The best TVs of 2021 have brought us some fascinating new technologies that have really pushed the world of TVs forward. We've got a range of next-gen screens including a new evolution of OLED and exciting Mini-LED tech, and these are being paired with new AI-based image processing for massive leaps in results.
The best TVs take advantage of these new advances, or they move what used to be the top-tier tech into a more affordable model, meaning that 2021 brings noticeable improvements no matter whether you're spending big or looking for something more at the mid-range or budget end.
4K is effectively the standard for TVs now, though a number of the high-end models go further (see our best 8K TVs guide to check them out). Full HD is still around, but it's mainly available in smaller sets like 32-inch TVs. 4K's dominance is no surprise; every one of the key streaming services, the likes of YouTube, Disney+ Amazon Prime Video et al, carry huge amounts of 4K video, even if the offerings on broadcast TV are a little slimmer.
You'll find certain channels available in 4K on Sky, BT and Virgin Media's subscription-based platforms, as well as (of course) a wide range of 4K resolution Blu-ray discs packed with high-resolution films and TV. Gaming has gone 4K, too: the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X can really take advantage of those extra pixels.
Even if you're not watching 4K, the best TVs of 2021 can upscale lower resolution content very convincingly, often taking advantage of AI techniques to do so. But not every 4K TV is the same as the others. Different panels, different display techniques, they make a noticeable difference
Of course, not all 4K TVs are created equal. There’s a world of difference between competing sets and the different technologies used – check out our guide to OLED vs QLED if you're baffled as to how to choose between the two leading screen types.
We'll not sugar-coat it: these may be the best TVs, but they're not necessarily the cheapest or most affordable TVs. You don't have to spend an arm and a leg for a great screen, though: we can walk you through the best TVs Under £1000 and the best TVs under £500 if you're looking for something cheaper. And if you need an audio upgrade, look towards our guide to the best soundbars.
What is the best TV of 2021?
Right now, our overall pick as the best TV is the Samsung QN900A, Samsung's blow-away Neo QLED 8K TV. This utilises a mini-LED backlight, giving it a massive upgrade in terms of how well it can control black levels and HDR highlights compared to other LED TVs, and it pairs that with a truly stunning LCD panel. There's nothing quite like it.
Apart, of course, for the QN95A, Samsung's flagship 4K TV, which does just about everything the QN900A can do with slightly less resolution in its panel, and a less advanced version of the backlight.
The current best OLED TV overall is the LG G1, which not only uses a superb new generation of OLED panel for improved HDR, but is also a supremely well-equipped gaming TV.
Best TVs 2021: the list
It has taken quite something to knock the QN95A off its lofty perch as the top TV: turns out the only thing that could beat it comes from Samsung's own stable. The QN900A is, in no uncertain terms, the best TV you can buy today.
"By nearly tripling the number of dimming zones," says our full QN900A review, focusing on the 75-inch version, "the 75QN900A raises the bar even higher, combining extreme brightness, colour and 8K sharpness with unprecedented levels of contrast and backlight control to produce the all-round most spectacular pictures I’ve seen on a TV that's remotely affordable."
It's not an OLED killer, as such. There are still those who'll favour emissive pixels over backlit LCD, but good luck finding an 8K OLED in this sort of price bracket and especially one which can match its lowest 65-inch size. And frankly, you'll look at the QN900A and swear it is OLED, so effective is its 1,920-zone Neo QLED backlight at banishing glow, enhancing HDR, and hitting peak brightness up to 4,000 nits.
It has all the functionality you'll need for new games consoles; it has AI-powered 8K upscaling that, says our review, is a "significant step up from even the already impressive upscaling of 2020’s Samsung 8K TVs," offering creditable results even on SD sources. It's essentially bezel free, with eight drivers firing sound out of the back of the unit - with that direction being perhaps its one small flaw.
