Diagnosis represents only one aspect of tuberculosis (TB) control but is perhaps one of the most challenging. The drawbacks of current tools highlight several unmet needs in TB diagnosis, that is, necessity for accuracy, rapidity of diagnosis, affordability, simplicity and the ability to generate same-day results at point-of-care (POC). When a return visit is required to access test results, time to treatment is prolonged, and default rates are significant. However, a good diagnostic tool is also critically dependent on obtaining an adequate biological sample. Here, we review the accuracy and potential impact of established and newer potential POC diagnostic tests for TB, including smear microscopy, the Xpert MTB/RIF assay (Cepheid) and the Determine TB lipoarabinomannan antigen test (Alere). Novel experimental approaches and detection technologies for POC diagnosis of active TB, including nucleic acid amplification tests, detection of volatile organic compounds or metabolites, mass spectroscopy, microfluidics, surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, electrochemical approaches, and aptamers among others, are discussed. We also discuss future applications, including the potential POC diagnosis of drug-resistant TB and presumed latent TB infection. Challenges to the development and roll-out of POC tests for TB are also reviewed. © 2012 The Authors. Respirology © 2012 Asian Pacific Society of Respirology.