Cheap TVs That Aren't Worth the Money

A TV is no bargain if the picture quality is disappointing. CR tells you which sets to avoid and what to buy instead.

When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn affiliate commissions. 100% of the fees we collect are used to support our nonprofit mission. Learn more.

TVs iStock-485636435, iStock-521694944

Everyone likes to get a great deal on a new TV set, but as Consumer Reports’ TV ratings show, not all cheap TVs are great deals. You can often get a better set by spending just a little more money—or sometimes even less.

The low-rated TVs listed below don’t cost much, but they lag behind most of the 160 or so other models in our ratings in terms of picture quality.

None of these cheap TVs are from major brands, such as LG, Samsung, Sony, or Vizio. But don’t write off a less well-known brand just because one of its models landed on this list. Some of these brands also offer better-performing models that might be worth considering.

We buy every TV we test at retail. We don’t accept freebies or hand-picked models from manufacturers, so every tested model is just like one you might take home.

More on TVs

In our ratings, you’ll see separate scores for high-definition and ultra-high definition (UHD, or 4K) picture quality, as well as high dynamic range performance. We also judge a TV's viewing angle, motion blur reduction, and sound quality, and consider ease of use and versatility.

We've also recently added scores for other important attributes, including reliability and satisfaction, as well as privacy and security, which is becoming increasingly important to consumers. A nationally representative survey conducted by CR in July 2020 found that more than three-quarters of smart TV owners said these attributes were very or extremely important to them.

Here's our list of TVs you can skip—starting with the lowest Overall Score—as well as some alternatives for you to consider instead.

Hitachi 50C61, $240

The Hitachi 50C61, a basic 50-inch 4K TV without any smart TV features, earns the dubious distinction of having the lowest Overall Score in our ratings. That's mainly due to well-below-average marks for both HD and 4K picture quality. It's also one of the few 4K sets in our ratings that lacks any support for HDR technology.

What to choose instead: You'll have to spend a bit more to get better performance. The TCL 50S421, an entry-level 4K Roku TV from 2019, does a great job with high-definition and UHD content. The Philips 50PFL5604, which uses the Android TV smart TV system, performs similarly, though the TCL gets the edge for 4K picture quality. But as you should expect from TVs at this price, neither set offers an effective HDR experience.

Westinghouse WR55UX4019, $380

Westinghouse sets haven't typically done well in our ratings, and this 55-inch 4K Roku TV model is no exception, despite being priced higher than several TVs that do better. It’s one of only a few sets to earn a Fair score for high-definition picture quality, along with a middling score for 4K, very limited HDR performance, and subpar sound. It earned the second-lowest Overall Score in our ratings.

What to choose instead: If you're on a tight budget, consider the Onn 100018971, from Walmart's private label brand. It's a 58-inch 4K Roku TV that does well for both HD and 4K picture quality but poorly for HDR performance. It also has unsatisfying sound—which is not a problem if you have a sound bar. For just a bit more money, the Toshiba 55LF711U20, a 4K Amazon Fire TV model, offers similar overall picture quality and at least a limited taste of HDR. It also has better—if not great—sound.

Onn 100012587, $400

We give a nod to an Onn TV (above), but not all Onn sets are great deals. The 65-inch Onn 100012587 doesn't have the lowest Overall Score in the 60-inch and over screen size—yes, Element E4AA65R-G, we're talking about you—but it's still best to skip it, in our opinion. Its scores for HD and 4K picture quality are actually lower than the Element's, but the Onn has a slightly wider viewing angle and better sound, moving it just above the Element in the rankings. Neither model—both Roku TVs—offers an effective HDR experience. And neither set is worth your money.

What to choose instead: One good similarly priced alternative is the Hisense 65R6E1, a 65-inch 4K Roku TV. It offers satisfying HD and 4K picture quality, plus a better, though still ineffective, HDR experience. It also has a wider-than-average viewing angle for an LCD-based set. To get top-notch overall picture quality, you'll have to spend a bit more. A good choice is the TCL 65S525, a lower-priced 4K Roku TV that offers a bit of the HDR experience. If you want to see what HDR in a bigger-screen TV is all about, you'll have to spend about $800 for the TCL 65R625, the lowest-price set in this size category in our ratings that can deliver a compelling HDR experience.

RCA RTU4300, $200

This low-priced 43-inch 4K set, the RCA RTU4300, is getting harder to find—and our recommendation is to not look for it, even though it's among the lowest-priced 4K sets this size. That's because it has the lowest Overall Score of any 43-inch set in our ratings, with so-so HD picture quality and below-average 4K. It's also one of the few 4K models in our tests that doesn't support HDR.

What to choose instead: You don't really have to spend more to get a better-performing set. Our picks include the Vizio V405-G9 and the TCL 43S421. The Vizio, an entry-level 4K set, offers top-notch HD and 4K picture quality, and a hint of an HDR experience. The TCL, an entry-level Roku TV model, also did great for overall picture quality, though not as well for HDR. Both are smart TVs with access to streaming services.

James K. Willcox

I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.