The annual What Hi-Fi? Awards are nearly upon us, with just a few days to go until the best products of the year are revealed.

In the meantime, we're looking back at some of the award-winning kit we've seen pass through our test rooms over the years. Our first stop is TVs. 

Given the importance and popularity of TVs in today's tech landscape, you'd be forgiven for thinking we've been testing them since the magazine began back in 1976. But it wasn't until 2001 - after What Hi-Fi? morphed into What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision - that we handed out our first TV Award, to a 28in Philips set.

In the years since, we've seen screen sizes increase, and the physical size of the sets decrease to just a few millimetres thin. Screen technologies have improved as well, from 480p and 576p resolutions all the way up to 4K Ultra HD, with the first award-winning 4K TVs collecting gongs in 2014. 

As with all What Hi-Fi? reviews, these TVs were judged on a strict performance-per-pound basis. There may have been better sets, but the Product of the Year winners shown here represent the best value sets of the year; the best performance at the best price.

The list shows that while some manufacturers are now notable by their absence, others have consistently come up with the goods. So, without further ado...

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2001

Philips 28PW6305 Tested at £530

The first Product of the Year for TVs was this 28in Philips. We praised its "plug and play" ease of use and excellent picture; no surprises, there.

Perhaps more surprising was our apparent satisfaction with the speakers. That said, the CRT design certainly allowed for more room. £530 for a 28in TV was the going rate back in 2001.

2002

Toshiba 32ZD26P Tested at £1300

There were two TV categories in 2002, one for widescreen TVs (how futuristic) and one for plasma TVs. The widescreen winner was this Toshiba, which wowed us with its 100Hz scanning and progressive-scan mode for NTSC video signals, which "greatly enhances the picture quality from imported DVDs". 

The range of connections on offer was also impressive for the time, notably the inclusion of a component video input. And, naturally, we enjoyed the picture.

Pioneer PDP-433HDE Tested at £5995

The other winner of 2002 was this plasma, which came at a time when Pioneer was one of the big-names in plasma technology. This was Pioneer's first plasma range to be "true TVs rather than just displays". Previously most Pioneer plasmas had lacked TV tuners and were aimed at the high-end market.

This 43in model was praised for its intuitive user interface and features, but it was really all about the performance, which included "fine black definition and detail". That soon-to-be-famous black definition. Connections came in the form of three Scarts, S-Video and component.

But it wasn't cheap: six grand for a 43in TV. Though, as we said in the review, "...with interest-free credit deals and cheap loans aplenty on offer, you could be enjoying a fantastic flat-screen sooner than you think. Go on..." In hindsight, a cheap loan for a new TV may not be the best financial advice we've ever given.

2003

Panasonic TX-36PD30 Tested at £1700

This 36in Panasonic was the flagship TV of the 2003 range. We described it as having "monstrous proportions" - how times have changed. It weighed 81kg, ten times heavier than the average 40in now. It featured more pixels per line than most TVs back then, "giving it near computer monitor resolution". Apparently, that was a good thing.

"When it comes to the picture, prepare to enter a new dimension", we said, breathlessly praising its fantastic contrast levels and deep blacks. With images appearing "almost three-dimensional", in 2003 this was quite simply the best telly we'd ever seen.

Sony KE-32TS2 Tested at £3400

2003 also saw two TV Award-winners, and the one for best plasma screen went to this 32in Sony. It was one of the first plasma screens to "dispel our lingering doubts about plasma's performance potential" - yes, plasma wasn't always held in such high regard. This one was able to serve impressive levels of detail, something that had previously been "one of plasma's primary failings", we noted.

It was also quite a looker for its time, with Sony even managing to integrate the TV tuner into the chassis - something still relatively rare at a time of separate TV boxes.

See all our Sony news and reviews

2004

Panasonic TH-42PE30B Tested at £3300

2004 marked the first time the two TV categories were integrated and it was another win for Panasonic. This time it was the turn of this 42in plasma, perhaps giving us an early indication of how the brand would dominate this category in the years to come.

Its arsenal of picture-enhancing technologies was certainly effective, and its DVD playback performance cemented its place in What Hi-Fi? history. It seems absurd that Finding Nemo was released way back in 2004, but the colours the Panasonic produced when we used it as a test disc were exemplary. The screen resolution? 852 x 480.

More after the break

2005

Philips 32PF9830 Tested at £2000

The televisions category was brought to the front of the Awards pages in 2005, a sign of the increasing importance of TVs in the AV world.

Philips reclaimed the Product of the Year title it won in 2001, with this 32in HD-ready set. Yes, this was the first HD TV winner. We acknowledged that other screens were just as commendable for less money, but the future-proof nature of this Philips saw it reign supreme. That said, it only had an analogue TV tuner...

2006

Sony KDL-40W2000 Tested at £2000

"How long ago is it that £2000 would only buy you a decidedly ho-hum flatscreen TV, probably from an obscure brand that you'd never heard of?" A strong opening gambit for this Sony Award-winner, which was considered a real bargain in terms of inch-per-pound. 

Sony was back to its winning ways in 2006 with this 40in screen. We said it was the first time a big-screen LCD TV (yes, 40in was considered big) could compete against plasma.

