Best Cheap TVs
Published on By Michael Sweet
TCL 50UP130 Review
From $472 Best
Despite some disappointment from reviewers with the overall picture quality of this ultra-HD TV, the 50-inch TCL50UP130 still wins praise as one of the best budget choices among Roku TVs.
Pros: A PCMag reviewer, and many consumers, as well, laud TCL for incorporating Roku's smart TV platform right into the 50-inch 50UP130 (starting at $472; available on Amazon). It's easy to use and offers a ton of streaming options. Even better, the included "Enhanced" remote enables voice search and even has a headphone jack. Users can also download a Roku smartphone app to control the TV. An expert from Reviewed.com points out that this TV includes four HDMI ports that allow for connection to 4K content from external devices like Blu-ray players. The color accuracy is also very good, and the overall picture quality is satisfactory, although it's not perfect, according to this review.
Cons: Experts say the black levels and contrast are a bit disappointing -- easily the biggest drawback of this TV. Apart from that, the Roku system doesn't include many controls to fine-tune the picture, although the color on this set is good enough out of the box that this isn't a serious issue. The uniformity could be better, according to testing by Reviewed.com, and users can expect some blurring. Finally, the input lag on the TCL 50UP130 is decent, at just under 46 milliseconds, but still slightly higher than some of its competitors in this price range. Serious gamers might consider going with a different model.
Features: The TCL 50UP130 is a 4K LED TV with a 120 Hz (effective) refresh rate. In addition to the four HDMI ports, it has a composite port, a USB port, and an Ethernet port. It also supports Wi-Fi, including fast 802.11ac connections. The Roku platform provides access to a host of popular streaming apps, including Vudu, Netflix, Amazon, and HBO. The TV has two 8-watt speakers.
Takeaway: The Achilles' heel of the TCL 50UP130 is its overall picture quality. Expect less-than-impressive black levels and so-so contrast. The trade-off is that buyers get a 4K set with very good color accuracy and built-in Roku, which most experts say is the best smart TV platform out there. This model's strengths will likely outweigh its weaknesses for many consumers.
Vizio E50u-D2 Review
From $498 Best
With 4K ultra-HD clarity, accurate color, solid black levels, local dimming support, and a user-friendly smart TV interface, the 50-inch Vizio E50u-D2 feels like a more expensive model.
Pros: The greatest strength of the 50-inch Vizio E50u-D2 (starting at $498; available on Amazon) is its use of local dimming, according to an expert from CNET. This feature can significantly improve the TV's picture quality, with deeper black levels and greater contrast. It has 12 local dimming zones, which isn't a lot -- top-of-the-line models can have more than 300 zones -- but it's certainly better than none, and most budget TVs don't boast this function at all. Beyond that, the E50u-D2 is lauded for color accuracy, minimal motion blur, and little lag (about 37 milliseconds on its gaming setting). A Reviewed.com expert reports that the TV is easy to set up and use. The white balance is very accurate out of the box, and any colors that are a little off can easily be fixed with only slight adjustments.
Cons: Reviewers have few complaints about the Vizio E50u-D2. They note that the set doesn't support HDR, but this feature is not expected in a TV in this price range. More important to some, the Reviewed.com expert found the viewing angle to be pretty narrow. The Google Cast platform, though a boon, requires an app on a smartphone or tablet to navigate the TV's smart features. This won't appeal to everyone, but users can connect an external streaming device such as a Roku box or Amazon Fire TV stick if desired. Finally, Vizio's E-Series 4K TVs do not have a built-in tuner, so buyers who get local stations via an antenna would need to purchase an add-on -- or they might consider an alternative such as the Vizio D50u-D1 instead.
Features: The Vizio E50u-D2 is a 4K LED TV with four HDMI ports, a component port, an Ethernet port, and two USB ports. The TV supports Wi-Fi connections, including 802.11ac, the latest standard. The TV has a 120 Hz (effective) refresh rate, and uses a pair of 10-watt speakers.
Takeaway: The lack of a tuner will deter a few potential buyers, and some may fumble with the Google Cast setup. Overall, however, most experts consider the Vizio E50u-D2, with its superior 4K picture quality, one of the best deals among budget TVs.
