A new TV, is it? Well, unless it’s a tiny set for a small room, it ought to be 4K. In case you’re not sure what that means, it refers to the screen resolution and is the next step after high definition.

High definition, which is, strictly speaking, referred to as full high definition or full HD, means a screen made up of 1,920 pixels horizontally and 1,080 pixels vertically.

However, 4K has twice as many in each direction (3,840 x 2,160) meaning it has four times the resolution of full HD – which is why it’s also called UHD or ultra HD. Incidentally, the lower resolution of HD actually refers to screens with 1,280 x 720 resolution, but there are precious few of those available these days.

Although native 4K-resolution content is still far from routine, upscalers inside the TVs make HD content look close to 4K. There is 4K sport, live, on BT and Sky, plus 4K movies on streaming services and Sky, for instance.

There are two 4K TV screen technologies: OLED and LED LCD. OLED is superior in almost every way, but costs more. The almost refers to the fact that OLED doesn’t do as well in bright rooms. LED LCD is brighter but can’t quite match the contrast levels or deep black colours of OLED. If your budget stretches to OLED, it’s worth the extra.

You’ll see the benefit in richer, sharper picture quality on all screens bigger than, say, 40in. Be prepared to go for a bigger TV if you can. The pixels on 4K are smaller, so you can sit nearer to the TV than you’d think. Where a few years ago the sweet spot for screen size was 32in, 55in is standard now, with 65in and bigger common, but pricier.

Practically all 4K screens are smart, that is they have internet connections, usually wireless, so you can directly access apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer and in some cases Apple TV without a separate box.

Operating systems vary widely. The smartest and most enjoyable to use is the interface found on LG TVs, with Panasonic’s system a close second. Samsung has its own and Sony uses Android TV, related to the interface on mobile phones.

Many 4K TVs boast HDR (high dynamic range) which adds to the picture quality by showing detail in bright skies and dark shadows at the same time. HDR comes in different formats: the greater compatibility of standards, the better: some are restricted to broadcasters (HLG) while others are found on Blu-ray discs and some streaming platforms. After 4K comes 8K, with 16 times the resolution of HD. There are only a few 8K screens available now, from Samsung and LG. Expect more to come in 2020.

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Panasonic TX-55GZ2000B: £2,499, Richer Sounds

Screen size: 55in
Display Technology: OLED
HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
Dimensions: 760 x 1230 x 78mm plus stand
Audio: Stereo, Dolby Atmos

Panasonic’s OLED screens are routinely excellent, but this one is really outstanding, though it’s far from cheap. Picture quality is stunning with impressive contrast levels, deep black shades and rich detail. Although OLED panels are similar between manufacturers, it’s how companies drive those panels with bespoke software that makes the difference in terms of colour fidelity, motion blur and so on. Panasonic’s advanced processors, combined with its close ties to Hollywood, help it achieve a picture that’s close to what you’ll see in the cinema.

A new feature for this TV is Panasonic has also devised a way to brighten the display, making the picture even punchier than OLED usually allows. Audio is also tremendous, thanks to two upward-pointing speakers on the back of the screen and a soundbar that’s built into the front. Between them, they create an immersive soundscape that’s hard to beat. The interface is simple: there are apps to take you to features like Netflix but a conventional menu system alongside.

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LG OLED65C9PLA: £1,989, Currys PC World

Screen size: 65in​
Display Technology: OLED
HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
Dimensions: 830 x 1449 x 47mm plus stand
Audio: Stereo

Like many other of the latest flatscreens, this is a very slender display, with an amazing picture. Faithful colours, striking levels of detail, and smooth motion. As well as the benefits of OLED and HDR, this 4K screen uses AI which is designed to optimise the picture and sound automatically. The webOS interface that powers the TV is the most elegant around, with a row of cards at the base of the screen for TV sources and apps. It’s simple and satisfying to use.

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Samsung QE65Q90RATXXU: £1,799, Currys PC World

Screen size: 65in​
Display Technology: QLED
HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+
Dimensions: 831 x 1450 x 40mm plus stand
Audio: Stereo

QLED is a Samsung special. It’s an LCD screen with LED backlight but the Q refers to quantum dots, a layer of minuscule dots which acts like a filter to deliver more heavily saturated colours that are more precisely defined. The picture quality is tremendous, and brighter than OLED can manage while coming close to the contrast levels of OLED. But QLED isn’t cheap on a large display like this 65in one. There’s a cute extra feature here called Ambient Mode. This means that when the screen is turned off it can display a pattern or colour: you can even set it so it matches the wall behind it.

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Sony KD-49XG9005: £849, Sony Centre

Screen size: 49in​
Display Technology: LED LCD
HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
Dimensions: 629 x 1090 x 69mm plus stand
Audio: Stereo

The image quality on this LED screen is terrific and at 49in, it’s ideal for a smaller room. The smaller size also brings the price down and this TV is exceptional value. Skin tones look completely realistic, colours are rich but natural and motion processing is smooth and effective. Sound is decent and better than most. Like other Sony TVs, it uses the Android TV operating system which can divide opinion and take a while to get used to with its app-driven design. The hardware styling here isn’t as cutting-edge as some (the stand looks a little bow-legged, though it works well) but this is a good all-rounder.

