How We Tested
Reviewed has been testing TVs since some of its current employees were in middle school. While many proud TV testers have come and gone through Reviewed’s labs, the current Home Theater team consists of Michael Desjardin and Lee Neikirk. Michael is a senior staff writer and a six-year veteran of the Reviewed tech team. A film enthusiast and TV expert, he takes picture quality seriously but also understands that not every TV is a good fit for everyone.
As Reviewed’s Home Theater Editor, Lee doesn’t do as much testing these days. However, he designed the company’s current TV testing methodology after receiving calibration certification from the Imaging Science Foundation.
It’d be an understatement to say that we’re serious about TV testing. The lab in our Cambridge location is outfitted with much of the same equipment you’d find at a factory that manufactures and calibrates television.
On the hardware side, we’ve got things like a Konica Minolta CS-200 tristimulus color meter, an LS-100 luminance meter, a Leo Bodnar input lag tester, a Quantum Data 780A signal generator, and more Blu-rays than we can keep track of. For software, we use CalMan Ultimate, the industry-standard in taking display measurements and calibrating screens to specifications.
Our testing process is equally complicated and has been honed over many years to gather data that is marginal enough to satisfy curious video engineers, but also relevant to the average person’s viewing experience. We measure things like peak brightness, black level, hue and saturation for primary and secondary digital colors, the accuracy of the TV’s electro-optical transfer function—you get the idea, it’s complicated.
Weighting for our performance tests is based on how the human eye prioritizes vision, which means we put “brightness” data (monochromatic eye based on light sensitivity) higher than colorimetry, which is also scaled by the eye’s sensitivity, and so on.
Outside of the strictly technical tests, we also spend a lot of time just watching and using each TV, getting a feel for the at-home experience of doing things like dialing up streaming video service, connecting a Blu-ray player and watching movies, using the smart features, and checking out the TV’s ports, remote, and on-set buttons—anything and everything that might be relevant.
What You Should Know About TVs For The Xbox Series X And Xbox Series S
While everyone has different eyes, generally, our vision all functions the same way: we prioritize dynamic information and bright, compelling colors over subtler hues and resolution (sharpness). Generally, a TV can be considered a good TV when we forget that we’re watching a TV. We don’t see pixels creating mixes of red, green, and blue to simulate colors; we see the real world, lit and colored as it is, in fluid motion.
In simpler terms, this means a TV that can get very bright and dark without obscuring details; produces accurate colors (compared to various color standards designated by the International Telecommunication Union); possesses proper bit-mapping and the right codecs and decoders for video processing; and can properly play the various types of content thrown at it without judder, blurring, and so on.
When it comes to shopping for a TV specifically for use with the new Xbox, there are a few things you’ll definitely want to secure: 4K resolution (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) and HDR (High Dynamic Range) support. Fortunately, just about every new TV worth its salt these days is a 4K/HDR TV (though HDR performance varies depending on the TV’s capabilities).
If you really want to set yourself up for all of the cutting-edge features that the new Xbox consoles have to offer, you’ll probably have to spend a bit more to lock down features like HDMI 2.1, Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM).
What’s The Difference Between The Xbox Series X And The Xbox Series S?
From a usage standpoint, the biggest difference between the two new Xbox consoles is the manner in which games are installed and played; the Xbox Series X features a UHD Blu-ray disc drive for hardcopy games, while the Series S does not. Being an all-digital experience, the Series S leans heavily on its limited 512GB of internal storage. The disc-drive-equipped Xbox Series X, however, comes with 1TB of storage—nearly double the Series S.
From a performance standpoint, the Xbox Series S and the Xbox Series X will offer significantly different in-game experiences, starting with resolution. While the Xbox Series X supports 4K resolution (3840 x 2160), the Series S tops out at a resolution of 1440p (2560 x 1440). The Xbox Series X also supports frame rates of up to 120 FPS (Frames Per Second) at 4K resolution, but the pared-down Series S only supports 60 FPS/120 FPS gaming with a maximum resolution of 1440p. Eventually, the Xbox Series X is primed to support 8K resolution gaming at 60 FPS.
