by Caroline Stewart on
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4K TVs are finally getting cheap enough that you can afford them without borrowing money or missing a rent payment. These are the best 4K screens you can get for an affordable price.
Upgrading to a 4K TV from the regular HD screen you’re used to is a pretty significant upgrade, especially if you spring for some of the extras like HDR or local dimming. If you want the best you can get, we advise checking those out. However, if you’re more concerned with keeping the price low, these are the models we recommend.
When it comes to televisions, TCL is making a name for itself in the budget category. 4K TVs under $500 aren’t exactly common, so getting this 49″ model for $300 is immediately appealing. Normally, you’d expect to make some sacrifices at this price point—and you are—but impressively, this model still comes with support for HDR10. That’s the technically less impressive version of HDR, but it will give your movies a huge boost in picture quality either way.
This model also comes with Roku’s software built in. A standalone set-top box or streaming stick is usually better over the long term, but at least you can get up and running with Roku’s streaming apps as soon as you take the TV out of the box. All in all, it’s hard to beat the value you’re getting from this set. And it’s only $20 more expensive than TCL’s 49″ 1080p display, so you get a heck of an upgrade for very little extra cash.
Let’s say $300 is too rich for your tastes. You want the absolute cheapest 4K TV you can get and you don’t care what sacrifices you have to make. If that’s where you’re at, then this 43″ model from Sceptre is what you want. At least for now. At $190 it was the cheapest TV we found that was still 4K. Granted, you can get cheaper by going with standard HD, but this at least gives you a little bit of future-proofing.
However, the trade-offs are pretty substantial. There’s no kind of HDR support at all in this set. That’s a pretty big deal in our book. 4K gives you more pixels but HDR makes those pixels look a lot better. If you can spare the extra $120 to go up to our overall pick, we’d recommend it, but if you don’t care this set will be fine. As a weird bonus, this TV also doesn’t come with any smart software at all. The downside is that you’ll have to buy a set top box, streaming stick, or console to get anything out of it.
One of the biggest contributing factors to a high price tag on a TV is its size. All other things being equal, a larger screen will cost a heck of a lot more. So getting even a 65″ display for under $500 is a rare treat. This 65″ Sceptre model ships for $470 and is bigger than any others we’ve featured and most 4K TVs in the $500 range in general.
If you want a big screen for a low price, this is the way to go, but it comes with some drawbacks. For starters, this set doesn’t support any kind of HDR. Again, HDR is an even bigger benefit than 4K itself, so spending $470 on only half of an upgrade might not be for everyone. Still, screen size plays a big part in how good your picture is and depending on your viewing distance, the bigger screen might be worth it.
If we keep harping on HDR, it’s for a good reason. Any HDR will make your movies look a lot better, however, there are two competing standards. HDR10, which virtually all HDR TVs support, gives you better color ranges. Dolby Vision, on the other hand, is even crazier. Where HDR10 lets your TV display up to a billion individual colors (up from the 16 million or so your old TV can handle), Dolby Vision is capable of 68 billion individual colors. It’s also capable of even deeper blacks and brighter lights than HDR10. In other words, it’s the best possible version of HDR on the market right now.
It also comes at a cost. You might notice this TCL 55″ TV is the only set on our list that’s more than $500. We tried to keep the price reasonable, but Dolby Vision comes at a higher premium than other TVs, so even getting it at $650 is pretty good. On top of that, you’ll need a player and movies that all support Dolby Vision, which might be in short supply in an already relatively new market. Most people will probably be happy with our overall pick and the regular HDR10 (and you’ll save enough to buy a second TV if you go that route), but if you want a cheap TV and still want to have the best possible picture you can get on a budget, this Dolby Vision TCL is your best bet.
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