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If you took the evolution drawing showing the progress from ape to man and replaced it with televisions, it would be a long line of large, heavy monkeys for about 60 years, and then a very rapid transformation to the slim, upright human that is today’s Smart TV.
Even that plasma TV you owned a mere dozen years ago would be a hairy knuckledragger. Why? Chances are it didn’t have internet connectivity or apps, and it most definitely did not stream. Of course, then you were getting your movies in the mail-in red envelopes from Netflix, so it didn’t matter.
What made your TV make the leap from stone tools to Smart? In short, it cross-bred with your laptop, and in the process gained internet access, powerful processors, user-friendly software, and apps. The old TVs which needed cable or another A/V source evolved into ones which bring “Spider-Man: No Way Home” into your home mere weeks after its theatrical release.
And like smart humans, they like to hang out with smart friends. Smart TVs now have seamless integration with Alexa and/or Google Assistant, and can do your bidding via voice command. Some can even control the other smart devices in your house like your lights and your security system. Let’s see your old 100-pound cathode-ray-tube monster with the rabbit-ear antenna do that!
So what makes the best Smart TV? Honestly, the streaming capabilities and options are mostly the same. It boils down to the same parameters that TVs have been judged by since they showed Milton Berle on a 6-inch screen: quality of picture, quality of sound, ease of use, and price. OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) TVs have better picture quality, but are more expensive. LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), also known as LED TVs, are less expensive and the better models still provide terrific, clear pictures.
Smart TVs require smart shopping. Here’s a rundown of our best recommendations.
Best of the Best
LG OLED Evo G2 Series 77-Inch 4K Smart TV
If you’re going to go big, go BIG. This beauty with the six-foot-plus screen is from LG’s Gallery Edition line, and when you mount it on your wall – a process made so much easier by its thinness and relatively low weight (77.4 pounds) for its size – you will quickly see why that name is a perfect fit. The picture is, in short, a work of art, with incredible contrast and color vibrancy across the whole giant screen. Add in Dolby Cinema mode, WiSA home theater technology which, when paired with WiSA Certified speakers gives you unbeatable sound, and LG’s Game Optimizer, you have a TV that will likely be the very top of the line for years to come.
OLED Picture, LED Price
VIZIO 55-Inch OLED55-H1 Premium 4K Smart TV
It’s not often you find a really good OLED set for under four figures, much less one that also has Apple AirPlay 2 and Chromecast built in, a Pro Gaming Engine mode, and a super-fast 120Hz refresh rate. This Vizio model comes with most of the top streaming apps preloaded, and if you’re upgrading from an LED set, you’ll notice the perfect black levels and overall improvement in color intensity right away. And if you can grab it at Amazon’s current 26% off deal, you’ll also notice you wallet hasn’t been completely emptied as it would be with many other OLED sets.
Big Picture, Small Price
TCL 75-Inch 6-Series 4K QLED Roku Smart TV (2021 Model)
Don’t be put off by that “2021 Model” tag – the tech improvements from last year to this have been small, so you’re still buying the peak TV experience. “QLED” stands for Quantum Dot Light-Emitting Diode. It’s still closer to LED than it is to OLED, but as we said, a good LED set is still going to give you a great picture, and this TCL set does exactly that, with Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range and a fast 120Hz refresh rate. Save half of the money you would have spent on the LG OLED Evo G2 and get a set that’s a mere two inches smaller and delivers a competitive picture.
Best Budget Set
Amazon Fire 43-Inch 4-Series 4K Smart TV
When you see an opportunity to get the whole suite of solid streaming options on a 4K Ultra HD screen for under $400, you give it a long look. And when over 9,000 Amazon reviewers give you an average 4.5-star endorsement, you see that you’re in good company. This Amazon set, naturally, gives you built-in Alexa capabilities and voice functionality and all the perks of Amazon’s Fire TV without the streaming stick. Is it going to give you the Rembrandt of pictures like the high-end OLED models? No, but it’s going to way overperform its price tag, and be a very steady and reliable performer.
Best LED Set
Samsung Class QN90A Neo QLED 4K Smart TV (2021 Model) – 19% Off
Samsung brought out all of its big guns to make this the best LED model we could find – Quantum Matrix Technology and Quantum Mini LED to get this picture as close to OLED as you will find without making the leap, a Neo Quantum Processor for rich 4K resolution regardless of what you’re watching, and Object Tracking Sound+ that kills any lag between picture and sound. There’s an 85-inch (!!!) 2022 model of this set with improved sound and contrast, but it’s literally more than three times the price of this 2021 model. Pocket the difference and enjoy a truly great TV.
The Powerball Option
Sony 83-Inch Bravia XR A90J HDR OLED With Smart Google TV
Walk into a room with this monster mounted on the wall and be ready to catch your jaw as it plummets toward the floor. The features list is nearly as large as the screen, which is a mere inch short of seven feet diagonally. Sony brings its brightest-ever OLED picture and combines it with its XR tech that creates the truest blacks and billions of natural, accurate colors. XR Motion Clarity means no blurring for fast-moving pictures like sports or action movies. Apple AirPlay means seamless delivery from any of your Apple devices. And if you have a Sony PS5, there are exclusive gaming enhancements for that console, and a ridiculously low 8.5ms input lag. If you hit the Powerball, buy the Lamborghini tomorrow – order the Sony Bravia XR A90J today.