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10 best 4K TVs for a needle-sharp viewing experience

Looking for an unparalleled image display? We’ve tried and tested the very best on the market

David Phelan
Wednesday 07 July 2021 12:30
<p>The pixels are so tightly packed, you can sit even closer without seeing the individual dots</p>

The pixels are so tightly packed, you can sit even closer without seeing the individual dots

The ultra high definition standard, also known as 4K, is increasingly common, having taken over from HD as 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 to make it look close to real 4K. And 4K content is growing, including live sport, movies you can stream from sites like Apple TV and Netflix, and 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 HDR (high dynamic range), 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. OLED is priciest 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.

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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.

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:

Panasonic TX-55HZ2000b

Best: 55in 4K TV

  • Screen size: 55in
  • Display Technology: OLED
  • HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
  • Dimensions: 1,225mm x 761mm x 78mm plus stand
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos

Panasonic’s OLED TVs have sensational picture quality, and this is the best yet. Most of that is down to the latest image processing engine called HCX Pro, designed and tuned in conjunction with Hollywood professionals to create a picture that matches what the programme- or film-maker intended. This includes a brighter display than previous Sony TVs offered but also delicate accuracy at the other end of the scale, doing justice to dark elements of a picture. The image quality here is sensational, across the board.

Sound is often neglected on flatscreen TVs: now that most have tiny frames around the picture, it’s hard to hide decent speakers. Panasonic’s solution is to place strong, upward-firing speakers on the back, making this TV easily the best for Dolby Atmos audio, and it certainly sounds much better than most TVs. The interface is very appealing, with easy shortcuts to apps and a great overall look.

Read the full Panasonic TX-55HZ2000b review

Sony Bravia KD-48A9

Best: For audio quality

  • Screen size: 48in
  • Display Technology: OLED
  • HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
  • Dimensions: 1070mm x 620mm x 58mm plus stand
  • Audio: Stereo

Most manufacturers of OLED screens tend to focus on bigger screen sizes. Sony’s first 48in telly will suit smaller rooms and offers an outstanding picture. That’s down to the processor, called the Sony X1, which analyses each element in the picture to better display it onscreen. It’s also extremely good on elements like contrast and eliminating motion blur, which can be a problem for less proficient panels.

Android TV is the operating system here and it comes with lots of apps, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ all easily accessible. Sony takes an adventurous approach to audio, using speaker hardware on the back which actually vibrates the screen to create the sound. It sounds great (and doesn’t distort the picture) and the audio feels properly anchored to the image.

Samsung QE55Q90T

Best: QLED 4K screen

  • Screen size: 55in
  • Display Technology: QLED
  • HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+
  • Dimensions: 1,228mm x 795mm x 35mm plus stand
  • Audio: Stereo

This is a QLED TV, a technology pioneered by Samsung. It means it’s an LCD screen with LED backlight but the Q refers to quantum dots, a layer of minuscule dots which acts like a filter to deliver more heavily saturated colours that are more precisely defined. All of which helps to create deep black hues where they’re needed.

Because it’s LED it is noticeably brighter than OLED screens – handy if your living room is brightly lit – and can make for a more exciting and lively picture. The image quality is sharp and detailed, even if the content is not native 4K and is being upscaled by the TV. Samsung has its own operating system, which works well and is easy to use.

Samsung UE43TU7100

Best: 4K TV under £500

  • Screen size: 43in
  • Display Technology: LED LCD
  • HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+
  • Dimensions: 960mm x 560mm x 59mm plus stand
  • Audio: Stereo

Another smaller display, the 43in LED LCD TV is excellent value. Though this TV is LCD, it has strong contrast and deep black hues. It’s great on details in even lower-light scenes and has faithful, effective colours that look realistic.

Note that where many TVs offer three or four HDMI sockets, here there are just two. This is less of a problem now that you no longer need a separate set-top box from Amazon or Apple, say, as Prime Video and Apple TV apps are built-in. Audio is acceptable but not much more than that. However, with a TV as affordable as this, adding a soundbar to boost the audio might not break the bank.

LG OLED55CX

Best: User interface

  • Screen size: 55in
  • Display Technology: OLED
  • HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
  • Dimensions: 1,230mm x 710mm x 47mm plus stand
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos

LG’s CX range is exceptional, and comes in four sizes, from 48in up to 77in. LG makes the OLED panels that rival TV companies use, too, so it’s no surprise that it can make its own TVs look tremendous. This one looks great with lots of details in both bright and shadowy parts of a scene, and outstanding contrast.