Insignia NS-50DR710NA17 Review
From $400 Good
Don't expect amazing contrast from the 50-inch Insignia NS-50DR710NA17, but the colors on this ultra-HD, Roku-equipped Best Buy set are said to be almost perfectly accurate sans adjustment.
Pros: Despite some shortcomings, there's a lot to like about the Insignia NS-50DR7NA17 (starting at $400; available on Amazon), a 50-inch 4K set from Best Buy's house-brand lineup. A PCMag expert found the colors to be bright and almost perfectly accurate without tweaking. This TV is also pretty fast, with a low response time. The Roku smart TV platform earns raves for its wealth of streaming content (including 4K menu offerings) and its simple-to-use remote and interface. A reviewer from CNET adds that the new Roku app offers more fine-tuning options to improve picture quality, which is a nice plus.
Cons: Like many TVs in this price range, the NS-50DR710NA17 has somewhat mediocre black levels, and the contrast leaves a bit to be desired, according to the CNET and PCMag reviewers. While the CNET expert considers this model on par with similar sets like the TCL P-Series Roku TV we picked, its overall picture quality certainly doesn't measure up to Vizio's budget lines. The screen uniformity is also a bit off, although the expert says most viewers won't notice. Consumers should note that this TV's standard infrared Roku remote lacks voice search and headphone jack; it also doesn't have the "point anywhere" capabilities of upgraded versions.
Features: The Insignia NS-50DR710NA17 is an LED TV with a 60 Hz screen. It has four HDMI inputs, an Ethernet port, a composite input, and a USB port. It also supports Wi-Fi, including speedy 802.11ac connections. The Roku smart TV platform allows access to just about every streaming app there is. The TV has two 10-watt speakers.
Takeaway: The Insignia NS-50DR710NA17 is a good option for shoppers seeking a budget 4K TV with Roku's powerful streaming platform built in. Like many cheap TVs, it struggles somewhat with black levels and contrast, but it excels in other respects. Holdouts might prefer to wait on soon-to-be-released models with possible upgrades.
TCL 55FS3750 Review
From $448 Good
Springing for ultra HD may not always be worth the added expense. The 1080p TCL 55FS3750 is a lower-res model that delivers a decent picture on a 55-inch screen alongside the popular Roku platform.
Pros: Ultra-HD video is an attractive feature for many buyers that's only recently found its way into the ranks of affordable TVs. But not everyone sees the value in it. The TCL 55FS3750 (starting at $448; available on Amazon) is a 1080p HDTV that experts say performs well. A reviewer from Rtings.com says it delivers solid picture quality, with sharp, detailed images and respectable black levels and contrast. This expert also notes that the color accuracy is very good, and the TV handles fast-moving content without motion blur. A CNET reviewer echoes most of these assessments and notes that, although some competing TVs have better image quality, they're also pricier. The picture on this low-priced line is "good enough" and, at 55 inches, this particular model throws a bit more screen into the bargain than our other picks. The Roku platform built into this set is the best smart TV option available, reviewers say, due to its excellent user interface and wide array of apps.
Cons: Experts don't have a lot of complaints about the TCL 55FS3750, but the Rtings.com reviewer does say this TV's audio is pretty bad even by budget TV standards. Distortion is apparent even at medium volumes. This TV also has a pretty narrow viewing angle, though that's also common among budget TVs. The CNET reviewer points out that the 55FS3750 doesn't have an Ethernet port, which may irk some buyers, but the Wi-Fi works well. This TV lacks some desirable features that are just starting to break into the budget TV range, such as local dimming and, of course, 4K resolution. The Roku TV remote is the standard version, as opposed to the "Enhanced" controller that includes voice search and a headphone jack. Despite all that, the CNET expert says the price is impressively low given the features this TV does have.
Features: The TCL 55FS3750 is an LED TV that claims a 120 Hz (effective) refresh rate. It supports Wi-Fi (802.11n) and has three HDMI ports, a composite port, and a USB port. The TV has two 8-watt speakers.
Takeaway: Shoppers looking for a cheap TV who aren't committed to a 4K screen will want to consider the TCL 55FS3750. It doesn't have the best picture quality, but this 55-inch Roku TV offers a lot of value for the buck.
