Buying a fine TV in 2023?
September 16, 2023 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I have a TV from 2016 that is fine. I would like a newer TV that is from 2023 that is fine. What TV should I buy?

Basically, I am used to a very old TV so pretty anything would be an improvement. Mine is probably 45 inches, so looking for around that size. What's the latest in "pretty good for a few hundred bucks"?

*I am aware that buying a smart TV cuts the price substantially. Will I have to buy a smart TV to stay in the few hundred price range? I use an Alexa but I like the ability to unplug it as necessary.
posted by clarinet to Technology (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It's basically impossible to buy a non-Smart TV now. You don't have to USE the smart interface, you could plug a cable box or chromecast or whatever into the HDMI input. (Is the TV datamining you anyway? I mean, probably. Most things are.)

We pretty much have only bought TCL 4K Roku TVs the past few years. But it looks like TCL has forsaken Roku for Google TV...whatever that is. I would want that a lot less. You can find some last-year Rokus around but they appear to be slightly more expensive.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:59 AM on September 16

I bought an LG C1, which is way out of your price range, but it is a smart TV. I solved this by just connecting it to my AppleTV and never using the original remote for anything other than configuring the inputs + HDMI-CEC. The TV emphatically does not have WiFi credentials and has never been connected to a wired network.

There have been stories of smart TVs that try to connect to any open AP to phone home, and I can't conclusively disprove that, but for my purposes just never giving the TV network access has worked fine to keep it functionally dumb even though it is in theory smart.
posted by Alterscape at 9:59 AM on September 16 [5 favorites]

Nthing buying a smart TV (because it's difficult not to), never connecting it to the network, and using something else for streaming. I have a TCL RokuTV 5-series and it's fine. I used the Tom's Hardware and Wirecutter reviews to get an idea about what models were worth looking at.

Does your TV from 2016 have a wide bezel? Mine did, and with the newer very-narrow bezels, I was able to get a bigger screen with the same physical dimensions!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:12 AM on September 16

If you want a non-smart you can still get Best Buy's Insignia brand in a 43" size for $129, we have a slightly larger one that's apparently not available anymore and it's fine.
posted by indexy at 11:33 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel very strongly about this.

You should buy any TV in your size preference and price range from Costco. Their selection is small and extremely well curated.

I also didn't want a smart TV. I got a "smart TV" but have just never connected it to the internet. It does nothing smart. It's just a TV, it's perfect.
posted by phunniemee at 11:46 AM on September 16 [10 favorites]

The lower midrange HiSense sets have good panels and, though they run Android TV, you don't actually have to set up the smart stuff to log in to a Google account and use Assistant and run apps on it. I got a 55" about a year ago for $400 after my 2015 set ended up with a cracked screen and half the backlight died.

Personally, I ended up having to use the smart stuff when my Shield TV was having problems a couple of months later. It works well enough, though it does sometimes lag when going back to the home screen because 2GB of memory is apparently not enough for Android TV.
posted by wierdo at 11:58 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]

I solved this by just connecting it to my AppleTV and never using the original remote for anything other than configuring the inputs + HDMI-CEC.

I had to connect to update the TV software once (trying to get it to play nicer with e-ARC), but otherwise mine is never connected (the world comes to me through an Apple TV). Of course, once updated, it started nagging me EVERY TIME I TURNED IT ON to connect to wireless. *rolls eyes*

The big price jump these days is from LCD to OLED. OLED has significant advantages (and some drawbacks), but coming from an older TV you'll still be perfectly happy with LCD. Just make sure it's 4K, though I think you'd have to try pretty hard these days to buy one that's not. I find I get the longest life out of these kinds of appliances by buying a little extra functionality for futureproofing (nearly ten years on my last TV), but there's nothing tremendously exciting coming down the pike right now, so this is actually a good time to go "fine."
posted by praemunire at 12:22 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]

Best answer: To be blunt, the main developments in budget TVs since 2016 have had to do more with size-for-the-price and the increase in reliance on smart features than picture quality. Without more information, I think you run the risk of getting something merely different, not better.

Looking back, the list price on something like the 2016 TCL UP130 43" - a totally cromulent 4K Smart TV - was only $450 MSRP, and was sold discounted from that. The 2023 ones are bigger for the same price, and have improved smart features, but if you want to replace a ~$350 4K 2016 TV with a ~$350 4K 2023 TV at the same size, I'm not sure you're going to have any "wow" factor at all unless there's a specific problem you're trying to solve. You might even find an annoyance with the new TV that you don't have with the old one.

Are you trying to move from 2K to 4K? Are you having problems with picture quality? Is the backlight too bright/milky? Did the cat knock your old TV off the stand, or a roommate took the old TV? Do you want better gaming performance? It may be worthwhile to know why you want to upgrade. 2016 TVs just aren't radically different from 2023 TVs. I use a 2016 4K TV in one of our rooms, and it doesn't feel old in the slightest, even with newer TVs elsewhere in the house.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 1:12 PM on September 16 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I just replaced a TV that we bought in 2005. It was a very good TV at the time and we bought another very good one. There is very little difference in picture. We still use the old one. 7 years is not particularly old.

We replaced it for a bigger one. $2000 in 2005 for a 43" plasma . $2000 on 2022 for 60"ish oled.

It took spouse 18 years to convince me to buy a new TV. Still not sure we needed to.
posted by Ftsqg at 2:17 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]

I use an Alexa but I like the ability to unplug it as necessary.

Are you an Amazon customer? Do you have Prime? I'd just get a FireTV, which are crazy cheap for the price. If you're already paying Amazon, you might as well enjoy the benefits. Note that this is not the stick or cube, but an actual TV with the Amazon ecosystem built in. There are variants from Insignia, Toshiba, and TCL.

