Televisions have come a long way over the past decade.
I bought my 42-inch Panasonic plasma in 2007. My mom bought the same one, and hers died last year. So I started researching again.
My Panasonic still looks great, but its resolution is 720p, and today’s content is 4K. So I know I’m missing out on a lot of extra pixels and picture quality.
Even though I’m a TV enthusiast, I don’t have the time or resources to set up a TV testing lab. So I started sifting through the many choices on a couple of tech websites I trust. My favorite for product comparisons is thewirecutter.com.
I kept seeing recommendations for TCL, a brand I knew little about. That Chinese company has quietly become the world’s third-largest TV manufacturer. It sold more than 23 million TVs in 2017. It’s vertically integrated, meaning it produces most of its own components, including cabinets and LCD panels.
I’ve been reviewing the top-tier 55-inch TCL 6-Series 4K LCD TV (55R617, $649.99). It’s also available in a 65-inch version ($999.99).
The 6-Series has a great-looking 4K UHD panel with high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision). It’s powered by the Roku operating system, which means all Roku streaming channels are available right on the TV’s home screen alongside other inputs.
The 6-Series is a good-looking TV. It has a thin-brushed metal bezel with only one button, which turns the set on and off and lets users select inputs.
The TV’s feet are at its edges, so you’ll need a wide cabinet if you don’t mount it on a wall.
The remote is minimal. If you’ve ever used a Roku box, it will look familiar. The remote has no number key — only a four-way navigation ring and playback controls. The remote does have four dedicated buttons to launch Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV and DirecTV Now. Those buttons cannot be reprogrammed if you don’t subscribe to those services.
The remote uses Wi-Fi and has a microphone so you can use your voice to search for shows or change the channel or input. A similar model sold at Best Buy (55R615) does not include the Wi-Fi remote. It has an infrared remote without the microphone.
The 6-Series accepts antenna input for local broadcast channels and, if you put a 16 gigabyte or larger flash drive in the TV’s USB port, you can pause live TV for up to 90 minutes.
TCL also includes a nice grid guide for your live over-the-air channels.
There are three HDMI 2.0 ports (one has audio return channel HDMI) to connect peripherals. Connected devices also can have custom names, so instead of scrolling through HDMI 1, HDMI2, you can name your inputs Blu-Ray player or TiVo or Apple TV.
Other ports on the back include digital audio out, analog headphone jack, USB and Ethernet. The set also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
I love the port location on the back, facing the right side of the TV. Accessing the ports is easy by reaching around the set.
The 55-inch 6-Series measures 48.5-by-30.6-by-10.7 inches with the stand. Without the stand, the depth is 2.9 inches. It weighs 38.2 pounds with the stand.
It has a 200 mm by 200 mm VESA hole pattern for mounting.
The 6-Series’ LCD panel can display HDR (high dynamic range) video, which is a way to capture and display video that has more contrast and color. There are a few variants of HDR, and the 6-Series can display HDR10 and Dolby Vision. You’ll see a little badge appear on the screen for a few seconds when the TV senses it is showing HDR video.
TCL also uses a technology called Contrast Control Zones. The 55-inch set has 96 zones on the screen. The 65-inch set has 120 contrast control zones.
This technology enables a wider range of contrast for blacker blacks with a contrast ratio of more than 12,000-to-1.
Wide Color Nano Band Phosphor Photon technology is used to deliver a range of visible colors that nearly matches DCI-P3 reference standards. That’s just a fancy way of saying the panel has a really wide color range that looks really good.
Early online reviews mention quality issues with some TCL LCD panels, including vertical banding (slightly darker and lighter vertical areas) and darker areas in the corners. I didn’t notice any issues while the TV was in use. But I did notice slightly darker corners when I stopped on screens that were all one color, especially all white screens.
Apparently some panels are worse than others, but I couldn’t see any vertical banding on the TV I reviewed.
The Roku operating system is a joy to use. It puts all your TV inputs and Roku apps on the same screen, easily accessed by the remote’s home button.
Roku offers thousands of streaming channels, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, ESPN and almost every other source you can name. It also has channels for the big streaming services — SlingTV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Hulu Live, PlayStation Vue and Philo.
Unlike some smart TVs that don’t often get updates, TCL will get the same updates as stand-alone Roku boxes.
The free Roku mobile app for iOS or Android has remote control features and can turn the TV on and off.
The app also enables users to plug headphones into the phone or tablet so they can listen in private. The headphones’ microphone also can be used for voice searching.
When you launch the remote app, it automatically scans your home network and takes control of the TV.
The 6-Series isn’t going to win any awards for sound, however. The speakers face the rear. My TV is in a corner, so it didn’t sound bad at all, but for the long term, I’d recommend investing in a soundbar that brings the speakers around front.
The set supports Dolby Atmos sound via the HDMI ARC output if you have a compatible sound system attached.
The TCL 6-Series is a whole lot of TV for the money. I can point you toward an OLED TV that costs three or four times as much if you want the absolute best quality. But honestly, I’d rather spend $649 instead of $2,500 on my next TV.
The TCL 6-Series is the best 4K UHD TV I can find for under $1,000. It compares very well with more expensive OLED sets.
The 6-Series made me smile every time I turned it on. I also spent way too much time watching 4K HDR test videos on the Dolby Vision channel.
I only thought I was watching high definition on my old Panasonic TV. With 4K content finally becoming widely available, I’m ready for a set that can show it to me with great quality but without draining my bank account.
Pros: Fantastic image quality. HDR. Roku built in. Inexpensive.
Cons: Average speakers. Wide stance to its feet. Darker corners and some panel inconsistency. Input changes were a bit slow.
Bottom Line: This is the best TV for the price.
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