In short, this is outstanding, a TV ready for everything today has to offer and (we'd hope) able to deal with tomorrow's challenges too.
The Samsung QN95A is the flagship 4K model from the company's 2021 range, and was the first to use the new Neo QLED Mini-LED display tech. The results are utterly incredible. "From its stunning control of precise light and dark to its generous helpings of detail and smooth motion control, it impresses start to finish. As the total image package, it edges out the OLED TVs we've seen so far," our review says.
Mini-LED tech is exactly what it sounds like – Samsung says its LEDs are 40 times smaller than previous models, which means it can can pack in more of them, but also create smaller and more precise dimming zones. That means this set can really blast out bright HDR peaks, but also offers basically the best control of bloom from light areas to dark that we've ever seen outside of OLED TVs. Combined with latest generation of Samsung's image processing, everything you can throw at it looks astounding, even when being upscaled.
It's also future-proofed thanks to having four HDMI 2.1 ports, and we also love that those ports are concealed in Samsung's One Connect box, which is totally separate to the main body of the TV, connecting to the panel by just a single cable. It means you can hide away cable clutter, and really shows off how good the design of this TV looks… and it looks good. At 25mm thick, it's a work of art itself.
The on-board smart options are excellent too – Samsung's Tizen platform is really easy to use, is packed with streaming apps and other options, including a new Game Bar that will be genuinely useful to those who want the best from their gaming hardware.
Our full Samsung QN95A review digs deeper into why this TV edges out the competition as our pick for the best TV available, but as our verdicts says "The Samsung QN95A is, quite simply, the state of the 4K TV art as it stands at the beginning of 2021. It's a showpiece for Samsung's image quality, and the Mini-LED 'Neo QLED' tech powering it."
If you're looking for a total home cinema upgrade – visuals and audio – in a single simple package, this is unbeatable. It's not only a fantastic 55-inch OLED TV, but the speaker bar built into the stand is a Dolby Atmos system, complete with upfiring speakers to add height.
The TV is on the very cutting edge of what OLED can do, matching the brightness of elite competitors such as the Sony A90J, yet is more affordable than the Sony. Colours are rich and punchy in the way that Philips TVs are known for, but the latest scene-by-scene AI-based processing helps skin tones to appear natural. Balancing vibrancy and realism in this way is almost impossible to pull off, but here we are. Support for both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ means that everything will look its best, too.
Philips' Ambilight tech is here too, which uses coloured light strips around the outside of the TV to project colours matching what's on the TV onto the wall, helping a small TV to feel even bigger and more immersive.
The built-in sound system is really impressive too, crucially. None of its competitors can match it for dynamism and the feeling of sounds being positioned around the screen. We dig into all this much deeper in our full Philips OLED+936 review.
It's even a good option for gaming, thanks to HDMI 2.1 support (with 4K 120Hz and VRR) – though the lag time is higher than you get from Samsung or LG. And there's basically zero risk of OLED burn-in here, even for hardcore gamers, thanks to smart processing that detects static logos on screen and dims those pixels slightly, avoiding any permanent retention.
We all use our TVs for different things, so it's important to get something versatile and able to do anything from playing games to watching movies to turning iffy broadcast TV into something half-watchable. LG's mid-range screen may lack a couple of the G1's fringe features, but it has the things you really need: taking the design of the CX and making it better, adding in the 2021 feature set that everyone needs (we're talking HDMI 2.1, VRR, all the good stuff) as well as LG's revised webOS, an iteration on what was already the best TV operating system that makes things slicker and neater than ever before.
The C1 is just so capable. It's happy with 4K 120Hz signals, it works with Freesync and G-Sync, it supports eARC and Atmos. And the Alpha 9 processor inside is a powerhouse, sporting an expanded AI Picture Pro learning engine which handles 4K with aplomb and does a spectacular job turning HD and SD signals into something more.