What Is HDMI 2.1 And Do I Need It?
HDMI 2.1 is the newest version of the HDMI interface, concerning both HDMI ports and the cables themselves. Although HDMI 2.1 is in the nascent stage of its lifespan, the format is a requirement for several next-generation gaming benchmarks like 4K gaming at 120 FPS and 8K gaming at 60 FPS.
Some TVs include HDMI 2.1-compliant ports, but as of 2020, the industry standard remains HDMI 2.0. In due time, the 2.0 standard will be phased out in favor of HDMI 2.1, but as of late 2020, HDMI 2.1 ports are mostly a high-end spec.
Fortunately, there’s still plenty of time for HDMI 2.0 to shine; video game developers are just now beginning to harness the power of HDMI 2.1. Additionally, some TVs—like the TCL 6-Series, our Best Value winner for this roundup—cover some of HDMI 2.1’s standard features while not offering HDMI 2.1-compliant ports. For instance, the TCL 6-Series supports Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), but not 4K gaming at 120 FPS.
What Is Variable Refresh Rate (VRR)?
Variable Refresh Rate, often abbreviated as “VRR,” is a gaming-related software enhancement that prevents screen tearing and artifacting as a result of changes in frame rate. Essentially, VRR ensures that what is being displayed is in sync with real-time changes in animation.
Some forms of VRR are proprietary, like Nvidia’s G-Sync technology and AMD’s FreeSync technology.
What is Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM)?
Auto Low Latency Mode, otherwise known as “ALLM,” is a feature that allows a TV to automatically switch into its designated gaming mode when a qualifying input is chosen. In short, it removes the need for a user to manually activate their TV’s gaming mode so that they may enjoy the benefits of low input lag and low latency without fumbling for a remote control and visiting the TV’s settings menu.
ALLM does not require the HDMI 2.1 format, but it will be a standard feature of HDMI 2.1 going forward.
What Is Refresh Rate And Why Is It Important For Gaming?
A TV’s refresh rate represents the amount of times it re-scans the picture for new information, with “Hz” being the unit of frequency. The higher the refresh rate, the better the TV tends to be at conveying realistic, smooth motion.
Currently, TVs only come in 60 Hz or 120 Hz, though you might see claims of higher refresh rates—like 240, 480, or even 960 Hz. Make no mistake, however: Every TV on the market in 2020 is either 60 Hz or 120 Hz natively, even though they might use motion enhancement settings to extrapolate higher numbers.
What does that mean for gamers? Well, TVs that feature a native refresh rate of 120 Hz are better equipped at delivering a smooth video game experience, but that doesn’t mean 60 Hz TVs aren’t worth a look, especially if you’re looking to save some money.
What Is Input Lag?
Input lag is what happens when the TV is doing so much image processing that a physical input from the player (pressing a button on the video game controller) takes too long to register on screen. This is a big problem in games that require split-second reaction time (and by the last levels, most games require split-second reaction time), and it’s even worse if you’re playing online.
Thankfully, there are very few TVs in 2020 that outright fail to deliver respectable input lag figures. In fact, for most folks, the difference in input lag from one TV to the next is often imperceptible.
How Do I Reduce Input Lag?
Depending on your TV’s capabilities, you may be able to take steps at home to reduce its input lag. Here are some things to consider.
1. Turn on Game Mode.
Designed specifically for use with video games, “Game Mode” (or some variation) is offered on most TVs. Sometimes it’s an option under “Video Mode,” a preset picture setting, and sometimes it’s a standalone setting that you can toggle on or off. It usually turns off motion-smoothing modes (see #3 below), and pumps up the brightness and color saturation. TVs that offer Auto Low Latency Mode will automatically enable Game Mode if they detect the presence of a gaming console.