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Panasonic TX-55GZ950B: £1,229, Panasonic

Screen size: 55in​
Display Technology: OLED
HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
Dimensions: 713 x 1228 x 62mm plus stand
Audio: Stereo

Although it can’t match the Best Buy Panasonic above – not least because it lacks the Dolby Atmos sound – this a spectacularly good TV, and much cheaper than many rivals. The picture quality is superb, even if not the very best here, and delivers crisp, pure colours and smooth motion. Because this is OLED, black shades are deep and satisfying and contrast levels are high. Whether you’re watching a 4K Blu-ray or broadcast standard-definition fare, this TV makes it all look good. The remote is a little ordinary, but that’s about the depth of criticism one can make.

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Sony 55AG9: £1,999, John Lewis & Partners

Screen size: 55in
Display Technology: OLED
HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
Dimensions: 710 x 1226 x 40mm plus stand
Audio: Stereo

This is Sony’s flagship OLED, part of what it calls the master series. But recent price cuts have made it much more affordable than when it first arrived. It has a lot of things going for it. There are no speakers for a start: the sound is created by vibrating the display itself. Not only does this sound great, it doesn’t visibly change the picture and it means the sound comes right from the heart of the TV. Sony’s processors are regularly powerful and effective, and this display is no exception, with smooth motion and a great picture. Actually, the picture is sensational, with great colour fidelity, subtly real effects and lots of detail across the board.

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Philips Ambilight 55PUS6814/12: £449.99, Currys PC World

Screen size: 55in​
Display Technology: LED LCD
HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
Dimensions: 723 x 1236 x 80mm plus stand
Audio: Stereo

Philips TVs have a special extra feature: Ambilight. This uses a series of LEDs on the back of the screen to play coloured lights on the wall behind the TV, matching the dominant colours on-screen. The effect is to make the TV picture feel more immersive and it is quite restful on the eyes. This model has Ambilight on the top, left and right edges. Image quality is not the best on test but is still excellent, and better than you might hope for from this price range. Audio is average but an update that allows Dolby Atmos and its surround-sound effect is promised.

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Samsung QE55Q80R: £899 Currys PC World

Screen size: 55in
Display Technology: QLED
HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+
Dimensions: 708 x 1231 x 62mm plus stand
Audio: Stereo

Though it’s quite a bit less expensive than the Q90 series above, this TV has a lot of the high-end features it needs to look great. It has Direct Full Array, meaning that instead of one backlight there are many, which hugely adds to the contrast possible (though it means the TV is thicker than some wafer-thin flatscreens). Samsung’s bespoke smart TV system isn’t bad, and includes apps such as Apple TV, so you can watch the company’s new subscription service Apple TV+, if you sign up. The upscaler makes HD content look good, especially for sport. And the TV’s speakers are better than many, though no match for a dedicated surround-sound speaker set-up.

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Panasonic TX-58GX800B: £699, John Lewis & Partners

Screen size: 58in​
Display Technology: LED LCD
HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
Dimensions: 759 x 1297 x 65mm plus stand
Audio: Stereo

Panasonic is making great mid-range TVs as well as its class-leading OLED screens. This TV comes in four sizes, from 40in upwards, so you can choose according to the size of your room, or your budget. Although it can’t match the deep black levels of OLED, the picture quality here is extremely good, with realistic colours and strong contrast. It also includes HDR and is compatible with all formats for maximum flexibility. Sometimes, HDR on a less expensive screen can look dodgy but Panasonic has used the knowhow from its OLED TVs to improve the picture here, too. There’s also a processor which has been tuned by a colourist from Hollywood, aiming to ensure that movies look just the way the creators intended.

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LG OLED55B9PLA: £1,099, John Lewis & Partners

Screen size: 55in​
Display Technology: OLED
HDR compatibility: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
Dimensions: 706 x 1229 x 46.9mm plus stand
Audio: Stereo, Dolby Atmos

If the LG C9 above is too expensive, the B9 range is still excellent, just not quite as good. That’s because the build quality isn’t quite as high, nor the processor quite as new. Picture quality is strong for 4K, HD and standard definition images, with great upscaling making up for original picture’s deficiencies. It has the same outstanding webOS operating system that is so easy to use. Like the pricier C9, this screen comes with Dolby Atmos speakers for a more encompassing effect.

Buy now

The verdict: 4K TVs

All of these panels have stunning picture quality, but the real standout is the Panasonic TX-55GZ2000, which has amazing audio, too. The picture is very nearly as good on the LG OLED65C9PLA, which is cheaper and has the best smart TV interface. Best value is the Philips Ambilight 55PUS6814/12, with its cool backlighting effect.

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