In the age of coronavirus we’ve been asked to shelter in place at home, which leads to watching more TV than ever. At the same time, the economy is in recession and lots of Americans face financial stress. That combination means you might be looking to buy a new TV without spending a lot of money. The good news is that you can get a second TV, or a new primary set that lets you move your current model to another room, for less than you might think.
Most of CNET’s favorite TVs cost more than $500 because they offer excellent image quality and large sizes, but there are some exceptions. Below you’ll find TVs we recommend that cost $499 or less, as well as one that’s $50 more. On most of them the picture quality is perfectly fine, and on the more-expensive one it’s excellent. Your call.
Read more: Best TV for 2020
Keep these points in mind as you look over my choices:
Roku is our favorite platform for streaming apps and apps like Netflix, and it’s even better when it’s baked into the TV. This TCL 4-Series can’t beat the 6-series (see below) on image quality — its 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) compatibility don’t do anything to help the picture or color — but it offers a fine viewing experience for most people, especially at this price.
Other sizes under $500: 55-inch, 50-inch, 43-inch, 40-inch.
Read the TCL 65S425 review.
Vizio’s V-Series has two things that make it a natural if you want to stream from your phone to the TV: Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay, neither of which is available on that TCL Roku TV. The Vizio actually comes in a bunch of sizes under $500 but we’re listing one of the biggest here because we like big screens. Unfortunately there’s a lot of picture quality variation in the various models (see the review for details), which is why the TCL above is a better overall pick
Other sizes under $500: 60-inch, 55-inch, 50-inch, 43-inch, 40-inch (note that some of these sizes may be out of stock at many retailers).
Read our Vizio V655-G9 review.
This Toshiba features Amazon’s Fire TV system built-in, making it a direct competitor to the TCL’s Roku system. In general we like Roku better than Fire TV, thanks to superior menus and search, but this Toshiba has one cool extra the TCL lacks: built-in Alexa, available by talking into the remote.
Other sizes under $500: 65-inch, 55-inch, 50-inch, 40-inch, 32-inch.
Read our Toshiba 49LF421U19 review.
Smart TV is king at small sizes. At this price, buying a separate streamer for Roku is a significant investment — and juggling that streamer’s remote is a hassle — so if you must get a TV of this size to meet your viewing needs, this is our pick for the best 32-inch TV.
This is a 720p resolution TV which is fine at this screen size for video but if you’d like to use your TV as a computer monitor, we’d recommend spending the extra $20 or so for the 1080p version, model 32S327 (thanks for the comment, tjmile1).
Other sizes under $500: 43-inch, 40-inch.
Read CNET’s TCL 32S325 Roku TV review.
Our favorite midrange TV for the money, the 55-inch version of this TCL was recently available for less than $500 but it’s gone back up to $550. Even at that price it’s a great deal, with well-implemented full-array local dimming that leads to a truly excellent image. As if that’s not enough, the Roku smart TV operating system is our hands-down favorite.
Read the TCL 55R625 (2019 Roku TV) review.
Other stuff to know about buying a new TV
Even at $500 a new set can be a big investment, so maybe you’re looking for a bit more information. Here’s a quick and dirty list.
Looking for even more info? Here’s everything to know about buying a new TV in 2020.