HomeTheaterReview's 4K/Ultra HD TV Buyer's Guide

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HomeTheaterReview's 4K/Ultra HD TV Buyer's Guide


Ask 99 people what their most valuable resource is, and 100 of them will tell you it's time. Which is why people simply don't have enough of it in their day to dive into specs and whatnot when deciding which TV is the best one to buy. It's not that shoppers don't care or don't value quality; it's just that most of us simply do not have the time to systematically weed out the good from the bad--or, in today's world, the good from the truly great. If all of this is ringing a bell and you're currently in the market for a new TV, this guide is for you.

Over the course of the past few months, we at HomeTheaterReview.com have been literally inundated with 4K/Ultra HD displays. We've tested each one and have tried to discover what makes each of them unique among their peers and why you should consider one over the other. The bottom line: there is no one perfect display. There is no outright "winner" here, despite what the list at the end of this article would have you believe. The goal is to help you find the right TV for your room and your unique needs.

Before we help you pick a specific model, though, we need to figure out whether LED or OLED is the right TV technology for your viewing environment.

Overview of Current LED/LCD Technology
LG_55SK9000PUA.jpgWhen one thinks of a flat panel display, or even utters the words "LED TV," what they're describing is an LED-backlit LCD TV. Years ago, LCD TVs were lit using thick, cumbersome bulbs or tubes. Then things switched to LED lights, typically located around the edge of the image--which is why some sets were dubbed "edge-lit LED" displays. Some LED TVs are still edge-lit, but if you're googling "The best TV of 2018," chances are good that you're looking for something with a little better performance, which is why most upper-tier LED displays use what's referred to as to as full panel array, full panel LED, or full-array local dimming.

Make no mistake, even though you may hear the term LED, you're still buying an LCD TV; it's just that its backlighting system utilizes LEDs. LED-backlit LCDs are where the rubber meets the road for a lot of consumers, as they tend to be more widely available, come in every size imaginable, and can be had for pennies on the dollar as compared with OLEDs. It's also where there seems to be the largest variation in terms of quality, thus leading to the most confusion among consumers, for while most all OLEDs are generally brilliant, not every LED backlit LCD is.

Overview of Current OLED Technology
Sony_XBR-65A9F_front.jpgFor years, OLED displays dominated the trade shows as the second coming of plasma and all that that implied. No other display technology since plasma has been capable of reproducing such rich, vibrant colors whilst also preserving deep, inky blacks. OLED was said to have the quality and richness of plasma, with the style and sophistication of today's super thin LED-backlit LCDs. And for the most part OLED's claims to fame have proven true, though they come with a few caveats of their own. Mainly, OLEDs are hard to produce in sizes larger than 65 inches diagonally, and they've been somewhat hampered by questions stemming from their longevity. At least initially, OLEDs were also very cost prohibitive. But OLED has survived, and in some instances thrived. As I found out in 2018, the technology was responsible for producing some of the finest images I had ever seen from any display. They can also be had for as little as a 25 percent premium over roughly equivalent LED-backlit displays, rather than costing many times as much.

Unlike LCD displays, OLEDs are self-illuminating, meaning that each pixel is its own light source, and OLED TVs don't need a backlight or edge-light at all. As a rule, they aren't as bright as LED-lit displays, which may make them less than ideal for daytime TV viewing in rooms without a good amount of ambient light control.

Overview of "Quantum Dot" LED/LCD Ultra HD TVs
Vizio_PQ65-F1_P_Series_Quantum.jpgWhat do you get when you take a traditional LED-backlit LCD display and try and get it to compete directly with OLED? You get Quantum Dot based displays. What makes Quantum Dot different from traditional LED backlit LCDs is their inclusion of a layer of nanoscale semiconductors between the LED backlighting source and the LCD itself. The LEDs excite the dots, if you will, allowing for the finer distribution of light, more delineated color, and greater contrast, without losing any of the benefits of more traditional LED-backlit LCD displays--mainly longevity, scalability, and cost.

