An engaging home entertainment experience needn’t cost the earth – here’s our pick of the best TVs under £500
While many things in life seem to be getting more expensive by the day, there’s one essential piece of your home entertainment kit that’s actually getting more affordable with every passing month: the humble television.
Ever-increasing competition in the entry-level/lower mid-range TV world as new brands enter the fray is driving prices lower and lower. And as manufacturers push to stay ahead of each other with ever more dazzling features on their high-end TVs, their cheaper models keep inheriting a trickle-down of previously premium features. So far has this “cheaper but better” trend come that you’ll be genuinely amazed at the capabilities of the best TVs under £500.
At this point, we do need to stress that while the quality (and size) of TV you can get for under £500 has improved tremendously over the past few years, you still have to accept a few compromises along the way. So, while a particular sub-£500 TV might excel with its picture quality, it might struggle to sound decent. Or while it might offer a content-rich smart TV platform, its operating system might be sluggish or buggy.
The options we’ve selected as the best TVs under £500 do a better job of balancing the many elements that go into a good TV than most in their price range, but we’ve highlighted any compromises a set makes to ensure you pick the right telly for your particular circumstances.
READ NEXT: Our favourite TVs for every budget
How to choose the best TV under £500
Before casting your eye over our favourite TVs under £500, it’s worth considering a few key questions to help you narrow down your search.
What connections do I need?
TVs under £500 vary when it comes to the number of HDMI inputs they carry. Some offer as few as two, and some offer as many as four. So count how many HDMI-based sources you have and make sure, if possible, that the TV you choose has enough HDMI ports to support them.
If you’re a keen gamer, it’s also worth spending time finding out which of the latest HDMI 2.1-related gaming features a prospective TV supports. In truth, for less than £500 you’ll be lucky to find support for anything other than Automatic Low Latency Mode (ALLM), although TCL has shown already with its C735K that 4K/120H and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) gaming really is possible for so little money.
Should I prioritise picture quality or screen size?
While it’s not as clear-cut as it used to be, the sub-£500 TV category can still feel like it’s full of big screens that don’t offer much quality or many features, and smaller screens that provide better specifications and performance. So, at this level of the market, it’s sometimes better to think smaller to get a more satisfying performance level overall.
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How important is the panel type of a TV under £500?
There are no OLED TVs available for less than £500 at present, but there are a few different types of LCD technology and it’s worth having at least a basic understanding of what these are.
The most obvious distinction to draw is between LCD TVs that use Vertical Alignment (VA) and In-Plane Switching (IPS) panels. While IPS panels (used by LG and scattered through the ranges of numerous other brands) can give you a slightly better viewing angle before contrast reduces, their native contrast tends to be lower than that of VA panels. VA panels, on the other hand, lose contrast and colour saturation from narrower viewing angles.
It’s also worth being aware of the difference between edge and direct lighting. Edge-lit LCD TVs illuminate their pictures using lights arranged around the screen’s sides, while direct-lit LCD TVs light pictures using LEDs positioned directly behind the screen. Experience suggests that direct-lit TVs often deliver better contrast than edge-lit models.
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Do HDR formats really matter?
Some sub-£500 TVs support either the Dolby Vision or HDR10+ formats of high dynamic range picture technology. One or two models even support both.
These so-called “active” types of HDR send extra scene-by-scene picture information to compatible screens to help them deliver more accurate and dynamic pictures. While cheaper TVs typically don’t hit high enough brightness levels to truly take advantage of HDR, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ can actually benefit picture quality more on relatively affordable TVs than they do on premium models.
READ NEXT: The best 8K TVs
How we test the best TVs under £500
Our in-house process for testing TVs is the same regardless of whether a television costs £200 or £2,000 and involves using an X-Rite colorimeter in conjunction with Portrait Displays’ Calman colour calibration software.
These tools allow us to gather data relating to the SDR and HDR performance of a display, including colour gamut coverage, peak brightness, colour accuracy and screen uniformity, and some of our freelancers use them, too. Other contributors have their own bespoke tests, all of which involve watching a great deal of content on the television they’re testing.
We test every different picture mode extensively while consuming content from a wide range of sources that make use of specific HDR or audio formats such as Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. Netflix is primarily used for Dolby Vision material and various genres of content are viewed to see how they’re all handled. For HDR10+ performance we often use Prime Video or a 4K Blu-ray, and we spend plenty of time watching content on terrestrial channels too, gauging how effectively 4K upscaling is implemented if it’s something the TV offers.
Like picture performance, audio performance is evaluated while viewing content across a wide range of types and genres. From blockbuster films with booming soundtracks to dialogue-heavy soaps, we try to expose a TV to as varied a selection as possible in order to determine its strengths and weaknesses. This includes pushing it to maximum volume and playing around with whatever audio settings may be available.
