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The Best Small TV Today (32-Inches)

By Chris Heinonen, The Wirecutter

The $298 Samsung UN32EH5300 is the best small TV. For not much more than a decent 720p display, you get full 1080p resolution and smart TV functionality built-in. Based on the non-smart version, it has better image quality than competitors as well. The catch is that it’s a 2012 model; it only recently dropped in price and therefore could go out of stock soon.

The $298 Samsung UN32EH5300 is the best small TV. For not much more than a decent 720p display, you get full 1080p resolution and smart TV functionality built-in. Based on the non-smart version, it has better image quality than competitors as well. The catch is that it’s a 2012 model; it only recently dropped in price and therefore could go out of stock soon. In that case, we have other picks as well.

Our old pick, the Vizio E320i-A0, is a current model that costs $288. That’s a great deal for a 720p panel with Netflix and other streaming content, but the Samsung is better at the moment. The reason we are changing the pick is because the UN32EH5300 cost well over $350 until just recently (which is too much for most people to pay for a TV of this size). It’s likely that the price drop is intended to clear out stock in order to make room for the 2014 models. Until then, the Samsung is the better buy.

We also recommend the Samsung UN32F5000 if you want a thinner TV to hang on the wall. The image quality should be very similar to the EH5300 and it’s edge lit so it is almost 2” slimmer. It does, however, lack the smart TV features. There is just a general lack of thin 720p sets, so we are recommending a 1080p set instead.

If you already have a streaming device to use, you should save even more and get the Samsung UN32EH4003. It is only 720p, but it has a nice image and is the cheapest 720p set out there from a major manufacturer today. The main caveat is that it won’t work with a sound bar.

Who Should Buy This?

Anyone looking for a bedroom TV with built-in Netflix and other streaming services or someone looking to supplement their primary TV or projector with a smaller TV in a spare room. This set is also a good low-priced, full-featured option for a dorm room or small apartment.

You shouldn’t buy this set primarily as a computer monitor, though. You’d want something with higher resolution that’s also a little bit smaller.

What to Look For in a Small TV

For a 32” TV, going with a 720p model is likely going to be fine.

For this guide, we consider a “small” TV to be anything 32” or smaller. For many people, that might be their main TV, but for a lot of people this will be a secondary TV. If it is your main TV, theprice to move up to a 40” or even a 50” display isn’t that great and worth doing if your space can hold it. If you are confined by space but still want the best TV you can get in this size, we will cover that too. We are going to assume most people are after a TV with a good picture and (more importantly) a good value.

Since no one makes a plasma smaller than 42”, we don’t need to consider those when shopping for a 32” display. The only technology you will see is an LCD set with either an LED or CCFL backlight. LEDs are slightly more power efficient and can produce a thinner display, while CCFLs are usually less expensive.

For a 32” TV, going with a 720p model is likely going to be fine. To verify this, I set up a 720p display directly next to a 1080p display, calibrated both and sent the same image to them from an Oppo BDP-103D Blu-ray player. All processing was disabled, so both displays were receiving the exact same signal.

Sitting only five feet from the displays I could make out an advantage for 1080p, but it isn’t huge. 720p looks more like a slightly soft focus while 1080p looks sharper. If they aren’t side by side or you are further than five feet away, you’d be unlikely to tell the difference. Far more noticeable were displays with incorrect colors or poor viewing angles. I’d pay an extra $50 for a display with accurate colors and grayscale before I would to move from 720p to 1080p.

So what should a 32” 720p display cost? From the major manufacturers, you can get a 32” 720p LCD for $240-270. If you want to drop down to a lesser-known Chinese vendor, you can spend as little as $185. Stepping up to a TV with internet apps included moves the starting price to around $290 and going to 1080p can start as low as $270.

Don’t look at refresh rates on a 32” TV. Virtually no one offers a true 120 Hz panel unless you are spending a lot of money on a TV. Many vendors use tricks that they claim improve the panel to be like a 120 Hz panel and then label them as 120 Hz. Usually this involves flashing the backlight instead of always having it on. Sometimes this is helpful, sometimes it isn’t; it really isn’t worth paying extra for.

