4K TVs are more of a mainstay buy than a luxury purchase these days. They’re so much the norm, in fact, that it’s unlikely to find more than a few non-4K options in stock at any given store.
With more options than ever, it’s important to understand the features you will want to focus on in order to narrow down the best TVs for you.
Wait, I thought 4K TVs were super expensive
They used to be, but not anymore. The saturated 4K TV market that we now find ourselves in has led to a more palatable price range, with most brands focusing on their budget-friendly lines just as much as they are on premium ones. $1,000 is hardly an accurate marker for the level of affordability that 4K has reached — at this point, it’s easy to find a decent 4K TV under $500.
Shop the best 4K TV deals this week
There is still some variation in price within the category, of course, depending on whether you’re outfitting a full-on home theater or just looking for an affordable mid-sized option for your apartment. Things like size and the TV’s lighting panel (LED versus QLED versus OLED) will be the biggest determining factors of a price point. If you’re lost on the lighting thing, we’re diving into the basics below.
What does 4K actually mean?
The term “4K” refers to the screen’s resolution: Televisions that support 4K will have a horizontal resolution of 4,096 pixels. Most retailers use the terms “4K” and “UHD” (ultra high definition) interchangeably, but UHD TVs are technically a little different — they generally have a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160.
The difference comes down to the terms’ separate origins. “4K” originated with the Digital Cinema Initiatives, which establishes content and spec requirements for major film studios, and was intended to describe films that would be screened in a theater. “UHD” originated as a term for consumer TVs. (If you’d like to learn more about the terms’ history, ExtremeTech has a very detailed explainer on the subject.)
If you simply want a good TV and aren’t about to get finicky over that difference, however, you’ll be fine with anything labeled “4K,” “UHD,” or “4K UHD.” Yes, “4K UHD” is technically an impossibility, but we imagine you’ll be too busy watching movies to get caught up in semantics.
What’s the difference between LED, QLED, and OLED?
The jargon around 4K TVs gets more confusing when you get to the LED, QLED, or OLED part of the title. These refer to the TV’s backlighting, which ultimately determines things like color saturation, the intensity of contrast, and whether the content is legible in both dark and bright rooms. Each of these displays is 4K compatible, so there’s nothing mutually exclusive about 4K and the LED categorization.
Read on for a super basic breakdown of a TV shopper’s most frequently-encountered terms:
Here’s what LED means
An “LED TV” is an LCD TV with LED (light-emitting diode) backlights, which illuminate the screen and help you see the picture. These TVs are extremely commonplace and the most affordable kind. Some LED TVs are better than others, mostly depending on whether they utilize full-array local dimming — a collection of zones that adjust independently across the entire screen — rather than less-powerful edge-lit dimming.
Mini LEDs, which are about half the size of regular LEDs, allow manufacturers to pack more LEDs into the same size panel, allowing for more local dimming zones and more precise tweaking of brightness in each area.
A quick QLED explainer
“QLED” is a twist on LED that was actually developed by Samsung to describe its own TVs. The “Q” stands for “quantum,” which refers to an extra layer of quantum dots in between the LED panel and the screen to accommodate a wider range of colors, enhance brightness, and make each hue juicier and more precise. (This doesn’t mean that Samsung’s TVs are the only ones that use this color-boosting technology. TCL makes QLEDs, and brands like Sony and Hisense use similar technology marketed under different names.)
“OLED” is a completely different technology and the least likely to have a budget-friendly counterpart. Unlike LED and QLED, OLED doesn’t require an external backlight. Instead, they use organic light-emitting diodes, or pixels that emit their own light. These pixels are individually controlled by the TV itself based on the content and lighting of the room. OLED is known for dark blacks, stark contrast, and generally better picture quality, but often lose out to QLED on the brightness front. Because OLEDs are self-lit, the dimming conversation doesn’t apply to them.
I’ve heard of 8K, too. Is an 8K TV worth it?
For most people, no. Though 8K TVs have become more prevalent since they originally hit the market, they’re mostly as pointless in 2023 as they were in 2018. In most cases, that quadrupled resolution (over 30 million pixels compared to 4K’s eight million pixels) is overkill — there’s just not enough 8K content out there to make them worth the splurge at this time. They could be soon, but you definitely have time to upgrade to a nice 4K model before they cross into obsolete territory.
Here are our picks for the best 4K TVs: