We were intrigued when we heard that Sears would be extending its popular Kenmore home and appliance brand into televisions this summer. The big question for consumers: How would these private-label sets stack up against the competition?

Now that we've had a chance to test the largest model—the 65-inch Kenmore Elite 71398 UHD TV, a 4K model—we can say that the retailer is off to a good start in terms of price and performance, but there's still some room for improvement in its features.

Sears is offering two lines of TVs under the Kenmore label. The 4K UHD sets get the "Kenmore Elite" badge, while the regular HD models are simply "Kenmore" TVs.

The 65-inch Kenmore Elite UHD TV we tested officially costs $1,500, but the set is on sale now for $1,200 at Sears and Kmart, both of which are owned by Sears Holdings. There's also a 55-inch UHD TV for $900, and a 50-inch UHD set priced at $750.

The Kenmore 1080p models are available in 50-, 40-, and 32-inch screen sizes, with prices ranging from $200 to $400. All are basic, low-cost 60Hz sets with three HDMI inputs. 

Sears won't say what company is actually building the TVs—only that it's a well-known global manufacturer. Sometimes we're able to glean that information from a TV's menu system or some unusual quirk in performance, but we weren't able to do that with this set.

How It Performed

House brands, such as some Insignia models from Best Buy, don't always do well in our TV ratings, but the 65-inch Kenmore Elite TV was a pleasant surprise, with excellent high-definition picture quality. The TV was capable of displaying the finest detail, and color accuracy was excellent, so colors, especially flesh tones, looked very natural.

Additionally, UHD picture quality was excellent. All native 4K content we played on this model, including movies and test videos, was presented in full detail with excellent image fidelity when played back using the TV's HDMI input. 

On the other hand, Kenmore televisions don't support high dynamic range (HDR) technology or wider color gamuts, as many step-up 4K sets this year do.

More surprisingly, none of the Kenmore sets are smart TVs, unlike most large-screen 4K televisions. That cost our test TV some points since it makes it harder to access streaming services, which is where most 4K content is available. To see those shows, you'll need to combine the TV with a 4K-enabled streaming media player, such as an Amazon Fire TV, Roku 4, or Nvidia Shield, or with a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player that includes 4K streaming. (The set has three HDMI 2.0 inputs that support HDCP 2.2, which you'll need to play copy-protected 4K content such as Hollywood movies.)

The TV we tested also got dinged for downconverting photos stored on a USB drive to 1080p, even though the USB port supports 4K videos.

There were a few other flaws, as well. For one, the TV was perhaps the worst sounding set we've tested at this screen size. And the mirror-like screen was more reflective than most, a problem when you're watching TV near a window or a lamp. However, the TV does a good job reducing glare from ambient light, and maintains contrast even in a bright room.

The TV's motion-blur performance was only average. Though the TV claims a 120Hz refresh rate, we believe it's a 60Hz set that mimics 120 Hz with "Smooth Motion 120," a feature that can help reduce blurring on fast-moving images. Unfortunately, it's also tied to a motion-smoothing effect that reduces film judder (that's the technical term for an image that seems to vibrate). But this smoothing can make film look like a video—something often referred to as "the soap opera" effect—and we turned it off. As a result, the TV had moderate blurring in some scenes.

We also noticed one unusual and serious quirk. There seems to be a glitch in the TV's dynamic backlight control (DBC). This feature auto-dims the entire picture in darker scenes in an attempt to improve black levels—making deep shadows look black rather than gray. But on darker scenes, we found it continually dimmed the image until the screen went completely black, so no picture was visible. There's an easy fix: The feature is on by default, but you turn it off. We're hoping that Sears is able to fix the issue with a firmware update in the future.

Bottom Line

Given its excellent HD picture quality and its potential for great UHD performance, we think the 65-inch Kenmore Elite UHD TV is a good start for the new Sears brand. It might be worth considering if its on sale, or if you have a Sears credit card that's offering a special promotion, such as interest-free financing.

That said, while it is low-priced for a 4K set its size, it does lack a few features—especially Internet capability—found in some comparably priced models from major brands. For example, the 65-inch LG 65UH6150 4K set has excellent UHD performance and very good HD picture quality, plus the company's excellent webOs 3.0 smart TV platform. It's selling for just under $1,200.

One other thing to consider: To get full enjoyment from the TV, you'll probably want to buy a streaming media player that supports 4K video streaming, and maybe a sound bar speaker system to improve upon the set's middling built-in sound. That could add at least $250 to $300 to the TV's price, putting it into competition with lots of similarly sized sets from major brands. You can check our complete TV ratings (available to subscribers) to see of our full evaluation of the Kenmore Elite TV's performance, and compare it to other 4K models in its size and price class.