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How to shop for a TV online in 2021: 5 things to consider

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The holiday shopping season is officially upon us, and, if you're in the market for a new TV, you might be wondering where to start. Is Amazon's new 4K Fire TV Omni Series a good option? Or should you be looking at something more along the lines of the Samsung's 8K TVs? Is it better to wait for Black Friday or pounce on this year's lineup of early deals?

Frankly, shopping for a TV online can be as tricky as buying jeans or shoes without trying them on. And because there are so many specs and bells and whistles on televisions, even the research process for buyers can be daunting. That's where we come in: We're here to help you sort out how to buy a TV online, without schlepping to the store and fitting a 5-plus-foot-wide screen in the back of your car.

First things first: Before you go hunting for the internet's best TV deals, you'll need a tape measure. You'll save yourself a fair amount of hassle by understanding the size limits of your space. Another important top-line thing to consider when TV shopping is what you'll be watching. Are you planning to host friends for a Super Bowl watch party? Sports fans should be on the look out for a television large enough to see from anywhere in a room.

Are you more of a cinephile, hoping to stream movies on Netflix and HBO Max? Movie nuts should keep their eyes peeled for high-resolution (4K) models and HDR and OLED technology. These features help maintain the richness of colors and contrast in your favorite movies.

Here are five important questions to ask when shopping for a new television.

TV prices: What is your price point?

A new TV can run you anywhere from $100 to $10,000 -- or more. Naturally, the lowest-price options will have some trade-offs: Size, resolution and display tech are all common places you'll make compromises in the name of cost savings. On the other end of the price spectrum, the luxury options have all the latest bells and whistles, like built-in surround sound and the most impressive color-retention features. Here's what you can get at three price points, so you have an idea of the features available at each.

Bargain TV: 32-inch Toshiba set (720p) with Fire TV

Toshiba via Amazon

At just 32 inches, this budget-friendly Toshiba TV is suited for small spaces like bedrooms or offices. It runs Amazon's FireTV platform, so you can stream new shows from Hulu, Netflix and more without plugging in extra equipment. You'll trade a fair amount of resolution for the tiny price tag, though. This unit has a 720p display -- that's technically high definition, but not the 1080p HD you'll find on many modern televisions.

TV $500-$600: 50-inch TCL 5-Series with 4K resolution

TCL via Amazon

For just over $500, your options open up quite a bit. This highly reviewed 50-inch TCL set has QLED (quantum dot LED) technology, 4K resolution and Dolby Vision. All those features together improve the sharpness, brightness, color and contrast of an image.

TV under $1,500: 55-inch Samsung 4K Neo QLED

Samsung via Amazon

Once you get into the four-figure price bracket, you access even more top-of-the-line features such as a built-in Alexa assistant and a premium piece of audio technology called object-tracking sound (OTS). With OTS, your television analyzes the action on screen and tries to replicate a surround-sound experience without any external speakers.

Right now, Amazon has knocked more than $300 off the list price for this QLED set.

TV size: What's the right size television for your space?

Size matters when you're shopping for a TV, and not just the size of the screen. The size of the room and your intended viewing distance can help you triangulate the best option for your space. For example, experts say the ideal viewing distance for a 32-inch 1080p television is between 4 and 6.5 feet. A larger TV at that same resolution would have a longer ideal viewing distance. And higher-resolution models, like 4K and 8K TVs, have shorter viewing distances than HD sets of a given size. Here are some examples.

Small TV: TCL 32-inch 1080p TV with Roku

TCL via Amazon

Smaller sets, like this Roku model from TCL, give you more wiggle room in terms of resolution, since each individual pixel covers less surface area. With a screen this small (32 inches), you don't need more than 1080p resolution: The benefits of 4K don't become obvious unless you're sitting very (and we mean very) close to the screen. Again, the ideal viewing distance for a 32-inch 1080p TV like this one is between 4 and 6.5 feet.

Medium-sized TV: Amazon Fire 4-Series TV 55-inch 4K TV with Alexa built in


A mid-size television, 55 to 65 inches along the diagonal, is large enough for many living rooms. The ideal viewing distance for a 55-inch 4K TV, such a this model, is between 4.5 and 7 feet. This new Fire TV model from Amazon is available for pre-order now and is expected to ship on October 27, 2021.

Big-screen TV: Samsung 75-inch 8K QLED TV

Samsung via Amazon

If you just need more screen, this 75-inch Samsung should fill up your space. It has 8K resolution, too, which, depending on your viewing distance, your mortal human eye may or may not be able to discern, compared with a 4K display. (Of course, there's very little content available in 8K right now, so the costly upgrade from 4K may not be worth it.)

It is a very large television, so if that's your endgame, this is a well reviewed option. Be sure to clip the coupon before 

HD, 4K and 8K TVs: Which resolution is right?

Now that we've sorted out the size issue, we'll tackle the resolution. These days, 4K TVs are more affordable than ever, so the temptation to bite the bullet and invest in the upgraded image quality is strong. But, if you're planning to view your mid-size TV set from 9-plus feet away, the added benefit may not be noticeable. Higher resolution is more important if you're planning on watching sports and movies, and less important if you're watching news and reality TV.

