The best cheap QLED TVs for replacing your old dull TV on a budget

Samsung TV with colorful water screensaver on TV stand in sunlit room

Streaming services have become a strong enough cultural staple that we’ve built the monthly fees into our bills alongside rent and electricity. But if you haven’t bought a new TV in a while, your screen probably isn’t doing that precious content justice.

QLED TVs offer an improvement in the brightness and color department that you’ll quickly notice the first time you re-watch Encanto or The Grand Budapest Hotel. Their skyrocketing prevalence in the TV market has brought the cost of the technology down significantly, making a QLED TV an actually-affordable purchase if you want to cushion your streaming service spending.

You have several options in several sizes ranging from $ 500 to $ 1,000. Before we get into what makes them a bang for your buck, it’s kind of helpful to understand QLED actually even means in the first place.

Which is better: QLED and OLED?

QLED can be thought of as an LED glow up while OLED is a completely separate method of lighting. The tech you’ll like the best depends on the type of content and lighting of the room in which you’ll be using the TV the most.

Another frequently-asked question, whether 4K or QLED is better, isn’t a question at all. The two aren’t mutually exclusive — in fact, nearly every QLED TV is 4K (with some 8K options sprinkled in, but that’s beside the point). While any rendition of -LED refers to the light source behind the TV, 4K refers to the screen’s resolution, or how many pixels are squeezed across the screen horizontally (4,000-ish).

Still iffy about -LED terminology? Let’s break it down.

LED is the standard in most TVs. Despite their general affordability across the board, one LED TV can beat another out by incorporating full-array local dimming: a collection of lighting zones that adjust independently across the entire screen. Without those crucial in-between zones, the middle of the screen of many cheaper LED TVs can get a little hazy, falling victim to edge-lit dimming that just can’t extend light across with the same oomph.

QLED is a luminous spin on traditional LED (light-emitting diode), which has been the baseline backlight system in most budget TVs for years now. The “Q” refers to the an extra layer of quantum dots sandwiched between the standard LED panel and the screen to make a wider range of colors pop off the screen with enhanced brightness. The juicier picture is ideal for viewing or gaming in bright rooms and for honing in on content with small details, like sports.

Not every brand refers to their quantum dot TVs as QLED. While Samsung and TCL refer to QLED as QLED, brands like LG, Sony and Hisense use similar technology marketed under different names (QNED, Triluminos Pro, and ULED, respectively).

Mini LEDs have also entered the chat in recent years. These are about half the size of regular LEDs, allow manufacturers to pack more LEDs into the same size panel, allowing for more local dimming zones and more precise tweaking of brightness in each area.

OLED uses a whole different score sheet despite that negligible difference in the title letters itself. Unlike LED and QLED, OLED doesn’t require an external backlight. That’s because the pixels — the organic light-emitting diodes that represent the “O” in OLED — emit their own light instead. This comes in handy during dark scenes, when the TV screen needs to get as dark as possible to differentiate shadowy shades from each other. While backlit QLED pixels’ forced dimming can cause a kind of halo effect around bright objects, OLED pixels can turn off completely. This makes OLED the gold standard for the stark contrast and black uniformity needed for viewing or gaming in dark rooms.

Because OLED technology is in a league of its own, OLED is also in a price range of its own, and is the least likely type of TV to have a budget-friendly counterpart.

If you’ve decided that QLED is the way you want to go, here are your best options for upgrading to QLED on a budget: