - but rarely match the contrast and black levels of a plasma. LCD does "striking", while Plasma is much better at rendering natural, cinema-like images.
Read our explanation of LCD and Plasma TV tech >
LED is a term that's often bandied about in TV retail stores, but it actually just refers to the backlight type used in the TV. If you see an "LED TV", it'll invariably be an LCD TV with an LED backlight. There are two types of LED backlighting - Edge Lit LED and Full LED.
Edge Lit LED uses powerful light emitting diodes at the top and bottom of the screen, firing light throughout the TV panel. Full LED uses hundreds of the things dotted evenly throughout the screen. As you might imagine, there are frequent backlight consistency issues with Edge Lit TVs, where certain parts of the screen are brighter than others.
There are genuinely new screen types on the way, though. The most exciting of the lot are OLED and 4k televisions.
OLED TVs use technology that's seen presently in some top-end phones, including the best-selling Samsung Galaxy S3. Instead of using a universal backlight, each pixel has its own light source. This lets areas of black stay completely black, for nigh-on infinite contrast.
The downside? You guessed it, OLED TVs are not going to come cheap any time soon. You're looking at around £7000 and up, and the TVs are not available to buy yet.
Check out our LG OLED TV preview >
4k is not a display type in the same sense, but a new resolution standard - a progression on from 720p and 1080p (aka Full HD). This offers double the number of pixels in each dimension, resulting in a pixel count four times that of 1080p. 8k technologies are also in development, but 4k TVs are what you'll start to see on the high street within the next few years.
Contrast and dynamic contrast
As you'll most likely be looking for an LCD or Plasma TV rather than an OLED one, we're going to have to deal with contrast ratios. This is a figure you'll see on almost every TV's spec list down at the local electronics store, but it's often mis-used.
If you see a manufacturer claim a contrast ratio of millions to one, this will certainly be a dynamic ratio. This isn't a true judge of the TV's capabilities, using processing techniques to artificially enhance contrast. The numbers quoted are often highly suspect anyway.
Generally-speaking, Plasma televisions offer better contrast, with the blacks of LCD TVs often taking on a contrast-reducing grey or blue hue. Don't be fooled by how TVs look in shops or showrooms either. The lighting used in most retailers doesn't give an accurate portrayal of how the thing will look once you get it home, and the settings used are often ones we'd never recommend. When in doubt, have a look at the picture quality section in our reviews.
Is Smart TV important?
Now that image quality and size are dealt with, you need to think about secondary features. And one of the most important is Smart TV.
Each of the major manufacturers - Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Philips, Toshiba, Sony - has its own Smart TV portal. These give you access to things like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm streaming, 4OD and Blinkbox. The best of the lot come from Panasonic, Sony and Samsung.
However, to use them you'll need to get connected - obviously. If your router is nearby where your TV will live, it's no problem as there'll be an Ethernet port will be on the back of the set. If your house doesn't have such a handy layout, you'll need to use Wi-Fi. And it normally doesn't come built into TVs. You can usually get a Wi-Fi USB dongle from the makers, but these are often painfully expensive, frequently costing around £80. Ouch.