The best TVs are harder to choose than ever – here’s why

(Image credit: LG)

The best TVs of 2021 are starting to arrive in earnest, and it’s making things very difficult for those wanting to opt for the very best television available today.

Why’s that? While there’s always been plenty of competition on the TV market, with opposing panel technologies and hardware solutions always fighting for the last dollar they can, there’s been something of a shift in this year’s TV ranges, multiplying our choices even further and ensuring that buying a new TV requires even more deliberation than before.

That’s because of the sheer multitude of panel technologies on offer these days. The primary tussle for quality screens is still between OLED and QLED – the former favored by LG, Panasonic and Sony, and the latter favored by Samsung and TCL. But there’s a lot of gray area emerging in the middle, where extra-bright OLED TVs like the LG G1 OLED are competing against Mini LED screens that can almost replicate their black levels – alongside the arrival of advanced Micro LED displays that are finally available in sizes that could fit into more than 1% of homes.

What complicates this further is that some TV brands are trying to have their cake and eat it too, putting out both OLED and Mini LED TVs, and making it very hard for buyers to figure out whether the likes of LG or Philips think one technology is actually superior than the other, especially given the sizeable overlap in their pricing.

A television from LG’s Mini LED TV range, branded as ‘QNED’ (Quantum Nanocell light Emitting Diodes), will set you back thousands of dollars or pounds, many of them at larger sizes even outpricing LG’s 2021 OLED flagship, the LG G1.

While the G1 Gallery Series costs $2,999 / £2,999 (around AU$4,000) for a 65-inch size, and $4,499 / £4,799 (around AU$6,000) for a 77-inch size, the 75-inch LG QNED916 retails for £3,699 (around $5,200 / AU$6,700), putting it right in the middle of LG’s premium OLED pricing.

Mini LED screens are technically an extension of LCD technology, just with more complex backlighting systems that add tens of thousands of tiny LEDs – but this latest evolution has meant that TV brands backing both horses are confusing their messaging.

Consumer choice

Sure, a glut of choice isn’t the biggest problem you might have in 2021, but it does mean that anyone who wants to make a discerning purchase is having to weigh a lot of pros and cons, beyond simple markers like ‘Ultra HD’, ‘OLED’, or the price tag hanging off the screen. It’s not as simple as PS5 vs Xbox Series X, after all – when it comes to TVs, there are just too many players in the game, and it’s leading to a mountain of TV buzzwords to navigate.

The emergence of Mini LED across new Samsung TVs, LG TVs, and Philips TVs is only complicating these ranges. Samsung QLED has been split into regular QLED and high-end Neo QLED (the latter including Mini LED), while LG Nanocell now has a subset of premium QNED TVs supporting Mini LED tech. Their premium TV offerings have effectively doubled.

Samsung QLED TV

Mini LED backlights are arriving in earnest this year across Samsung, LG, and Philips TV ranges (Image credit: Samsung)

This won’t affect everyone, of course, as those only looking for the best TVs under $500 or even $1,000 are unlikely to come up against these Mini LED screens in the near future.

But for those deliberating between OLED, QLED, Mini LED, and how those technologies can overlap, things are only getting more complicated. They’ll no doubt continue to do so, too, with the category of OLED splitting up into traditional ‘WOLED’ (white OLED) screens and the incoming inkjet OLED panels coming from TCL, as well as the long-rumored QLED-OLED hybrids said to be in the works at Samsung. Within the next few years, weighing up OLED vs QLED might not even make sense as a question.

We’ll continue doing our in-depth reviews of new TVs as they enter the market, and it’ll mean we get a better sense of Mini LED implementation across the board, including how much of a threat it really is to OLED. The dropping price floor for the latter will no doubt help for a little while, with those looking to spend around $1,000 / £1,000 likely having to opt for a year-old, entry-level OLED, or perhaps nab a discounted one in a flash sale (cough, Vizio H1, cough).

But there are a lot of TV panel technologies to choose from these days, and it doesn’t look like the new players are pushing out the old ones just yet – meaning TV shopping is going to stay complicated for a good while.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.