Here's what each option looks like.

Basic HD TV: 1080p Hisense with AndroidTV

Hisense via Amazon

Here is where we'll mention that, in 2021, most TV channels still broadcast in 1080. This 43-inch Hisense set has 1080p resolution and built-in AndroidTV. For many shoppers, the sub-$300 price tag will far outweigh what this set sacrifices in pixels. As we mentioned before, the smaller your screen is, the less noticeable the benefits of Ultra-HD resolutions (like 4K and 8K) are at a given viewing distance. 

4K TV: Amazon Fire TV Omni Series 55-inch


This model of Amazon's new Fire TV Omni Series measures 55 inches along the diagonal and has 4K resolution. Like many 4K models, this television will automatically upscale 1080i broadcast content to 4K. If image quality is of the upmost importance, the additional cost may be worth it. This TV also comes with a far-field microphone for true hands-free control. That means you can change the channel without talking to your Alexa remote.

Luxury TV with UHD 8K: Samsung 85-inch 8K Neo QLED TV

Samsung via Amazon

UHD 8K televisions have four times as many pixels as their 4K brethren, but whether you can perceive the difference in quality depends heavily on your viewing distance and the size of the screen.

This 85-inch 8K set is by far the largest and most expensive option in this roundup. Samsung says this TV upscales all source material to "8K," though results may vary based on the content's native resolution.

Eventually, there will be 8K content available to watch, but for now, 8K resolution functions mostly as a very expensive future-proofing option.

This TV is marked down more than $1,500 from its list price, while this promotion lasts.

What is your preferred smart TV interface?

Roku, Fire TV and Android TV are all popular platforms for organizing your viewing experience and taking your enjoyment on television well beyond what's available on the cable box. LG and Samsung also have their own proprietary systems, so if you're devoted to their interfaces, you'll want to buy one of their TVs. If you primarily use an Apple TV, you can skip over this section, as this probably won't matter much to you.

If you don't have experience with smart TV interfaces, Roku is an apt, easy-to-use option for beginners and smart TV pros alike.

TV with Roku built in: TCL 55-inch QLED 6-Series with 4K resolution

TCL via Amazon

If you're already used to a certain interface, switching can be tough, especially if you're not particularly tech savvy. Fans of the super-simple Roku platform should look for a TV — like this TCL model — with a built-in Roku system. (Plus, the picture quality of this 6-series model is stunning for the money.)

TV with AndroidTV built in: TCL 50-inch

TCL via Amazon

Similarly, Android users can keep all of their tech in the same universe with a television that has on-board AndroidTV.

For a limited time, this TCL model is marked down $70 from its list price.

TV with Amazon Fire TV built in: Toshiba 43-inch 4K TV

Toshiba via Amazon

If you want a TV with Amazon's Fire TV built in, but don't want to wait for the October 27 release date of Amazon's new series, this Toshiba could be a good option for you. With the voice-activated, Alexa-powered remote, you can switch between channels, search for movies by genre and even check the weather. Fire TV is a good choice if you've already built an Alexa-based smart home.

For a limited time, Amazon has slashed $50 off this TV's list price.

LED, QLED or OLED: What display tech is right for you?

If you've shopped for a TV in the past five years, you've probably seen the terms LED, QLED and OLED mentioned in the product descriptions. Here's what all those display tech terms mean and how that applies to you.

LED TV: Samsung 50-inch 4K smart TV

Samsung via Amazon

One way to cut costs when shopping for a TV is to search for an LED option. LED stands for light-emitting diode. The matrix of small lights behind your screen shine through an LCD layer, combining to create the color and brightness you see from your couch. 

The differences between LED TVs and newer, fancier models primarily register in their color and luminosity output. If you don't feel strongly about the accuracy and saturation of your TV's colors, you can save a bit of cash without sacrificing much by choosing a set like this 50-inch Samsung, now $65 off at Amazon.

QLED TV: TCL 55-inch 4K 6-Series

TCL 65-inch 4K Roku TV
TCL via Amazon

QLED TVs have a quantum-dot layer sandwiched between those LED lights and the LCD layer. This middle layer filters the light to produce more vibrant and accurate colors.

If you're looking to get the richest color out of your set, a QLED model, like this 55-inch TCL 6-Series, could be a good option.

OLED TV: LG 65-inch 4K smart TV

LG via Amazon

Unlike LED and QLED TVs, OLED TVs don't have a backlight layer. Instead, each pixel is it's own teeny-tiny LED light that can independently change its luminosity and even turn off completely. Because each pixel functions independently, these TVs have elite image quality and the darkest shadows. OLED televisions also tend to be ultra thin -- this particular set measures just 1.8 inches thick.

The one issue with OLED TV sets is that, if you're planning on watching a lot of content with static elements (think scoreboards or omnipresent logos), you risk what is called "burn-in." With burn-in, the the ghost of an on-screen element, like a logo, remains onscreen even after you change the channel. It's uncommon with normal use, but still possible.

This unit is available for $1,797, a savings of 28% off the list price, while this deal lasts.

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