Best cheap TVs
CNET UK Recommends
CNET UK recommends
Luckily, opting for a cheap TV these days needn't mean skimping on features or build quality. The temptation when shopping for a television is to go straight for the biggest screen you can afford. This is often a mistake. No-brand TVs might offer plenty of screen for your cash, but they can also come with real problems: dodgy image or sound quality, buggy software, flimsy components and limited connection options.
A better move is to decide on the size of screen you want and then research models within your budget -- you might be pleasantly surprised. For a start, even some of the cheapest sets on the market are now HD Ready. But it's not always worth paying extra for high-definition capability. With sets under 28 inches in size, the difference between a HD Ready and a good standard-definition TV is much less apparent. On that note, 37 inches is really the smallest screen size at which it makes sense to opt for a Full HD, 1080p resolution over an HD Ready, 720p one.
You're unlikely to have much choice over the screen type in the lower price bracket. Most budget TVs are plain old LCDs, with none of the low-power, colour-boosting LED technology found on more expensive sets. Plasma TVs aren't particularly expensive, but they are rarely made with screen sizes less than 37 inches, so even the cheapest ones will set you back a few hundred quid.
The best TV bargains are usually found at the most popular size -- 32 inches -- and among last season's models. That means you might not have the very latest frequency-doubling motion control or Internet widgets, but you will get a great set with proven technology.
Insist on multiple HDMI inputs and at least some flexibility in the form of component, S-Video, USB and even old-fashioned Scart ports. You might get a Freeview tuner built in, but it's unlikely to be of the tasty new Freeview HD flavour or have access to any integrated recording space. We're happy to see some entry-level TVs starting to come with eco modes to save power -- some adjust the set's brightness automatically to suit your room.
One area in which cheap televisions still lag behind the bourgeoisie is audio performance. Many manufacturers seem to think that, if they splash out on a half-decent LCD panel, they can get away with tinny speakers, mushy sound and flabby bass. Either seek out affordable sonic superstars (they do exist) or connect the TV to your stereo or home-cinema system.
Below is CNET UK's choice of cheap TV sets. If even these look too expensive, don't fret -- prices are always dropping, so wait a month or two and they might just fall into your budget.
Sharp standard and high-definition pictures along with a neat USB-recording feature and excellent digital-media playback support make the 23-inch Acer AT2358 a superb small-screen TV. Read more
Reviewed on 29 October 2010
It's not the prettiest TV you can buy, but the 26-inch Toshiba 26AV713 punches above its weight when it comes to picture performance. Read more
Reviewed on 9 September 2010
At £450, the 40-inch Toshiba Regza RV40RV753 television represents good value for money. It's capable of producing impressive pictures from both high and standard-definition material. Read more
Reviewed on 2 September 2010
The Panasonic Viera TX-L19D28 produces impressively rich and detailed pictures by portable-TV standards and works well with iPods. It's quite pricey given the small amount of screen space on offer, though. Read more
Reviewed on 1 September 2010