Samsung and Sony, both being massive TV makers with an international install base, might not seem too different at first glance. But if you're sussing out which to pick for your next television, you'll want to go into your purchase knowing what you're getting – and what you might be sacrificing in the process.
Even mainstream brands' sets can vary hugely in format support, smart TV platforms, panel technologies, processing techniques, as well as the kinds of casing and stand supports you get along with the screen.
While Sony and Samsung TVs have more in common than not – they're all boxes for watching moving pictures, after all – both TV makers are trying to stand out in a crowded market.
Anyway, with so many televisions being released each year – and a flurry of new announcements due at IFA 2019 – just narrowing down to one TV brand is going to make the process much simpler.
If you're still considering LG TVs, Panasonic TVs, Hisense TVs, or TCL TVs, you may want to head to our roundup of the best TVs across all brands. But if you just want to know how to tell the difference between Samsung and Sony televisions, this is the guide for you.
- Best Samsung TV: your guide to buying Samsung in 2019
Sony vs Samsung TV: overview
Let's set the scene. Firstly, Samsung is a South Korean manufacturer, and by far the largest maker of televisions worldwide, followed next by LG and TCL.
Sony, however, isn't far behind – and the Japanese manufacturer is still a force to contend with.
Sony and Samsung cater to budgets of all sizes, and manufacture everything from 32-inch small TVs to massive 75-inch screens, with an annual product cycle refreshing most of these sets each year. The majority are 4K TVs, though you can find the odd cheap HD display with either brand.
They sell televisions globally, with presences in both the UK and US – unlike Panasonic or Philips, who don’t have licenses in North America.
Both brands make a lot of consumer products outside of televisions too. You wouldn't have a PlayStation 4 without Sony, and the upcoming PS5 is set to be a big product launch for the company. Be assured, too, that Sony is making televisions capable of showing off everything its next-gen console can do – and both TV makers have a flagship TV with 8K resolution too.
Sony and Samsung are also fighting over territory in the highly competitive smartphone market: both manufacture Android phones, though we won’t be comparing their handsets in this particular guide. (We have separate pages for the best Sony phones or Samsung phones, if you're inclined.)
Smart TV: Tizen vs Android TV
There tends to be a different smart TV platform for each make of television, each with its own unique flavor.
Samsung goes with its Tizen OS for its mid-range and premium televisions. Tizen is fast to navigate and generally uncluttered – with a constantly refreshing 'recent' box enabling you to keep track of your most used apps. Overall, a pretty competent experience, though the universal search function isn't as accomplished as LG's webOS platform.
Sony, on the other hand, uses Android TV, which offers somewhat more content and menu panes than its competitor. A bit more cluttered, but also more at your fingertips. It's really up to your preference – though Android TV is also known to be slightly buggier and prone to crashes than other smart TV platforms.
But what of voice assistants? Advanced Sony TVs will come with Google Assistant integration – which makes sense, given Android TV is a Google-developed platform.
Sony has however now added an Amazon Alexa Music, Cameras and TV Control app to its 2019 TVs, and some mid-range models from previous years. This will let you control third-party smart home products and speakers through some basic Alexa capability – like the Amazon Echo, or Ring security cameras – and use Alexa voice commands for the TV's power and volume functions.
Samsung's Bixby voice assistant can be found on mid-range sets and above, though it's known to lag behind Alexa or Google Assistant in terms of smarts or voice recognition. However, it's more than enough for the minimal TV controls you're likely to be using Bixby for – and you can always link up your television with an Alexa speaker if you really want to.
Dolby Vision vs HDR 10+
If you're buying a mid-range television up to one of the top-of-the-line sets, it will likely come with support for high dynamic range (HDR), but you may not realise that HDR comes in several different forms.
There's a base HDR10 format supported on every HDR TV – which has a wider color gamut and improved contrast compared to regular SDR television. Most TV content these days is still in SDR, but more movies, shows and programmes are made in HDR every year.
But beyond that are two HDR formats that add 'dynamic metadata' to improve TV images by altering the TV's picture settings depending on the scene you're watching and the kinds of images onscreen.
The first was Dolby Vision, which is backed by Sony as well as LG, and found in TVs across Vizeo, TCL, and Hisense among others. Then there's HDR10+, which is backed by Samsung and Panasonic – though the latter has now pivoted to offer both formats on its mid-range and premium TVs.
Dolby Vision is really the more advanced format, with 12-bit color gamut instead of the 10-bit HDR10+, and is also more commonly found. (While there are a number of HDR10+ shows on Amazon Prime, you won’t find it supported on Netflix, or devices like the Chromecast Ultra and Apple TV 4K.)
Admittedly, preferred HDR format is only really a concern at the higher end of the price range, but those spending big should think carefully about which services they’re likely to want HDR content on.
QLED or OLED?
Samsung has been pushing its QLED screens for a few years now, which are known for their bright 1,000-2,000 nit screens, enabling vivid HDR scenes and high impact TV images.
They're certainly a lot brighter than the OLED (organic LED) displays used by Sony for its high-end sets, which struggle to get brighter than around 800 nits – though it's not quite a fair comparison.
While OLED screens tend to be dimmer, they achieve a more natural color contrast, given the organic film used in production. OLED displays are also self-emissive, meaning that each individual pixel emits its own light, allowing for incredibly precise control of light and darkness across the screen. Blacks really look like blacks, and while overall brightness suffers, the bright sections also don't bleed into surrounding areas of the screen (as is often the case with LED).
There’s often talk of ‘burn in’ images on OLED screens, but much of this is anecdotal and you’d probably need to be working the set very hard for this to become a problem.
We’ve gone into this debate in more detail in our QLED vs OLED guide, though for now it’ll be enough to say that OLED is generally suited to high-quality video formats in dark viewing environments, while Samsung’s sets lag on contrast (comparatively) but make up for it with a bright and impactful display. Keep in mind though, both are highly impressive premium panel technologies, and most people will be very happy with either.
Samsung vs Sony TV: which should you choose?
Not sure on either? Both Sony and Samsung are capable mainstream TV makers, and you're unlikely to get screwed over by a purchase from one or the other. Most of our complaints for Sony and Samsung's premiums sets gear around format support – the picture quality is generally brilliant either way. And if you're committed to Dolby Vision or HDR10+ as an HDR format, that may well make your decision for you.
Samsung's QLED sets will go big on brightness, and if you're more of a daytime viewer than a huddle-in-the-dark cinephile, the brighter displays may be more what you're after. Otherwise Sony's OLEDs will offer a crisp picture with incredible contrast more suited to your late night movie sessions.
It's worth noting that Samsung's 2019 QLEDs feature a new Ultra Viewing Angle technology, making for vastly improved off-axis viewing. Sony on the other hand is usually pretty competent at upscaling from low-resolution sources, and motion handling in fast-moving shots.
Samsung sets will also generally be a bit cheaper for what they offer – hence how Samsung managed to overtake Sony despite being something of an upstart in the TV market not too long ago. OLEDs especially will cost more than an equivalent QLED, even if that could change in the coming years.
And while Sony tends to play around with TV casings and stand design more than most – with some ill-advised tilted screens, like the otherwise incredible AF9 OLED – it has come back to its senses for 2019.
So which TV brand is better? It depends on what you want from a new television – and if price is going to influence you more than any snazzy formats or contrast comparisons, we've listed some of the latest Sony and Samsung TV prices below. (If you're after the best TV you can get on a tight budget, though, the Samsung NU7100 is probably your best bet.)