The ultra high definition standard, also known as 4K, is increasingly common. Having taken over from HD it’s the most likely resolution for all but the smallest TVs, where you simply wouldn’t be able to get the benefit from so many pixels. On larger TVs, though, the difference is unmissable, offering staggering levels of detail and needle-sharp images.
Much of what’s broadcast indeed comes in regular HD resolution, but clever little gadgets called upscalers built into 4K TVs improve the image. As a result, broadcasters are taking advantage of 4K, producing everything from sport, movies you can stream from sites like Apple TV and Netflix, to games. So, 4K is definitely the way to go (8K is coming, too, but for now it remains prohibitively expensive).
If you’re keen on larger TVs, 4K justifies your interest: because the pixels are so tightly packed, you can sit closer without seeing the individual dots.
Alongside 4K is high dynamic range (HDR), which means a TV can show detail in bright skies and dark shadows at the same time, making for a more dramatic picture. There are competing standards for HDR. One (HLG) is what broadcasters use while others are used in blu-ray discs or streaming systems (Dolby Vision is one of these, for instance). Essentially, the wider compatibility, the more you can watch with full HDR benefits.
There are two screen technologies: LCD and OLED. The latter is pricier, but looks amazing. That’s because each pixel is lit individually so there’s the possibility for outstanding contrast and deep black hues, plus beautifully rendered faithful colours. OLED’s only downsides are brightness – it rarely manages to be as bright as LCD – and the extra money it costs.
LCD is mostly referred to as LED, indicating the improvements of the backlighting on today’s screens. The backlighting used to be one light across the whole screen, so what should have been pitch black elements were still gently backlit, resulting in muddy dark greys instead. Now, though, LED TVs often offer multiple backlights which can be individually controlled and this helps things considerably.
When choosing your 4K TV, we’d say it’s worth sticking to the bigger brands, because what’s crucial to every TV these days is the image processing engine, which helps make the picture the best it can be. The dedicated operating systems on the likes of Panasonic and LG TVs are typically more elegant and user-friendly, too.
How we tested
We tested these 4K TVs for picture quality, excellence of design, ease of installation, set-up and use and overall value.
The best 4K TVs for 2021 are:
- Best 55in 4K TV – Panasonic TX-55HZ2000b: £2,299, Cramptonandmoore.co.uk
- Best for audio quality – Sony Bravia KD-48A9: £1,299, Cramptonandmoore.co.uk
- Best QLED 4K TV – Samsung QE55Q90T: £1,124, Maraz.co.uk
- Best user interface – LG OLED55CX: £1,049, Laptopsdirect.co.uk
- Best 65in 4K TV – Sony Bravia KD65A8BU: £1,769, Appliancesdirect.co.uk
- Best for movies – Panasonic TX-55HZ1000B: £1,899, Cramptonandmoore.co.uk
- Best for picture processing – Philips 55OLED805: £1,149, Currys.co.uk
- Best 50in 4K TV – Hisense Roku R50B7120UK: £399, Argos.co.uk
- Best 4K TV for gaming – Panasonic TX-50HX800B: £649, Freemans.com