There's no HDR10+ here, just as there's no Dolby Vision support on Samsung TVs, due to complicated internal squabbles that we won't go into - but the C1's HDR provision is wide and rich, supporting Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG and doing brilliant things with each of them.
Sound is middling, though it's fully loud enough and supports LG's AI Sound Pro system, so you'll get a virtual height channel if it detects Dolby Atmos soundtracks.
Scale back your screen size and the C1 actually starts looking like a bit of a bargain, being available in both 58- and the new 48-inch OLED flavours. Scale it up and you can spend a little more on the 65- or 77-inch versions; go completely mad, and there's a somewhat more expensive 85-inch version on the way which will truly fill your wall. Check out our full LG C1 review to find out more.
The QN85A is the lowest-priced model in Samsung's next-gen 'Neo QLED' TV line-up, and this is the smallest size it comes in. It uses Mini-LEDs to offer a pretty incredible balance of image quality and price – its HDR is brilliantly bright, but the precision of its backlight is able to deliver huge contrast when it comes to deep black levels too. It gives a bigger dynamic range than other mid-range LED TVs manage, but also goes brighter than OLED TVs for the same price can deliver, so is great for bright rooms.
Samsung's image processing is excellent, and means that both native 4K video and upscaled HD look seriously impressive and detailed. Our full Samsung QN85A review, we said "Give the QN85A the best stuff to work with and it’s capable of deeply impressive results."
It's also great for features – including Samsung excellent smart TV platform, which is full of all the key streaming services, while also being really easy to use. There's also an HDMI 2.1 port, which supports next-gen gaming features, including VRR and 4K 120Hz – though it's a shame there's only one.
It's only weaknesses are handling standard definition content (other sets here upscale that better), average sound and if you're a sports lover, some sets deal a little better with fast motion. We also wish it had Dolby Vision to really make the most of its HDR abilities, but we're already so impressed with its HDR that we can live with it. But for sheer bang for buck when it comes to bright, beautiful images, this is one hell of a set.
This is the first TV with LG's new 'OLED evo' panel – a next-gen version of OLED tech that consumes less power, can go brighter, and offers even more accurate colours. In the case of the LG G1, that means it can hit around 20% brighter than previous LG OLED TVs, giving scope for broader and more striking HDR than ever.
That's combined with LG's ever-improving control over the near-black elements of pictures, which means better performance at both ends of the brightness spectrum, giving more true-to-life pictures, and making the most of the advantage that OLED's self-emissive pixels have when compared to LED TVs (even mini-LED).
LG's new image processing powers everything, with a noticeable boost to how it handles upscaling from HD to 4K especially – everything looks sharper, but also more natural. And actual 4K video looks better than ever, thanks partly to improved 'AI' recognition of scenes – the TV is better at identifying what's on screen and tweaking its performance to make the most of it.
As well as being phenomenal for movies, the LG G1 is an excellent choice for gaming. All four of its ports are HDMI 2.1, with 4K 120Hz, Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) support, and a new Game Optimiser mode adds flexibility to balance responsiveness with picture quality.
It even sounds good, thanks partly to improved audio processing, which now promises something akin to 5.1.2 channels from the 60W of on-board power.
However, there is one very notable omission here: it doesn't come with a stand in the box. This is a 'Gallery' TV, and it's made for wall mounting – it comes with a special flush wall bracket, so that it sits as slim as possible when up. You can buy some feet, or LG's fetching 'Gallery Stand', but be warned that this is something you'll have to add yourself.
Shhh, don't let the secret out, but there's not a vast difference in the image quality between this and the LG C1 above, and no difference at all in the smart platform or future-proofed connectivity options, including 4K 120Hz and Variable Refresh Rate support for next-gen gaming.
The C1's screen is generally measured brighter than the B1, so it still has a slight edge on HDR performance, but the gap between them really isn't colossal. The B1 also has slightly less advanced processing, but it's still a class act for handling upscaling and motion.
