Best Budget 4K TV for Most People


Illustration for article titled Best Budget 4K TV for Most People

Image: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

There’s an argument to be made that shopping for a new TV near or around the beginning of the year, when companies are gearing up to tease the next year’s worth of displays at CES, is foolish. Sure, if you want the latest and greatest, you should probably hold out for whatever’s coming down the pipeline. But if you want to score a steal of a deal on a TV you’ve had your eye on for a while, end-of-year sales make this the time to buy.

The good news is that if you’re in the market for a 4K TV in the sub-$1,500 category, your options are pretty great right now—particularly if you’re looking for a screen in the 65-inch and above category. This year’s Hisense H9G (65H9G), Sony X900H (XBR65X900H), TCL 6-Series (65R635), and Vizio M-Series Quantum (M65Q8-H1) are all great options. And in the spirit of helping you find the best TV for your buck, all four will face-off in a Battlemodo of 4K displays below.

Best Out-of-Box Picture

Sony X900H

Sony X900H
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

Sony really shines here with a fantastic experience straight out of the box. This is a TV that takes virtually no picture tweaking at all. You may want to disable features for motion smoothing—something I always do to avoid the dreaded soap opera effect—or tweak the picture format for cinema or sports, but ultimately, the picture looks great with little to no calibration necessary. The TCL 6-Series is a close second. I did fiddle with the brightness and picture settings a bit when initially setting the TV up in my office, but I didn’t find that this was a TV that required too much effort to get its display situated for my space and its natural lighting.

The Hisense, however, required far more work to get its picture right. For one, it has an almost jarringly bright display. That might make it a good pick for a super sunny south-facing room, particularly if this is where you’re doing the majority of your TV viewing. But I found that colors initially looked a little off on this display—maybe not so much so that you would notice without comparing it to other already calibrated units in your home, but enough that a calibration would improve the overall picture you get with this TV. Adjusting the backlight settings helped immensely, as did changing the display’s default tint settings. With these adjusted, though, the Hisense produced a stunning picture. I actually preferred the post-calibration cinematic picture on this TV to that of the M-Series and even the 6-Series in many cases. It was close between the X900H and the H9G.

Vizio M-Series Quantum

Vizio M-Series Quantum
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

The Vizio M-Series Quantum needed a little help as well, but hardly to the degree of the Hisense H9G. I found that the “calibrated dark” setting gave me the best overall picture with color temperature set to normal, but the “calibrated” preset would be perfectly fine for brighter rooms. I probably wouldn’t suggest the M-Series for an exceptionally sun-drenched room, but I do think the TCL could swing it. (TCL told me its mini-LED backlight technology makes it a good pick for both night- and daytime viewing, and I’m inclined to agree.) Neither Sony nor TCL would speak to peak brightness on their respective models. But for some idea of where the other two stack up, Hisense markets peak brightness of up to 1,000 nits on the H9G, while the Vizio claims up to 800 nits of peak brightness on the M-Series (though again, make sure you’re getting the M-Series Quantum with an 8 in the model name).

But what about the blacks? If I may continue to spec at you for a moment, the Vizio says its TV comes equipped with 90 local dimming zones, while the 65-inch version of TCL’s 6-Series has 160 local dimming zones and the Hisense says its display has up to 180 local dimming zones. Sony, of course, was quiet on the exact local dimming zones on its own display. But full-array local dimming works better on some of these TVs than it does on others, and I’ve found that impressive specs are only as good as their ability to actually execute on stunning picture quality. While Sony remains tight-lipped about its specs, I’ve found the X900H handles deep blacks and dreamy star-filled space scenes—as in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Netflix’s Lost in Space—like a dream, with minimal blooming or haloing for a non-OLED display. This TV also handled sports as well as gaming exceptionally well, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

I recently watched the early “Great Beyond” space scene from Soul on the M-Series, 6-Series, and H9G and thought the best picture came through on the Hisense. Stars were crisp, haloing was minimum, and the display handled motion the best between the three. The M-Series did have a little trouble with some crushed blacks when I was watching Interstellar, but I thought the film did well on the H9G. As for Lost in Space, I preferred the contrast, deep blacks, and motion handling best on the X900H and the H9G. TCL’s 6-Series was probably my next favorite of the four when displaying these kinds of deep-black environments, with the TV giving a perfectly fine cinematic picture regardless of what I was watching.

Winner: Sony X900H

Best Native OS

Hisense H9G

Hisense H9G
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for Android TV—I far prefer it to any other native OS experience. The prospect of televisions that run on Android TV getting Google TV down the line only serves to sweeten the pot. In the meantime, Android TV works perfectly fine as-is. And when I was reviewing the Sony X900H earlier this year, the Android TV became my go-to for discovery and content recommendation often, even over my Apple TV. Its recommendation features are great for finding stuff to watch if, like me, the number of streaming apps you have to choose from often feels overwhelming. It also feels more polished than both the TCL’s Roku OS and Vizio’s proprietary SmartCast OS.