The results are spectacular. LG’s user interface is second-to-none, a clever and accessible system called webOS, with rows of icons guiding you to different apps and inputs. Despite being a very slim TV, it also manages to sound good with plenty of power and decent bass.

Sony Bravia KD65A8BU

Best: 65in 4K TV

  • Screen size: 65in
  • Display Technology: OLED
  • HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
  • Dimensions: 1448mm x 836mm x 52mm plus stand
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos

Like the other Sony above, this TV features acoustic surface audio, that is, the screen is the speaker, vibrating invisibly to produce the sound and ensuring that the audio is perfectly tied to the image. It can even be tuned to suit your room thanks to a clever acoustic audio calibration system which is quick and effective.

The image is pretty immaculate, thanks to the X1 Ultimate, Sony’s most advanced processor, which excels at upscaling content to suit the 4K panel. Colours look perfectly judged, and completely natural, even when the engine adds HDR effects to content not made in HDR. If the impressive 65in model is too big, it comes in smaller sizes, too.

Panasonic TX-55HZ1000B

Best: For movies

  • Screen size: 55in
  • Display Technology: OLED
  • HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
  • Dimensions: 1,228mm x 772mm x 58mm plus stand
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos

Unlike the Panasonic TX-55HZ2000 above, this TV doesn’t have big upward-firing speakers on the back. But it’s also much cheaper and while it’s not as exceptional sounding as the pricier TV, it still has good audio. If you have, or are going to buy, a soundbar, then this may be a better option.

Picture quality is extremely strong with depth, precision and plenty of punch. The same excellent operating system as on the best buy above makes this an enjoyable-to-use TV. The supplied stand lets the TV swivel for the perfect viewing angle.

Philips 55OLED805

Best: For picture processing

  • Screen size: 55in
  • Display Technology: OLED
  • HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
  • Dimensions: 1,228mm x 706mm x 58mm plus stand
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos

Ambilight is the name of a clever Philips speciality which plays light on the wall behind the screen, using LEDs that change colour to match what’s on screen. The effect is to enhance the main picture and make it more immersive. Philips claims this also makes it more restful on the eyes – you certainly notice its absence when you switch to a regular TV.

This model has Ambilight on the top, left and right edges. On full, it can be distracting, but set at a gentler level gives a great effect. Picture quality is enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI) in the TV’s processor. AI is widely bandied about in the world of tech but here it’s to indicate that the TV’s brain knows to look for discrete image elements such as nature, face, motion and so on. The appropriate processing can then be applied. Poor processing looks terrible but here it’s done with taste and restraint and the results are good.

Hisense roku R50B7120UK

Best: 50in 4K TV

  • Screen size: 50in
  • Display Technology: LED LCD
  • HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG
  • Dimensions: 1,127mm x 656mm x 86mm plus stand
  • Audio: Stereo

Roku devices are neat streaming boxes, and the Hisense TV uses the same interface, which makes it great if you’re keen on using streaming apps for much of your viewing. This 50in TV is certainly very keenly priced and has a lot going for it. While it doesn’t support every HDR platform, and sometimes the HDR content looks less impressive than it might, this is still a proficient 4K TV with a smooth and responsive interface.

Panasonic TX-50HX800B

Best: For gaming

  • Screen size: 50in
  • Display Technology: LED LCD
  • HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
  • Dimensions: 1,120mm x 651mm x 63mm plus stand
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos

This mid-range TV is a great all-rounder and offers a lot of great features for a very keen price. The LED LCD display looks great, with authentic colours and extremely good upscaling. It’s not OLED but in some situations it almost comes close with plenty of lush elegance and smooth motion.

It does this with a feature called intelligent frame creation which creates extra frame images to make panning movements slicker, for instance. There’s an automatic low-latency mode for gaming, which spots when a games console is connected. There are only three HDMI ports on this TV, instead of the more common four.

4K TV FAQs

How do you clean a 4K TV screen?

Before cleaning your TV screen, we’d recommend unplugging it and using a clean, lint-free, dry cloth to wipe away dust and dirt.

Ensure you are as gentle as possible when cleaning the screen to avoid any damage

How do I know if my TV is 4K?

The quickest way to find out if your TV is a 4K model is by checking the packaging, if for any reason you do not have it, consult the manual. Under the section on the resolution of the device, if the manual says the TV is 2160p, UHD or 4K, this means it is a 4K television.

The verdict: 4K TVs

Panasonic’s TX-55HZ2000 has a dazzling picture and tremendous audio, while the much cheaper Panasonic TX-50HX800B still manages to deliver great performance, too. The Sony KD-48A9 is also a standout, and comes in a smaller screen size which will work for littler rooms.

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