TV-buying advice
March 10, 2020 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I would like to buy a TV. I have not owned a TV in a very long time, and I don't know anything about current TVs, please advise.

I just want something that's relatively straightforward and easy to use with online streaming. I probably care more about whether the remote is well designed (or whether the connection to my android phone will work consistently and properly) than I care about picture quality. My current set-up is a computer monitor with a chromecast plugged into it and the connection to my phone is always wonky and a pain in the ass -- if the connection drops while I'm watching Netflix, I can't always stop the episode from playing or pause it or things like that. So mostly I just stream TV directly on my laptop.

The last TV I owned had a CRT, so it's been awhile. I do not have cable and do not plan to get cable, I just want to be able to stream Netflix and other online content to my TV. I only have Netflix's standard-def plan, but I suppose I could upgrade to the plan that offers HD streaming if I had a TV that supported that.

I see a lot of price variation -- TVs from brands I've heard of (Samsung, Sony) tend to be hundreds of dollars more than brands I haven't heard of (Vizio, Hisense, TCL). Does it matter that much or all of these likely to be basically fine?

Is 40-43 inches a reasonable size? I have a moderately large apartment, as apartments go, but I'd rather that the TV not be the major focal point in it.

Are there any other specific things I should be looking for?

I will probably buy it online since I'll have to have it delivered anyway. I would prefer to avoid Amazon, but if you have other recommendations for good Canadian sites to buy a TV from, that would help.
posted by jacquilynne to Shopping (38 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
We have purchased (and directed family to purchase) the TCL 4K RokuTV you can find at Target, Best Buy, or Amazon - surely there are Canadian outlets that carry it, it's not an obscure brand. Ours are the 43", I think my mom got the 55". They're very good TVs, my television editor husband is very satisfied with the picture, we've been impressed with the wifi signal, and we really love the Roku remote control more than any of the others.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:44 PM on March 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Vizio is a solid brand that has a good price-to-quality ratio. Definitely measure the space you want to put it in - the optimal viewing distance matters a little and if your couch is only 6' from the TV there's not much point going over 45" or so. So it depends on how far the couch and TV will be. Nearly every TV comes with Nexflix built-in, many Vizio units have Chromecast built-in so you probably don't need to add anything else. It's pretty hard to buy a really bad TV these days but the really cheap ones tend to come poorly calibrated by default and the colours will seem weird, either too muted or saturated so it's worth it going up one step from the bottom. You're correct that it's hard to tell what you're getting for the extra $$ with a high-end TV. If you can see the TV in a store before purchasing that helps but just buying a decent mid-range TV online will probably be fine.
posted by GuyZero at 12:53 PM on March 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also came in to recommend the TCL. It is truly one of the best things I've purchased over the past few years.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 12:55 PM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

TVs these days are pretty darned good. You may notice that "smart" TVs (with connections to streaming services, etc built in) are cheaper than "dumb" TVs. This is because the smart TVs are tracking your activity and the set maker is selling that info. If that's important to you, don't get a smart TV (or do, but don't connect it to the Internet).

Roku devices are available as standalone set-top boxes or built into some TVs, and they're generally well-reviewed. I've got an Apple TV STB and am happy with it.

Generally the optimal size of your screen is dictated by your viewing distance. I've got a 44" TV at home, watch it from about 12' away, and am satisfied with that.
posted by adamrice at 12:55 PM on March 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

The TCL Roku is well-reviewed and extremely easy to set up and use. (Review is of the 32-inch model, but bigger sizes are equivalent.) To choose a size, I'd suggest actually mocking it up with a large piece of paper or masking tape. The guides will generally tell you to get a huge one, and they tend to look larger at home than in a showroom. However, I'd get as large as you think will not overpower the room, because the cost of upgrading to a larger one is pretty small and you do get used to the larger size after a week or two of watching.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:56 PM on March 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

We've had several years satisfactory service from a Vizio. It's 33 inches and cost about
$350 as best I recall. Probably not a problem with Netflix, but sports programs seem to be designed around bigger sets because the scoreboards etc are a big small on our screen. I have had Chromecast working, but mostly for internet sourcing, I've just set up as the monitor of my laptop using an HDMI cable.

