Best TVs: Picture quality(Updated February 28, 2014 1:40 AM PST)
Our "best products" lists (on the left) take into account design, features, and value as well as picture quality. However, for people seeking the best picture quality regardless of price, the models below will fit the bill. Each TV scored at least an 8 in the Performance subrating, and in the case of a scoring tie, we've ranked them in order of which TV we think delivers a better overall picture.
Currently only four TVs make the cut. That's primarily because the superb 2013 Panasonic plasmas are now sold out after the company announced it would cease manufacturing plasma TVs altogether. This is sad news, in part because those plasmas occupied three of the top four slots on this list. Until we get a chance to review a qualifying 2014 TV, it will remain relatively short.
One other TV deserves mention. In August, I got enough hands-on time with one of the first two OLED TVs, Samsung's KN55S9C, to confirm that OLED can produce better images than any LED LCD or plasma. It's not a full review so it doesn't make this list, but if it was, it would take a rightful place at the top.
The best non-OLED TV Samsung has ever produced, the F8500 plasma offers something the late great 2013 Panasonics lack: the ability to get much brighter. That light output capability means the F8500 performs great not only in a dark room -- where it's worse than only the ZT60 and VT60 anyway -- but also in extremely bright rooms where other plasmas fear to tread. If you have such a room but have avoided plasma in the past, the F8500 might be just the ticket. Also, unlike those Panasonics, you can still actually buy one.
Maybe you have something against plasma. Maybe you're a gamer who wants the lowest input lag available. Or maybe you just love the idea of Quantum Dots. For any of these reasons, the Sony KDL-55W900A is a great alternative. It boasts slightly better black levels and color -- and thus overall picture quality -- than the Samsung F8000 below. It can also overcome even brighter rooms than the Samsung F8500 plasma. Best of all, a massive drop from its original asking price has made it oh-so-much-more recommendable. The main downside now is that it's available only in a 55-inch size.
Even if you can actually afford one, now is not a good time to buy a TV with 4K resolution. Better ones are coming out soon, and the TVs above have superior pictures regardless of pixel count. But if you just Want A 4K TV Now, Damn the Caveats!, the Samsung UNF9000 series is our top choice. In just about every way aside from resolution, however, its picture is the same as that of the F8000. The F9000 outranks it on this list only by virtue of its vanishingly small improvement with the very best 4K sources.
For plasma-phobic videophiles who want a non-4K TV in a size other than 55 inches, the Samsung F8000 will likely remain our top pick. It's close enough to the Sony that both earned identical picture quality scores, and both sets' local-dimming schemes do a great job of pushing edge-lit LED as high up this list as it can go. Video processing and 3D actually surpass the Sony, but in other areas F8000 is a tiny step behind. No matter -- if you "settle" for this amazing TV, you can console yourself with the best design and features on the market.