Choosing between the likes of Sony BRAVIA and Panasonic VIERA is tricky, there are crowd pleasers and flops alike within each manufacturer's ranges, too. So here we pick out the most impressive LCD, LED and plasma TV ranges for 2012.
Panasonic Smart VIERA WT50 Series
Dual Core processor makes these multi-tasking LED TVs very smart candidates
For long one of the biggest brands in telly, Panasonic was until recently all about plasma. We still love plasma as a tech – it's unbeatable for home cinema and 3D – but it's great to see Panasonic now pouring its efforts into top class LED-backlit LCD TVs, too. The WT50 range is the Japanese giant's smartest TV yet in more ways than one; a gorgeous glass and metal design and a bezel so slender it wouldn't look out of place on one of the LG or Samsung's high-fashion models is paired with a Dual Core processor. The latter enables multi-tasking of the many apps on VIERA Connect, with Wi-Fi, Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners, too.
Sony Bravia HX853 Series
A stunning picture performance and an aggressive price put Sony back in the game
Whether or not its Bravias make Sony any money is none of our business, but the HX853 definitely puts Sony back on the flap telly map. Its flagship range is built around Edge LED panels, combining a stomach-able price with a slimmer, sleeker variation of its dull Monolithic designs from 2011. Although it does offer active shutter 3D, there are no 3D specs included and, besides, it's the 2D picture quality that wowed us most anyway, particularly where contrast and motion handling are concerned. If its X-Reality PRO processing works well, equally as welcome is its Sony Entertainment Network smart TV dimension, which thankfully is propelled by built-in Wi-Fi. A classy collection indeed.
Sony's HX853 Series comprises the 40-inch KDL-40HX853, 46-inch KDL-46HX853 and 55-inch KDL-55HX853.
Toshiba ZL2 Series
Glasses-free 3D and a native 4K resolution for the first time on a domestic TV
There is only one TV in this Series – the 55-inch 55ZL2 – but it's impossible to ignore in any round-up of the greatest flatscreen TVs around. A one-of-a-kind TV that not only enables you to watch 3D without any glasses on, but also sports a native Quad HD or 4k resolution, the ZL2 boasts truly amazing pictures.
It's oh so expensive, but the £6,999 is designed to get any tech obsessive's pulse racing; its extremely powerful CEVO Engine processor produces stunning 4k images and awesome HD, and though specs-free 3D isn't perfect and Toshiba Places is an under-nourished smart TV system, we're already convinced. The 55ZL2 is a remarkable achievement for Toshiba, and a genuine landmark in TV technology.
Samsung ES8000 Series
An ultra-thin bezel and silvery finish hides 2012's most innovative TVs
An improved Smart Hub interface, comprehensive smart TV online service, a touchpad remote that's joined by voice and gesture controls, and a gorgeous space-saving design – what more do you want? How about some of the best picture quality the LCD TV world has to offer, including active shutter 3D support? Dual Core processing helps boost the Smart Hub online platform, while digital media streaming over a home network and USB playback also impress, though it's those all-new control features we like most.
Philips 9000 Series
Direct LED meets a brushed metallic finish and a Moth Eye filter
The years roll by and our TV wants and needs change with the weather, but Philips' annually refreshed 9000 Series is always a collection to watch out for. The key technology is Ambilight, an array of coloured LED lights on the rear rim of the TV that projects dynamic coloured light on to walls, which change with each movement of colours on the TV screen itself. If that's sublime, so is the 46-incher's Moth Eye filter, a panel nanostructure that eliminates reflections (to increase contrast by a power of ten!), and it chums-up with something that's increasingly rare in the LED TV world; direct (not edge) LED backlighting. The latter also adorns the 52-incher, as does what Philips calls 3D Max – active shutter 3D. And did we mention the luscious, unique brushed metallic finish? As high-end as its gets this side of a Bang & Olufsen telly.
Philips' 9000 Series comprises the 46-inch 46PFL9706H and 52-inch 52PFL9706.