It has a computer brain and lots of options you'll never use.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:56 PM on March 10, 2020

Here is my experience with buying a new TV:

-Buy one size larger than you think you want/need.
- Like a browser, one of the reasons smart TV costs have come down considerably is because they sell your data.
- Chromecast does not have a remote. Also, there is, in my opinion, a huge difference in connectivity and the like with the newest generation Chromecast vis a vis the older ones.
- Part of the decision on which TV to purchase should be based on what native apps are built in.
-AMZN Prime and NFLX work well using the built in apps on my Vizio TV.
- Try any remote in your hand before committing. My Vizio remote works well, BUT the shape of it is such that in the dark or when I am not looking, just feeling, I cannot tell which end is up. For me, that is a pain in the ass.
- I would look at how many ports, HDMI and usb or whatever it is you may be using there are. When my sonm plugs in his xBox on my LARGE Panasonic, he unplugs one of my cables. He always "forgets" to put it back. The TV is 7 years old so it is not designed for today's usage, but get more HDMI ports than one or two.
- Speakers are relevant. Most new inexpensive TVs have really poor speakers bc they assume you will get a sound bar or similar external speaker device.
- Look at the TV before buying. All the great specs mean nothing if you do not like the way the picture looks.
posted by AugustWest at 1:03 PM on March 10, 2020

We also have 2 smart Vizio TVs that are at least 5 years old and I am very satisfied with the streaming options. You do want to try to turn off all of the snooping they do. I have screencasted from my iPhone to both of the TVs and it works well.
posted by soelo at 1:05 PM on March 10, 2020

Agreeing with adamrice: viewing distance is key. When I shopped around for a TV monitor I considered the distance from the couch to the TV plus, aesthetically, how I wanted to avoid having the TV dominate the room. A standard-def monitor was more than suitable.

I've had the experience of sitting too-close to a too-wide monitor and the viewing experience is not pleasant, rather like sitting down-front at a wide-screen theater.

Probably don't get a CRT. Flat-screen monitors are really great these days, inexpensive and don't stick out as far from the wall as a CRT. I recovered a lot of living room space by replacing my Sony Trinitron with a flat screen.
posted by SPrintF at 1:09 PM on March 10, 2020

If I should probably also be buying a soundbar to go with my TV, feel free to throw in recommendations for that, too! I use Spotify a fair bit, but just through a tiny portable speaker or headphones.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:15 PM on March 10, 2020

One thing to keep in mind is that some retailers will do price matching. Worth it if you find a deal listed somewhere inconvenient or somewhere you don't have a membership to. Once you decide on a model you can also check on open boxes at stores that do that (like Best Buy). Apparently there's a spike in TV sales before the Super Bowl, and a spike in TV returns right after, so this time of year there are lots of open box deals available.

We bought a Samsung last week and while the picture quality seems good, the interface seems kind of cluttered and weird, nowhere near as nice as our old Roku was.

If you will be mounting this on the wall you might need to buy a separate wall hanging kit so keep that in mind too.
posted by beandip at 1:20 PM on March 10, 2020

For possibly too detailed TV statistics and testing, it’s hard to beat rtings.
posted by zamboni at 1:21 PM on March 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

I would recommend not bothering with a smart tv. Just get one that has a USB and/or HDMI input (they all do). And then get yourself a Roku Player, like this. You plug that into your TV. Change your TV's Input mode to that port, and now you're online. Roku has channels you can add, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and anything else you can think of.

Here's why you don't want a smart tv: First, the tracking. Second, you're relying on your TV manufacturer to keep its firmware up to date. Everytime I go into the smart section of my TV, I have to sit and wait for a download/install.

Roku also has a super simple remote. I have 2 samsung TVs, and their remotes are pretty complicated. One of my tvs is smart; one is not. I never use the smart features; I just use the Roku. (And you can take the Roku player with you if you go anywhere (hotel, vacation, etc.)).
posted by hydra77 at 1:24 PM on March 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

I found out the hard way that a lot of new TVs have tiny legs at the ends of the TV, instead of one large stand (foot?) at the center. So it's very possible that you'll also have to get new furniture that is wide enough.

