Please recommend a good small TV someone whose last TV had tubes.
May 29, 2014 7:55 PM   Subscribe

I would like to buy a very small (20" to 25") television for my study. I would like to watch DVDs, Netflix, movies & TV from iTunes, and maybe even some over-the-air network shows. But I bought my last TV used in 1992 and all I had to worry about was an antenna. (It had a sweet integrated VCR. I taped Twin Peaks off the air. It was the best of times!) I know nothing, and am bewildered by the options. Help?

So, I stayed at a nice hotel recently and gasped aloud when I turned on the TV and saw the Netflix welcome screen. What sorcery? Do TVs have internet now? Do I even need a computer? What's plasma? And what's LCD?

I have read through the How to Go From Zero to TV and was utterly overwhelmed.

I want simple. Minimum of devices. Reasonable picture quality. No bells or whistles. Any thoughts, hivemind?
posted by minervous to Technology (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
we just got this vizio from a big box store. at under $200 it's pretty cheap, it's light, it has "smart tv" features like netflix, hulu, youtube etc - but is pretty bells & whistles free besides that (which is exactly what we wanted). we got it as our second tv for light gaming and bedroom watching.
posted by nadawi at 8:05 PM on May 29, 2014

Buy whatever TV meets your size/price needs and has HDMI in. Add a roku/chromecast/etc hdmi stick for cheap and far superior "smart" TV capabilities.

The video sticks have far superior software and are way cheaper.
posted by TheAdamist at 8:21 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Vizio TV linked by nadawl above looks great - has everything you need and a good price, too. I'd get that one if i was on the market now. If you can find a TV without smart features or wifi for less money then TheAdamist is right, getting a Roku or Chromecast will yield a better streaming experience. Most TVs don't have the latest Netflix interface, for instance. $179 for a good TV small TV is hard to beat, though.

You should think about getting a Mohu Leaf HD Antenna, basically the current version of bunny ears. I have one and it is simply amazing to get perfect HD stations over the air, for free.
posted by pkingdesign at 8:27 PM on May 29, 2014

My bedroom tv is a 29" Vizio. It was a refurb unit from Woot, who pretty frequently have these things on sale. It has a good picture and is pretty compact. It's not a smart TV - I find it is far, far nicer to get an Apple TV or Roku box to pair with it. (You'll likely get more channels and updates and stuff, and in my experience either of those are easier to use than the stuff baked into the tv.) The model I have is the E2901, I believe; there's a 24" version too (with a better display actually - 1080p vs my 720). Cheap, small, gets the job done.
posted by mrg at 8:27 PM on May 29, 2014

If iTunes is a requirement (meaning, you already have a substantial collection of media purchased from the Apple Store) then it's a no brainer, get any TV (whatever's well-rated on Amazon-- not much variety at that size, does not have to be "smart") and buy an Apple TV. If DVDs are a must then either get a TV with a DVD player, or get a simple, cheap separate DVD player.
posted by acidic at 8:31 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was also going to suggest an Apple TV (so you can play Itunes, Netflix, Hulu, etc) and a cheap DVD player, then a TV. Also suggest keeping an eye on Woot (I just bought my 50" smart vizio for $480).

However if it's an "I want a TV this weekend" thing then check websites for Target, Walmart, and Best Buy then call to see if there are any in-store specials or rebates. Also see if places like Best Buy also has an open box returns. I got my Samsung 20-something" for $70 less because it was an open box item that was returned.

Certified refurb Apple TV for $75. There are also DVD players on Amazon for $20.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:37 PM on May 29, 2014

1. Many TVs these days are called "Smart TVs" because along with cable/DVD hookups, they have built-in apps for things like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, etc.

2. The "Smart TV" interface is usually fairly clunky, with lags and weird search mechanisms. They are also not updated very frequently.

3. Therefore it is better to buy whatever flatscreen TV looks good and has a good price, and buy a Roku or Apple TV box to add the "Smart" functions - Netflix, Hulu, and many other tv/movie apps.

How far away is your couch from where your TV will sit? I'd probably recommend a 32" TV for a small room. 20" is really tiny when you're sitting 8 feet away.
posted by barnone at 8:58 PM on May 29, 2014

Buy a cheap Vizio (check out how it looks in the store, first). You don't need to spend anything extra on 'smart tv'.

Then your options for netflix, etc, depend on who you want to buy media from:

Amazon Fire TV

Those are all pretty comparable in price and features and are fairly plug-and-play. If you have an ipad, I'd go with the AppleTV, though.

If you want games, you can probably go with an Xbox One or PS4 instead of any of the above.

Also buy a $25 HDTV antenna if you live anywhere near a large city and don't plan on getting cable.
posted by empath at 10:28 PM on May 29, 2014

We have two of those Vizios, one of which is my second monitor, and I'm planning to buy two more for the bedrooms. I have a 32" and a 22 or 23" and got them at Costco.

I have found nothing to complain about, except we did find that one of them struggled with its streaming apps as it was a little far from the wifi, and an extender didn't seem to make any difference. We solved that problem with a $50 bluray player with even more streaming apps.

I can vouch that they're tough. Our main one lives on the patio and has blown over twice, with the screen hitting crap left out on the table, and while there is a weird light flare we can only see it when the screen is receiving no data, we can't find it when it's actually displaying any kind of picture (including the bluray screen saver).

I did add a $20 over-the-air HD antenna, but we live in kind of a bowl and needed the boost. I don't really care about live tv but it gets all the local affiliates.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:54 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can't go too far wrong these days, particularly if it has a usb connection for playing movie files. If you want to spend a little more, a Sony R670 32" is a great size and very high quality, but a cheapie Vizio will also do you fine.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:53 AM on May 30, 2014

I just went to Target and bought a 26" Vizio a few years ago based primarily on price. No regrets (other than the screen size). If you don't want to put too much thought into it, don't. You're unlikely to go wrong.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:49 AM on May 30, 2014

Ugh. We have a Vizio "smart" TV and everyone in the house hates it. It is the most unintuitive clunky piece of crap. I don't think the picture is that great and the only reason the sound is decent is because we have it hooked up to a sound system. I would not recommend a Vizio to my worst enemy.
posted by kathrynm at 7:18 AM on May 30, 2014

Best answer: Just want to chime in to agree, don't buy a smart TV. If for some reason you like the interface and features of a smart TV by a given manufacturer (unlikely), you can usually get a similar interface and features by buying, e.g. an internet-enabled blu-ray player by that manufacturer. (Like, Samsung smart TVs and Samsung blu-ray players have the same interface and features with regards to netflix, etc.)

Plasma and LCD are two different kinds of displays. Plasma is like a tiny array of fluorescent lights. LCD is basically the same technology as in your computer screen. You might also see "LED" TVs, but it's just a fancy term for a subcategory of LCD screens. You probably want LCD, especially since plasma TVs don't really go below 40 inches or so.

A few other terms that might be helpful:
"Progressive" vs "Interlaced": the TV is a grid of pixels that are constantly changing. In "progressive" mode, they change one row at a time from top to bottom very fast. In "interlaced", every other row refreshes, then the other half do the same thing. When you see numbers like 1080i or 1080p, this is what the "i" or "p" stand for. The picture quality of a still image is the same in either case, but in progressive mode motion is less blurry. Look for 1080p.

Screens are basically a commodity at this point. You should choose a size and find a cheap one but not the absolute cheapest -- in my experience really cheap screens actually do tend to fail. It could be worth paying extra if you really like the design, or if that model or brand currently has a reputation for reliability (this seems to shift pretty quickly).
posted by vogon_poet at 8:33 AM on May 30, 2014

I asked people to Help me pick a decent medium-size HDTV a couple of years ago, and I think you'll still find the explanations helpful.

One thing I was very surprised about was how bad the sound is on small thin HDTVs, so that might be something to factor into your search.

FWIW, several people in my family have LG TVs now, and everyone seems happy with them.

I have a Chromecast, and it is a good alternative to getting a Smart TV. However it's probably not as simple to use. Things like pausing and rewinding mean fiddling with your smartphone, and there are a lot of times when the thing has gone to sleep, so maybe you have to put in your PIN to unlock it, maybe have to navigate to the relevant app, then maybe remind that app that it's controlling a Chromecast not using the phone screen for playback, and only then hit pause. Not quite as quick and easy as the pause button on a TV remote.
posted by philipy at 11:41 AM on May 30, 2014

fwiw, we didn't get a smart tv because it's a smart tv, but because $179 for a totally serviceable 24" screen with 1080p seemed a great price.
posted by nadawi at 2:43 PM on May 30, 2014

Best answer: Just to reiterate, your needs require:
  • A TV (obviously) - I'd probably look at an inexpensive LG or Samsung in the 30-ish inch range. Vizio makes cheaper sets, but I have no experience with them, and I'm a bit wary that you'll get what you pay for with them. Also keep in mind that these TVs have 16:9 aspect ratios where your tube TV had a 4:3 ratio, so you need a larger diagonal to display the same size picture that your 4:3 set would. You can obviously go smaller than 30" if you know you won't have the space or you know you won't be sitting very far back from the TV, but I wouldn't go smaller than a 24" diagonal for TV watching unless I'm sitting less than a few feet away. Some TVs are smart TVs with Netflix capability, but I'd personally just ignore the smart features of any TV you buy as they almost universally suck (as others have noted).
  • A DVD player - this could be integrated into the TV, but honestly, I'd just buy a cheap one separately. If you don't need/want BluRay playback, they are ridiculously cheap these days, and even most BluRay players aren't too expensive. Just make sure that it has HDMI or Component out (whichever your TV will accept as input) if you want the best picture from it.
  • An Apple TV - This is the only device that will play iTunes media on your TV, unless you're willing to connect a computer up to it (which you can do with most TVs these days, provided you have the right kind of cable), and it will handle Netflix and other streaming services as well. If the iTunes media requirement isn't important, you can get cheaper devices, like a Roku, that will do Netflix. Or, you can get a smart TV or smart DVD player that supports Netflix, but the experience will likely not be as good.
  • An antenna for Over The Air (OTA) broadcasts - Technically, old bunny ears antennas will work, but my understanding is that so-called "HD antennas" work better for the digital OTA signal you'd be receiving these days. I use cable, so I haven't done much research here.

posted by Aleyn at 4:13 PM on May 30, 2014

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