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Build Out Your Penny-Pinching Home Theater With These Choice Budget TVs

Illustration for article titled Build Out Your Penny-Pinching Home Theater With These Choice Budget TVs
Image: Vizio

Buying a TV can feel overwhelming, with dozens of models to choose from and a bunch of confusing specs rattling around your head. Couple that with a global pandemic ensuring you can’t even see these TVs in person before you buy, and you’ve got a tough call to make. If you’re on a strict budget, we’ll save you the trouble: here are the TVs to buy.

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Waste not, want not

Illustration for article titled Build Out Your Penny-Pinching Home Theater With These Choice Budget TVs
Image: Whitson Gordon
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If you’re looking to spend as little as possible, the TCL 3 series will get you there with the essentials: a 1080p resolution, 3 HDMI ports for all your gear, and Roku streaming built right in. It isn’t 4K, doesn’t have HDR, and only comes in sizes from 32-inch up to 49-inch (with the cheapest 32-inch model at 720p), and don’t expect any bells and whistles—but it’ll get the job done for not a lot of cash.

At those sizes, 4K isn’t really necessary anyway—though if you want something bigger, the 4 series is similar—the larger sizes are more expensive, obviously, but they’re still comparably cheap to other TVs, and bring 4K along for the ride.

Bring on the 4K

Illustration for article titled Build Out Your Penny-Pinching Home Theater With These Choice Budget TVs
Image: Whitson Gordon
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If you actually care about picture quality but don’t have a lot to spend, TCL’s 5 series is a worthy step up with a brighter picture, deeper black levels, and 4K HDR support. It’s still not a particularly great TV for a bright room, and you aren’t going to get much enhanced picture quality from HDR without local dimming, but it’s still a nice step up from the 3 and 4 series.

Its response time also makes it a decent gaming TV, at least for the price, since it ensures motion won’t be too blurry. Just don’t expect high-end gaming features like FreeSync or auto-low latency mode (it does have a Game Mode with decent input lag, though.)

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Local dimming on a budget

Illustration for article titled Build Out Your Penny-Pinching Home Theater With These Choice Budget TVs
Image: Whitson Gordon
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If you feel like you can never see your TV during the day, you’ll want something brighter like last year’s Hisense H8G. Not only does it get brighter than lower-priced options, but it has deeper blacks thanks to its full-array local dimming feature. It has Android TV instead of Roku, which some may prefer, though most people would probably be better with the TCL 6 Series for a tad more money (see below)—though if you can get the H8G on sale, it’s a good deal.

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4K HDR gets serious at a killer price

Illustration for article titled Build Out Your Penny-Pinching Home Theater With These Choice Budget TVs
Image: Whitson Gordon

As you get to the top end of the budget realm, you get to the really good stuff. The TCL 6 series offers insane bang for your buck, with high brightness, full-array local dimming for deep blacks, and quantum dots for superb HDR at the price. Like TCL’s other sets, it also has Roku built-in for easy streaming from all your favorite channels, which is great if you don’t already have a streaming box.

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This is widely regarded as the best budget TV money can buy, and while it won’t beat out TVs twice the price, it gets a lot closer than it has any right to. If you can grab it on sale, all the better. The 55-inch model seems to be getting harder to find, though 65-inch versions are still in stock.

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Better motion, lower brightness

Illustration for article titled Build Out Your Penny-Pinching Home Theater With These Choice Budget TVs
Image: Whitson Gordon

The TCL often gets the “best” moniker due to its bright panel and built-in Roku, which is tough to beat. But the Vizio M Series Quantum is a tough competitor in the budget realm, with deeper blacks and better motion than any other set at the price. It isn’t as bright as the TCL, and its smart interface is not nearly as good as Roku—but if you’re watching movies in a dark room anyway and already have a Blu-ray player or streaming stick of your own, you can’t beat this panel’s picture quality for the money.

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It’s usually the same price as the TCL 6-series, depending on where you look. This is my personal favorite of the bunch (if you can’t tell), and the one I currently have in my office home theater. (Make sure you get the M558-G1 version—there are other M-Series Quantum sets floating around with different model numbers for less money, but also fewer dimming zones.)


Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and all-around tech nerd. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn't get grease on his mechanical keyboard.

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