Some displays include smart TV features now as well. Without exception, the smart TV interface and selection is never as good as what you’ll get in a $50 Roku LT streaming box. Having it built into the TV is nice as you avoid a box, but don’t pay more than $40 or so for this feature. If you are paying more than that you should just get a Roku instead.

Lots of TVs also offer sound modes to provide better quality audio. Unfortunately, they are just using tricks as these tiny displays can’t overcome the laws of physics. Making bigger sounds requires more surface area, and manufacturers are moving towards smaller, thinner TVs and not larger ones. If you really want better sound, you shouldpick up a soundbar. It sounds better and will also play back music from your smartphone, tablet or computer.

Asking the Experts

Prioritize upgrades in this order: smart TV features, depth, picture quality and 1080p.

David Katzmaier of CNET told us in an interview that he feels that 720p is perfectly fine for a 32” display unless you are using it for a computer monitor as well. If it is serving double-duty, the upgrade to 1080p is well worth it. Beyond that, he would prioritize upgrades from a bare-bones 720p set in this order of importance: smart TV features, depth, picture quality and 1080p. He is a bigger fan of the smart TV features being built-in, as a 32” display is usually a secondary set and this lets you avoid an extra box being connected to it. It is also typically cheaper to get it at the start than to add a Roku later.

He says you should only worry about the depth of the screen if you plan to mount it to a wall. Since 32” displays are often secondary sets for a kitchen or other room, the depth might be more important to you. If you aren’t going to mount it, he would ignore the depth as well.

Our Pick

We feel the Samsung UN32EH5300 offers the best value of a 32” TV out there; not only does it have class-leading image quality, it comes with bonus features that are nice to have like 1080p resolution and smart TV support. This is all for the same price as a similarly equipped 720p TV. With a street price of $298 at the time of publishing, it’s only $10 more than our old 720p Vizio pick.

Part of the reason for this extra value is that it is a holdover model from 2012 that uses Direct LEDs for light instead of the more attractive Edge LEDs. To us, this is actually a good thing. Manufacturers use Edge LEDs because it allows for a slimmer cabinet. Using an LED array behind the display makes for a thicker unit but provides for better uniformity across the whole image. It also usually provides for better black levels than comparable edge-lit sets, resulting in a better-looking image. If you have the TV on the included stand, your minimum depth is determined by the stand anyway, so an extra 1.5-2” won’t matter. If you are wall mounting it and want the absolute thinnest model that still looks great, we have an option later.

The Samsung also has incredible image quality for the price. This is the main reason for selecting the Samsung EH5300 over a cheaper 720p set. Even though the difference in resolution is small (likely invisible from a normal distance), a difference in picture quality is not. Better contrast ratios and colors are more important than resolution in a display, as shown in this old-but-still-valid comparison between 720p and 1080p TVs, and the Samsung outperforms the competitors here.

Better contrast ratios and colors are more important than resolution in a display.

The smart TV features built into the EH5300 are nice as well. It has all the major apps that we look for: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, YouTube, HBO Go and Pandora. The interface won’t be as nice as on a Roku, but it is built in and covers all the major services.

Your input needs should be covered with three HDMI inputs (most 32-inchers only have two), a pair of USB inputs and a legacy Component/Composite input. With smart TV features built in, you won’t lose an HDMI input to streaming. Even after a cable box and a Blu-ray player or videogame system, you’ll still have an input free.

Samsung’s full-featured menu system is another benefit because it has a clean, concise layout that is well organized. Basic controls are easy to find, and more advanced features are accessible but don’t clutter the interface. It offers up access to the two picture controls I find most essential: color temperature and gamma. The color temperature lets you get shades of white and gray that are neutral instead of tinted red or blue. Samsung has a Warm2 setting that is almost always very accurate. The gamma control lets you adjust the the picture to account for the brightness of a room. TVs that lack this are really designed for one type of room. Adjusting the gamma lets you get ideal performance in a dark room, a regular room, or a room with direct sunlight. Many of the other displays reviewed or researched are missing the gamma control, making them harder to adjust to your space.

The Samsung also comes away with slightly better sound than other TVs. It won’t be soundbar quality, but thanks to its extra bulk it can put out a little more bass than other models.

