“TCL's 6-Series brings astonishingly good picture quality to the masses.”
- Very good brightness
- Excellent black levels
- Sharp mini-LED backlight control
- Excellent HDR color
- THX Certified Game Mode
- Complicated picture settings
- Capped at 1440p for 120Hz games
- SDR color a bit off
TCL’s 2020 6-Series (R635) is capable of providing astonishingly good picture quality while seriously undercutting the competition in price, making it worthy to remain as one of the best TVs under $1000 this year. But you’re going to have to work for it.
The latest in a three-year run at being the best value in 4K HDR TV, the 2020 TCL 6-Series adds Mini-LED backlight technology, gamer-friendly features, and Roku TV, which combine to offer performance not seen before in a 65-inch TV costing $900, or a 55-inch model costing $650. In fact, I’d argue that, based on performance alone, the new 6-Series is the best case yet that you need not spend a penny over $1,000 to get an outstanding TV.
The only problem is that the 6-Series, just like the 2019 5-Series TV, requires jumping through enough picture settings hoops that I worry many people may not get to experience the best it has to offer. Year after year, TV manufacturers point to research that indicates most people don’t change the picture settings on their TVs after purchase, and in the case of the 6-Series, that could leave many users getting a fraction of the performance of which this TV is capable.
Still, if you’re willing to put in some time and play around in the sandbox, so to speak, the TCL 6-Series can be a remarkably rewarding TV.
While we reviewed the 65-inch 65R635 model, our review also applies to the 55-inch, and 75-inch models.
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These days, I’m more surprised when a TV doesn’t come out of the box looking sleek and stylish. It seems that, for all but the most inexpensive TV’s, nearly invisible bezels and attractive build materials are now the default. So, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t surprised to find the 6-Series defying what used to be conventional wisdom that affordable TVs tend to look a little cheap compared to their costlier cousins.
Indeed, the 2020 6-Series is a smart-looking smart TV, with nearly invisible bezels at the top and sides, and a modest, brushed-metal border along the bottom. In what is perhaps the smallest but most meaningful design change, the typical circular power button next to the Roku logo has been banished and replaced with a less-conveniently reached power button on the back. I’ll take the trade-off for the cleaner look.
Included with the TV is a smattering of paper product literature, two AAA batteries, a Roku voice remote, two legs, four screws, and a composite video breakout cable.
If you intend to stand mount, getting the 6-Series’ legs installed is a no-brainer. Line up each leg’s three little nubs with those on the bottom of the TV, screw in the provided Phillips head screws, and you’re done.
Before final stand placement or wall-mounting is complete, there’s quite a bit of clear protective plastic to remove. Once that’s handled, you’re ready to embark on the long road to TV-watching readiness.
Perhaps my memory is failing me, but it seems to me like Roku TVs used to take less time to get set up than they do today. I also feel like the Roku setup experience, in general, is ready for some improvement. Here’s what you’re in for, and how I’d like to see things improved.
Connected to Ethernet, it took about 12 minutes total to go through Roku’s setup wizard. You’ll need a computer or mobile device with internet access and either an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection to the internet to proceed.
After visiting a Roku setup link on your computer or mobile device, you’ll enter a code provided on the TV screen. The TV will then download and install the latest Roku OS update, powering down, and then back up, in the process.
You’ll be taken through a series of setup questions, presumably aimed at getting the necessary apps installed on the television. From there, you have the option to tell Roku what kind of content genres you enjoy, again presumably to customize which apps are installed on the television. After entering all this information, the TV will go into a download-and-install process. Don’t be shocked if the on-screen message says it is downloading and installing some 92 apps, as was my experience.
Here’s the thing: I don’t need all those apps preinstalled, nor do I want to wait around for their installation. After answering all those setup questions, its as if the TV just goes about installing what it wants to. It’s perplexing.
What’s more frustrating is that the apps aren’t arranged in any kind of order that makes sense to me. You’ll want to take some time moving the apps into your desired order. I’d love it if Roku could reference my existing account and app arrangement and implement that on any new Roku device I set up — or at least make that an option.
