I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There’s no perfect TV choice.
It’s easy to get lost in the event horizon of research and price comparisons and feature speculation for TVs. But TVs are, fortunately or unfortunately, such a constantly shifting landscape of options and technology that there is no one perfect option at any time.
There are good choices you can make, though. If I had to choose a TV in the sub-$1,000 price range on Black Friday (or any other time this year), it would be one of two choices: Hisense’s H9F or TCL’s R625. Each set has its own benefits and shortcomings, but either one would more than satisfy most people and provide a great 4K, HDR-ready experience for games and movies.
In some ways, these two TVs represent the best possible choice anyone could make, in part because they’re so regularly available at such low price points, which currently start at $599 at major retailers for the 55-inch models. These aren’t the best TVs available, but in less than six months, the current best TVs won’t be, either. And with HDMI 2.1 on the way with some major improvements included, spending four figures for a TV right now might feel especially bad. On the other hand, cheaper sets likely won’t see features such as 4K/120 Hz support or auto low-latency mode, which means these lower-cost options will likely see the least upheaval.
If I had to buy a TV right now, as someone who would soon want a higher-end screen with Freesync support, 4K/120, and all the other bells and whistles, I’d go for a nice, cheap model like the H9F or R625 — even in a couple of years, either of them would be a great second-room option when HDMI 2.1 sets are more widely available.
It’s worth mentioning that price points below the $599 MSRP of the H9F or R625 are probably not going to get the kind of results that make 4K and HDR worth the upgrade. There continue to be 4K displays that retail for $200-300, but the improvements that ~$600 sets have seen this year aren’t quite making it all the way down the product hierarchy. Cheaper sets often output low peak brightness and offer poor color reproduction, both of which are key to HDR content. With those screens, you’re just not going to get the most out of what you’re watching.
My recommendations here assume a baseline of 4K performance — I want you to have a display that offers reasonable contrast, color reproduction, and brightness. In other words, a TV that provides a decent-to-good 4K/HDR experience. These recommendations also assume you’re looking for a new, 2019 ultra HD television. You may be able to find good 2018 models on eBay or on Amazon’s outlet store, but televisions are discontinued once manufacturers roll out new models, so it becomes difficult to reliably track down a previous year’s set by this time of year.
A note: Technical specifications and measurements are, once again, taken from the site Rtings, which is, in my opinion, the best resource for television information out there. The reviewers there are incredibly thorough and scrupulous, they respond to user feedback, and they provide calibration instructions for every set they review. You should visit their site, even if it makes you question your 4K purchasing decisions on a regular basis. Additional research was done across multiple other sites, and I think it’s reasonable to do a little of your own reading before you make a bigger purchase. $600 is less than $1,000, but it’s not nothing.
The best 4K TV under $1000: The Hisense H9F
For months, almost every tech site imaginable has lauded Hisense’s H9F as the cost-to-performance king of 2019 4K TVs. Its contrast ratio and peak brightness are excellent — well in excess of what’s needed to properly show off the brightest brights of HDR content, set against blacks that look great, even if they aren’t as dark as on an OLED. Its color accuracy is also excellent, assuming you go through the process of calibrating it. I’d recommend finding settings from a reputable site and using them, unless you want to get the set professionally calibrated (which could cost quite a bit).
Just as importantly as all that if you’re a Polygon reader, the H9F’s video game performance is terrific. In game mode, there’s approximately one frame of lag added by the screen, which is about as good as you could hope for. It also supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision (which both next-generation consoles should support) on all four of its HDMI inputs. The H9F uses Android TV as its smart TV platform, which offers a host of great app options and good performance.
For most users, the H9F offers an excellent viewing experience at a very low price. It does have some caveats. Rtings measured an awful lot of heat coming off the set’s chassis, which could become an issue in smaller spaces; anyone who’s owned a large plasma TV in the past probably understands just how much. And the H9F’s sound quality is, well, bad. You’ll probably want to take some of the money you’re saving on the TV and spend it on a decent soundbar. There’s also some discoloration in “neutral” grays and darkening around the edges of the screen, though it’s unlikely you’ll notice it (if you can just make yourself forget that I mentioned it). And the H9F suffers from the same poor viewing angles of virtually every LCD screen; this problem disappears only on much more expensive sets.
The biggest caveat about the H9F, though, is simply what it doesn’t have. It doesn’t support the high-end features that will come standard with HDMI 2.1. You won’t miss them this year, for the most part. But you might next year. This is true for nearly every 4K TV out right now, though, which makes spending less on a TV like the H9F an arguably smarter move in 2019.
Another great 4K TV: The TCL R625
TCL’s R615 was last year’s budget TV of choice, and the R625 is this year’s very recently released successor model. It features better color reproduction thanks to newer display technology, though it’s even more in need of proper calibration than the H9F. It has better, more uniform blacks than the H9F, but its contrast ratio is a bit worse, since it doesn’t get quite as bright. It actually improves on the H9F’s gaming performance, with input latency of 10.6 milliseconds compared to Hisense’s 16 ms. I don’t think you’ll notice that difference unless you’re a professional competitor, but it’s there. The R625’s speakers are better than the H9F’s, though they still aren’t what I’d call good.
There are two main points of differentiation between the R625 and the H9F: motion handling and interface. Fast movement on the R625 is likely to look somewhat blurrier than on the H9F. You may not notice the blur, but it is there, per Rtings’ measurements. And the other primary difference is interface. The R625’s Roku support might be more attractive to Comcast/Xfinity TV subscribers — it includes excellent Xfinity streaming and on-demand support. For others, Hisense’s Android TV implementation might be more of a draw.
So which TV should you buy? For most people, I think it should be whichever of these two models is 1) available — both of them occasionally sell out at different online retailers, which can affect the pricing you’ll find for them — and that in turn leads to 2) the one that’s on sale at the time you’re looking to buy a TV. Both sets are on sale for as low as around $600, and they’ll likely go even cheaper, just at different times. Either one will give you a really good 4K/HDR experience, with some of the same caveats regarding viewing angle and calibration. And either one should hold you over well until the next generation of 4K TVs brings all its new features into wider adoption at affordable price points.