Direct LED lighting makes this flagship NANO LED set one to watch
We love a good flagship TV range, and though it slightly disappoints on ultimate home cinema standard black levels, LG's LM960V is an absolute joy to live with.
A brilliantly invisible bezel is what catches our eyes first – it's truly wonderful – though the LM960V still somehow matches its outstanding colour and brightness with decent audio. Its uses a Wii-style Magic Remote that puts a cursor on the home screen, which itself is a thing of wonder; we're talking a spectacular combination of online Smart TV features, full integrated into the core user interface, and with multimedia playback from USB sticks or PCs/Macs. Smart TV redefined, it makes the Apple TV interface seem shamefully basic.
The LG LM960V Series comprises the 47-inch 47LM960V and 55-inch 55LM960V.
Panasonic Smart VIERA ST50 Series
Thoroughly affordable 3D plasma with VIERA Connect and an enticing smart TV service
Plasmas: fat, old-fashioned and expensive, right? Err … wrong. So wrong. Slimmer and more glamorous than you'd usually expect a Panasonic plasma TV to be, and aggressively priced to boot, the ST50 Series offers contrast and clarity to die for. A radical reboot of last year's debut NeoPlasma panels, each ST50 plasma offers a mind-boggling 5,500,000:1 native contrast ratio and a response time of just 0.001ms – go looking for that on a LED TV.
Featuring active shutter 3D, digital media streaming and a thoroughly impressive VIERA Connect smart TV dimensions and the ST50 is pretty much unbeatable for its price. An unmitigated success.
Panasonic's ST50 Series comprises the 42-inch TX-P42ST50, 50-inch TX-P50ST50, 55-inch TX-P55ST50 and 65-inch TX-P65ST50 sizes.
Philips Cinema 21:9 Series
Banish those black bars with these two-of-a-kind CinemaScope screens
The strange, stretched shape of Philips' Cinema 21:9 Series will instantly make sense to committed movie buffs, many of whom yearn to watch 2.39:1 (rounded-up to a 21:9 shape by Philips) CinemaScope Blu-ray films without those pesky black bars above and below the print. However, can you stomach the flipside; black bars on the sides of normal widescreen TV programmes? Of course not, which is why Philips has fitted its two monster Cinema 21:9 screens with clever processing that stretches regular TV fare to fit the enormous real estate. If that particular feature just about works, the rest is a total success; super-wide Edge LED panels boast awesome pictures and even a choice of 3D flavours.
The Philips Cinema 21:9 Series comprises the ever-so-slightly gold-tinged metallic silver cased 50-inch 50PFL7956T Cinema 21:9 Gold, which sports the Easy 3D 'passive' system, and the 58-inch 58PFL9956 Cinema 21:9 Platinum, which includes the pricier, more detailed active shutter 3D system, called 3D Max by Philips.
LG LM670T Series
Cinema 3D joins-up passive 3D with some polished networking in a striking design
Five pairs of 3D glasses, Dual Play specs for full-screen 2D gaming on two-player mode, and Smart TV for a gateway to a world of web-based apps. There's a lot to play with on LG's Wi-Fi fuelled LM670T Series, not least of which is Smart Share 2.0, a scintillating approach to disparate forms of digital media – we're talking instant cover art for random video files stored in far-off places in what is a well thought-out, integrated approach. You'll also find an ultra narrow bezel and a Magic Remote that allows gesture control and cursor operation alongside oh-so comfortable Passive 3D images and some decent upscaling of SD sources.
The LG LM670T Series comprises the 42-inch 42LM670T, 47-inch 47LM670T and 55-inch 55LM670T.
Panasonic Smart VIERA E5 Series
Eschewing the third dimension this good value Smart VIERA is all about apps
Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Acetrax, Twitter and Facebook all take a starring role is what is probably the most polished smart TV interface around – and it comes with a low price. If you're not interested in 3D but do insist on Edge LED backlighting and a Full HD resolution, the E5 Series is a quality, good value choice; a good value panel that can stream digital files across a home network and even manages above average audio. Performing best with HD sources, its integrated Freeview HD tuner plays a starring role.