Buying a Cheap TV? Here's What You Need to Know

Maybe you're in the store, looking at two TVs on the shelf. Or perhaps you're shopping online,  clicking back and forth between the two TVs you've finally settled on after hours of browsing and reading reviews.

Tom's Guide forum user asks:

“I am stuck on choosing a better tv between lg 32' smart tv and tcl 32' smart tv. price difference is tempting though.”

The specifics of the question are a bit sparse, but the overarching question is a common one. You're trying to decide between two similar TVs from different brands. How to decide between them? Our TV Buying Guide will offer some help, and we even have a guide for choosing the best TV brand for your tastes, but once you've narrowed it down, you may need some advice on buying one or the other.

MORE: 6 Cheap TVs (Under $250) Ranked Best to Worst

At this size, there are really only a few questions to consider: First, what's the resolution offered? Second, what features are available? And third, what's the price?


"What size TV do I need?" Obviously, a 32-inch TV is considered small by today's standards, so make sure you know that your TV setup will fit this size TV. Knowing what size TV you need is as much about distance from the set as it is about square inches of screen.

At this 32-inch size, all of TCL and LG's current offerings top out at 720p resolution. That's not a problem if that's what you're looking for. But some shoppers will see an inexpensive TV advertised as offering High Definition, or HD, and assume that this refers to full HD, which has 1080p resolution. I don't know which models you're looking at – both companies have offered 1080p models in recent years, but not 2018 – but resolution is definitely the first thing I would check.

Credit: Vizio

(Image credit: Vizio)

There's really no good reason to settle for 720p, especially since you won't  save much money. You can definitely find a full-HD TV in the 32-inch size, but LG and TCL don't make them. Samsung has an excellent full-HD model, the Samsung 32-inch M5300, and others are available from Vizio and lesser-known brands.

And don't write-off 4K TVs just because you're on a budget. Full-HD TVs sell for as low as $200, but for less than $500 you can still get a decent 4K model. Screen sizes range from 43 inches to 55 inches, and most 4K TVs come with all the smart-TV features seen on pricier big-screen sets. You may not get all of the premium touches, like voice interaction or high-dynamic range (HDR) support, but it's still a big step up from full HD.


If you're looking at smaller, lower-priced TVs, you will need to watch for some specific features. You'll want to make sure that the set you're looking at includes a tuner and an RF connector for hooking up an HDTV antenna or a coaxial cable. Many less expensive models cut these items as a way to lower the retail price, but it can leave you footing the bill for a separate TV tuner or a more expensive cable box that connects over HDMI.

Speaking of HDMI, you'll also want to check which TV offers more HDMI ports. Three or four ports are preferred, but some budget models can offer as few as two. And watch for USB connectivity. If you need to power an external device, like a Chromecast, you'll want at least one, but maybe more so that you can still connect a flash drive to enjoy family videos and photos.

MORE: Amazon Fire TV Stick vs. Google Chromecast vs. Roku Stick

But you could also get a solid smart TV without breaking the bank. On the smart-TV front, you have two excellent options to choose between. LG's webOS smart TV platform is very good, perhaps the best available. It has a clean ribbon interface, a healthy selection of more than 200 apps, and it's fairly easy to navigate through all of the menus and options.

Credit: TCL

(Image credit: TCL)

TCL's smart TVs use Roku TV, which is also excellent. Roku offers thousands of apps (Roku calls them channels) and plenty of free content in addition to popular services like Netflix, Hulu and Sling TV. The tile design is simple to use, but that simplicity does come at the expense of granular control – the settings menus offered on TCL's Roku TVs can be pretty sparse.


Finally, there's price. Obviously, you can pick the TV that's cheaper and go with that. TCL products tend to offer very good performance and quality for lower prices, but customer reviews suggest some issues with quality assurance and longevity. That means you're more likely to run into issues the minute you get your set, and the set may not last as long as the equivalent LG. You can offset this with an extended warranty, or you can simply chalk it up to the realities of manufacturing and product pricing.

Credit: TCL

(Image credit: TCL)

There are a few other ways to save a buck, though. You can look into purchasing a refurbished or open-box model. These products will range from barely used TVs to ones rebuilt from broken models.  The good news is manufacturer-certified refurbished units can generally be counted on for quality, and usually come with the same warranty protections as new, unused products.

You can also look at models from the past few years. While 4K displays and smart TVs have dropped in price considerably, you can save a lot on full-HD models by opting for something a couple of years old. You may not get the latest smart functions, but you can use a streaming stick or similar product to provide most of your connected options. That means that a model from 2017 or even 2016 will offer all of the basic functions that a new model would, but cost less.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Brian Westover

Brian Westover is currently Lead Analyst, PCs and Hardware at PCMag. Until recently, however, he was Senior Editor at Tom's Guide, where he led the site's TV coverage for several years, reviewing scores of sets and writing about everything from 8K to HDR to HDMI 2.1. He also put his computing knowledge to good use by reviewing many PCs and Mac devices, and also led our router and home networking coverage. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he wrote for TopTenReviews and PCMag.