Best TV under $500:
Looking for the best TV under $500? The 55" TCL 55US5800 is the way to go. Beyond its large screen size, the TCL 5800 offers 4K resolution and built-in Roku TV, making it one of the easiest to use and most fully functional smart TVs on the market.
The TCL lists for $699, but it's currently available for only $499.99 on Amazon, making it an absolute steal.
Why the TCL 55US5800?
If you have thousands to spend on a set, there's no shortage of excellent choices in a large screen TV. But that list drops significantly as you go below $1,000, and is basically non-existent below $500. In this price range, there are two brands worth considering - TCL and Vizio.
Vizio is offering its 50" E50u-D2 for $499.99 through vizio.com and is available for roughly the same price through other online and brick-and-mortar retailers. It too provides a 4K picture and local-dimming, which, on the surface, is a more advanced backlight technology than TCLs. However, that local-dimming feature has received mixed reviews.
The Vizio also doesn't have smart apps incorporated into the TV. Instead, you must use the SmartCast app on your smart phone or tablet to cast content to the TV - a major drawback. And the Vizio doesn't have an integrated TV tuner for receiving over-the-air broadcasts.
At the same time, Vizio is in a period of transition, having just been acquired by Chinese TV electronics manufacturer LeEco. LeEco will be bringing their own brand of value-focused TVs to the US market later this year, so what this means for the future of Vizio is unclear. There have been complaints in the past regarding post-warranty support for Vizio sets, and if LeEco phases out the Vizio line, this may be a concern for future purchasers.
In contrast to Vizio, the TCL 5800 offers a larger screen size for the money - 55" versus 50" - and built-in Roku TV streaming and search. Having used many smart TV platforms, I can tell you that Roku is better than any of them. While you can certainly buy a separate Roku box and connect it to the Vizio (or any other TV), having it built into the TCL saves you $50 and makes for a more seamless experience. For someone who is looking for a simple to use, yet incredibly functional smart TV experience, you will be very happy with the TCL.
As far as image quality, the TCL is on par with other models in this price range, which means very good overall, with some compromises. Many reviewers found it to have picture quality on par with the Vizio E-Series. On the upside, the TCL has less motion blur than the Vizio (both are 60Hz sets), making it more suitable for watching fast moving scenes and sports. On the downside, it's not as bright as the Vizio, though still fine for most situations.
Owners have also been fond of the TCL, giving it 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Many praise the image quality and features for the price. A few report on technical issues with freezing or uneven light levels. However, I'm encouraged to see TCL customer support reps reaching out directly to these customers on Amazon to help them resolve their issues - I wish many other tech companies would follow this lead.
In short, the TCL 55US5800 offers an amazing combination of features and value, which makes it our choice for the Best TV under $500.
If you don't care about 4K, you can save even more by going with the 1080p version, the TCL 55FS3750, for $50 less ($448 on Amazon). Unless you sit closer than about 7 feet, you're unlikely to notice much difference between the 4K and 1080p sets. Other than resolution, the core technology and features are the same.
Beyond these TCL options, the Vizio E50u-D2 is really your only other viable option. But given its issues with motion blur, complicated smart TV setup and uncertainty about its future, it's hard to recommend it over the TCL.
(UPDATED: 11/7/16 with new picks. Prices accurate as of date of publication.)