The reason I like mine is because the system runs on one remote. TV and streaming device in one hand. There's also a phone app as a substitute controller. It also has a built-in antenna tuner with a small amount of pause/rewind capability in it (this is on a Toshiba co-brand, YMMV). The live TV guide meshes smoothly with all the streaming stuff.

If you want to cut it off from the network, you can.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:53 PM on September 16

FWIW, Ftsqg, plasmas had beautiful pictures but were absolute energy hogs which meant they also radiated a lot of heat during usage, so you're likely saving money on your energy bill with the OLED.

OP, in case you do continue with getting a new TV, I prefer for tv reviews over wirecutter now.
posted by bluecore at 3:50 PM on September 16 [4 favorites]

I also picked my TV from RTings, even though they are now restricting some features of the site to paid users. I ended up with a HiSense. One thing you might look for is how the screen handles reflections, if you are putting it in a bright room.
posted by credulous at 4:34 PM on September 16

Nthing that if your current TV works all right for you, then there's nothing particularly interesting in the cheap end of TVs you're missing out on. Unless you specifically want a larger set, or OLED, or HDR, or 4K, or some other specific feature, or some combination of those, all of which tend to bump the price up from a few hundred, I'd just keep going with your current one until it stops working or you do decide you need one of those features.
posted by Aleyn at 5:22 PM on September 16

Response by poster: Huh, appreciate it. I don't really have a pressing need for a new TV so I might wait. I don't think my current TV is 4k, which would be nice, and it would be nice to have a second one. But it's great to know that cheap TVs haven't been horribly outpaced in the last 7 years. Thanks so much!
posted by clarinet at 6:03 PM on September 16

The panels on cheap TVs are a lot better than they used to be on basically every axis except perhaps viewing angle. They're brighter, have deeper blacks (aka they have a better native contrast ratio), they have a substantially better color gamut, white balance and color accuracy is better (at least in some picture modes), the built in speakers are better, motion processing is way better, and if you play games, the input lag is an order of magnitude lower.

How much these improvements matter to you depends on what you're watching, of course. For my use, last year's $400 TV beats the pants off 2016's $700 set. I watch a lot of 4k content and play a lot of games, though. Still, nothing will ever compare to the jump from SD to 1080p.
posted by wierdo at 6:36 PM on September 16

Best answer: I think buying to jump to 4K is very reasonable, but just how much value you get out of it will depend on how you use it. 4K physical media looks great (but of course requires a 4K-capable player). Uncompressed broadcast of modern footage picked up on an OTA antenna, ditto. Streaming-only value will depend on your download speed, whether your OTT box is 4K-capable, and whether the material is even offered in 4K, which is not universal.
posted by praemunire at 6:44 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

Any of the major brands should be good. We got a 55" Samsung for under $400 a year ago and are pretty happy with it. It could use better speakers (a soundbar, probably), but we have bothered.

All TVs are SmartTVs these days. I understand you have to search long and hard to find anything that isn't smart, and pay a lot to buy one if you do. We have ours hooked up to a Roku, but the TV itself isn't connected to wifi. A popup asking us to connect comes on for about 15 seconds when we turn the TV on, then disappears on its own.
posted by lhauser at 10:04 PM on September 16

I’ll just add in that buying a TV from Costco was great but don’t do this unless you’re within a reasonable distance from one. I had previously purchased a tv online (from Amazon) that I didn’t need and it was a huge headache to return it
posted by raccoon409 at 6:54 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The jump from "regular" HD to 4K is weird and nuance-ey because it's actually two jumps. There's the resolution increase, and there's *almost always* an accompanying jump from regular old tv to HDR or high dynamic range.

The resolution increase is very meh. Very who cares, 1080p was fine, yeah you can see the difference sometimes but mostly it's a "you can see it if you're looking for it" kinda thing.

HDR, though, is at least as much a slap you in the face improvement as moving from plain old tv to HDTV was. With a good HDR presentation (and there are bad ones), everything just feels immediately more natural. And things that sparkle actually SPARKLE!

I don't have any particular insight into $350-500 tvs but if you're looking at reviews suggest that you pay par-TIC-u-lar attention to the HDR section of the reviews.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:31 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]

Go to an electronics store and look at the TV displays until you start to notice differences among them. I got a TCL from Best Buy and it looked like shit to me, despite having lots of good reviews. I returned it and wound up with a midrange Samsung (smaller than the TCL, the advice about getting the biggest TV you can fit was very wrong for me).

The important thing is what the TV actually looks like, ignore the features and hype.
posted by momus_window at 7:18 PM on September 17

We bought a Visio from Best Buy about a year ago. BB does pressure you to buy into clubs or plans or services you don't need. I just cancelled one.

The set wakes up in a smart TV mode, so we have to push a couple buttons to get it to change to cable, which is annoying, but not so annoying that I've looked into the possibility of changing what happens at wakeup.

Since we have Amazon Prime, we can access the Prime streaming content at no extra cost. There may be other ways that you might be already signed up. There is also some free content which is dated, and not very interesting to us.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:59 PM on September 18

I have heard people for years say “I just don’t configure network access for my smart TVs.” Well. If I were a TV manufacturer, and a scummy marketer … but I repeat myself. I would create a fleet of vans that have an open Wi-Fi interfaces and just drive around, harvesting information from all the TVs that aren’t on a network. Or I’d put them in cars that are driving around anyway for something else. Would probably be cheap vs. the data.

I do the same thing everyone else does with my wife’s TV, but I won’t be surprised to find all these mysterious black boxes are not only phoning home, but home is calling them pretty regularly.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:58 PM on September 19

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