With hundreds of different TVs available in screen sizes ranging from 32 inches to more than 100 inches, choosing the right set for your budget and space is no easy task. Deciding which set is best for you is not a simple matter of comparing specifications and features. Each HDTV has its own benefits and trade-offs. We've picked the best models, ranging from budget big screens to cutting-edge OLED models.
Best TV Under $500: Vizio E420i-A0 ($480)
A 42-inch HDTV with smart TV features for less than $500 is a definite bargain. This Vizio model has built-in Wi-Fi, which lets you access Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus and more. The E420i uses LED lighting for improved color and has a 120-Hz refresh rate to produce a respectable picture. The TV also includes three HDMI ports and one USB port for playing video or displaying pictures from an external storage device. Topping it off, the E420i's svelte frame makes it an attractive addition to any room.
MORE: TV Buyers Guide
Best TV Under $1,000: Vizio M501d-A2R M-Series Razor ($800)
It is possible to get a large, full-featured LED LCD display for well south of $1,000. The 50-inch Vizio M-Series M1d-A2R doesn't sacrifice image quality to get a bigger screen. Alongside other LED LCDs, the M-Series delivers a respectable picture that's bright, with uniform lighting across the screen. Colors are saturated, and details in shadowy scenes are remarkably good, thanks to a local-dimming LED feature.
This model also has an aesthetically appealing design and comes complete with all the latest amenities, including built-in Wi-Fi, smart TV apps and a good remote control.
Best HDTV for Movies: Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT60 ($1,600)
For the best HD picture available at a reasonable price, plasma is still the winner. This 55-inch model from Panasonic is the best example of why there are still plasma fanatics. The VT60 produces deep blacks, faithful colors, and smooth images of consistent color and brightness across the entire screen. Sports like tennis and football are rendered with fewer motion artifacts than appear on LCD sets. The fast screen-refresh rate of plasma also gives the VT60 an edge in displaying the fast-moving action in games.
There's a bevy of smart TV apps, courtesy of Panasonic's Viera Connect, as well as a Web browser. The TV even has a built-in video camera for Skyping with friends. Panasonic is going to discontinue making plasma TVs at the end of 2013, but stocks of this model should be plentiful into spring 2014. Snap up this great set while you still can.
Best Big Screen for the Money: Sharp Series 6 LC-70LE650U ($2,000)
If getting the biggest screen possible for your money is your top consideration when purchasing a TV, go for this 70-incher from Sharp. The Series 6 delivers an impressive picture for movie or sports fans. It does not have high-end features, such as Sharp's four-color Quattron technology for enhanced colors or local dimming for enhanced contrast. But in exchange for these subtle quality enhancements, you get plenty of screen for immersive Super Bowl parties or mini movie-theaterlike screenings.
In addition, the TV has built-in Wi-Fi and smart-TV connections for popular services like Netflix and Hulu. To keep the screen from being an oppressive dark panel when it's turned off, Sharp includes a wallpaper feature that can cycle though preloaded fine art photos or images of your own, stored on a USB drive.
Best High-End LCD TV: Samsung UN55F8000 ($2,500)
Not only has Samsung crammed every feature and technology its engineers could think of into its 8000 series sets, but it also has managed to create one of the best pictures available in an LED LCD TV.
The 55-inch UN55F8000 represents a sweet spot in terms of price, size and performance. A faster internal processor juggles a ton of smart features, including a video camera, voice and motion gesture controls, a device to control your cable box, and an improved interface with a touchpad remote for flipping among all the broadcast and online options on screen. (And Samsung offers more smart-TV features than any other TV maker).
More important, the set boasts image quality to match its raft of features. Advanced local dimming produces one of the best LCD pictures for revealing details in dark scenes. Colors also appear natural rather than garishly oversaturated, as often happens with lower-quality TVs.
Best Budget 4K/Ultra HDTV: Seiki SE50UY04 ($1,500)
The story of LCD TVs is one of vicious competition and rapid price declines. Oftentimes, this has meant delivering budget televisions with last year's features. Not anymore: Newcomer Seiki Digital has introduced a 50-inch Ultra HD LCD set — the SE50UY04 — for just $1,500. That's less than half the price of competing models with the same resolution. (What you give up for the low price point is 3D compatibility as well as Wi-Fi and smart-TV features.)
When not displaying 4K programming, the Seiki's image quality is similar to that of an average HDTV. But with native content, you get a picture that is entrancing.
Best 4K/Ultra HDTV: Sony XBR-65X900A 3D LCD Ultra HDTV ($5,500)
The 65-inch XBR-65X900A is definitely an improvement over standard HD sets of the same stature. Colors are crisper, and fine picture elements — even individual strands of hair — are rendered with clarity. The TV does a good job of upscaling HD material — a prerequisite for the next few years while 4K/Ultra HD content is scarce. And because of its tighter pixel display, this Sony's presentation of 3D movies is much better than what most HDTVs offer.
To address the absence of Ultra HD material, Sony is selling its $700 4K Ultra HD Media Player for storing rented or purchased downloads of native 4K content from Sony Pictures. (It works only with Sony sets.) The service just launched in the fall, with about 70 TV-show episodes and movies in the 4K format, ranging from "Breaking Bad" to "Ghostbusters" to "Funny Girl." Sony plans to continue expanding the offerings.
Best OLED TV: Samsung S9C Series ($9,000)
Right now, there are only two 55-inch OLED sets available in the U.S.: one from Samsung, and one from LG. Samsung's S9C Series gets the nod for its array of features and unparalleled picture quality. Whites are pure, blacks are solid, and yet the subtlest shadows in movies are rendered effortlessly.
The S9C Series sports a slightly curved design, which is meant to provide a more immersive viewing experience. (It can help if you dim the lights when you settle in for a movie.)
In addition to all the usual smart-TV features and services, such as Netflix and Hulu, the S9C has one more nifty trick: It can display two different HD pictures simultaneously, using special glasses as a filter to display just the video stream each viewer wants. Earbuds attached to the glasses provide the corresponding audio.
John R. Quain has been reviewing and testing video and audio equipment for more than 20 years. He is currently a contributor to The New York Times and is an on-air technology contributor for the CBS News television network. Follow him @jqontech. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.