Some of the new TVs don't have a remote, or a very bad one - they require you to add your TV to your wifi network and download the app onto your phone. I didn't do this because I only use my Chromecast, but it seems like a bad idea anyway. You might also have to budget a universal/dumb remote.
posted by meowzilla at 1:33 PM on March 10, 2020

Nthing the "buy a cheapo TCL smart TV, then never connect it to the internet" advice. We use a TCL w/ a Roku box attached, and while it's a little more awkward than using the built-in Roku functionality in the TCL TV (that's right, we have TWO Roku remotes to control that TV), I feel safe that Xi Jinping probably isn't watching me get into my jammies. (Or creepy new Jeff Bezos, for that matter.)

For soundbars -- unless you're extremely sensitive about sound (in which case, don't get a soundbar), I'd go with Wirecutter's budget pick.
posted by nosila at 1:55 PM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

If I should probably also be buying a soundbar to go with my TV,

You probably want one unless you have some sort of stereo system already that you can plug the audio from the TV into. I think it's generally agreed the speakers on TVs today are pretty bad. It's like they assume you're using something else for better audio, so they don't bother putting good speakers in the TV.

(I do not have a sound bar recommendation for you, as I just use my old 90s stereo. Just connected the "audio out" from the back of the TV to the "aux" or "line in" on the stereo. It's literally the only thing I use the stereo for anymore, since I don't listen to radio or CDs, so sometimes I think about getting a soundbar, but eh, ain't broke don't fix it.)
posted by dnash at 1:56 PM on March 10, 2020

I too had not owned a TV in a long time, til someone gave me a used circa-2009 Vizio flat screen TV a few months ago. (It's fine, along with the roku stick I plugged into it.) Something I hadn't realized was that flat screen TVs can have issues with viewing angles - for example, my TV is in my bedroom, on top of a 4-foot bookshelf, and I had to play with the brightness and other things a lot to be able to see it at all while lying in bed, because I am not looking at it straight-on. I would guess anything you buy now will be better on this front, but it is a new factor to consider.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:02 PM on March 10, 2020

If you go with a Roku TV, the Roku audio options (soundbar or speakers) should be pretty easy to set up.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:04 PM on March 10, 2020

I'm surprised no one has recommended LG...they make GREAT, reasonably priced TVs that last about forever. I've owned 2 now (I only sold the 1st b/c I was moving cross-country) and never had a problem. The remote isn't overly complicated and all the menus are well organized.
I don't have a 'smart' TV, but they do make them...I do all the streaming and such through the PlayStation. Do you play games at all?
As far as a soundbar goes, I just plugged in my old computer speakers, which are a little fancier than most...there's a sub-woofer. Works great. I'd look at those too (they're prob cheaper) when shopping for speakers.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:14 PM on March 10, 2020

a 40" tv (measured diagonally) is kind of huge. It was still hard to find a location for my 32" ancient flatscreen in my small house. Maybe cut a piece of cardboard and try it out. A sound bar is easy to add, so try the original speakers.
posted by theora55 at 2:42 PM on March 10, 2020

I do want to warn you that coming from a CRT you are likely to be disappointed by the contrast and color purity of LCD TVs, especially inexpensive ones. Depending on how your room is set up, viewing angles could also be an issue (many inexpensive LCDs look pretty awful more than 30-40 degrees from straight on). Going to a step up will help a lot. I see rtings has already been recommended; something that scores well on their HDR tests would probably be less of a step down in these measures, and they will also tell you what the viewing angles are.

If cost is no object, LG has a 48-inch OLED coming out later this year. OLED is going to be the closest you can get to a CRT experience today.
posted by doomsey at 3:10 PM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

You may notice that "smart" TVs (with connections to streaming services, etc built in) are cheaper than "dumb" TVs. This is because the smart TVs are tracking your activity and the set maker is selling that info.