Adding to the time commitment involved in setup, it takes a while to go through all the apps to which I subscribe and enter usernames and passwords. I’d be just fine if Roku accessed that information from prior setups and implemented them in any new Roku device I set up, thus saving me tons of time and frustration.
The Roku OS does allow you to label your inputs and name them “Cable Box,” “Game Console,” “Blu-Ray,” etc., but unlike many Samsung and LG TV’s, it isn’t smart enough to identify them and automatically label them.
Once up and running, Roku TV is plenty easy to use. It’s just that getting up and running can be irksome.
While those previous complaints are squarely the responsibility of Roku TV OS, the issue I take with the TCL 6-Series picture settings feels like a joint responsibility between TCL and Roku.
I don’t typically dig too deep into picture settings in my TV reviews because, conventionally, the process is straightforward. On nearly any other platform — Android TV, LG’s WebOS, Samsung’s Tizen, for example — the Movie, Cinema, ISF, or Technicolor picture preset is by far the most accurate and, thus, pleasing to my eye. Choosing one of those presets and then disabling any motion smoothing features is usually all that’s required.
Surprisingly, this has turned out not to be the case with the last couple of TCL TVs I’ve reviewed. In contrast, the Movie preset looks dull and overly warm for SDR content — that includes cable, satellite, standard Blu-Ray discs, and any non-HDR content available from streaming services. There’s a lack of punchy contrast, and colors appear muted and overly warm.
Rather than go on about how odd this is, I’d rather just explain which settings I chose to get the best results.
For SDR, access the picture settings menu by pressing the asterisk button while watching SDR content — again this would be a cable/satellite channel, standard Blu-ray or DVD, or streaming content that is not marked HDR or Dolby Vision on its title screen. Scroll to picture settings and note that the TV is in low-power mode. Turn this off by selecting the Normal picture preset. From there, scroll down and choose Warm for the color temperature, then turn Action Smoothing and Action Clarity. Those last two add the “soap opera effect” that I don’t care for.
For HDR and Dolby Vision, the process will be similar. Start a piece of HDR content on YouTube or with an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, then select the Normal HDR picture mode, color temperature to warm, and disable Action Smoothing and Action Clarity.
For Dolby Vision, go to Netflix and start a title with Dolby Vision indicated in the title screen, and choose either Normal Dolby Vision or Bright Dolby Vision, color temperature to warm, and Action Smoothing and Action Clarity off. Keep in mind you will have to repeat this for any input that will be fed an HDR or Dolby Vision signal.
Given the menu navigation is difficult to describe here, I recommend watching the video at the top of this post. There, I walk through the entire process.
Note that you will have to go through this process for each input, including apps, and for SDR, HDR, and possibly Dolby Vision within each input. It’s an involved process and one for which I fear most folks will not have patience.
Therein lies the conundrum. I’m sure that selecting whatever picture preset that looks good to a given viewer is going to be sufficient for many people, but given this TV is something of a darling among TV enthusiasts and high on the radar of many buyers who do research and find it at the top of many best-of lists, I worry some will get it home and wonder why they aren’t blown away by the picture quality.
With the correct picture settings in place, the TCL 6-Series performs very well, though with a little more user control, I think it could look even better. I’ve reached out to TCL for some clarification about what’s happening under the hood with regard to picture settings, and I’ll update this section accordingly.
For now, I can only report on the results of what I deem to be the best achievable picture settings by a consumer, which I’ve detailed above.
First, some quick specs for those who enjoy them. Using a SpectraCal C6 meter profiled by an Xrite i1 Pro 2 and CalMan software, I measured the TCL’s 6-Series’ peak brightness in SDR mode at 700 nits, and in HDR10 at just shy of 1000 nits (using the standard 10% window).
For me, this is plenty of brightness for most viewing scenarios. Only in the brightest of rooms might I want more, and if you did want a brighter TV for around the same price, I’d point you directly toward the Hisense H9G Quantum.
I deem the black levels on this TV to be excellent, with good preservation of shadow detail, which I found the Hisense H9G struggled with in my testing. In addition, using the settings I chose, I got very little halo around bright objects on dark backgrounds. This assists in maintaining impressive contrast, particularly when letterbox bars are present.
