The TV industry may be abuzz with 4K resolution, wall-filling panels, and fancy features, but for a lot of people there’s more to love about a low price tag. You may have to endure 1080p resolution or give up a few features, but if you don’t need much besides a functional TV, you can get a new set for $250 or less.
That low price doesn’t mean you have to give up everything, though. Connected functions like web browsing and streaming through Netflix and Amazon video have become so affordable as to be almost everywhere, and even in the lower priced sets we reviewed, you can still enjoy all of the content and capability you love.
We tested six budget-friendly TVs, ranging from 32 inches up to 40 inches, comparing them side by side and testing each one under lab conditions. We’ve ranked them here from best to worst, so read on to find the best bargain TVs available.
When you’re shopping in the $250-and-under range, you’ll need to be prepared to make some compromises. The biggest limitation will be size, since you’ll be looking at sets that are 40-inches or smaller. Current standards like 4K ultra HD are out of the question, so you’ll be looking at full HD panels the only offer 1080p, or even standard HD at 720p. And don’t expect anything like the slim, sleek designs you’ve seen in store displays; in this price range, you’re looking at chunky plastic construction and boxy, bulky designs.
The pickings also get pretty slim when it comes to connectivity. You will likely only get 2 or 3 HDMI ports and a single USB port, and while Wi-Fi is a common feature, it’s not guaranteed. Most sets even in this price range come with smart TV functions, but that will also vary from one model to the next. Bargain hunters should always double check the specifications for the model they plan to buy, since not even basic features can be taken for granted.
The 39-inch Insignia offers 1080p resolution with an LED-backlit LCD panel. The display has very good viewing angles, giving you consistent color even when viewed from steep angles, but under default settings the color was slightly off. Reds and oranges skewed slightly yellow, while everything else shifted more blue. Switching to movie mode helps considerably, with overall color accuracy improving from a Delta-E of 8.98 in default mode to 3.7 under the best presets. Also, while the Insignia has one of the brightest displays we saw (288 nits), the backlight isn’t entirely consistent, with dimmer lighting along the edges and in the corners of the display.
It also has solid smarts, with Roku TV built in, giving you all of your online and streaming content through one easy-to-customize home screen. The set has three HDMI ports for connecting your A/V devices, and a wall-mountable design.
Update 12/13: The Insignia NS-39DR510NA17 we tested is currently sold out in this size, but the 50-inch model is available for $279.
Screen size: 39 inches
HDMI Ports: 3
Refresh Rate: 60Hz
Dimensions: 34.7 x 20.5 x 2.6 inches
Smart TV: Yes
The Sharp LC-40LB480U is one of two 40-inch TVs we included in this review, but it’s also the dumbest – the TV has no online connectivity, and no Smart TV functions. It has relatively decent picture quality, displaying details like stars in the sky quite well, but the contrast was a bit off, with hotspots on images that looked overly bright. There was also a bit of image noise in general that was most visible when viewing large expanses of color. Pull up a solid color image on screen and you’ll also notice that the backlighting leaves the corners of the screen quite dark. The sound also gets a little too quiet without bumping up the volume; while you might just want to make the sound a bit quieter, it drops to levels you can’t make out well before you’ve zeroed out the volume level.
Screen size:40 inches
HDMI Ports: 3
Refresh Rate: 60Hz
Dimensions: 36.1 x 21.1 x 3.5
Smart TV: No
The Vizio E32-D1 is an affordable Smart TV, with both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity built in. The set may only be equipped with two HDMI ports, but it has Google Cast built in for easy content sharing between your smartphone or tablet and the TV, and the set supports thousands of apps, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO NOW and more.
The Vizio stood out in our lab testing with the highest maximum brightness of the bunch (295 nits), but in actual viewing, it was noticeably dim. The display’s contrast levels were also lower than other sets, and it showed. Fields of stars turned into black skies with only one or two bright spots, and even daylight scenes looked dark. Some of this is due to the fact that the TV’s normal picture settings double as the TV’s energy saver mode, so most other presets offer better brightness. In our testing, Vivid Mode offered the best brightness and overall picture quality.
Screen size: 32 inches
HDMI Ports: 2
Dimensions:28.8 x 17 x 3.0 inches
You might be eyeing the TCL 32S305, excited about a 32-inch LCD TV for just $200, but don’t get too hasty. The TCL may boast Roku smart functions, built-in Wi-Fi, and three HDMI ports, but there’s one big catch: It’s a 720p display.
The image is noticeably grainy, even without comparing directly to a full HD panel. Color quality is fine, provided you view the screen head-on, but off angles experience some significant color shifting, with oranges going yellow. It may still be a good deal if you value the feature set over display quality, but you definitely will notice the difference every time you watch it.
Screen size:32 inches
Refresh Rate: 60Hz
Dimensions: 28.9 x 17.1 x 3.2 inches