Sony KDL-48W650D Review
From $448 Think Twice
This 1080p TV is a budget option from a top brand, but critics say the 48-inch Sony KDL-48W650D suffers from issues with screen uniformity, brightness, and color accuracy, in addition to limited app choices.
Pros: Sony's W650D lineup is geared toward shoppers looking for a smaller TV at a budget price, and the 48-inch model (starting at $448; available on Amazon) is an affordable 1080p set that garners its share of supporters. Buyers who have reviewed this TV on Best Buy.com appreciate how easy it is to stream content through the TV, which can also mirror the screens on linked mobile devices. They're fans of the color and picture quality, as well, and say the TV is simple to set up and use. A reviewer from Rtings.com says the black levels are okay, if not overly impressive, and show pretty good contrast. The audio is said to be a little better than average, and also louder than most. The smart TV features are fairly limited but include the most popular apps, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.
Cons: The Rtings.com expert found a few problems with the picture quality on the Sony KDL-48W650D that some Best Buy shoppers didn't pick up on. The gray screen uniformity is uneven, with overly dark corners. The screen isn't particularly bright, either. The reviewer says the color accuracy is a bit off, and there are few picture controls to fine-tune it. There is some motion blur, and input lag is average, but the reviewer suggests this TV still could work for gamers. This expert also dings the KDL-48W650D for having a pretty narrow viewing angle, something Best Buy customers noticed as well. The most common complaints from those reviewers were that they'd prefer more inputs and a wider selection of smart TV apps.
Features: The Sony KDL-48W650D TV is a 1080p LED model. It supports 802.11n Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Direct and also includes an Ethernet port. There are two HDMI ports, two USB ports, and a component/composite input. The TV has two 5-watt speakers. The display is 60 Hz (although Sony's enhances this refresh rate with Motionflow XR 240).
Takeaway: The low price of the Sony KDL-48W650D isn't enough to offset its mediocre picture quality when there are plenty of better budget options available. The TV may be fast enough for gamers, but gamers also appreciate video that looks good. The limited inputs and smart TV apps also make this TV hard to recommend.
Choosing a TV
TVs have become more packed with features and less expensive than ever. Not only are internet-connected smart TVs available at prices that appeal to even the most frugal buyers, but consumers searching for an ultra-high-definition 4K TV can find many such models on a budget. Cheapism has tapped expert and consumer reviews to put together a list of top picks that offer a bevy of sought-after features for $500 or less.
TV Brands.Manufacturers of cheap TVs include well-known brands, such as LG and Samsung, that automatically spring to mind when thinking of consumer electronics in general. However, our research suggests that buyers can get more value for their money with a name such as Vizio, the Chinese company TCL, or Best Buy's in-house Insignia brand. Expect more screen when moving beyond the mainstream, too: Whereas a 43-inch model from a big-name brand can push the $500 price ceiling, all our top picks deliver a minimum of 50 inches on the diagonal.
Pricey vs. Cheap TVs.High-end TVs have larger screens, more inputs, and more smart TV features than budget models. Colors appear sharp and bright, black levels are deep and dark without losing detail, and rapid motion doesn’t blur on-screen. Meeting all these criteria is more of a challenge for entry-level TVs. Although the picture quality is better than ever, it’s important to keep expectations at realistic levels. The images, though sharp and rich on the best cheap TVs, simply are not what you’d see on a model costing hundreds of dollars more, experts say. Newer OLED TVs, which boast the very best picture quality, sit well outside our price range; our picks are all LED LCD TVs.
4K TVs.One type of TV now available on a budget is 4K, also known as "ultra HD" or UHD. This technology promises amazingly sharp images with four times as many pixels as 1080p "full HD." In fact, 4K TVs have dropped so much in price that they barely cost more than 1080p HDTVs, and almost all our picks are ultra-HD TVs. Still, there's no reason to be wedded to this resolution upgrade. The fact is that 4K TVs don't boost picture quality as much as consumers might expect. Many experts maintain that it's hard to tell the difference between 4K and 1080p TVs. While some improvements might be noted on a large screen (say, 65 inches and up), in UHD TVs from 50 to 65 inches, gains over 1080p sets are hardly obvious, and in TVs 48 inches and smaller, they're pretty much undetectable.