Our final areas of focus are design/build quality, operating system/smart platform and gaming performance. The former involves a level of subjectivity regarding aesthetic appeal, but we pay close attention to the materials used in the construction of a TV and whether it feels sturdy, well-built and durable. TV operating systems are tested by using them extensively and navigating around the various streaming and app options provided. We also put supported voice assistants through their paces using a series of commands to see how well they respond and how accurately controls are implemented. Gaming, meanwhile, is undertaken on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X current-generation consoles, though most TVs costing under £500 don’t support fancy features such as 4K@120Hz or VRR.
The best TV under £500
1. Amazon Fire TV Omni QLED: Best TV under £500 with full-array local dimming
Price when reviewed: From £400 (50in) | Check price at Amazon
Few affordable TVs support full-array local dimming and this gives Amazon’s Fire TV Omni QLED a distinct advantage over many of its competitors. Its Mini LED backlight with FALD allows for much better contrast control, while the panel’s quantum dot filter helps facilitate rich and punchy colour reproduction. It’s important to note, however, that the 43in model does not use FALD so is inferior to the larger options in the picture quality department.
Away from PQ, the Fire TV Omni QLED performs well in most areas. It’s got an extensive set of features, including built-in Amazon Alexa, a pleasingly minimalist appearance, a solid selection of connectivity options, and the Fire TV OS provides access to just about every app and streaming service you could wish for.
The panel is limited to a 60Hz refresh rate, which takes 4K@120Hz gaming off the table, but this and a simply perfunctory sound system are understandable sacrifices made to keep the Omni QLED’s price down.
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Omni QLED review for more details
Key specs – Screen size:> 43in, 50in, 55in and 65in (tested); Screen type:> VA-style quantum dot LCD with Mini LED backlight; Resolution:> 4K/UHD (3,840 x 2,160); Refresh rate:> 60Hz; Dimensions (WDH):> 1,451 x 87 x 853mm; Weight:> 21.2kg; HDR format support:> HDR10, HLG, HDR10+ Adaptive, Dolby Vision IQ; Connectivity:> 1 x HDMI 2.1, 3 x HDMI 2.0, 2 x USB-A, optical, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
2. Samsung UE43BU8500: Best TV under £500 for smart features
Price when reviewed: £389 | Check price at Amazon
Samsung has long been the leading force in the mid-range and budget LCD world, and the 43in UE43BU8500 is a cracking example of what you can get if you’re willing to sacrifice a few screen inches.
Its greatest strength is the breadth of smart functionality and features on offer. Every streaming service we can think of is present and correct, and if a service is capable of 4K and HDR picture quality, you can be sure the BU8500 will be able to deliver them in all their glory.
Its pictures are natural and detailed, revealing the “4K difference” despite its relatively small screen size, and its Crystal Colour system delivers an unusually refined and well-balanced palette of more than a billion colour tones. Especially when you feed it HDR10+ sources. Contrast is above average, too, despite the screen being edge-lit, and it delivers its superior pictures and smarts from an exceptionally trim “AirSlim” chassis.
The UE43BU8500’s audio is a little underpowered and some aspects of its interface can be sluggish and confusing. The rewards in both performance and smart terms, though, make these niggles easy to live with.
Read our full Samsung BU8500 review for more details
Key specs – Screen size: 43in; Screen type: Edge-lit VA LCD; Resolution: 4K/UHD (3,840 x 2,160); Refresh rate: 50Hz; Dimensions (WDH): 966 x 26 x 560mm; Weight: 8.4kg; HDR format support: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+; Connectivity: 3 x HDMI 2.0; 1 x USB-A, digital optical audio output, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, RF tuner port
3. Sony KD32W8000PU: Best TV under £500 for small rooms
Price when reviewed: £349 | Check price at Currys
Despite 32in TVs still selling like hotcakes (predominantly for second-room use), most manufacturers have started taking an increasingly price-led, homogeneous approach to them. Significant differences between different models are getting harder to find, while picture and sound quality are increasingly being put on the back burner in a race to the price-based bottom.
Happily, Sony’s KD32W800PU is the exception to the rule. Despite its rather unassuming design and mere HD Ready rather than Full HD resolution, the KD32W800PU delivers where it counts, with levels of picture and sound quality you can’t get anywhere else in today’s 32in world.
Its pictures have the brightness, colour and even contrast to make a much more potent spectacle out of HDR sources than many much bigger and pricier rivals, while its sound is detailed, crisp and well-rounded, avoiding the thin, hemmed-in, crackly quality so common with other 32in models.
It has all the smart features most users will need, too, courtesy of an Android TV smart system backed up by Google Assistant voice control. The Android TV system can be a little confusing and buggy, but the occasional reboot doesn’t feel like much of a price to pay for so much excellence elsewhere.
Key specs – Screen size: 32in; Screen type: Direct-lit VA LCD; Resolution: HD Ready (1,366 x 768); Refresh rate: 60Hz; Dimensions (WDH): 733 x 78 x 442mm; Weight: 4.9kg; HDR format support: HDR10, HLG; Connectivity: 3 x HDMI 2.0, 2 x USB-A, digital optical audio output, 3.5mm audio output, Ethernet, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi, RF tuner port