OUR FAVORITE LED/LCD UHD DISPLAYS

Our Favorite: LG SK9000 LED/LCD Ultra HD TV
This one was tough, because in many ways our runner-up is a better overall display, but we have to give the nod to the LG as the better pick for AV enthusiasts, because it pulled off what no other TV before it has. The LG 55SK9000PUA and 65SK9000PUA appear, in our tests at least, to be calibrated straight out of the box.

That is why it earns our pick for the best LED/LCD Ultra HD TV of 2018. Consumers can buy the SK90, select its Technicolor Expert picture preset, and simply get on with their lives and know that they're seeing their favorite TV shows and movies the way they were meant to be seen. Simple.

Yes, the LG SK90 is a beautiful looking display from an industrial design standpoint. Yes, it has a cutesy webOS interface that actually works, and yes it costs less than the competition, including stalwarts like Vizio, but it earns our nod primarily because it's accurate out of the box.

What the SK90 isn't is the flashiest of displays, nor is it anywhere near the brightest. Its speakers are terrible and we don't care for its gesture-based remote control, but apart from that, there isn't much negative to say about the LG SK90.

Read our in-depth review of the 55SK9000PUA here.

Runner Up: Sony X900F LED/LCD Ultra HD TV
Again, this was a very close call, because overall, we actually prefer the Sony X900F's picture over that of the LG--albeit after calibration. The Sony X900F is nowhere near as accurate out of the box and requires some rather hefty tweaking to its greyscale before one could call it good. Still, once calibrated the X900F is likely the best all-round performer in this guide, when factoring in light output, and likely the overall best display of 2018, all things considered. Yes, it is hampered by a craptastic Android TV OS, and no it's not as sexy as the Sony OLED. What it is, though, is consistent, easy to use, gorgeous to look at, affordable, and available in sizes ranging from small to OMG.

Read our in-depth review of the XBR-65X900F here.

Second Runner Up: Vizio P-Series LED/LCD Ultra HD TV
Vizio has been on a hot streak as of late, and their latest P-Series display continues on the trend. For roughly $1,300 for a 65-inch display on normal days, and much less during the occasional sale, the P-Series is on par with the LG in terms of value, and post-calibration it's relatively equal to the Sony. But, like the Sony, the Vizio does take some tweaking before its picture is right, and despite its adoption of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, its OS is sluggish and, in some instances, downright stupid.

Still, once dialed in, the Vizio P-Series does represent a better value than the Sony, and it's capable of more light output than either the Sony or the LG, which may or may not be a good thing for some consumers. The P-Series does top out at 75 inches, whereas the Sony can be had up to 85 inches diagonal, which I think is a feather in the Sony's cap. At 85 inches one could feasibly build a dedicated home theater around an LED/LCD display and forgo a front projection setup. Still, if 75 inches is more than enough for you, you could happily live with the P-Series over just about any other display.

OUR FAVORITE OLED DISPLAYS

Our Favorite(s): Sony A9F MASTER Series OLED 4K/Ultra HD TV and LG OLED65C8PUA OLED 4K/Ultra HD TV
This has been the single most discussed category of this particular buyers' guide, not to mention the most recently updated, what with Sony's late-in-the-year release of the new A9F MASTER Series. Of all the displays, be it OLED or LED, no display measured as well nor looked better than the A9F. That is, until we received LG's OLED65C8PUA OLED TV, which put up similar--bordering on identical--measurements.

The Sony A9F MASTER Series takes the platform I gushed about in my A8F review and puts it on steroids, boosting its performance across the board in terms of picture accuracy, sound quality, and most importantly operational speed. While not a night-and-day difference, the cumulative effects and improvements are decidedly noticeable, making the A9F the current leader among 4K/Ultra HD OLED displays. The A9F isn't cheap, however--in fact Sony commands a premium price for its MASTER Series, what with its suggested retail price of $4,499.99 for its 65-inch model. That being said, for those looking to own the very best OLED out there today, the A9F is that display, price be damned.

