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After spending 80 hours testing new models for 2017, we found that the 55-inch TCL 55P607 is the best 4K TV if you’re on a budget. Not only that, but it’s also our pick for the best TV, period. Even when viewed side by side with TVs that cost two and a half times as much, the TCL won over our viewing panel. It’s simply the greatest value we have ever seen in a TV.
In addition to delivering great picture quality at a bargain price, the TCL 55P607 supports the two most important high dynamic range formats, HDR10 and Dolby Vision. TCL TVs have the same quick and responsive Roku interface as our favorite streaming player, so they offer most of the popular streaming services with simple navigation and can even pause live TV using the OTA tuner. The 55P607’s Wi-Fi remote works through obstacles and features a headphone jack, so you can listen without disturbing others, and the remote integrates a microphone for voice search. If you’re willing to forgo the fancy remote for a basic infrared model, the Best Buy exclusive TCL 55P605 is the same TV and can often be found for less money.
While TCL’s P-Series is reinventing the cheap 4K TV category, we still think Vizio makes some great TVs. The Vizio M50-E1 is the company’s 2017 model we have tested and recommend. It supports HDR10, Dolby Vision, and wide color gamut. Its integrated streaming interface isn’t as smooth as it could be, there’s no built-in tuner for using an HD antenna, and there are TVs with better HDR performance (like our main pick, the TCL). But it does offer exceptional image quality, producing bright highlights and dim shadows, and 271 million different colors in SDR.
Although we have reasons to worry about Vizio’s 2017 E-Series TVs, last year’s Vizio E48u-D0 is still a great option for watching 4K content if you can find it. In our 2016 tests, we found that the difference in image quality on the Vizio was immediately obvious when compared side by side against any of the TVs we tested (prior to the release of the TCL P-Series). However, color accuracy is merely average—especially when viewed from an angle—and we did encounter some motion-blur issues. It also lacks HDR support and a built-in TV tuner, and the built-in Chromecast streaming platform isn’t as responsive as Roku. If those strike you as dealbreakers, the TCL is probably the better choice. As we mention in the competition section, the 2016 E-Series lineup doesn’t have the problems that caused us to not recommend Vizio’s 2017 E-Series.
Why you should trust us
I’ve reviewed TVs and home theater equipment since 2008. I am an ISF Level II Certified Calibrator, so I am aware of what makes for a good TV image and how to get those things out of a TV. I have all the necessary test equipment and software to provide the objective measurements to back up my subjective opinions.
We surveyed more than 1,500 of our readers to determine what attributes were most important in a TV and which didn’t matter to them (i.e., 3D). We’ve talked to fellow TV reviewers like David Katzmaier at CNET to help narrow our list of final testing models. Finally, though most TV reviews happen with one display at a time, we actually compared our picks next to each other so we could see exactly how they differ.
Who should get this
If your TV works and you’re happy with it, stick with what you have. If your TV is dying or has already died, or if you’re looking for something larger, these TVs offer great performance at a budget-friendly price and support all the important new standards that will keep your set relevant for at least the next few years.
Right now the TV industry is promoting three features that didn’t exist a few years ago, and unlike the curved screens or 3D technology of years past, these are features you actually should look for if you’re buying a TV. Ultra HD resolution (also referred to as 4K), high dynamic range video (HDR), and wider color gamuts (WCG) all noticeably improve image quality over a traditional 1080p HDTV and will become increasingly common over the next several years. Ultra HD resolution offers four times the pixels of 1080p HDTVs. HDR allows your TV to produce brighter, more lifelike highlights without degrading shadow details. Wide color gamuts let you see shades of colors that exist in real life but that earlier TVs couldn’t display.
It isn’t a bad time to buy, with models like the TCL offering performance for a price that wasn’t possible before. But if you hold out, you’ll likely see a TV next year for around the same price but with more nits, better color volume measurements, and perhaps improved contrast ratios.
How we picked
So, what makes a good TV? Easy: a combination of both picture quality and features. But for about $500, it’s hard to find one TV that does it all. So we turned to you for some help.
We polled more than 1,500 of our readers to see what they wanted in a TV. After parsing that data, we found that most people are after a few specific things. Most want a TV that’s 50 to 60 inches in size, and that is much easier to find for about $500 than it was prior to 2016. Most tend to watch more TV than movies and place picture quality above all other features. Most want at least three HDMI inputs, if not more. The readers we polled are likely to hold onto their TV for three to five years after buying, and performance in a bright room is just as important, if not more so, than in a darkened room. Finally, those polled don’t care that much about streaming features, and they really don’t care about 3D.