HDR.High dynamic range technology, on the other hand, noticeably improves color, brightness, and contrast, creating a beautiful, more realistic image, reviewers say. HDR also has recently drifted into the realm of cheap TVs, although the content options are still limited. For now, choosing an HDR TV will get you a relatively future-proof model with support for all the HDR shows and movies that are sure to be released in the years to come.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
TV Reviews: What We Considered
To evaluate the models in our price range, we pored over TV reviews on sites such as Reviewed.com, which conducts extensive testing. LCD TV Buying Guide similarly reviews and recommends TVs based on editors' firsthand experience. It compares many different models and often goes into great technical detail. High-profile technology sites such as CNET and PCMag have also tested and reviewed some of the TVs on our list.
We gave much greater weight to these expert takes than to online reviews from consumers, most of whom have limited knowledge of or access to TVs apart from the models they've purchased. Expert reviewers have the advantage of comparing many TVs side by side, which makes subtle differences between sets more readily apparent. Not surprisingly, picture quality -- particularly resolution, color accuracy, black levels, and contrast -- is paramount in reviewers' minds, but things like the interface used to control the TV and its smart functions are also very important. While the current crop of cheap TVs tend to be slightly flawed in one way or another, the best ones hold their own in terms of features and performance.
Color Accuracy.This is a critical element of picture quality. The colors on the screen should be vibrant, not under-saturated, and neither too warm or too cool; skin tones should look natural. Perfect color accuracy is hard to find even in pricier TVs, and many cheap models struggle on this front, reviewers say. The colors may be just a little off, but most of the budget TVs we recommend have pretty good color accuracy from the get-go and require very little fine-tuning.
Black Levels.Ideally, black levels should be deep and dark -- truly jet black, never gray -- without losing detail in the shadows. This is one area where budget TVs tend to underperform. Viewers are more likely to see dark grays than inky blacks. A few of our top picks have a feature called local dimming, which makes different portions of the screen brighter and darker as needed to improve contrast. They also have full-array backlighting, or LED lights across the entire back of the screen, to make the local dimming more effective. Full-array local dimming helps deepen black levels, and reviewers rave about the difference this technology makes. While pricey TVs have hundreds of different zones that can be manipulated for ultimate picture quality, even the limited dimming capabilities of our budget picks produce noticeable results.
Screen Uniformity.This is another steep challenge for cheap TVs. Most budget models have at least a little inconsistency, meaning that some parts of the screen, usually around the edges or corners, appear a smidge brighter or darker than other parts of the screen. This can obviously be distracting and is noted in reviews by experts and some discerning buyers.
Motion Blur.Reviewers look for on-screen movement to be fluid and free of lag, particularly in sports and video games. To ensure good performance in this area, experts generally recommend looking for a high refresh rate, which indicates how often the TV redraws the image on the screen. Refresh rates of 120 Hz or higher improve the fluidity of movement onscreen and reduce the likelihood that blur will become an issue, but TVs with 60 Hz refresh rates may suffer from occasional motion blur. Some manufacturers use digital processing techniques to reduce or eliminate motion blur on 60 Hz screens, so they become, as a TV maker might say, "effective 120 Hz" displays. The success of these kinds of processing tricks varies, however, and some of the claims made by manufacturers are pure marketing gimmicks, so we relied on expert reviews for feedback on this aspect of performance. Reports of noticeable motion blur were few in reviews of our picks.
Smart TV Platform.Smart TVs are now firmly entrenched in the budget price range. Almost all the TVs we reviewed are smart TVs, although the platform varies depending on the brand. Roku-based TVs, such as those from TCL and Insignia, provide the best overall smart TV experience, according to most experts. The simple and responsive interface allows users to control the TV's settings and manage thousands of apps and streaming channels with ease. Vizio's low-end D Series TVs rely on the brand's proprietary VIA Plus platform. Other Vizio models feature the SmartCast platform -- essentially Google Chromecast built into the TVs. SmartCast requires users to download an app to a mobile device and isn't as well-liked as Roku.
Connections.Smart TVs need an internet connection to stream video and audio directly to the TV from online sources such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, and Pandora. The best cheap smart TVs support newer 802.11ac Wi-Fi connections while other cheap TVs are limited to 802.11n. Most also have Ethernet connections.
