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With OLED-like quality for less money, TCL’s 6-Series could change TV landscape

This story is part of our continuing coverage of CES 2020, including tech and gadgets from the showroom floor.

Sometimes the most interesting product news at CES flies under the radar. Such is the case with TCL’s revamped 6-Series TVs that will go on sale later in 2020. Though the company didn’t discuss model specifics in its press release, it turns out that the new 6-Series will have mini-LED backlighting, and that’s kind of a big deal. Here’s why:

The current video quality war in TVs is being fought by two competing technologies: QLED and OLED. For a full view of how these two kinds of TV displays compare, we’ve got a very helpful explainer. For now, however, the key thing to know is that QLED displays are the current kings of brightness (perfect for rooms with lots of ambient light), while OLED displays are the undisputed masters of black levels (that gorgeous inky kind of black that makes scenes set in space look like you’re peering out the window of a spaceship).

Naturally, a perfect display would capture the best parts of each technology, delivering a picture that is simultaneously ultra-bright, with perfect black levels and super-accurate color. We may see that type of perfection in the future, thanks to Samsung’s attempts at building a hybrid QLED-OLED display known as QD-OLED, but that is still years away.

But late in 2019, TCL gave the TV market something new to consider. Its 8-Series TV became the first to use mini-LEDs as the backlight technology. Mini-LEDs (as the name suggests) are tiny LEDs — way smaller than the LEDs typically used on QLED backlights. Where a normal QLED TV placed hundreds of LEDs, the 8-Series was able to place thousands — or tens of thousands — of mini-LEDs. The result was dramatic: Thanks to extra control over local dimming that these tiny LEDs allowed, the 8-Series exhibited superb black levels. We’re talking almost-OLED-caliber black levels. And because it’s also a QLED TV, brightness is still its superpower.

It was an exciting moment, but the 8-Series couldn’t quite be called an OLED-killer. Off-angle viewing seemed to suffer, its excellent black areas still had a slightly perceptible halo-effect near bright areas of the screen, and then there’s the question of price: The 8-Series 65-inch model was only $100 less than LG’s comparably-sized C9 OLED TV.

So now we’ve finally arrived at why we’re excited for the new TCL 6-Series. This will be a second-generation effort for TCL’s mini-LED technology, and there’s every reason to believe that it will perform even better than its first kick at the can. If it has been able to improve on off-angle viewing, and maintained or improved black levels, it will be an even stronger contender in the fight with OLED. But the really big news would be if TCL can retain the prices that have made its previous 6-Series models such an amazing value.

When you consider that you can currently buy the current 65-inch 6-Series TCL 4K HDR QLED TV for just $800, it would be remarkable to see a mini-LED version selling for the same price one year from today.

Even at the 65-inch 6-Series’ regular price of $1,300, it would cost half the price of LG’s 65-inch C9 OLED.

It’s unlikely that even a mini-LED version of the 6-Series would equal OLED in terms of all of its outstanding picture qualities, but if it comes close — as we suspect it will — it will still be a game-changer in 4K HDR bang-for-the-buck value.

Of course, for now, this is speculation, but you can be sure that as soon as we get our hands on a review model, we’ll be back to give you a full report and let you know if all of this excitement is warranted.

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