Best Smart TVs of 2018
We've researched hundreds of smart TVs and selected our top three. Read our shopping guide to find out our picks.
Time for an Upgrade: Your Guide to the Best Smart TVs
If you're in the market for a new TV, it's time to get to know smart TVs—because these days, it's hard to find a television that isn't a smart TV. Smart TVs are perfect for people who are ready to evolve beyond traditional TV and on to streaming video: they basically turn your TV screen into a giant smartphone that can work with video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and Vudu (and they play nice with music streaming services, too).
Ready to get smart on smart TVs? Here's everything you need to know to pick the right one.
Advantages of Smart TVs
Smart TVs bring the convenience of smartphone apps to our TV screens. Here's why that's a big deal.
- No streaming box is needed. Streaming boxes like the Apple TV or Amazon's Fire TV devices can be handy, but it's a lot more convenient to have streaming apps included with your TV. You also save on cost—some streaming boxes cost hundreds of dollars.
- Screen sharing from other devices is easy. If you've ever wanted to see your own photos, videos, or documents on your TV, a smart TV makes it a snap. To learn more about how different smart TVs handle getting content from your devices, visit each manufacturer's website.
- One remote rules them all. For every external content source you have—whether that's a cable TV box, streaming box, or Blu-ray player—there are additional remotes to keep track of. Universal remotes are great, but they're pricey. With a smart TV, your TV's remote is the same remote you use to browse streaming services, which is perfect for those who value simplicity.
- A smart TV can do everything a traditional TV can do. It's important to remember that smart TVs are just as capable, and often more so, than their traditional TV counterparts. While that may not sound like a big deal, it is. Why? Because you don't have to sacrifice the traditional TV features you love when you buy a smart TV.
Smart TV Platforms
Smart TVs are essentially televisions with small computers inside, and those computers run operating systems designed to be controlled with a remote. While they all perform the same basic functions, there are definitely differences—so consider them carefully.
- Tizen: Samsung TV runs the Tizen smart TV platform, which is easily the most popular, primarily due to Samsung's share of the TV market. Sometimes there's power in numbers: new smart TV apps typically come to Samsung TVs before they come to other brands, and the same goes for app updates. If you plan on using smart TV apps for streaming on a daily or near-daily basis, keep Samsung's line of smart TVs on your shortlist.
- WebOS: LG Smart TVs run WebOS, their proprietary interface. WebOS has evolved over the years, and it took a giant leap forward with WebOS 3—a snappy, intuitive interface that supports apps from all over the world. And while WebOS is fairly straightforward to use, half of the fun is using it on LG's incredible displays ... especially their OLED models, which individually light every pixel on the screen.
- Google Android TV: Google's Android TV, not to be confused with its sibling, Android mobile OS, brings Google's considerable app and user interface to smart TVs. Android TV is one of Google's least famous but most useful projects, and it includes features no one else has come close to, like compatibility with network tuners (which are perfect for cord cutters who want to integrate local over-the-air channels into their smart TV).
- Roku: While Roku is known for being one of the biggest makers of streaming boxes, they also make a line of TVs that have their smart TV platform baked in. Roku's platform is simple enough for anyone to use, and it's a favorite among kids and grandparents. Best of all, Roku's smart TVs are usually among the most affordable values on the market.
Smart TV Prices
When it comes to smart TVs, prices can be all over the place, but there is some method to the madness. Here's what to expect for your money.
- Between $400 and $999, there are lots of terrific options if you're willing to skimp on a few premium features. Smart TVs in this price range are big and beautiful, but they may have a limited number of HDMI ports, or they may not support High Dynamic Range (HDR), a video technology that significantly improves the colors of TV shows and movies. If you just need a basic set between 40 and 65 inches for everyday use, there's no need to spend more than this.
- Between $1,000 and $1,999, you'll start to see more smart TVs that inch toward including the kitchen sink. Smart TVs in this price range are typically super-sized at 65 inches and up with support for HDR included. In this price range, you'll also find some next-generation screen technologies like Samsung's QLED TVs and Vizio's XLED TVs, both of which vastly improve the color performance from their already-pristine LED TVs.
- Between $2,000 and $5,000, you'll find the best of the best: OLED screens, responsive apps, and support for HDR and its competing format, Dolby Vision. This is definitely a lot of money to spend on a smart TV, but the good news is that it's definitely worth it.
As you're shopping for a smart TV, keep these tips in mind.
If you're planning on upgrading to a 4K smart TV, check to see if you need to upgrade any of your streaming subscriptions to enjoy 4K content. Some streaming services require a premium subscription to access content in 4K, so look into your most-used streaming provider and determine if you'd need to pay more to get content in 4K.
Take advantage of your smart TV's built-in power-saving tools. Most smart TVs include features designed to help you save on your power bill, such as automatic shutoff or dynamic brightness. When you first power on your TV, go through the settings and pay special attention power management features. Your power bill will thank you.
If you plan on wall-mounting your smart TV, don't buy the cheapest wall mount you can find. There are lots inexpensive, unreliable TV wall mounts out there. Make sure you get one that's robust enough to keep your investment safe on the wall. Expect to pay at least $50 for a good wall mount.
Q. What is "game streaming"?
A. Some smart TV platforms, most notably Samsung's Tizen, have apps that allow PC gamers to use their smart TV screens and a game controller to play a game that's running on a PC elsewhere on the network. For example, many gamers buy gaming PCs and run Steam, the gaming platform where you can buy and play thousands of commercial and indie games. If a gaming PC running Steam and a smart TV are both connected to the same local network, you can download the Steam smart TV app, grab a controller, and play your favorite titles on your smart TV—which can be especially fun with 4K sets.
Q. Can I connect a hard drive or a thumb drive with my own personal content to my smart TV?
A. Yes. Most smart TV platforms support the use of personal storage media, so long as you can connect your drive via USB. Owners often buy thumb drives, load them with personal photos and videos, and then enjoy their favorite memories on their smart TVs.
Q. Can I use a smart TV with other content sources besides the apps?
A. Yes. Just because you own a smart TV doesn't mean you have to use the apps—or even connect it to the internet if you don't want to. Smart TVs include HDMI inputs so it's easy to use them with a streaming box, cable TV box, or Blu-ray player.