There's no drop in HDR format support either, so you get the dynamic images of Dolby Vision support, plus the webOS operating system has plenty of apps that support this, including Netflix and Apple TV. Other UK catch-up services are present, as is Freeview Play and Amazon Prime Video, though the HDR10+ support of the latter can't be used, because the TV itself doesn't support it.
However, the sound has definitely been skimped on in this TV, to save money. But that's fine – you don't have to spend much at all on one of the best soundbars to compensate.
This TV is Sony's flagship 4K LCD TV from 2020, but it doesn't cost flagship money – it cost much less than the LG CX or Samsung Q95T, for example.
It still delivers high-class image quality, though: with brightness peaking at over 1,000 nits, you get bountiful HDR from it, and Sony's image processing is second to none. Colours are supremely rich without coming across as fake, and skin tones in particular have a class-leading realism to them, while still being vibrant.
It also handles motion better than just about anything else, giving fast scenes in movies an authentic look but without any judder – at the same, it clears up and adds detail, which is especially great in sport. It's also a highly talented upscaler, so HD video and streams look at close to 4K as possible.
It's not a great choice for gaming thanks to lack of support for 4K at 120fps and a few other missing features (surprisingly, given that Sony's own PS5 will support them), but if you want a TV bright enough to give you a full-on HDR experience even in a strongly lit room, this is really good choice. Read more about it in our Sony XH95 review.
The X90J is going to be one of the TV smash hits of 2021, and for good reason. It offers bright and beautiful HDR images that can't fail to wow, and local dimming of its full array backlight helps it to keep dark scenes looking convincingly dark. It also includes HDMI 2.1 for future-proofing, which means it's geared up for next-gen console features.
Sony's new 'Sony's Cognitive Processor XR' is on board here, and this next-gen image processing is a big part of its magic. Sony was always a leader in handling motion and upscaling, and it's only gotten better with the new model – whether you're watching in native 4K or upscaling from HD, everything looks wonderfully detailed, and motion appears clear and smooth with appearing robotic.
It all adds up to image quality that's seriously impressive for the price, with the slight caveat that the set is pretty reflective, and also doesn't keep its quality over wide viewing angles as well as some of the competition. However, depending on your setup, they may not even be big issues for you.
The speakers are solid, and that HDMI 2.1 support includes 4K 120Hz for gaming – though no Variable Refresh Rate yet, which is promised in an update.
As our full Sony X90J review put it: "Sony's X90J provides a noticeable step up from last year's model … Its color reproduction is just wonderful, with some clever processing techniques which allow images to look as good as can possibly be on an LED TV."
Though this is as affordable as Samsung TVs get, you won't feel like it's been neglected in any way – the plastic build feels perfectly premium, there's support for HDR10+ advanced HDR, and the software is essentially the same as that on higher-end models, including wide support for streaming and catch-up services, including Netflix, Apple TV (with AirPlay 2), Amazon Prime Video, and loads more.
And, crucially, the image quality also surpasses what you'd expect for the price – everything looks sharp and detailed, and it even does a damn good job of upscaling from HD, so if you tend to rely on watching non-4K stuff (which is most of it still, after all), you really won't feel like you got a budget TV here.
As an added bonus, it has a tiny 10ms response time, which means it's a great choice for gaming. Here's our full Samsung AU9000 review.
How to choose the best TV for you
Shortlisting your next television can be a complicated business, but a few simple rules of thumb will help.
As we move from HD to 4K and ultimately 8K, screen size becomes a key consideration. To see incremental differences in resolution, you’ll probably need to buy a bigger screen than you had previously, or move your seating closer. Long story short: think big, then buy bigger.
Counter intuitive it may well be, but ultra-large 8K screens are perfect for smaller rooms, if you want to really see every drop of detail. Everything you think you know about viewing distances is changing…
Then there’s viewing environment. If you tend to watch in high ambient lighting, or during daytime, an LED or QLED screen will typically serve you better than OLED. If you prefer to watch with low or no lighting, an OLED will deliver greater subjective contrast and shadow detail.
