TCL 6 Series TV Review
The most valuable TV of 2018 may have just hit shelves
Last year, TCL's 55-inch P Series blew the heck up. Priced at $649, it delivered 4K resolution, excellent HDR images, and built-in Roku functionality. It was the one I recommended to all my not-rich friends when they asked me what TV they should upgrade to.
This year, TCL is naturally upping the ante a bit. The 2018 TCL 6 Series hopes to continue on the P Series' success, introducing a larger screen size (65 inches) and maintaining the core qualities: great picture quality and excellent features at prices that most household name TV manufacturers can't touch. The 55-inch 6 Series is available for $649 (just like last year's P Series), while the 65-inch version starts at $999.
While it's too early to call this TV the best value of 2018, after testing it, it's easy to think it might be. The 6 Series is a top-notch performer with great HDR specs and a svelte, voice-searchable version of the Roku platform. Input lag is still good, and TCL has improved the sensitivity and granularity of its local dimming system, too. Grab this one up if you want future-facing 4K/HDR performance for way less than the competition.
Note: The 2018 TCL 6 Series should be available for purchase on May 1st, 2018. Also note that current prices are listed as "pre-order specials," and may increase.
About the TCL 6 Series
TCL's 6 Series is available in two screen sizes and two retail variants. The R615 model is sold specifically at Best Buy, while the R617 version will be available primarily on Amazon:
• 55-inch (TCL 55R617/55615), MSRP $649/$599
• 65-inch (TCL 65R617/65R615), MSRP $999/949
Other than in screen size, the 55- and 65-inch TCL 6 Series TVs are roughly identical. The only real difference between them is in the amount of "contrast control zones," or full-array local dimming zones. The 55-inch has 96 local dimming zones, while the 65-inch has 120 local dimming zones.
Likewise, the R617 models are more expensive than the R615 (Best Buy) models because of a difference in their remote controls. The R617 models cost $50 more because they include the version of the Roku remote that supports voice commands—the R615/Best Buy models do not.
Beyond the differences in screen size, dimming zone count, and remote control, all of the TCL 6 Series TVs share the same core specs:
• 4K resolution (3,840 x 2,160)
• High Dynamic Range compatibility — HDR10 and Dolby Vision
• Built-in Roku streaming platform with Roku remote
• "Contrast control zones" (full-array local dimming)
• Native 60 Hz refresh rates
We received our 65-inch 6 Series (R617 variant) as a loan from TCL. I fully reset it after building it in the lab, and let it run overnight before settling in for testing and evaluation.
The TVs this year are dressed in a dark, gunmetal metallic that drinks in the light around them (not literally). There's a big old power button on the lower-right bezel, which is weirdly kind of retro and cool, in my opinion.
Each TV should include three HDMI 2.0-compatible inputs, a USB 2.0 input, ethernet (LAN) in, optical and headphone audio out, a splitter connection for shared component/composite input, and a coaxial jack for cable/antenna connection.
What We Like
TCL's 4K/HDR value darling continues to kick serious butt
Everybody knows you can get a spectacular 4K/HDR TV for a few thousand dollars—at that price, it's kind of a given. But with TCL's 65-inch 6 Series, you're getting a really, really good one for $999.
Where traditional (non-HDR) content is concerned, the 6 Series checks all the right boxes. Its basic "Movie" picture mode delivers great contrast (0.02 black levels matched with reference brightnesses over 200 nits), very accurate standard (rec.709) color—I measured 97% coverage—and great local dimming.
TCL's biggest hurdle with the 6 Series was to improve upon last year's local dimming algorithm. The company's biggest competitor, Vizio, has a few years' head-start. While Vizio's 2018 E, M, and P Series TVs all deliver finely tuned local dimming, the 6 Series has a higher zone count.
Last year's TCL P Series (this model's forebear) struggled a bit with its local dimming. This is a process that allows LED TVs to darken dark areas of the screen and boost bright areas of the screen, making for better contrast and richer colors. The higher the number of controllable backlight zones, the more granular (and thus better) the local dimming is.
Not only does the 6 Series have a higher zone count this year, TCL seems to have worked out some of the issues I saw last year. Mostly, content where a majority of the screen was bright was losing mid-tone detail by pushing the middle area of the gamma curve up. The dimming wasn't subtle enough. This year's 6 Series looks a lot better.
I watched 4K content on Netflix (specifically, a Spanish nature documentary called Colombia: Wild Magic). Shots of plants lit by the sun and sweeping pans over bright blue lakes look bright, inviting, and naturally colored (in Movie mode) without the "glow" that I saw on last year's P Series.
High Dynamic Range content still looks excellent
The biggest challenge for HDR TVs, period, is getting bright enough to make HDR look good. Because HDR10 is a non-proprietary codec, any TV can be HDR compatible. But to make HDR look good, they have to have high brightness.
This presents particular challenges: Are small (specular) spots able to get bright enough to contrast with the TV's average brightness? When doing so, do they create clouding or flashlighting in dark spots? Higher brightness is also necessary to achieve the wider color gamut ideal for HDR content.
Fortunately, just like last year, the TCL 6 Series has the chops. I measured a peak brightness around 600 nits, which is about on par with expected results for Vizio's M Series. In HDR mode, the 6 Series hit around 93% of the DCI-P3 (wide color) gamut, too.