Also important to note, if this TV has any capability to connect to the internet, whether you use it or not, opens you up to direct surveillance from government agencies. There are myriad government programs dedicated to subverting tech like in these TVs, and basically nay other internet-enabled device. Not a huge concern for most people outside the destruction of privacy, the illusion remains. Just heads up if you ever get up to activities you don't want the government to know about or prefer no vectors for some weirdo to see you naked in their data harvests.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:14 PM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Your TV will probably last longer than the services that feed it content. Your best choice, IMO, is to buy a dumb TV with good specs and a separate smart controller, e.g. Roku, and use that combo. As streaming changes you can upgrade your Roku and your TV will still be fine. You may still be stuck with two or three remote controls and that sucks, but full integration of controllers is not in any manufacturers' interests, so it's always going to be hard.

Secondly, there's the question of security and updates. I would not trust TV vendors to be looking out for you and would be more likely to trust external streaming box vendors for that.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:36 PM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just a note that if you plan on gaming, you may want to size up. Our 40” is fine for watching shows but I find myself squinting when I’m playing on our Switch, because shows and film generally have closeups of actors to show emotion but games often have wider shots to show the field of play.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 3:55 PM on March 10, 2020

OP is asking for streaming solutions, so the advice to "disconnect the internet" is probably not very helpful.

One of the best things about an integrated Roku TV is there's one plug and one remote.

In some cases, you can upgrade the Roku remote, and in some cases you can't, so if that's super important to you, investigate models more carefully. I have heard great things about Roku wireless speakers, but have not made that leap yet.
posted by sageleaf at 3:57 PM on March 10, 2020

Meant to add, I disabled the smart features of a Samsung to add a Roku box, but that was a decision based on a deep dislike for the built-in interface on the Samsung. Either way, the TV is still connected to the internet, and probably reporting the same things.
posted by sageleaf at 4:03 PM on March 10, 2020

Like many things these days, you make choices between privacy, price and quality. The TCLs are great bang for buck, but you must must connect it to the internet so they can track you. My tv doesn't get connected to the internet and is hooked up to an Apple TV instead of the built-in smart tv functions. Apple is better than the other brands (Roku, Amazon) by not tracking you for advertising, but you do pay a bit more for that privacy.

My thoughts:
Any size that you think will work, but err bigger. Disconnect it from the internet after setup. Turn off ads/smart tv stuff/motion smoothing. 4k because that's where all content is going. Most tvs have CEC support, but make sure - it lets the tv automatically switch between sources. Get an Apple TV for streaming. I like Vizio simply because I've never had an issue with them, but like everyone else they want to track you so you gotta disable that stuff. You don't need 120Hz unless you're gaming a lot. Eventually get a sound bar because most tvs don't have decent speakers anymore. You don't need to get the top-end model, but one or two steps down would probably be sufficient. TVs are constantly updating so getting last year's model will save you some $.
posted by homesickness at 4:34 PM on March 10, 2020

Just FYI the TCL televisions have HDMI and DVI inputs, you're not forced to use the built-in Roku if you really don't want to.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:00 PM on March 10, 2020

I have a 3 year old LG 55” OLED from a Canadian Best Buy. It's a very good TV. I think it gets the Consumer Reports top marks. Unless you plan to have a cable news channel playing 16 hours a day, don't worry about any of the warnings about "burn in". 55” is not an overpowering size. It's remote and it's menus are pretty straightforward.

The newer LG OLEDs are offering a type of black frame insertion process that's supposedly less jarring than the motion interpolation (soap opera look) that have been available previously but I haven’t seen it yet. The newer models also come with extra smart features but as others have said, you can just plug in whatever else you'd rather use instead.

I tried a Sony $400 power bar and didn’t find the difference to be worth the money over the LG’s built in sound. Also, it introduced lip sync issues that the TV's internal controls couldn't rectify.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:55 PM on March 10, 2020

If you do go the Chromecast route, it does not have a remote but you can control everything from your phone/ ipad / whatever.

I have a Chromecast hooked up to a projector (not a good solution if you're in a room with a lot of ambient light, though the new projectors are BRIGHT and I can watch easily in the daytime if I pull the sheer curtains over the windows) and have been very happy with my ability to do remote-type stuff from the Google Home app. It stays active as a bar on my phone while it's streaming so I don't have to select the app or anything.
posted by ananci at 5:57 PM on March 10, 2020

Buy an LG TV. Don’t connect it to the Internet. Buy an Apple TV 4K. Done.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:32 AM on March 11, 2020

Nthing the TCL Roku TV. It is pretty stellar - we pair it with an LG soundbar and woofers. It is a compact system we love.
posted by Everydayville at 7:57 AM on March 11, 2020

I just bought a new TV, it's arriving from Amazon in an hour! I tend to trust Wirecutter for things like this; here's their guide. They recommend a Sony X950G which is $1100 for a 55 inch. But I didn't like that recommendation so I went with this CNET guide. Their reviews are very good and consistent so it makes it easy to compare models. I took their recommendation for the TCL 6 series, $550 for a 55 inch. Which is a fantastically good price.

You can spend $3000 on a 55 inch TV. Right now is a weird time to be buying a TV: new models come out in March / April. So either you get last years models, which are fine and maybe easy at a discount, or else you overpay for something brand new. Your main choice to make is OLED (great picture, but dimmer and way more expensive) or LCD. Within LCD there are a variety of technologies for picture quality: local dimming arrays, pretty much a mandatory. Or fancy things like QLED or MicroLED which may boost picture quality.

If you don't care about any of that fanciness you end up at that TCL 6 series. As a bonus the TCL TVs use the Roku system for their software, the only "Smart TV" software I'd consider using. Ordinarily I'd suggest buying an external Roku or AppleTV but with the TCL the built-in may actually be good enough. You're still left needing a better solution for sound though.
posted by Nelson at 8:29 AM on March 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

As far as picking a size depends on how far away you're going to be sitting. Do this: sit down on the couch/chair/wherever where you'll be watching. Hold your arms out, palms flat like you're picking up a box, about 18-24" apart. Hey, that looks like a good size, right? (It does, doesn't it?) Now, put 2 pieces of tape on the wall where the TV is going to be and adjust them until they line up with your hands when sitting down. Measure the distance between them. Ok, that's not the size you're buying, because they measure them diagonally, but now you know the width you want. You can either dick around with math and aspect ratios and hypotenuses to find the diagonal, or just bring a measuring tape to the store to measure width (do that.) For me, I went with 47" at about 8ft away (I was shopping for 45" but I found a deal...also it has 3D...oooo)
Oh, also check Craigslist...there's always a bunch of new-in-box TVs on there...I saved a ton.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:10 AM on March 11, 2020

One thing to maybe look at is how readable regular computer text is on the tv at your preferred viewing distance. I have an older Visio which is probably...44"? Something like that. I use a windows box to essentially watch youtube vids on it.

Problem is while the videos are watchable, it's nearly impossible for me to read the descriptions, text, etc from my chair about ten feet away. Maybe there is a solution to this (switch the resolution of the TV to something lower? Not sure), but it's a real pain. I have no trouble reading the type on my monitor, here, which, relatively speaking, seems about the same size as the TV, as in how much of my field of view its taking up.

If you don't plan on navigating menus or browsing this may not be an issue.
posted by maxwelton at 2:04 PM on March 11, 2020

Apple is better than the other brands (Roku, Amazon) by not tracking you for advertising, but you do pay a bit more for that privacy.

According to CNET: "What TV makes it easiest to control your privacy? Roku. ... Here's what you need to do to limit or disable some of the tracking. From the main Roku menu, open Settings and head to Privacy. For Advertising, make sure that the box Limit ad tracking is checked. To disable ACR, scroll to the tab labeled Smart TV experience and make sure both options there are unchecked. This will limit what data Roku collects and disable ACR, though it means that Roku won't be able to make the same recommendations for content."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:20 PM on March 11, 2020

I bought a tcl tv, as many recommended and while it is fine, I am not that thrilled with it. I marked as a best answer since advice I didn't take, which was to check what apps the smart part of the tv supported - S's it turns out almost no Canadian channels have Roku apps. I am making it work with a combination of the smart TV and my chromecast box but it is not the seamless experience I had hoped for.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:39 AM on September 11, 2020

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