The reason why I can't give the outright "win" to the A9F, and in turn relegate the LG to runner-up status, is because the latter measures as well as Sony's costlier MASTER Series for nearly $2,000 less. Comparing these two displays is an exercise in futility, as both are truly exceptional. I prefer the industrial design of the LG over the Sony, but I think the Sony offers just a little bit more in terms of features (like its AcousticSurface Technology), and while I'm not a huge fan of either smart TV platform, Sony's use of Android TV as an OS is better than LG's cutsie webOS. But all that being said, the LG is every bit as good in the picture quality department, costs less, and is more accurate out of the box when compared to the Sony. Plus, the LG can be had in a size larger than the Sony MASTER Series at 77 inches diagonal.

Read our in-depth review of the XBR-65A9F here.

Runner Up: Sony A8F OLED 4K/Ultra HD TV
The Sony A8F (reviewed here) may not be Sony's flagship OLED display (that designation falls to their A9F), but in terms of performance and relative value, it's the better OLED from the brand known for being a display leader. The A8F is a fantastic OLED display that boasts true-to-life colors, terrific contrast, and Kuro-besting black levels. The A8F possesses one of the most filmlike images we've seen in a flat panel display of any persuasion. It is not the most accurate picture out-of-the-box, and does require professional calibration to look its best, but the relatively small additional investment in calibration will yield a picture that beggars belief.

Additionally, the A8F features the same slick internal sound solution via Sony's AcousticSurface technology as the costlier A9F. It not only works; it may save some users, in certain installations, from requiring a separate soundbar and subwoofer.

Its Achilles heel, however, is its sluggish operating system, which comes by way of Android TV. Also, OLED displays aren't known for their insane light output. Yes, there is enough brightness to render HDR content faithfully and brilliantly, but there are displays that do it better for around the same money as the A8F. Lastly, the A8F, like all OLED displays, is incredibly fragile and, if installed in high traffic areas, should be positioned with the utmost care and preferably on a wall away from curious hands or pets.

Read our in-depth review of the XBR-65A8F here.

OUR FAVORITE QUANTUM DOT DISPLAYS

Our Favorite: Vizio P-Series Quantum
Hovering around $2,000 retail, the 65-inch P-Series Quantum from Vizio has many things going for it on paper. While the PQ65-F1is far from perfect out-of-the-box, it can be made near perfect with a little effort and additional investment. Moreover, when you add up its insane light output, svelte industrial design, and straightforward user interface, you have a combination that is very, very difficult to ignore and even more difficult to beat.

Yes, there are things about the P-Series Quantum that we don't like, mainly its use of stale menus and controls that have been with the brand for over two years. It's also a little finicky on the Wi-Fi front, and its built-in Chromecast functionality isn't as reliable as having an actual Chromecast plugged in. Still, these are small annoyances compared to the grand scheme of things. We just wish the P-Series Quantum came in sizes larger than 65 inches.

Runner Up: Samsung Q9FN Quantum Dot Ultra HD Display
Let's get one thing straight: there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Samsung's picture whatsoever. It's brilliant and every bit as good as the Vizio that took top honors in this category. What knocked this display down a peg or two in our rankings was everything else: its finicky user interface, non-Google or Amazon voice integration, constant digital handshake issues, and its silly breakout box. Not to mention the fact that this TV proved to be too smart for its own good, thus blocking features and picture profiles from use because it knows best. Admittedly, one can circumvent many of the issues, as you can read in our review of the Q9FN, but for a display that is arguably Samsung's flagship, we just expected more. But then again, the picture is bloody brilliant--albeit only after you calibrate it.

But Which One Should You Buy?

So, there you have it: HomeTheaterReview.com's picks for the best 4K UHD TVs within all three main categories: OLED, LED backlit LCD, and Quantum Dot LCD. But which one, overall, reigns supreme? Taking everything into consideration, from cost to value to performance to ease of use, with a side helping of out-of-the-box accuracy, longevity, and design, our pick would be the Vizio P-Series Quantum. It does virtually everything right at a price that's hard to believe. It has OLED-like black levels with brightness and contrast you can only get in a Quantum Dot design. With the money you save by buying it, you can pop for professional calibration, in which case the P-Series Quantum can be made basically perfect.

But if cost is no object and performance is all you care about, the Sony A9F and LG C8 OLED are the TVs to beat.

TL;DR:

Our Overall Favorite Ultra HD TVs:

The Best LED/LCD Ultra HD TV:

The Best Mix of Value and Performance:


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