2. Turn off reduction features.
Most TVs on the market today come with at least a few reduction settings. They usually sit in their own sub-menu within a sub-menu, so it might be tricky to find them.
There are tons of names for these settings: Noise Reduction, Mosquito Reduction, NR Reduction, and MPEG Reduction are all likely candidates. Whatever they happen to be called, one thing is always consistent: They always increase input lag.
If you decide that you really need a certain feature, like flesh-tone enhancement, play the game without it at first, and then turn it on—you might notice that it affects response.
3. Turn off motion enhancements.
Nearly every TV that we’ve tested for input lag goes from excellent (sub-30ms input lag) to horrible (over 80ms input lag) just by turning motion smoothing on. It may make the picture look a little better, but your control over the game will suffer as a result.
What TV Terms Do I Need To Know?
When it comes to knowing what you’re paying for, almost no category is rifer with subterfuge and tomfoolery than TVs. While knowing the specs of the TV you’re shopping for is only half the battle, it’s the bigger half. Here are the key bits of jargon you’ll want to know while browsing:
LED/LCD: This refers to Light Emitting Diode and Liquid Crystal Display. LEDs are the backlights used in LCD TVs, also sometimes called a LED TV for this reason. The LED backlight shines through a layer of a semi-solid substance called “liquid crystal,” so named for its ability to morph in reaction to tiny electrical volts and allow light to pass through.
OLED: This means Organic Light Emitting Diode. This is an altogether different panel technology than LED/LCD. Rather than an LED backlight element shining through an LCD panel element, OLED TVs essentially combine the backlight and crystal array, using sub-pixel strata that produce light and color individually.
4K/UHD: Usually 4K refers to resolution—specifically, 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. This is the current standard/mainstream resolution for most TVs. UHD means Ultra High Definition, and actually refers to a suite of picture improvements like 4K resolution and Wide Color Gamut, which can display many more shades than HD TVs.
High Dynamic Range: Like “UHD,” High Dynamic Range (or HDR) refers to both a type of TV and a type of content that expands on the typical range of brightness (luminance) and color that a TV will produce. HDR TVs are newer and usually a bit more expensive, but can have many times the brightness and 30% more color production than non-HDR TVs. Current top HDR formats include HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision.
60 Hz/120 Hz: These numbers refer to what is called a “refresh rate,” with Hz (hertz) representing “times per second.” So if a TV’s refresh rate is 60 Hz, this means it re-scans and updates for picture information 60 times per second; with 120 Hz, it’s 120 times per second. Currently, TVs only come in 60 or 120 Hz. A higher refresh rate is always better, but not always necessary.
Smart TV: The term “smart TV” has evolved a lot over the years, but all it really means is that the TV connects to the internet. Most smart TVs these days are just a way to watch streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video on your TV. Some smart TVs have browsers, calendars, or even Roku or Android functions. All smart TVs have ethernet or WiFi built-in.
Quantum Dots: Quantum dots are used in LED/LCD TVs only. These are microscopic nanocrystals that produce intensely colored light when illuminated. Quantum dots can be used to vastly improve the red and green saturation of a TV, and are one way that LED/LCD TVs can match the color spectrum of OLED.
Local Dimming: OLED panels look great because each pixel can operate independently. LED/LCD TVs can imitate this functioning via a process called local dimming, where localized clusters of LEDs dim or boost depending on whether the screen needs to be darker or brighter, sometimes vastly improving their performance and worth.
What Is a TV Series?
You may notice the TVs listed in this roundup don’t follow the traditional naming convention you might see in a store or online. That’s because rather than nominating a single size of TV (such as the LG OLED65C8PUA, aka the 65-inch LG C8 series OLED), we nominate the entire range of sizes within a “series.”
Typically these TVs are identical in performance but differ in price and size. We do this in order to offer you more flexibility in your decision, but also because it’s the most accurate representation available.