Most cheap TVs feature several types of inputs and outputs, including old-school component and/or composite ports and often USB ports. HDMI inputs are generally required to connect devices such as a Blu-ray player or video game console. The better low-cost TVs have at least three HDMI connectors for transmitting HD video and audio signals (including 4K signals via the relatively new HDMI 2.0 specification).
Sound.Don't expect too much from any budget TV's audio system. The audio quality is usually middling, and in some cases it's simply not good at all. Regardless, no one will mistake TV speakers for a home theater system. Any cheap TV will benefit from the addition of a good sound bar.
Additional Products We Considered
Vizio D50u-D1 Review
Pros: PCMag named the Vizio D-Series an Editors' Choice for entry-level 4K TVs. The 50-inch Vizio D50u-D1 (starting at $498; available on Amazon) is a slight downgrade from our top pick, the Vizio E50u-D2, but it boasts the same local dimming capability and premium picture quality as the E-Series, according to reviews. The Vizio D50u-D1 is said to have impressive black levels and contrast, as well as excellent color accuracy. A Reviewed.com expert enthuses that the colors are bright and vivid, with no adjustments necessary, although a bit of tweaking can make them look even better. In tests conducted by Rtings.com, testers claim to have been able to get the D-Series TVs' response time down to a mere 13.4 milliseconds, meaning they're good sets for gamers that need fast performance. The Vizio D50u-D1 supports a number of popular streaming apps on its smart TV platform, including Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, and so on. Unlike Vizio's E-Series TVs, this model includes a built-in tuner for over-the-air signals via antenna, a major boon for some.
Cons: There's not a lot to complain about with this TV, the PCMag reviewer says. The smart features might be a bit rudimentary compared with Vizio's E-Series, which uses Google Cast; the D50u-D1 comes with Vizio's more basic proprietary smart platform. The Reviewed.com expert also found that the viewing angle is pretty narrow, so it's best to position the TV so it can be seen straight on, or nearly so.
Features: The Vizio D50u-D1 is a 4K LED TV with 12 active LED zones. This TV has a 120 Hz (effective) refresh rate. It has five HDMI ports, a combined composite/component port, an Ethernet port, and a USB port. It supports Wi-Fi, including 802.11ac connections. The TV is outfitted with a pair of 10-watt speakers.
Takeaway: The Vizio D50u-D1 is loaded with features and connection options, and it delivers excellent picture quality, with black levels and a contrast ratio that are superior to similarly priced competition. Though the smart platform might be a bit clunkier than some, this is a very fast TV for gamers.
LG 49UH6100 Review
Pros: LG is one of the best-known names in consumer electronics, and the company has several TVs to choose from. The budget 49UH6100 (starting at $547; available on Amazon), is one of the few affordable 4K TVs that supports HDR. According to user reviews on Amazon, the high dynamic range technology does, indeed, make for a sharp, clear picture, and this 49-inch TV delivers nice-looking color. Consumers also like the smart features of the LG 49UH6100. They say the interface is simple and the TV is easy to set up and use. According to an expert from Rtings.com, the LG 49UH6100 is speedy, with a fast response time and few issues with motion blur.
Cons: The Rtings.com reviewer notes a few important shortcomings with the LG 49UH6100. Its black levels and contrast are pretty poor, resulting in blacks that look more gray. The TV's uniformity is also not very smooth, with fluctuations in both black and gray. The colors are close to accurate out of the box but need a little calibration. Finally, this expert says the sound quality is pretty bad, even for a flat-screen TV; a soundbar is strongly recommended. Amazon customers don't have a lot of complaints about the LG 49UH6100 in reviews, but a few shoppers are disappointed by the limited app availability (especially compared with a Roku TV), and some complain of noticeable light bleed.
Features: The LG 49UH6100 is a 4K LED TV with a 120 Hz (effective) refresh rate. It has three HDMI ports, a USB port, a component/composite port, and an Ethernet port. The TV also supports Wi-Fi connections (802.11n and Wi-Fi Direct). There are a pair of 10-watt speakers built into the display.
Takeaway: It's hard to find an HDR 4K TV at this price, and although the smart TV system may not be on Roku's level, it's certainly good enough to satisfy most reviewers. It's disappointing that the the LG 49UH6100 struggles so much with black levels, contrast, and sound quality, but many buyers still consider it a good value, particularly for an entry-level TV.