Editor’s note: Since we first published this post, some new models have popped up as others have gone out of stock or been discontinued, so we’ve noted those changes throughout. However, many of our recommendations — and our experts’ advice — remain the same.
If you’re still using that TV you inherited from your parents when you moved into your first place, or you’re finally sick of trying to enjoy Ted Lasso and The Sopranos on the small screens of your laptop or iPad, an inexpensive TV is just the thing you need.
While top-of-the-line televisions can cost upwards of $2,000, folks in the TV business say recent developments have made the present moment a particularly good one for buying slightly older models with solid technology — and at previously unheard of prices. “Just three years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to even have a discussion about 4K or high-definition TVs under $500,” says Mark Steinberg, a senior technologist at B&H Photo Video. “I’ve been in the business more than 20 years, and I am truly amazed by what you can get now.” Brian Westover, a Tom’s Guide editor who covers the television industry, agrees: “You can essentially get last year’s top models for Black Friday prices.” If you’re willing to go with a brand that’s not quite top-of-the-line (but still reputable), you can get newly released TVs within the same low price range, too.
A big reason for today’s good deals, according to Westover, is that 4K TVs (which show images at four times the resolution of standard HD models) have come down in price “faster than any other consumer technology” over the past decade, making what was once a splurge worthy feature far more accessible. “In 2010, a 4K television would set you back $5,000,” he explains. “Now you can get them for as little as $300.” At the same time, more and more productions are being filmed in 4K, leading more and more streaming services to offer the option of watching a show or movie in the format it is meant to be watched in, explains Cameron Faulker, our colleague at The Verge. “Netflix, Vudu — they all have the option to watch in 4K if your TV can handle it.”
Fittingly, all of the under-$500 TVs our experts recommend below come with 4K technology. The models are also all smart televisions, meaning they have built-in access to YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and more (some are also compatible with Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV; we’ve noted which in the descriptions). Since they all share the same modern features, your choice will likely come down mostly to aesthetics and the size of your space.
One thing to be aware of: Along with many other industries, television manufacturers are dealing with supply-chain issues. A lack of microchips has made it difficult to make everything from laptops to cars. What that means is that good televisions may be harder and harder to find the closer we get to the holidays. So if you see something you like, don’t dillydally.
Best 55-inch 4K TVs under $500
While shoppers’ first inclination may be to look for a name brand like Samsung or Sony, Westover told us that, in the under-$500 price point, those brands’ options are limited. (If you’re a Samsung loyalist, however, there are a couple of TVs from that brand further down on this list.) For good-quality TVs under $500, all our experts say TCL is the market leader. According to Westover, “as a manufacturer, they own the whole vertical — from the components to their design — so their quality control is very good, which is something you’d otherwise give up with budget brands.” On top of offering affordable 4K sets in more sizes than any other brand, TCL makes models that are also high-dynamic-range TVs (HDR), meaning they have a richer, brighter color palette. “The combination of 4K and HDR adds up to just amazing picture quality,” says Steve Koenig, vice-president of research at the Consumer Technology Association. The sets also pair with Alexa and Google Home, but Westover says their main selling point when it comes to software is their partnership with streaming service Roku. Steinberg tells us he can vouch for this model from TCL’s 4K LED series. The brand, he says, “brings the same quality, all the way down through their smaller range.”
This less expensive 55-inch 4K smart TV from Toshiba comes recommended by Faulkner. Compared to the TCL above, he says it may be a better choice for users who prefer Amazon Fire TV, because the model has that streaming system built in (as opposed to Roku or Chromecast).
“This is the best deal for a 55-inch 4K TV currently,” says Jon Abt, co-president of Abt Electronics. He says the picture quality is much better than the price point indicates, and points out that the high contrast ratio and vibrant colors provide “an abundance of detail when watching HDR content.” There are sacrifices, of course: “Having only two HDMI inputs can be a challenge if you have more than two high-definition sources to connect. And sound quality is only average, so you’ll likely want to add a soundbar for a more immersive home-theater experience. But as far as picture quality versus price is concerned, this is a TV that’s hard to beat,” Abt says.
Best 50-inch 4K TVs under $500
If you like TCL but want to save a little bit of money and space, Steinberg recommends this 50-inch 4K model.
Echoing our experts’ general wisdom, Koenig says this slightly less new 50-inch Samsung Series 7 4K TV is an “incredible value.” Although it came out in 2020, Koenig says the technology “is in many respects very similar to [the subsequent] generation,” including built-in AirPlay.
Best 43-inch 4K TV under $500
Most manufacturers aren’t focusing on smaller-size televisions like this one, Steinberg says. He like the Nano because “it has great contrasting colors and it has all the bells and whistles.” Along with built-in voice control, it has WebOS, Bluetooth 5.0, and Apple Airplay, making it easy to connect with your phone or tablet. Steinberg also says that LG excels at tweaking its televisions for casual gaming, in case you also want to hook up your gaming console.
Best 32-inch 4K TV under $500
If you’re the type to sacrifice screen size for brand name and features, Steinberg notes that Samsung’s QLED 4K TVs start at just under $500 for a 32-inch screen. While he admits this TV may be relatively expensive for its size, “the picture is just surreal,” he promises. “It’s got to be the best-looking 32-inch TV out there.” QLED, Faulkner explains, “rivals the visual quality of OLED TVs at a fraction of the cost. There’s a more cinematic, color-accurate picture with pin-sharp displays for the brightest colors and the deepest blacks.”
And an affordable accessory the pros recommend
While you really don’t sacrifice that much in picture quality with these budget TVs, our experts did agree that audio quality can be lacking. To significantly improve any of these TVs’ audio, Westover recommends adding a soundbar. Video editor Travis Weir recommends this one from Samsung. “The essential feature here is the subwoofer,” he says. “Normally it’s extravagant — overbearing in modest spaces and insufficient in big, lofted living rooms unless you let a pro audio service turn your pockets inside out,” he says.
If you’re willing to spend a little bit more, audiovisual and acoustic consultant Alexander Mayo of the Arup Group really likes JBL’s 2.1 Deep Bass bar. “The perfect soundbar for me is aesthetically neutral, can pair with a subwoofer, and includes Bluetooth for easy music playback from a mobile device. The JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass hits all of these points while leavi