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TCL’s mini-LED/quantum dot technology impressed us in the $2,000 65-inch 8-series we tested this last summer, and you’ll find those same technologies in the company’s $700 55-inch 6-series TV. We’re talking darn close to top-tier image quality for basically half what you’d expect to fork over.
Note that as of May 18th, 2021, the price of a 6 series had jumped to $800. Still a bargain.
Design and features
The 55-inch class (54.6-inches diagonally) 6-series we tested sports a 4K UHD (3840 x 2160), 10-bit, 120Hz (4K gaming is 60Hz) panel that uses quantum dots for color and mini-LEDs for backlighting.
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 panels supports local dimming, but given the “thousands of lights” (TCL wasn’t specific beyond that phrase), it’s not as granular as you might think. You’ll get 128 zones on this 55-inch model, 160 zones on the 65-inch, and 240 on the 75-inch. By comparison, the 8-series has 25,000 lights and over a thousand zones. In stress tests this made a difference; in real life, not nearly as much.
Apparently, mini-LED also imposes a weight penalty. The 6-series is one of the heavier 55-inch TVs I’ve ever had to muscle around—weighing nearly 45 pounds. Keep that in mind if you intend to make use of the 300mm x 300mm VESA mount point. Speaking of mounting, the 6-series is also rather thick through the hips (the thicker bottom portion where the ports and electronics are found), measuring nearly 3 inches.
Ports include four partial HDMI 2.1 (i.e., an HDMI 2.1 implementation that doesn’t provide bandwidth of 48Gbps), one USB 2.0 port, ethernet, coax (antenna/cable), and legacy AV (composite/analog audio) input via a 3.5mm adapter. Audio output is available via one HDMI output supporting ARC, as well as both digital (Toslink optical) and 3.5mm analog audio outputs. The Wi-Fi is 802.11ac, and the Bluetooth—well, that’s another story. See below.
The TV supports HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG, but not HDR10+. Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital Plus are supported via passthrough. As you might’ve guessed from the refresh rate stated above, the 6-series has a gaming mode and supports variable refresh rates.
Remote and smart TV interface
The Roku interface is extremely facile and efficient. I could recommend some tweaks, but I’d be nit-picking. It automatically enumerates attached devices and is a portal to a vast universe of free and paid streamed content.
I’m not entirely fond of the way the homepage always seems to be selling you something, but my real gripe is that Roku refuses to support Bluetooth audio, and by extension, Bluetooth headphones. The company seems to be trying to leverage it’s way into the audio market with its Roku TV Ready platform, which enables speaker manufacturers to build soundbars that wirelessly connect to TVs running the Roku TV OS.
A workaround is to use the Roku app on your phone or an external Bluetooth transmitter, as I do. It’s not an ideal solution, but there are some very good ones starting at around $30. Put another way: I love the Roku interface, but hate the marketing antics.
The Roku RC580 remote is a study in simplicity, and unlike the similarly minimalist Samsung One Remote—it’s also a study in efficiency. With Roku, its few buttons and integration with the interface still leave you within a click or two of all every function, where Samsung’s remote has you click, and click, and click.
The 6-series image had me at the pop up of the TCL logo. Bright, with good contrast, and not nearly the amount of blooming and other visual artifacts that I was expecting. When I got to the more colorful stuff. Wow. I actually double-checked the price. In fact, my initial thoughts were that the 6-series actually looks better than last year’s 8-series. Maybe less is more (less money, fewer lights and dimming zones). Probably not.
That said, it didn’t ace all the tests I threw at it. There was some garbage in the thin lines in some tests, and some oddities when I set a zone counter loose on the screen. The white block moving across the edges of the display would fade at times (a first in my experience), and there was the obvious blooming I didn’t notice with real-world material.
Indeed, when I played the Sony contrast demo video (night-time in Las Vegas), there was hardly any blooming at all. That video defeats all but the best TVs, and the 6-series aced it. I’m not sure how TCL manages this, but good on them.
There was some extremely mild moiré and shimmer in some detailed images during slow pans, but it was less than any TV in its price range sporting similar brightness. The only TVs I’ve seen that manage to tame these types of artifacts almost completely are very expensive 8K UHD sets that remove them during the upscaling process.
Motion compensation was also very good, and screen uniformity excellent. The HDR effect is vivid and doesn’t smother fine detail, which is very unusual at this price point.
The 6-series offers a startlingly good picture for a $700 TV. Its defects will likely be immaterial to all but the pickiest viewers. Last but not least, the sound is actually halfway decent. By that I mean, far better than most TVs at this price; in fact, I’d be in no rush to buy a soundbar.
Save for it, or save some money
If you’re thinking of buying a 4K UHD 55-inch in the $400 to $500 range, save a little more and move up to the TCL 6-series. If you’re thinking of buying something in the $1,000 to $1,500 range take a look at the 6-series first—you might not feel the need for the high-priced set. Put bluntly, the 6-series is simply an awesome TV for the price.
Best Prices Today: TCL 6-series (2020) 4K UHD quantum dot TV (55-inch class, model 55R635)
Jon Jacobi is a musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time computer enthusiast. He writes reviews on TVs, SSDs, dash cams, remote access software, Bluetooth speakers, and sundry other consumer-tech hardware and software.