Which HDTV Should You Buy: 720p, 1080i, 1080p, 4K?

Buying a TV is about more than the resolution

Couple smiling in front of televisions in a supermarket
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Buying a new HDTV can be confusing. Smart buyers want the best picture they can afford, which is usually a balancing act between resolution, size and dollars. If you're on a tight budget, a 720p resolution TV may be the best buy for you, but if your budget is unlimited, 4K is certainly worthy of consideration. Other important factors include size and extras that include smart TVs, curved screens and 3D capabilities.

It's All About the Picture

Picture quality is—and should be—the primary consideration for just about everyone when they shop for a new TV. The resolution of the screen counts, but so does the technology used in the TV. Keep these things in mind when you go shopping:

  • The best picture quality comes from OLED TVs, but they are relatively new and still expensive.
  • Most TVs use LED LCD technology, which is different from OLED.
  • Plasma is a thing of the past. Don't even consider it.
  • LED LCD TVs use either edge-lit LED backlights or full-array LED backlights. The full-array backlights deliver the better picture.
  • Screen resolutions come in 720p, 1080p and 4K or UHD (ultra-high definition) and each jump up in resolution increases the price of the TV. Now that 4K content is being produced, 4K is the best screen resolution to buy if you can afford it. Unless you are buying a small TV, stay away from 720p resolution which appears to be on its way out.

    Size Matters

    If you're shopping for the living room, go big—55 inches or larger, assuming you have the space for the TV and can afford it. Size is a big consideration in TV pricing, but you can buy big-screen TVs in several price ranges. Check out the picture on any large budget TV and make sure its quality is acceptable.

    If you are shopping for a bedroom, 40 inches is a good size. You could go even smaller on a kitchen TV.

    Smart TVs

    The move is definitely toward all TVs eventually being smart TVs, but they aren't there yet. Right now, this is an extra that adds price to the set. You can save money by adding an inexpensive accessory like a Roku Streaming Stick or an Apple TV if you only want access to Netflix or Amazon Prime and a few apps.

    Curved TVs

    Curved TVs may turn out to be another flash in the pan product that is here today and gone tomorrow. If you've been around one and loved it, spend the money, but most viewers think it detracts more than adds to the viewing experience.

    3D TVs

    Don't bother spending money on a 3D TV, if you can even find one. Although they had a brief period of popularity, they didn't sell well and several major brands dropped them. 3D TVs are dead.