Who Else Likes It

No one in the U.S. reviewed the EH5300, but a lot of people in Europe tested the similar EH5000. The difference in the two is the lack of smart TV features in the EH5000; otherwise they are identical. 32” sizes are much more popular in Europe due to average home size, while in the U.S. most displays under 50” aren’t tested.

Reviewers gave good marks to the EH5000. John Archer at Trusted Reviews really likedthe contrast ratio that “delivers extremely punchy whites alongside what look at this stage at least like really respectable black levels.” Those black levels are “vastly superior . . . to most if not all other new TVs at its price level,” which gives the image its punch. Overall he finds that with the EH5000, “its picture quality is leagues ahead of what such a puny amount of money would usually get you.”

Niall Magennis of CNET also likes the EH5000, giving the it same 9/10 score that Trusted Reviews does. There is no doubt about the thicker size, as “the 32EH5000 is one of the fattest LED TVs I’ve ever seen,” he says. When it comes to the picture quality the EH5000 “really does far outperform other TVs in this price bracket.” Overall CNET thinks that “it’s a great budget TV that’s being offered at a cracking price.”

Vincent Teoh also looked at this set for HDTVtest and is similarly impressed. Thanks to the Direct LED lighting the EH5000 delivers “some of the deepest blacks we’ve witnessed on an LCD-based display this year.” The EH5000 also “delivered extremely appealing HD images which belie its modest price tag” and “represents excellent value for money.” HDTVtest awarded it a Highly Recommended Ranking.

If You Already Have a Streaming Box

If you don’t want or need built-in streaming features, the EH4000 and EH4003 have top-notch picture quality. But they may disappear soon.

The cheapest major manufacturer set is the $227 Samsung UN32EH4003. Like our pick, it is a 2012 model that is thicker than most but only 720p without any smart TV features. Reviewers really do like the EH4003 with Digital Trends saying it boasts “excellent picture quality” and is “a formidable choice in the entry level market.” CNet reviewed the very similar EH4000and says it has “above-average picture quality” and it “is one of the best TVs available at the size and price.”

I wouldn’t pay $70 to move from 720p to 1080p in this screen size, so if you already own a streaming box, the UN32EH4003 makes more sense. One flaw is that you only get two HDMI inputs, and you’ll probably be using one of them for that streaming box. That leaves you with a single input for a cable box or other device. If you are going to move past two HDMI inputs (and even if you have a streaming box you want to use), the UN32EH5300 might be worth considering instead.

A key feature missing on the UN32EH4003 is an audio output, which means it won’t work easily with most soundbars (or with the internal antenna at all). The UN32EH4000 offered audio output but isn’t made anymore.

If You Want to Wall Mount

The F5000's LEDs are set around the edge of the display, which allows it to be noticeably thinner—1.9”—while offering no real performance difference.

If you want the best picture quality you can get in a small TV, you should get the $352 Samsung UN32F5000. The 1080p resolution might be overkill if you sit more than a few feet away, but the incredibly accurate color and grayscale will be noticeable anywhere. It is also thin enough to let you easily wall mount it. When I reviewed it, I found the UN32F5000 to have one of the most accurate images I’ve seen on any LCD, regardless of price, straight from the box. No other LCD I looked at came close to the accuracy of the Samsung.

The main difference between the UN32EH5300 and the UN32F5000 is that the EH5300 has the LEDs directly behind the LCD screen, while the F5000 has them on the edge. This allows the F5000 to be noticeably thinner—1.9” vs. 3.7” without stand—but offers no real performance difference. There are also no measurements of the EH5000 available, so we can’t be certain it will perform as well as the F5000 did. For what it’s worth, the same picture controls are available on both models.

The Samsung UN32F5000 is a 60 Hz panel but has a fake 120 Hz mode that uses the backlight to try to improve motion. You can spend $440 to get the UN32F5500 that has smart TV features, but I’d spend that money on a Roku or Apple TV instead. For not much more, you can get a 40” or 42” LCD set that likely won’t be as accurate as the Samsung UN32F5000 is. If it is your primary TV or you’re really picky about image quality, the extra spending can be well worth it.