It featured analogue and digital TV tuners built-in as well as a 1920 x 1080 Full HD resolution. The picture served up from those tuners was impressive, but again we highlighted the performance with DVDs.

2007

Pioneer PDP-428XD Tested at £2000

2007 showed that £2000 could get you even more for your money, with one of the most famous names in TV history. This Pioneer Kuro plasma may not have offered a Full HD resolution, but it did offer better black levels than any other screen at the time.

It was also the first Awards Product of the Year to reference Blu-ray discs, which meant the on-screen results were jaw-dropping. The HD revolution was under way... even if this TV somewhat controversially settled for HD-ready rather than Full HD resolution.

2008

Sony KDL-40W4500 Tested at £1190

Sony was on top form again in 2008, stealing the Product of the Year crown back from Pioneer. Although Pioneer’s 50in Kuro LX509D did win an Award, this Sony proved to be the ultimate champion.

The screen excelled with HD pictures, with blacks inky deep and whites super bright. Upscaling abilities were impressive too, as was its standard-def performance. It was also noteworthy for boasting "a motion processing mode that most of the review team actually likes", Sony's Motionflow. "Sony has reinvented the LCD TV", we boldly declared.

2009

Philips 42PFL9664 Tested at £1500

Philips showed once again it could party with the big boys, with this 42in LCD set. It had a relatively sleek design and thin bezel, and included features such as five HDMI inputs, wi-fi (oh yes) and Ambilight technology (which we still love). Coupled with a highly detailed high-definition pictures, choosing an overall winner in 2009 was easy.

The Philips even managed to impress us in the sound department. Although we recommended adding a speaker package (Monitor Audio’s RX6 AV12) for a proper home cinema set-up, the built-in speakers provided a more than adequate listen.

MORE: Philips 42PFL9664 review

2010

Sony KDL-40EX503 Tested at £660

The 40EX503 marked a triumphant return for Sony after failing to win a single Award in 2009, in part due to backlighting issues. It delivered a natural colour palette, but had the ability to be vibrant and punchy when needed. The 100Hz Motionflow processing technology provided solid, smooth images, both from Blu-ray discs and the built-in Freeview HD tuner.

The Sony also came with Smart TV capabilities, and offered instant access to LoveFilm.com (RIP) and BBC iPlayer. Considering the prices of previous winners, this one was an absolute bargain. The TV market's race to the bottom had started...

MORE: Sony KDL-40EX503 review

2011

Panasonic TX-P42GT30 Tested at £900

This Panasonic plasma followed a similar path to victory as the Sony from 2010. Both were put into two Supertests and both came out with five stars from each. 

Panasonic fitted the 42GT30 with two high-def tuners in the form of Freesat and Freeview HD, and both provided deep, detailed blacks and barely any picture noise. 

2D and 3D performance (hello...!) from a Blu-ray disc was also well received, and the sound quality was weighty and substantial.

MORE: Panasonic TX-P42GT30 review

See all our Panasonic news and reviews

2012

Sony KDL-40HX853 Tested at £1000

Sony’s HX series of TVs were top performers, but none more so than the HX853. Clarity and detail were among its biggest strengths, and the speaker system housed within the plinth was impressive too.

3D pictures provided a fully immersive experience and the smart functions worked well - you could stream HD content, no less - making this a fantastic all-rounder.

MORE: Sony KDL-40HX853 review

2013

Panasonic TX-P42GT60B Tested at £1000

Panasonic was determined to win its crown back in 2013, and it did so with another extraordinary plasma screen. The list of features was endless, with almost every possible need catered for. But ultimately the picture quality, which was nothing short of stunning, stole the show. 

Panasonic ended production of its plasma screens at the end of 2013, making the GT60 series its swan song.

MORE: Panasonic TX-P42GT60B review

2014

Samsung UE48H6400 Tested at £700

With plasma screens no more, Full HD and 4K would become the battleground for TV supremacy. Samsung was the big winner of the 2014 Awards, and this 48in Full HD set offered one of the best performance-per-pound ratios we’ve seen.

Featuring all the major catch-up services, it delivered a stellar picture performance no matter the source, serving up a balanced, clean and stable picture with excellent contrast levels.

Picture noise on standard-def images was handled well, and motion didn’t take a hit either. With the arrival of 4K TVs, Samsung conversely proved that there’s still plenty of life in HD.

MORE: Samsung UE48H6400 review

See all our Samsung news and reviews

 

2015

Samsung UE48J6300  Tested at £700

Samsung continued its gong-winning trend at the 2015 Awards with this 48in curved-screen Full HD TV our pick of the models reviewed last year. Picture quality was fantastic for the money, with natural colours and lashings of detail on display.

What about 2016? Could we have our first 4K TV Product of the Year? Where does OLED fit into the equation? Stay tuned to What Hi-Fi? to find out...

MORE: Samsung UE48J6300 review 

 

The 2016 What Hi-Fi? Awards will be the 33rd annual showcase of the best products of the year, with the winners set to be revealed on the evening of Monday 17th October.

You’ll be able to follow the awards as they’re announced live on social media, while all the winners will be revealed in full on our dedicated Awards website on the night.

 

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