A display of TVs in a store.

Everybody loves a bargain, but a cheaper TV doesn't always turn out to be a better deal.

That's what we found in our analysis of more than three years of Consumer Reports' TV ratings. Our crack team of statisticians looked at average prices and CR test results from March 2015 through May 2018 for a number of leading TV brands sold in the U.S. The results are shown in the charts below; they are broken out by screen size, which is the first factor consumers usually consider when shopping for a television.

As you can see, TVs from Samsung, LG, and Sony earned top scores in our testing across just about every size range. And, generally, sets from these companies cost more than their competitors' TVs.

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Prices and average brand scores tend to drop off in step with each other, according to our analysis. Some brands, including Haier and Westinghouse, trailed the others in both quality and price in some size categories.

The takeaway: While it’s tempting to get a much cheaper TV from a smaller brand, especially during big sales events, you could be getting a steep trade-off in quality.

This information should be useful insight for the many consumers who choose a TV largely based on brand.

However, it's smart to use CR's analysis as just one step when you're shopping. Performance can vary by series and even model within a single brand. Additionally, companies evolve over time.

Our testing shows that some newer brands, such as Hisense and TCL, have been improving in quality recently. Those changes will likely be reflected when we do this kind of analysis in the future.

On the flip side, a number of once-popular TV brands, such as Panasonic, no longer sell TVs in the U.S. Other companies, including Pioneer and Mitsubishi, have exited the TV business altogether. And several familiar brands, including Philips, Sharp, and Toshiba, are now controlled by other companies here in the U.S. under licensing deals.

That's why it pays to consult our ratings before choosing a new TV.

But you don't always need to settle for poor performance just because you're on a budget. In some size categories, there aren't big price differences between the highest- and lowest-performing brands.

32-Inch TVs

As you can see in the chart below, LG and Samsung lead the pack for performance among 32-inch TVs. They are both also fairly competitive when it comes to price, especially LG, which scores better and has an average lower price than either Sharp or Vizio. Samsung's average price is considerably higher, but its TVs also boast the highest average score.

An analysis of cheap TVs vs. premium brands.
The chart reflects tested models from March 2015 through May 2018. Average score reflects CR's Overall Score for that screen-size segment.

39- to 43-Inch TVs

There's a pretty big spread in both price and performance in this screen size.

While there aren't a lot of surprises—Sony, LG, and Samsung offer the best performance—we did see a few brands, including Hisense, Vizio, and Hitachi, move closer to the middle of the pack. Sets from some of these brands in this size category actually have better average performance than some brands that cost more.

And that just goes to show you don't always get what you pay for, especially when you're looking beyond the major TV brands.

Based on the chart, you could argue that Hisense offers the best bang for the buck in this size category, as long as you don't demand top picture quality. The brand costs less and performs better than sets from brands including Vizio, Hitachi, TCL, and Philips.

Remember that the price and performance averages are for entire brands. The best way to see how individual TV models perform is to check our ratings, which are based on extensive testing and evaluation.

The chart reflects tested models from March 2015 through May 2018. Average score reflects CR's Overall Score for that screen-size segment.

46- to 52-Inch TVs

Here's where the brands really start to diverge in both price and performance. Once again, LG, Sony, and Samsung offer the best performance, but we also saw some other brands, such as Sharp, Vizio, Hisense, and TCL, move up in the rankings.

Westinghouse, Hitachi, and Element trail the pack, making Insignia look like a better deal among the lowest-priced choices. LG is well-priced for a better-performing TV brand, while Hisense once again seems to offer a good balance of price and performance for those looking to save some money.

Note the growing disparity in average price as we move into larger screen sizes—from $298 to $787 in this case.

One big reason is that bigger TVs, bought to serve as the main set in many homes, offer a greater range of features. For example, this is where higher-resolution 4K screens start to appear, and more sets are smart TVs with access to online content.

The chart reflects tested models from March 2015 through May 2018. Average score reflects CR's Overall Score for that screen-size segment.

55- to 59-Inch TVs

An increasing array of features—4K resolution, support for HDR (high dynamic range), 120Hz refresh rates, and a high percentage of smart TV models—helped push the average price spread even wider in this group, from a low of $370 (Toshiba) to a high of $1,337 (LG). LG's higher prices and scores are due, in large part, to its line of top-rated OLED TVs, which tend to cost more than similar-sized LED/LCD sets.

In this size category, Vizio seems to offer a nice bang for the buck, emerging as a less-pricey alternative to better-performing brands such as Samsung, Sony, and LG. Hisense and Sharp have average scores just below that of Vizio and are even less expensive—especially Hisense. Toshiba seems to be a better choice for those looking for a very inexpensive set.

The chart reflects tested models from March 2015 through May 2018. Average score reflects CR's Overall Score for that screen-size segment.

60-Inch and Larger TVs

Major brands dominate this slice of our TV ratings, which include 60-, 65-, 70-, and 75-inch TVs. That's not too surprising for a few reasons.

First, this is a key focus area for these companies, because smaller sets have largely been commoditized: Manufacturers are better able to differentiate their sets in larger screen sizes. But it's also a function of CR's selection process. In larger screen sizes, we tend to purchase a lot of high-end sets so that we can test the latest features, such as 4K UHD performance and high dynamic range (HDR), a feature that can produce brighter, more vibrant images.

Although we test these top models from all the brands, with major brands there is a much greater difference in pricing between the least and most expensive sets they offer. For example, for TCL in our current ratings there's a $250 difference between the cheapest ($750) and priciest ($1,000) 65-inch TVs. With Samsung, that difference is $2,600. This skews the average prices higher for the major brands.

So again, Samsung, LG, and Sony top the list in terms of average overall score and average price. Given their high average scores, sets from any of these TV brands might be worth considering. But the three other brands—Hisense, Vizio, and Sharp—also do fairly well, and at a lower average price. Vizio, with the lowest average price, would seem to again offer good bang for the buck.

But these are average prices and scores, and major brands also offer many models that are more moderately priced and still do well in terms of performance.

The chart reflects tested models from March 2015 through May 2018. Average score reflects CR's Overall Score for that screen-size segment.

Beyond the Scores: Repairs and Reliability

In addition to TV performance, there are a few more things to consider when choosing among brands. One is how easy it is to get the TV repaired in a timely manner. Major brands typically invest in parts and service networks, so you're more likely to find an authorized repair center nearby.

Reliability appears to be less of a concern. Most major brands do well in our surveys of nearly 85,000 CR members, with only about 5 percent experiencing problems within three years of ownership. A number of secondary brands had reliability estimates comparable to the major brands, but one—Westinghouse—was significantly more problem-prone. Some smaller brands simply don't sell enough TVs to our members for us to capture them in our reliability surveys.

Finally, consider the manufacturer's warranty, which could be shorter with an off-brand TV. Most of the TVs in our ratings carry one-year parts and labor warranties, but that can vary, so check before you buy.