TCL 6-series (2021) 8K UHD TV review: Excellent 8K quality at a remarkably affordable price

The 65R648 may be the least expensive 8K UHD TV on the market, but it's also one of the best.

tcl 8k uhd 65r648 angle
TCL

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At a Glance
  • TCL 6-Series 8K UHD TV (65-inch class, model 65R648)

It’s been just a couple of years since TCL was competing exclusively in the entry-level to mid-tier TV market. The introduction of mini-LED backlighting has allowed the company to play at the top tier, and the 8K UHD model number 65R648 reviewed here shows that was no technoogical fluke.

The good news for interested consumers is that TCL’s 65R648 is not only one of the best 8K UHD TVs we’ve tested, it’s also easily the least expensive.

Design and features

The TCL 65R648 is a 65-inch class (64.5 inches measured diagonally), 10-bit, 120Hz TV with 8K UHD resolution (7680 x 3840 pixels). The array backlighting uses the aforementioned mini-LEDs, which are divvied up into 160 zones (240 zones on the 75-inch model). More on the significance of that number later.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart TVs, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

The TV has a very thin bezel, weighs a considerable 70.1 pounds (about 73 pounds with the stand), and sports a 400mm square VESA mount pattern. It’s a good-looking unit; though honestly, you really need to dig to the bottom of the bargain bin to find an ugly one these days.

tcl 65r648 ports TCL

The port selection on the TCL 65R648 will accomodate most people’s needs. 

There are four HDMI ports, two of which support the full HDMI 2.1 bandwidth spec (8K at 120Hz). Port four supports eARC for uncompressed 7.1 audio output. Other ports include coax for cable and antennas, ethernet, optical audio out, 3.5mm audio out for headphones, and a single USB-A 2.0 port.

The Wi-Fi is 802.11ac, but as with all Roku TVs (regrettably), there’s no user Bluetooth. Roku is trying to leverage users into purchasing proprietary Roku audio devices—as if the market needs yet another standard.

The TCL 65R648 supports most of the most recent technologies, including variable refresh rates, THX gaming mode, Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Digital Plus; but it seemingly lacks support for DTS. High dynamic range support includes Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG, but there’s no HDR10+ support if the specs are correct. Siri, Google, and Alexa are also supported.

How can TCL market an 8K UHD TV for so much less than the competition? We’re not sure, especially given today’s shipping realities. Market shenanigans? Proceed as your conscience dictates. 

Interface and remote

The TCL 65R648 uses the Roku operating system and requires you to sign in to activate the TV, but you can use it without entering your credit-card info. Beyond the annoying invasion of privacy (Android is even more guilty of this), Roku is my favorite TV operating system. It’s very easy to navigate and use, and of—course—there’s all that free (ad-supported) streaming content that Roku is famous for. 

I should also mention that Roku provides a very competent media streaming/playback app. It had no issues playing the 8K HEVC files I use for testing, and I was also able to stream movies across the local network from a NAS box. It’s also very good at remembering where you left off in the movie.

tcl 8k uhd 65r648 roku TCL

TCL’s 8K UHD model 65R648 uses the Roku operating system.

TCL offers an upgraded remote (shown below) with the 65R648. It uses the standard Roku layout and button selection, which is inextricably linked with what you see onscreen. (Excepting the advertising shortcut buttons of course.)

It’s hefty—in a good way: longer and classier-looking than the stubby black one that’s shipped with the other Roku TVs we’ve reviewed. It’s a nice perq, and hopefully a harbinger of things to come for all Roku TVs.

tcl 65r648 roku remote TCL

TCL includes an upgraded version of the standard Roku remote. 

Performance

TCL’s 8K UHD 6-series delivers an impressive image. Contrast is excellent under most conditions, thanks to mini-LED backlighting; the quantum-dot color is accurate and nicely saturated; and thanks to whatever CPU/GPU is in use, the video processing is very good. The latter is surpassed in 8K UHD by only Samsung in my experience.

Screen uniformity is excellent and viewing angles are wide. On the other hand, the brightness is merely good (perhaps 800 nits). It’s certainly not up to Samsung (pre mini-LED) or Vizio levels, but it gets it done. HDR looks, well, HDR-y.

Part of the reason for the lesser—but still adequate—brightness is that mini-LEDs, such as those employed by the 65R648, aren’t as bright as older backlighting methods. They’re dimmer, but located closer to the filters and LCDs, which largely compensates and also produces much less bleed. In sufficient numbers, they make for very granular backlighting control.

When they’re divided into only 160 zones, however, as on the 65R648, you’ll see an occasional oddity. With a star field, instead of the black spaces between stars that you’ll see with an OLED TV, or the dark gray you’ll get with traditional LED backlighting, there’s a blotchy mix of various shades of gray. It’s like looking at clouds of gas rather than the empty void of space. This artifact is minimized on mini-LED TVs with a larger number or zones, such as TCL’s 8-series, but it’s still visible. 

tcl 8k uhd 65r648 life TCL

We included this image from TCL just to make everyone jealous. 

When the TCL 65R648 upscales lower-resolution material to its native 8K UHD, it adds detail, but the level of detail isn’t as pronounced as it was with the Samsung Q90 we reviewed. The reason is likely Samsung’s former focus (in the Q90 era, that is) on bright highlights in said details. 

Even the sound of the TCL 65R648 is superior. It’s a tad lacking in thump, but the fact that you can hear the bass at all is a major accomplishment. The overall sound from the four down-firing speakera is also quite clear. Only Sony, with its planar driver that vibrates the display glass, does it better—and not by as much as you might think. 

Speaking of Sony… Unlike the far pricier ($7,000) Sony Bravia Master Series Z9J I recently reviewed, the TCL 65R648 plays both local HEVC 8K files and YouTube AV1 8K streams.

Conclusion

TCL’s 8K UHD 6-Series is easily the best value on the TV market at the moment, if you’re preparing for the super high-res future or want the absolute best 4K UHD possible (after upscaling).

The nearest 8K UHD competitor is Samsung’s Q800, which costs $500 more, although you’ll encounter scads of decent 65-inch-class 4k UHD TVs for less than $1,000. Frugality aside, if you’re shopping in the $2,000 to $2,500 price range for any resolution, the TCL 65R648 should be at the top of your short list.

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At a Glance
  • TCL's 65R648 delivers picture and sound quality that's on par with or better than Samsung's QN800—for a lot less money.

    Pros

    • Excellent 8K reproduction and overall image quality
    • Surprisingly good sound
    • By far the most affordable 8K UHD TV on the market
    • Plays 8K UHD HEVC files and YouTube AV1 8K

    Cons

    • Still pricey compared to 4K UHD TVs
    • Genuine 8K UHD content is hard to come by
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