Picture Show: The 6 Best TVs Under $500

The truth is that we all want a cheap TV. If we could get a few million pixels spread out over 90 inches of screen, complete with midnight blacks and startling lights, all while spending only the change in our ashtray, we’d do it. Unfortunately, that’s not how the entertainment market works. Buying a cheap television often means you’re actually getting less than what you pay for. It’s a tricky maze to run if you’re trying to get a TV for under $500 and still get quality, but we’ll show you how it can be done.

Value is the watchword whenever you’re dropping your shopping budget. You’re not going to get the best and the brightest, but for a few hundred dollars, you can get awfully close, and still get a TV that’s the right size for your home, office, bedroom, or sex dungeon. We combed through the ungodly amount of chaff, staring at the worst screens out there to bring you the golden wheat. Multimedia mavens, smart TV aficionados, and lovers of all things on the small screen will be pleased with any of the 6 best TVs under $500.

LG 42LF5600 42-inch

LG 42LF5600 42-inch

Pro: Very limited power usage
Con: Not easily wall mounted

Raw Deal: Not everyone wants loads of bells and whistles added to their TV. For those who are looking for straight picture quality with a basic, uncluttered interface, which also allows them to save money, this unrefined LG is an excellent choice. While the motion refresh is only 60 Hz, it manages to do an above average job of keeping movements blur free, even when gaming. A pair of HDMI ports lets you get connected without adding loads of ports for equipment you don’t have. It’s edge-lit rather than back-lit, which is going to reduce your depth of color, but also makes the body of the box thinner, the structure lighter, and helps keep the price down in basement levels.

Purchase: $358

Samsung UN40J6200 40-inch

Samsung UN40J6200 40-inch

Pro: DTS Premium Sound 5.1 fits with almost any stereo
Con: Smart TV features are weak

Shining Example: The girth is far from impressive, but what it lacks in sheer size it more than makes up for in clarity. The deep blacks and jarring color contrast are extremely appealing and give an immersive sensation that shows off the richness of Samsung’s line. It gives lip service to its smart TV aspects with sluggish apps and mediocre connectivity, but it is supremely gorgeous even if there isn’t much under the hood. Even when running a console game at 60 frames-per-second the picture pops and sizzles. It offers loads of apps, which is nice, and with the Anynet+ technology, you’ll be able to control as many as a dozen devices right from the TV. We suggest this model as a starter TV that moves into the bedroom once you’re able to upgrade.

Purchase: $398

Sony KDL40W600B 40-inch

Sony KDL40W600B 40-inch

Pro: Strong stand-alone speakers
Con: Brick power cord

Expansion Pack: We went back a year to get this bargain beauty from Sony, since their new goal seems to be high-end TVs with overblown price tags. If you can overlook the very minimal age of the KDL40W600B, you’ll find yourself well-treated with 4 HDMI plugs and 3 USB ports that can handle as much media as you want to throw at it. It’s surprisingly pretty for an edge-lit and the body itself tends to look like a showpiece, making it attractive even when turned off. The 60 Hz native refresh rate won’t win any contests, but it works well enough when set to dynamic that games and even Stanley Cup-grade hockey won’t blur too badly when put to the test. Powered by the X-Reality PRO, live action programs tend to get well treated when it comes to color clarity and depth.

Purchase: $423

TCL 50FS3800 50-inch

TCL 50FS3800 50-inch

Pro: Outstanding customer support
Con: Odd remote

Most for the Money: We don’t usually go off-brand when it comes to entertainment, since we know that big names offer better support and are more easily repaired, but if you want a large TV that has been pumped full of smart TV options and looks good, all for less than $500, this TCL is as pretty as a picture. Roku is baked right in, so no need to buy yourself a box, which saves you cash right out of the gate, should you be a streaming fan. Three HDMI plugs, RF, composite, and optical video outputs will work with whatever setup you have and give you a lot of options should your gear change over time. We even like the stand, which uses the edges for more stability, rather than sitting in the center.

Purchase: $440

Sharp LC-48LE653U 48-inch

Sharp LC-48LE653U 48-inch

Pro: Blacks are deep, even in a dark room
Con: Does not work well in bright rooms

Better Balance: For some reason there’s a problem that plagues television manufacturers when it comes to making budget TVs. Either their streaming features and smart TV apps are laughably weak-sauce, or their picture quality goes right down the tubes. With the LC-48LE653U you have a better balance with the tables tipping in favor of picture quality, while the smart features are added on. Make no mistake, both are reasonably good, but here you see why Sharp is largely considered the master when it comes to clean pictures with exceptional rendering and intelligent use of back-lit features. It isn’t as bright as other models, giving a deeper, richer contrast, though that can be washed out if your TV sits in direct sunlight.

Purchase: $477

Vizio E48-C2 48-inch

Vizio E48-C2 48-inch

Pro: Some DLNA support
Con: Terrible speakers

Brainiac: A fully smart TV from the designers at the bang-for-your-buck brand Vizio, this televisions has 6 zones of Full Array Local Dimming for darker blacks and better color contrast across the entire screen. A 120Hz refresh rate on the screen panel gives you quality motion capture with a minimum of blurring and is comparable to more expensive TVs. Extremely intuitive, you’ll get plenty of apps for all your viewing needs put into an interface that is simple enough that it will never confuse the luddite in your family. A true backlit LED employing over 2 million pixels, it’s single-button access remote and triple HDMI ports show Vizio’s dedication to making TVs that are smart in their simplicity.

Purchase: $485

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