This helped us set down some ground rules for TVs we considered. Any TV with only two HDMI inputs was likely eliminated, though not all. We put more focus on streaming services than before because though most of you have a way to stream Netflix, most people don’t have a way to stream it at Ultra HD resolution. All of our picks this year are Ultra HD, which is just how the TV market has gone, so you should be able to take advantage of it with something that gets you 4K content.
To be clear, nearly every TV these days is a “smart TV.” Gone are the days where you could save a few dollars and get a TV without streaming services built in. The only remaining “dumb” TVs are stripped-down budget models that also severely sacrifice picture quality. Just because a TV has these features doesn’t mean you have to use them. They’re barely adding to the price at this point. The closest you get to a dumb TV are the models from Vizio that use Google Cast, which is an approach we like.
Because no one cares about 3D, we didn’t even consider it when looking for a TV. Most TV companies are dropping 3D support as well, so if you love 3D you’ll need to do some research.
Once we removed models that didn’t fit these criteria, we relied on the reviews of those that remained to continue whittling down the list. Most people don’t review budget TVs, but we turned to sites like Rtings, which does a very good job of providing a large number of objective measurements for TVs and direct comparisons between other models across all price ranges. Reviewed.com has lots of reviews as well but not the same depth of objective measurements that Rtings provides. David Katzmaier at CNET has one of the best test labs in the industry and can do side-by-side comparisons of multiple TVs. Though he hadn’t tested all of our picks, he had tested a few, and we talked to him about those and his overall TV picks this year. He also does far more in-depth measurements and testing than those other sites do, which helped us to narrow down the field even more.
TVs in this price range all make compromises to get the price down, but some compromises are more noticeable than others. Having darker blacks produces better contrast ratios and leads to an image that seems to offer more pop than other displays. Accurate colors that look natural are preferable to a TV that over-saturates colors and doesn’t look realistic at all. A wider viewing angle makes it easier for a group of people to watch a TV while still enjoying a good picture. You won’t find a TV that excels in all these areas in this price category, but you can find something that looks pretty good overall. And the only way to find them is to compare them side by side.
The TCL 55P607 was originally considered alongside other contenders for the best TV of 2017, some of which normally sell for two to three times the TCL’s price. We detail those tests in our piece on the best TV. But after confirming that the TCL P-Series was the best option for most people, we also tested it against these similarly priced best budget 4K TV picks of 2016. Later that summer, we were able to test Vizio’s 2017 M50-E1 and Amazon’s Element Fire TV Edition 4K TV.
How we tested
The best way to compare TVs is to put them side by side and actually look at them with the same content. So we did just that.
We called in all possible contenders so that we could compare them directly against each other. Each TV was taken out of the box, set up, and calibrated to the best of our abilities. We then used SpectraCal’s CalMAN software along with the X-Rite i1Pro2 and SpectraCal C6 meters in conjunction with a DVDO AVLabTPG test pattern generator to measure color, color temperature, light output, and more. This let us acquire before-and-after calibration measurements for each TV to assess its accuracy right out of the box, and how close it could be brought in line with HDTV standards. If the TV supported HDR or WCG, we used an HDFury Integral to produce HDR and WCG test patterns to measure those.
However, according to our survey, less than 2 percent of people will spend the $300 (or more) it costs to get a TV professionally calibrated, and with a budget TV, that number is probably closer to zero percent. As such, all comparisons were done with the settings reset to factory defaults. The only adjustments made to the TVs involved the basic user-menu picture settings, using patterns from the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark Version 2 Blu-ray disc. This basic setup is what we hope most of our readers will do as well. For $30, this disc lets you correctly set the main controls (contrast, brightness, color, tint, and sharpness). You’d need calibration hardware to set more advanced controls correctly. When we refer to how accurate a TV is for this guide, we are talking about the performance when calibrating with a Blu-ray disc, not with instruments.
During comparison viewing, we did use the C6 to get the backlights of the TVs to the same level, so no TV was brighter than the others.
We placed three TVs next to each other on tables of the same height. We made sure each TV was placed at an angle so we were able to look at each one dead on. This prevents the image on the side TVs from looking washed out due to viewing angle (giving an unfair advantage to the center TV). Using an HDMI distribution amp, we sent the same signal from a Blu-ray player or Roku to each TV.
Additionally, we evaluated the TVs with the lights on and off and looked at them all straight on and at angles (to see how well they work for larger seating arrangements). We also rotated the order from left to right, so we could view each one next to different competitors, to see how that impacted our preferences. We used a wide variety of content to compare the displays and test their abilities, including TV, movies, and test patterns.
