Shoppers now looking for a small TV are being left disappointed by sets that consistently fail to deliver the sound, picture and capabilities of bigger and more expensive rivals, with the drop in quality so significant that Which? can no longer recommend buying one.
The consumer champion tests hundreds of TVs each year, but has not given a positive review to a TV of 32 inches or less since 2014 – despite giving around 200 sets the Which? Best Buy accolade in that time.
The average Which? test score on a 32-inch TV is a measly 49 per cent. In fact, the best TV of this size recently tested only scored 55 per cent with problems ranging from poor sound quality to inadequate motion capture and a slow operating system.
Which? testing has found that while a smaller TV might capture detail, they are more likely to struggle with motion. As 32-inch televisions do not have 4K capability, manufacturers have been putting more of their efforts into making bigger TVs and home cinema set-ups.
Manufacturers also release fewer 32-inch sets now than they did several years ago. Sometimes their range will only include one, and they are always inferior to bigger televisions. The most popular size of TV with visitors to the Which? TV reviews site is now 49 inches.
Which? also found that small television sets can have a shrill and unpleasant sound quality due to a lack of bass. Operating systems also suffer, with fewer apps available and weaker processors that cause menus to be slower when channel surfing or loading TV guides.
On average, Which? found that people keep their television sets for just over six years, meaning many people who bought a decent quality small TV when they were still available in 2014 may be in for a nasty shock if they try to buy a new 32-inch of similar quality.
To get a great viewing experience, the best TV size depends on how far people sit from their TV. In a survey of Which? members, almost 9 in 10 (86%) people were not sitting at the right distance to make the most of their TV.
The problem is those sitting too far away lose detail and the picture is not as crisp as intended, while colours lose their lustre and the screen starts to look washed out. Those sitting too close will struggle to capture the whole image and the TV will be uncomfortable to watch.
Which? found a 55-inch set would provide the best viewing experience for the average-sized British living room. For those wanting smaller sets the smallest current Which? Best Buy is 48 inches and there are sets as small as 43 inches that still get a decent rating.
While a large set might not be suitable in every space, rather than resorting to buying a small (and poorer quality) TV, Which? has found that some consumers might be better served by streaming TV onto other devices that they already own, such as laptops and tablets. Good quality devices may offer a better level of detail and motion capture on a smaller screen.
For the average living room, demand for a home cinema style set up is likely to continue to grow with the pandemic accelerating this trend. The rise of 4K (and even 8K) means that while Which? experts will continue to include small sets in testing, they believe that 32-inch TVs, for now, are unlikely to make a comeback.
However, with so many people not wanting their television to dominate their space, there will always be demand for smaller sets – so Which? expects manufacturers to do a better job of producing quality products for as long as people want them.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said:
“When it comes to TVs, size definitely matters – bigger models score consistently better in Which? testing but while smaller TVs are in much less demand than they used to be, there still appears to be a gap in the market for small sets that really pack a punch.
“Our advice to shoppers is to choose a larger TV that they can comfortably view, where possible. For small or occasional spaces, streaming content on a laptop or tablet may just offer a better experience than a small TV.”
Notes to editors
Which? has not tested a 32-inch TV that it has deemed good enough to be a Best Buy since 2014. While the consumer champion will continue to include small sets in its rigorous tests, small sets are unlikely to improve and as such be recommended to consumers.
- Which? surveyed 1,012 members in March 2020.
- 71% of those who own 32-inch TVs sit too far away.
- Almost a quarter of the people who sat too far away have an eight-foot gap between sofa and screen, which means a 40 to 43-inch TV is best
- 19% of the people who sat too far away sit nine feet away and would get a better viewing experience with a 49 to 55-inch TV.
- Only 14% sat at the right distance.
- More people had a 40 to 43-inch TV than any other size, but 59% of them should consider a larger one when they next upgrade. Of those people, 39% would be better off with a 49 or 50-inch display.
How big is the average living room?
- Which? used the government’s English Housing Survey 2017, to determine the average size of a UK living room.
- The average square footage of a semi-detached living room was 183 feet, while a detached one was 226 feet; the size was similar in both older homes and new builds. Assuming most living rooms are roughly square, this would make the length of the walls in a semi-detached home around 13.5 feet; they’d be 15 feet in a detached house.
- With a TV on one wall and a sofa on the other, that’s a gap between the sofa and TV of roughly 11.5 feet. That would make a 55-inch set your best bet for a great viewing experience.
How we test TVs
- The largest sets Which? currently tests are 65 inches but screens can go up to 100 inches. However in order to make the most out of a massive screen viewers would need to have a very big room to put it in as you would need to be sat over 15 feet away – that is about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle!