We Tested an $88 Black Friday Doorbuster TV. It Was Surprisingly Decent.

We Tested an $88 Black Friday Doorbuster TV. It Was Surprisingly Decent.

Join Hafta-Ichi to Research the article “We Tested an $88 Black Friday Doorbuster TV. It Was Surprisingly Decent.”

How it compares to budget TVs we like

We got the Onn TV in a 43-inch size since that was the doorbuster deal. I ran it through the same battery of tests I perform on all of the TVs we review (see below). Then I compared it directly against Vizio’s new M7 LCD TV, which I’m currently testing for our guide to the best 4K TV on a budget; the M7 starts at $400 for a 50-inch screen size.

In our side-by-side testing, the differences in image quality were clear. The Vizio offers advanced performance features that the Onn TV lacks, such as Dolby Vision and wide color gamut support, plus a full-array local dimming backlight to produce the contrast necessary for true HDR. With Planet Earth in HDR on Netflix, the Vizio clearly offered richer, more saturated colors and better contrast, whereas the Onn TV looked a bit flat and washed out by comparison. But when I switched to Casino Royale in SDR, the performance between the two was much closer: The local dimming backlight improved the Vizio’s contrast, but skin tones and colors appeared more accurate on the Onn TV out of the box. Although the Vizio was clearly better, I’d be hard-pressed to say the image difference was worth double the price.

How this doorbuster TV fared in Wirecutter testing

The 43-inch Onn 4K Roku TV during testing
Photo: Chris Heinonen

Going purely by its specs, the Onn TV seems to tick all the boxes for a TV these days, including 4K resolution, high dynamic range (HDR) compatibility, and the built-in Roku OS for easy streaming. And it comes in various sizes, from 43 inches up to 65 inches. When I unboxed the TV, I could immediately tell that it didn’t have the build quality of more expensive TVs: Its cabinet was made of thin, cheaper-feeling plastic, it had a captive power cord instead of a user-replaceable one, and the generic input labeling made it feel like a no-name TV. I didn’t expect much when I hooked it up to my test equipment—but I was wrong.

With standard dynamic range (SDR) video signals, the Onn TV measured remarkably well—and since we had bought this TV from Walmart just as anyone else would, we knew we didn’t have a cherry-picked or manipulated sample from the manufacturer. The contrast ratio came in at around 7000:1, which is great for a standard LCD TV that does not feature local dimming. The colors were very accurate, and skin tones looked natural, without any red push. I’d be happy to get results like this when I professionally calibrate a TV, and that calibration process costs far more than this TV does.

The main downside for SDR viewing is that the TV is capable of only 225 nits (a unit of luminance that measures how much light a TV can produce). That’s around 150 nits less than a TV like the TCL 50S535 can do with SDR. And for most people, that isn’t enough for a room with lots of sunlight.

Where the Onn TV really falls short, though, is in its support for the more advanced TV technologies that have come out in the past few years. The lack of local dimming means that, although the TV has nice contrast ratios, the image can’t get as dark or produce the deep shadows that TVs with local dimming can. It can process an HDR signal, but that lack of local dimming means you’re unlikely to see any difference compared with SDR video. It does not support the wider color gamut possible with 4K content, nor does it support newer HDMI 2.1 features like eARC, automatic low-latency mode, and variable refresh rate. (I’ve written about those features in-depth before.) The Onn TV feels like a TV from 2017, but one that is much cheaper than it would have been back then—and more accurate, too.

Is it any good for gamers?

Gamers are more likely to notice this TV’s limitations with the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft. The TV’s lack of support for variable refresh rate and automatic low-latency mode will make the gaming experience feel less responsive and intuitive, and new games are going to take full advantage of HDR and wide color gamut technologies. With older consoles or with the Nintendo Switch, you may not notice the performance limitations as much, as long as you manually enable the Onn TV’s Game Mode to lower the input lag during gameplay.

Should you buy it?

If you are one of the lucky few who can get this TV at the $88 sale price, know that it far outperformed my expectations. Even at the TV’s full $184 retail price, I think it would be a good choice for a secondary location such as a bedroom, kitchen, exercise room, or dorm room. The Roku interface was snappy and responsive, just as on many other Roku TVs we’ve tested, which removes the need to add an external media player. This TV even processes picture information from a computer correctly—I used it as a cheap 43-inch monitor, and it worked remarkably well. But if you’re shopping for your main living room TV, I suggest looking at the 2020 Vizio M-Series (starting at $400) or TCL 5-Series (starting at $400), both of which offer all the features that have come out in the past two or three years and are thus better positioned to handle future content while still being relatively affordable.

Of course, we’re not suggesting that every Black Friday doorbuster TV will perform as well as this one did. At best, you can hope for a TV that, while probably not as bright as our favorite TVs, will deliver good picture quality and a nice user experience—but it likely won’t have the newest technologies to help make it more future-proof. Because shoppers (and reviewers) don’t have access to these models year-round, it’s hard to know what level of quality you’ll be getting. But for less than $100, maybe that’s a chance you’re willing to take.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The NY Times
Keyword: We Tested an $88 Black Friday Doorbuster TV. It Was Surprisingly Decent.

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