A nearly identical set of tests was performed on the TCL 55P607 when we decided it was the best TV for most people in 2017. We performed the same series of tests on Vizio’s 2017 M-Series TVand Amazon’s Element Fire TV Edition 4K TV later that summer.
Our pick: TCL 55P607
Although the TCL 55P607 fits squarely in the price range of what we’ve considered a budget TV over the past few years, it also ticks off almost all of the required boxes for a high-end TV today. It produces image quality that matches much more expensive TVs while also offering better media streaming services and some extra features that costlier TVs don’t have.
The TCL’s 72 zones of full-array local dimming provide deep blacks without washing out shadows and also produce bright HDR highlights. The set’s HDR support covers both HDR10 and Dolby Vision protocols. Streaming apps come in the form of a built-in Roku, which has the widest selection of apps along with an easy-to-use interface. The remote even offers a built-in headphone jack for listening without disturbing others. The TV’s preset movie modes make it simple to get good picture quality without much fuss, and the iOS and Android app offer the ability to do more advanced image calibration for those with the necessary tools.
If you don’t want the 55P607’s fancy Wi-Fi remote—which includes a built-in headphone jack for wireless listening and a find-my-remote feature, and works through walls—or if the 55P607 is unavailable, the Best Buy exclusive TCL 55P605 is the same TV, with a plain infrared remote that requires line-of-sight to work. It is frequently cheaper, so it might be a better deal if you don’t care about the special remote features. However, be aware that the Wi-Fi remote is not available as an add-on purchase, so you can’t change your mind later.
Overall, the TCL offers almost all of the performance you’d expect from TVs that cost two to three times as much. Even then, you’re unlikely to ever notice a difference unless you’re comparing them side by side with specific content, as we did. For more details about how we researched and tested, and why we ultimately chose the TCL as our top pick, see our full guide on the best TV for most people.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The TCL’s clawfoot stand design requires you to place it on a table or stand that is as wide as it is. It also has a 60 Hz refresh rate, which means you’ll see more motion blur than you would on an LCD with a true 120 Hz panel (though it’s worth noting that most manufacturers hide what the true refresh rate is). The TCL panel does run at 48 Hz with 24 Hz film content, so it does not suffer from judder, which is a large improvement over previous 60 Hz panels—like the one in our runner-up from Vizio. And finally, we’d prefer more than three HDMI inputs, but at least the integrated Roku interface eliminates the need for an additional streaming box.
Past TCL TVs have had issues with arriving damaged, but the company has redesigned the packaging for 2017. You can learn more about this issue in our guide on the best TV.
Who is TCL and why should you trust them?
Though not yet well-known in the USA, TCL is the third-largest maker of TVs in the world (behind only Samsung and LG). TCL previously made LCD panels for Samsung, so the company isn’t new to TVs. Keep in mind that now-familiar names such as Samsung and Vizio were also upstarts not much more than a decade ago. We are confident in the quality and track record of TCL’s TVs. Consumer Reports gives the company a reliability score that’s effectively the same as that of other major brands, and TCL has responded well to people who have had displays damaged by shipping, so we don’t think you should worry about purchasing one of its sets.
Runner-up: Vizio M50-E1
We tested the 2017 Vizio M50-E1 and think it’s worth the money if you need a new TV and our other picks are unavailable. The M-Series packs local dimming, HDR and WCG support, and integrated streaming. Its image quality is exceptionally good, but the integrated streaming interface isn’t as smooth or full-featured as others out there, and the HDR performance isn’t quite as good as some other displays.
The M-Series supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and can produce highlights up to 750 nits in brightness. Using a full-array local backlight, it can do bright highlights while keeping shadows dim, and makes both HDR and SDR (i.e., non-HDR) look better. It doesn’t quite cover as much of the DCI color gamut as some other displays, but can produce 271 million different colors, which is the same as some other similarly priced TVs. Dolby Vision content on the Vizio M-Series looks great, but some HDR10 content can appear too red or too blue when compared with other HDR displays with the same content. Also, only HDMI 1 supports full bandwidth HDMI 2.0, so all of your HDR and WCG sources need to use that input.
The Vizio M-Series also performs well when displaying SDR content. The local dimming produces deep blacks and a huge contrast ratio. Using the preset calibrated modes, you get an image that is accurate out of the box and needs very little adjustment. But Vizio doesn’t allow you to adjust how aggressive its local dimming is, so it can be easier to notice in practice than other displays. Still, most people will want to leave it enabled.