The brightness, black levels, and overall backlight control can be attributed to TCL’s pioneering work in Mini-LED technology, which is employed in the 6-Series this year, but was reserved for the 8K 8-Series last year. For those unfamiliar, Mini-LED backlighting is a much more precise version of the standard LED backlight tech we’ve seen for years. In short, while a standard LED-backlit TV might have a full array of just hundreds of LEDs, Mini-LED uses tens of thousands of much smaller LED lights.
It’s not enough just have lots more tiny lights at work. They must be controlled well to enhance the viewing experience, and I have found they are indeed controlled well by the TCL 6-series’ processing. I didn’t witness any sluggish reaction times as scenes brightened and dimmed. In fact, in some very challenging fade-in tests, the 6-Series performed exceptionally well.
Out-of-box color reproduction is a little off in SDR, with reds and oranges a little oversaturated. A professional TV calibrator can correct this, but hiring someone to do color correction takes away from the value of the TV. Beyond the SDR color, though, I found HDR10 and Dolby Vision color to be excellent, right out of the box. If you want a more accurate out-of-box color experience, you’ll need to pay $500 more for the Sony X900H and be prepared to sacrifice some brightness.
Motion on the 6-Series is excellent, with no perceived judder or stutter on 24, 30, or 60 frames per second (fps) content. The 6-Series also avoids moiré, screen-door, and other common picture-processing errors. I fortunately also got a very uniform panel, with no blotches or dim areas causing what we call dirty screen effect. Altogether, the picture was exceptionally clean.
As for upscaling lower-resolution 720p and 1080p content to 4K, the 6-Series does just fine. As I often say, this upscaling can’t work miracles, but it ably takes cable/satellite and DVD content and makes it look good on-screen. Native 4K content, however, is rendered extremely well.
On the whole, the TCL 6-Series has remarkable picture quality, especially for the price. I just wish it was more easily attained, sans all the hyper-specific picture settings required.
When it comes to the 6-Series’ gaming potential, I have good news and slightly disappointing news. The good news is that the TV’s THX Certified Game Mode looks fantastic. Aside from perhaps the Sony X900H and X900G, no other TV comes close in terms of color accuracy and color temperature, never mind the smooth motion and generally clean processing.
Another feather in the 6-Series’ cap for gaming is the way its micro-LED backlighting provides deep blacks while also preserving shadow detail in low-light areas, which is particularly handy for competitive first-person shooter gaming.
— THX (@THX) August 26, 2020
The TV does also support AMD FreeSync variable refresh rate capability, and that goes right up to 120Hz. However, the HDMI ports on the 6-Series do not support enough bandwidth to get both 120Hz refresh rate and 4K resolution. So if you want to game at 120Hz using next-gen gaming consoles, resolution will be capped at 1440p. With many competitors like the Samsung Q80T and all of LG OLEDs offering 4K at 120Hz gaming, this feels like a missed opportunity.
Frankly, it breaks my heart not to give this TV 4.5 or even 5 out of 5 stars. It gets so close, and if TCL can address what I feel is an extremely complex picture settings process, I will adjust my score. Otherwise, the TCL 6-Series is an exceptional TV, seriously undercutting the competition, and bringing premium-tier picture quality to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.
Is there a better alternative?
The only TV that can touch the TCL 6-Series in its price category is the Hisense H9G, for just $50 more (at the time this review was written). The Hisense is a much more bold TV, with higher brightness and a slightly more punchy HDR experience. But the H9G lacks the solid gaming features found in the 6-Series, meaning gamers will want to stick with TCL.
How long will it last?
If the 6-Series offered 4K gaming at 120Hz, I’d say it would last longer than you’ll need it to. Without full support for everything the upcoming Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are capable of, I can’t say it is perfectly future-proofed, but that is a very specific gripe. For the vast majority of users, the TCL 6-Series should offer years of enjoyment.
TCL offers a one-year parts and labor warranty from the date of purchase for non-commercial use. You can learn more at TCL’s TV warranty page.
Should you buy it
Yes. The TCL 6-Series is an excellent television, especially given its price. A little work needs to be put in to get the best picture quality, but with our guidance and a little time, excellence is achievable.
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