Even Tinier

If you need something smaller than a 32-inch screen—a TV for the kitchen or a kid’s room, for example—Vizio’s 29-inch E291i-A1 ($260) and 24-inch E241i-A1 ($200) manage to pack all the streaming features found in the E320i-A0 into a smaller set. For some reason, the 24-inch E241i-A1 offers 1080p resolution–I’d guess because it’s based on a computer monitor panel. Again, in-depth reviews for both these sets are lacking around the web.

The Competition

Very few people review 32” displays. Most focus on the more expensive models, and so comments on 32” displays are hard to find. To remedy this, I reached out to every company I could and asked the to send me sets to look at. Many didn’t have models to loan out, but if they did, I looked at them. If they didn’t, I tried to find models I could borrow from people. If that wasn’t possible, I did all the research I could, reached out to other reviewers, and tried to reach a consensus on the best models out there.

The Toshiba 32L2300U is a $270 720p model that has an LED backlight. Out of the box the colors aren’t as accurate as other displays’ and there is a good bit of motion blur. You can improve the colors using the included color management system controls, but it costs hundreds of dollars to hire a professional to do that. The price puts it above other non-smart 32” 720p sets and too close to a 32” with smart TV features to recommend.

The $648 Sony KDL-32W650A is as premium as a 32” LCD gets today. In my review, it had the best contrast ratio of any set I measured and is very accurate with colors and grayscale. The interface and smart TV features are also very nice, but the price is very high. Buying the Samsung UN32F5000 and a Roku 3 or Apple TV will give you almost the same performance (slightly lower contrast) at a much lower cost.

The $378 Vizio M321i-A2 is a 32” smart TV with full 1080p resolution and reasonably accurate color. I reviewed the 40” model, the M401i-A3, and the picture is accurate out of the box, but not as good as the Samsung UN32F5000′s. The Vizio includes a full set of apps with Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and more. For a 1080p set with integrated apps the value is very high, but most people will be just fine with a 720p set or going to the Samsung if they want the best image quality in a 32” set. The depth also makes it a good choice to mount on a wall.

The $248 Vizio E320i-A1 is a very basic 720p set with no extras. The price is low, but the picture quality has poor black levels and few adjustment options. It would crush shadow details on dark films, and colors are not accurate at all. It introduced some additional noise into Blu-ray movies as well. The extras on the Samsung UN32EH5300 are easily worth paying $50 more for.

Samsung has a model without the streaming content available, the $277 UN32EH5000. Aside from the missing smart TV features, it is otherwise the same. If you want a 1080p display and very good image quality, and you don’t care about the depth, it is great. With a current price difference of $21 to add smart TV features and another HDMI input, I’d get the UN32EH5300 instead. I also wouldn’t pay $50 to move from the 720p UN32EH4003 to this model, as the resolution improvement alone isn’t worth $50. (Moving to 1080p and smart TV features is worth $71 though.)

Sony’s entry level 32” display is the $273 KDL-32R400A. It is also very basic, with only two HDMI inputs and 720p resolution. At that price you can spend $26 more to get our pick, a 1080p smart TV model, or spend $227 to get the UN32EH4003. The Sony doesn’t offer anything over those two models that would make it a pick over them. CNET did review this one, their only 32” review in 2013, and found it to be a “jack of all trades, master of none.” They found issues with the colors as “cyan was rendered as blue and yellow was more of an orange,” but black levels are good.

The $269 LG 32LN5300 is the cheapest 32” 1080p set out there. The best feature on an LG TV is its ISFccc Expert Controls that allow access to all picture adjustments for professional calibrators. For most users this won’t provide much benefit, and it lacks smart TV features as well as a third HDMI input.

You can add those features by stepping up to the $378 LG 32LN5700. That’s priced equally to the Vizio M321i-A2 with the same features, but the Vizio has a $30 discount for Amazon Prime members. A review of the 42” LN5700 by LCD TV Buying Guidefinds that it has worse black levels than higher-tier TVs. If you’re a real picture tweaker who wants to calibrate a display, the LG works well. Otherwise the Samsung is a better value.

Wrapping It Up

As long as you aren’t turned off by the relatively thick nature of the Samsung UN32EH5300, it has everything you’ll want in a 32” TV. It has great picture quality, integrated streaming features and a low price. No other 32” set currently offers the value that it does.

This guide originally appeared on The Wirecutter on 11/26/2013 and is republished here with permission.