In 2016, Vizio abandoned its own smart TV interface in favor of built-in Google Chromecast, which, in theory, should let you start streaming the content from the TV instead of your phone, making it easier to start content from Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, and other supported providers. But Chromecast still doesn’t support as many services as Roku. Furthermore, because the apps are also stored in the cloud, rather than locally on the TV, they can be slower to load and react even when using Ethernet and a gigabit fiber connection. User reviewers
consistently cite spotty Chromecast performance as a source of disappointment—we’d save the trouble and get a separate streaming media player.
Vizio displays also lack an HDTV tuner, so people that watch over-the-air content will need an external one to use an HDTV antenna.
Budget pick: Vizio E48u-D0
The Vizio E48u-D0 is a slightly smaller version of the Vizio E50u-D2—our now widely unavailable 2016 top pick. When we tested the 50-inch model, we found it offered the best contrast ratios and darkest blacks of the models available at the time and it has lots of inputs, good daytime and nighttime performance, and can stream content from almost any source using Google Cast. The superior black levels and contrast ratios give the image better pop than competing TVs and make it stand out in daytime and nighttime viewing. However, while the E48u-D0 does support 4K, it lacks HDR and WCG, which the TCL P-Series and 2017 Vizio M-Series both have. Four HDMI inputs, more than most competitors, offer enough connections for almost any AV system.
That contrast ratio is thanks to a combination of a VA-type LCD panel and a full-array local dimming (FALD) backlight system. This lighting system, usually found only in far more expensive displays, allows adjustment to the brightness in 10 individual areas of the image. This lets bright parts of the image be bright while shadowy areas stay dark. Our objective measurements find that the contrast ratio is almost three times higher with the local dimming enabled, and much higher than most competitors.
The two images below show the 50-inch Vizio with dimming enabled and disabled. All other controls remained the same, and the camera used manual settings that are identical between the two images.
Though it’s impossible to accurately judge picture quality from images on a website, this should at least give you an idea of what’s going on. Notice how the dark parts of the image are darker, and the highlights remain bright (the loss of shadow detail is a result of the photo/camera, not the TV settings). Both of these images, from the final Harry Potter film, were taken with the backlight at the same level. This should give you a rough idea of how the increased dynamic range of the Vizio sets it apart from its competitors.
Like with the M-Series models, the E48u-D0 has built-in Google Chromecast. Also like with the M-Series models, it’s not a totally seamless experience and you should still consider adding a separate streaming box. The Vizio E50u-D2 also lacks a built-in TV tuner. This isn’t an issue for most people, but if you’ve cut the cord and want to watch over-the-air TV, you’ll need an external tuner.
Vizio has released updated SmartCast E-Series and M-Series TVs for 2017. We’ve already moved the newer E-Series to the competition section, and we recommend only the 2016 lineup. So a Vizio model such as EXX-DX is fine, while one formatted as EXX-EX should be avoided.
In late 2015, ProPublica reported on how Vizio TVs tracked what their owners were watching and submitted that data to Vizio. The company then sold that data, along with owners’ IP addresses (but not their names or physical addresses), to third parties such as advertising partners.
We don’t like this practice any more than you do. But it isn’t limited to Vizio—all TV manufacturers do the same. If you have a TV connected to the Internet, it’s almost certainly tracking some aspect of what you’re viewing. Further, if you use any streaming media services, such as Netflix, they’re also tracking what you watch.
A recent Vizio firmware update now produces a screen telling you about data the company can collect. What Vizio collects hasn’t changed; the company has just become much more transparent and direct about it, while also making it clear how you can opt out of this tracking. This makes the Vizio sets the best of all the TVs we’ve looked at recently, as virtually all TV makers collect this data but none are as up-front as Vizio and none make opting out as easy.
The most obvious way around this problem is to leave the TV unconnected and use a streaming media player like a Roku device. Except they do it too, so TCL TVs aren’t free of this practice either.
So the only option is to leave all your devices off the Internet and watch only Blu-ray movies (that you paid for outright, in cash). Except doing so would make firmware and software updates for your devices more difficult, because you would have to download each update to a thumb drive and install it manually. Oh, and the Web browser you use to do that is probably allowing pretty much every website to track you, as well.
Sadly, in the real world there is no way around such things. Check out our post on privacy policies for more disheartening privacy info.
Care and maintenance
The most important thing to do to get the best performance from any TV is to set it up correctly. You can eyeball the picture settings to try to get an image you like, but using test patterns will get the TV looking its best. The two key things you need are a Blu-ray player (or video game system that will play Blu-ray discs) and a setup Blu-ray. Spears & Munsil is very good, but there’s also a free disc from the online-shashkiForum you can download and burn to use. If you’ve never adjusted the picture settings of your TV before, either of these can help walk you through it.