I watched The Mountain Between Us again, which I just watched for the first time on LG's premium E8 series OLED. While the 6 Series' native 60 Hz refresh rate occasionally caused issues (more on that below), overall it looked very good, even compared to the $4,300 LG E8.
I did notice the lower letterbox bar (because the Blu-ray is in 16:9 format) was occasionally a bit cloudy, but generally the local dimming maintained its integrity throughout the film. Like on the E8 OLED, this movie continued to look realistic and balanced, with rich skin tones, believable firelight, and bright, clean tundras.
It's also definitely worth mentioning that the addition of Dolby Vision (a different "flavor" of HDR) is pretty awesome. While DV content is a little harder to track down than HDR10 content, it's great to have the additional format here.
Who doesn't love Roku?
Roku is my favorite streaming box: it's got a ton of content options, and doesn't have any proprietary video services (like Apple, Amazon, etc.) that tend to put their own paid/Prime content front and center. And with the TCL 6 Series, you basically get the Roku platform included with the purchase of the TV.
Naturally, this isn't super exciting if you've already got a streaming solution in place, but considering the 6 Series' price tag, you also shouldn't feel you're paying anything extra for the built-in Roku platform.
The included remote is identical to the Roku remote included with most of the standalone streaming boxes, too. With the R617 (non-Best Buy) 6 Series variants, you also get voice search. I tried a few phrases: "What's the weather?" "Switch to HDMI 2," "Open Netflix," and so on.
Everything worked as it should, though my 'weather' prompt merely brought up TV/movie content that had to do with weather stuff. You're not getting an "assistant" feature here, but it's a great way to find things to watch.
Input lag is still pretty good, especially in HDMI 3
Gamers will be happy to know the TCL 6 Series continues the trend of allowing pretty good input lag during 1080p/4K gaming. Even upscaling 1080p content, I measured around 90 ms on HDMI 1 without "Game mode" enabled, and around 60 ms on HDMI 3 (Arc) without "Game mode" enabled.
However, with "Game mode" turned on, HDMI 3 measured around 18 ms via our Leo-Bodnar input lag tester. Unless you're a super serious competitive gamer, you aren't going to have any issues with 18 ms.
What We Don't Like
Local dimming still isn't perfect
While the 65-inch R617 has a lot of dimming zones (120) for what you're paying, that doesn't mean it's perfect. Every now and then, you're bound to see flashlighting. The Netflix logo against a black background, or the occasional very bright HDR spot near a letterbox bar are going to cause some light to bleed into shadowy areas.
When our Samsung Blu-ray players goes to its screen saver—the Samsung logo floating amidst an all-black screen—this halo'ing effect is mighty obvious to the eye. But during actual content, it's very rare to see. Overall, the dimming is excellent, especially at this price point.
Be careful about viewing angles
I tend to sit pretty close to TVs, as a default. I've been sitting about six feet from the 65-inch 6 Series, and it's close enough that I can see some small viewing angle discrepancies, depending on content, without moving from center. The very edges of the screen vignette slightly, but if I move myself more towards the right/left sides, this clears up.
I measured a rather low total viewing angle of around 28°, or ±14° from the center to either side of the screen. This is pretty low, especially compared to certain IPS-equipped displays. Especially when local dimming is turned up to "High" (as it should be for the best contrast/HDR experience), the deeply darkened shadow areas fall off (read: get brighter) pretty quickly as you move away from center.
A 120 Hz option would be nice
While this might actually sound like praise for the 6 Series' picture quality, the biggest difference I noticed between watching The Mountain Between Us in 4K/HDR on the $4,000 LG E8 OLED and this TV—after black level—was motion performance.
Because Blu-rays play back at 24fps, they sometimes struggle to play with total smoothness on 60 Hz TVs like the TCL 6 Series. During the movie's shaky, jarring plane crashes and action scenes, there were times I found myself distracted by blurring and juddering, especially during trickier camera pans.
It's a nitpick, however. Unless you're extremely sensitive to motion drawbacks, you probably won't take any issue with the TV's motion performance. Still, maybe 2019 will yield a 60/120 Hz variant option in this lineup instead of different remote controls.
And one weird little thing
While watching Netflix content, I can't for the life of me find any way to turn off the info panel at the upper left of the screen, where it displays the video time, streaming rate, and resolution. I'm sure TCL and/or Netflix will hammer this out by the time the TV is available to buy (and if anybody knows, please comment).
Should You Buy It?
Absolutely—if you don't mind a few tiny flaws
There are only a handful of reasons not to grab the 6 Series, that I can think of. If you're looking for a hyper-premium HDR experience (either 1,200+ nits brightness/OLED); if you're extremely sensitive to motion/judder issues during 24fps content; if you want something even bigger than 65 inches (or smaller than 55 inches); or if you can find a better value on a higher-end 2017 model right now.
Otherwise, hot damn, TCL has something serious here. The HDR isn't mind-blowing, but it's amazing for these price points, especially with how new the format is. Getting a 65-inch Roku TV for $999 is already a heck of a bargain—but this one also performs like a beast, and everyone but the pickiest viewers is going to absolutely love it.
While I can't say this is 2018's best value until we get some other contenders into the lab for testing—it's just too early in the year—it's very high in the running already. If you were drooling over the $650 55-inch TCL P Series last year but wanted something bigger, the 65-inch TCL 6 Series is a dream come true.
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