Smart platforms are no longer a decisive reason to buy. All TVs are smart these days, and the choice of apps ubiquitous – focus on image quality, price and any other features you're keen on.
Should I upgrade my HD TV to a 4K TV?
Yes, definitely (although, to be fair, if you buy a new TV that’s what you’re going to get whether you like it or not).
The resolution of 4K/Ultra HD is four times higher than Full HD, at 3840x2160. It means a far more detailed picture, with content requiring a lot more bandwidth and storage space. 4K TVs tend to be good at upscaling HD video to Ultra HD, and native 4K content is now widely available from a variety of sources.
Our advice? Replace your HD screen with a larger 4K UHD model to really enjoy the resolution benefit. Similarly, buy a larger 8K TV than your 4K screen, if you’re stepping up again.
What types of TV display can I choose from?
The lighting on OLED (organic light emitting diode) TVs is achieved by passing an electric current through an emissive, electroluminescent film. This technique produces beautiful colour and high contrast and also enables screens to be extremely thin and flexible. LG Display is the only supplier of 4K OLED screens to mainstream TV manufacturers, meaning they all use the same panels, but picture processors and implementation all vary, so you can still expect differences between brands.
Samsung is the leading exponent of QLED, a variant of LED LCD display technology that uses a highly efficient Quantum Dot filter that increases brightness and colour volume. QLED screens with a full array backlight offer the best performance when it comes to HDR peak brightness and LCD black level control.
LED TV: Direct LED
Sometimes called FALD (Full Array Local Dimming), these displays are backlit by an array of LEDs (light emitting diodes) directly behind the screen. This enables localised dimming – meaning immediately adjacent areas of brightness and darkness can be displayed more effectively – and greatly improves contrast.
LED TV: Edge LED
With these Edge LED TVs, the LEDs of the backlight are mounted along the edges of the panel. This arrangement enables radically slender displays, but can't achieve the same picture quality as directly lit LED sets. However, Edge LED displays do come in far cheaper, which is why the more budget LED TVs out there use this technology.
What should I look for when I'm buying a TV?
Here are some of the things we look for when we review a TV screen, so you should, too...
Contrast: Bright whites shouldn't have any signs of green, pink or blue in them, while blacks should look solid and not washed out, grey, green or blue.
Colours: Look at how bright and solid they are; how noiseless their edges are; how 'dotty' richly saturated areas are and how natural skin looks, especially in dim scenes.
Fine detail: How much texture does the screen give? Does a tree look like a green lump, or can you see the individual leaves?
Edges: Check for ghosting, bright halos and jaggedness, especially around curves.
Motion: Check moving objects and quick camera pans for smearing or blurring, trailing, jerkiness and fizzing dotty noise.
Image artefacts: Look for blockiness, colour bands, grain, smearing, dot crawl: anything that looks like it's added by the TV’s picture processing engine.
What about TV sound?
To provide the best audio to complement the pictures, your TV should be hooked up to a separate audio system, be it soundbar or home cinema separates, but this isn't always an option. So, here's what we listen for when testing a TV's speakers:
Bass: Deep, rounded rumbles that don't cause the set to rattle or speakers to distort cramp or overwhelm the rest of the sound; but that expand when needed.
Vocals: Voices should sound open, rich and clear, not boxed in, nasal or thin.
Trebles: Treble effects should sound clean, rounded and smooth in loud scenes and shouldn't dominate the soundstage.
Soundstage width/depth: A good TV should throw the sound away from the TV, to the sides, forward and back, to give an extra dimension to what's on screen, without losing any coherence.
How many HDMI sockets do you need?
For a living room TV you should be looking for a minimum of three HDMI inputs, but ideally four if you want to attach a set-top box as well as games consoles, Blu-ray player and media streamer.