Following the instructions on these discs will get you the darkest blacks possible without making details in the shadow disappear. They’ll also let you adjust the color and tint to get images that are bright and vivid without making white people look sunburnt. Of course if you decide you prefer an image that is overly colorful (and less realistic), it’s your TV, and you’re welcome to it.
Another important thing to consider if you have kids and you’re not wall mounting the TV, is anchoring it. This will minimize the chance of the TV falling over if “accidentally” yanked on (or knocked over in an earthquake, if you’re in an area so prone). An anchor system is cheap, about $20, and easy to install. This may seem obvious, but no matter how stable the stand on a new TV is, the whole thing can still topple easily if a child pulls on it.
We’ve yet to test Vizio’s 2017 E-Series models, but we’re already seeing reviews from other sources that make us wary to recommend them. Notably, Vizio has told David Katzmaier of CNETthat, depending on demand, it may move from VA to IPS panels in the E55-E2. We won’t recommend a TV with an IPS panel, and don’t think it’s worth checking serial numbers to make sure you have the right TV. Katzmaier’s testing also showed that the 2017 E-Series’s local dimming did not perform as well as on the previous year’s models, and their HDR performance is not nearly as impressive as that of those in the TCL P-Series. We still feel confident with the 2016 E-Series as a budget pick so long as it stays in stock, but we recommend steering clear of the newer models until we’ve had the chance to test them ourselves.
The Vizio D-Series offers integrated apps and a TV tuner, but drops down to 1080p resolution from UHD. The E-Series has better local dimming and can be much brighter, even with a small section of the screen lit up, so the image is better. Plus, we prefer the Cast streaming to the old Vizio app system that the D-Series has.
The Amazon Fire TV line offers integrated Alexa and a decent interface, but the image quality lags behind. The TVs offer 4K resolution, but no HDR or wide color gamut. They also lack local dimming. Other TVs in the same price category—including all our picks—have all of these features. The Fire TV interface also features some prominent ads that you cannot remove and are more annoying than ads on other systems. You’re better off getting a TV with superior image quality and buying a Dot to go with it if you want integrated Alexa.
Samsung has debuted its MU series of TVs, the 2017 version of its KU series (which included our former runner-up pick, the Samsung UN50KU6300). While Samsung has added HDR support this year, the announced pricing places these TVs a little above Vizio’s E-Series models of the same size. We’re also wary of the zero-day exploits in Samsung’s Tizen operating system that Amihai Neiderman and Equus Software uncovered in spring of 2017, and will consider the aftermath of that story if we decide to add the 2017 Samsungs to our picks.
The 55-Inch Samsung UN55KS8000 adds wide color gamut and is 120 Hz (for better motion resolution), but it costs more than other good TVs and isn’t as uniform or good with dark material. If it’s on sale and you need integrated apps or a tuner, or can’t get the TCL or Vizio, it’s a good option.
The Samsung KU7000 works well and is accurate, but the HDR support was lacking in our testing. We had to turn down the contrast from 100 to 80 to remove visible banding in highlights (probably from poor tone mapping), which removes most of the benefits of HDR. It would also randomly throw ads into the home menu, ranging from Hulu to the US Army, and we could not find a way to disable these in the menu system when we searched. The TCL and Vizio simply provide a better overall image for the price.
LG uses an IPS panel for its 55UH7700 instead of a VA panel, which usually has worse black levels. LG tries to account for this with a dynamic backlighting system, but it still can’t match the Vizio, which combines a dynamic backlight with a VA panel. It does support Dolby Vision and HDR10, both current HDR standards, and has a good WebOS smart system. But unless you plan to have people watching at large angles, where IPS excels compared with VA, the other TVs offer better black levels and contrast ratios.
The Hisense 55-Inch H8C came with a string of positive reviews, but it had the least accurate color of any TV we tested. It does support HDR and WCG, but it couldn’t get to 300 nits for highlights in our testing, so the HDR isn’t that effective.
The Sony KDL-48W650D has only two HDMI inputs, which might be okay if the image quality was superb, but it had the worst contrast ratios of any VA display we tested. The colors were accurate but it’s only FullHD and not Ultra HD despite costing as much as the better performing TCL and Vizio TVs.
What to look forward to
Starting this fall, you’ll be able to control your Roku TV using voice commands, such as “launch Netflix” or “tune to ABC.” Roku’s TV guide is getting a facelift, which should improve the over-the-air (OTA) TV experience and make navigating back to previous episodes of a show easier. There will also be additional apps, single sign-on for about 30 Roku channels from certain cable/satellite providers, and private-listening capabilities (built-in headphone jack) for OTA TV.
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