Now, don’t get me wrong here; a “meh” TV operating system can almost always be fixed by simply buying a set-top box. But let’s say you’re already budgeting for a TV and expect to need a sound solution for it, too—which, friend, you absolutely will, because aside from the Sony, the sound on all of these displays is pretty awful without a soundbar or surround system—that’s another expense to consider. Then you have the number of precious HDMI ports you need for hooking up additional devices like gaming consoles. If you already have a streaming stick, dongle, or box that fits the bill, then native OS may matter less to you. But for others, I’d argue that the user experience you get with your TV’s native OS is still something to keep in mind, particularly if you strongly dislike one over another.

Winner: Sony X900H (Android TV) and Hisense H9G (Android TV)

Best TV for Gamers

TCL 6-Series

TCL 6-Series
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

For folks who want to get the most out of their next-generation gaming console, you’ll want to make sure that your TV supports the features that will deliver the best possible gaming experience. Hisense does not support HDMI 2.1, as all four of its ports are HDMI 2.0. Vizio has marketed its HDMI ports as being 2.1 inputs, though some have contested the company’s claim that inputs meet the true HDMI 2.1 standard where it relates to 4K at 120Hz. If gaming or future-proofing isn’t a huge deal to you, this may be less of a big deal.

The X900H, meanwhile, was advertised as being one of just a few TVs that were “Ready for PlayStation 5”—or would be, rather, at an unspecified time when Sony would eventually roll out a firmware update to meet all of the HDMI 2.1 specifications. I’ve reached out to Sony multiple times about this and have yet to hear from the company itself which and how many ports will get the support, and when that implementation process will be complete. PS5’s launch day has come and gone, after all. But if future-proofing your TV is important to you, the X900H again takes the lead here.

The TCL is a fantastic second choice for gamers, however. While the 6-Series doesn’t officially support HDMI 2.1, it does support many of its best features. All four ports on the 6-Series support key features like Auto Game Mode (ALLM) as well as Variable Refresh Rate, and eARC is supported on one port. Plus, 120Hz is supported up to 1440p, and that’ll likely be just fine for most gamers.

Winner: Sony X900H and TCL 6-Series

Best Overall Design

Illustration for article titled Best Budget 4K TV for Most People

Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

I realize that design may be pretty low on your list of needs in a sub-$2000 TV, but I do think that we should give a nod here to well-built displays with functionally appropriate features. Take, for example, Sony’s X900H. Of all of the TVs we’re be talking about here, Sony’s is the only unit that features screw-free leg assembly. Sure, screws may be a small TV assembly annoyance, but not having to think about it at all made for a much more pleasant installation process. I personally prefer the Bravia’s overall design as well, from its thin aluminum framing to the shape of its sleek metal legs. It’s got a very modern feel, something I appreciated when TV shopping for myself earlier this year.

Vizio comes in a close second here. Its matte black frame and matching legs are clean and understated, and its logo in the rightmost corner of the screen doesn’t distract from the picture at all (particularly because the volume is displayed toward the bottom of the screen’s center). I didn’t feel strongly either way about the Hisense’s unconventional loop legs, but I will say the TCL’s illuminated logo on the 6-Series wore on me after the first couple of weeks with the TV. It felt gimmicky and unnecessary, and I don’t suspect that it will age especially well over time. Again, these are matters of opinion, and small design features—while nice, when they work—ultimately shouldn’t be the reason you’re buying one TV over another.

As for their respective remotes, don’t expect anything too special. I preferred Vizio’s clicker to the others—though it does feature the greatest number of streaming service buttons, something I personally enjoy but may annoy critics of shortcut keys. It does, however, lack the on-remote voice control button present on the other remotes; again, you’ll need to use a separate device to control the M-Series with your voice. Both the Hisense and Sony come with long and bulky wands, which is fine but nothing to phone home about. And the TCL shipped with a Roku remote, which is, well, a Roku remote. Again, none of these remotes were particularly magical, but they do their jobs just fine.

Winner: Sony X900H

Best TV for Most People

Having spent a significant amount of time with all four of these TVs, I’d most likely recommend the Sony X900H to a friend. It looks great, it performs exceptionally well, and it’s got a powerful Android TV system that could get the Google TV skin down the line (it’s expected on Sony’s 2021 models first, however). It should, eventually, be somewhat future-proofed with full support for HDMI 2.1 features, though specifically how many ports will get this boost is a little murky right now.

But depending on where you’re buying your new set, the difference between the 65-inch models of any of these TVs could be anywhere from a couple hundred to a few hundred bucks, with the Hisense and Sony models being the most expensive among the four. If you’re on a tighter budget but want a TV that’s versatile in its support for fantastic cinematic viewing, gaming features, and versatility in your space, the TCL 6-Series is the TV to buy. You won’t be disappointed.

Winner: Sony X900H and TCL 6-Series



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