TCL put itself on the map in the U.S. when it launched its first 6-series TV in 2018. Along came its 8K mini-LED series in 2019, then it dropped another bomb last year when it brought mini-LED to its 6-series — meanwhile, other brands still hadn’t come forward with their own mini-LED sets. I think it’s fair to say the stakes are pretty high for TCL this year at CES 2021. Can they score another first?
Spoiler alert: Yes
Let’s start with the 6-Series. In case you don’t recall, TCL brought out the 6-Series in 2018 and it was a hit. In 2019 the 6-Series got quantum dots and performed even better. Then in 2020, TCL gave it mini-LED backlight technology and it took another big step up. All the while, prices for this hot TV series stayed low. So, what’s new for the 6-Series in 2021? One number followed by one letter: 8K
I can see how this news might actually be upsetting for some, but don’t worry. The first thing you need to know is that the 4K 6-series isn’t going anywhere this year. There will still be the existing 4K 6-series through 2021 and the new 8K 6-Series will come out later this year. TCL assured me that just because they are going 8K with the 6-Series doesn’t mean they are planning on doing any price gouging, either. The 6-Series will firmly remain in the bang-for-your-buck category.
There’s more coming for mini-LED. TCL has a new version of its mini-LED backlight technology that it is calling OD-Zero. For now, don’t worry about what OD means; the key takeaway here is that TCL has figured out how to make mini-LED backlight systems that are super slim, so now we’re going to see mini-LED backlit TVs with remarkably thin profiles. Perhaps not OLED thin, but far better than we’ve seen from an LED TV in a long time.
OD-Zero also runs on tens of thousands of mini-LEDs with thousands of control zones, so in theory, we could be seeing black level control that gets extremely close to OLED, but at a much lower price. At this time, however, we do not know into which TVs the new OD-Zero tech will be found.
I’m excited to see the new 6-Series even more than I have been in the past. I guess that was TCL’s intent and … well, it worked.
The next big piece of news from TCL is that it is going big. Sound familiar? I know, we’re seeing lots of big screens coming out of CES 2021, but this is TCL’s first foray into 85-inch TVs, which is exciting because I’m pretty sure they are going to be producing the most affordable 85-inch set you can get in 2021 — and the quality should be very good.
All told, there are three 85-inch XL models. One will be a 4-series TV, which means a simple, big, relatively low-priced option given the size. The next step up looks to be a 5-Series variant, though TCL doesn’t say that specifically. All the company has said at this time is that it will be 4K HDR with Quantum Dots, but not mini-LED, which looks a lot like the 5-series. Then there will be the 8K 85-inch version which will get mini-LED technology. We’ll have to see what they end up calling that model and whether it gets OD-Zero.
What you are not hearing about right now is Vidrian, which was TCL’s big thing last year. It was an 8K mini-LED TV that used glass to eliminate a bunch of layers and make a thinner TV. TCL didn’t say as much, but I gather OD-Zero made mini-LED TVs much thinner on its own and was less expensive to produce than Vidrian. So, no Vidrian this year, at least not yet, but I wouldn’t count it out entirely.
A super-thin 85-inch 8K, mini-LED, OD-Zero TVsounds pretty awesome, though probably expensive, even if it is TCL.
Aside from TVs, TCL is also bringing a new round of soundbars to the mix, and, yes, Dolby Atmos is involved.
The first of the soundbar lineup is the Alto R1. This is TCL’s entry-level soundbar, so it will not have surround speakers or a wireless subwoofer, but it is designed to work with Roku TVs to be completely wireless — no need for an optical or HDMI cable. It uses Roku’s wireless Wi-Fi protocol for latency-free streaming. It also has Bluetooth for streaming from another device, and all the audio controls are integrated so you can just use your TV’s remote.
The next one coming is the Alto 82i, which is TCL’s first Atmos-enabled soundbar. It’s also a single bar with dual built-in subwoofers and support for Google Assistant, Amazon you-know-who, Apple Airplay 2, and Spotify Connect. This product should come out in the fall.
Finally, two more Atmos soundbars will make an appearance later this year. An Atmos bar with a wireless subwoofer, and another Atmos bar with wireless sub and wireless Atmos surrounds.
TCL is new to the audio space, but if it does with soundbars what it has done with TVs, we could be looking at some pretty compelling options, especially with the wireless TV connection.
If the pressure was on TCL to impress, I think it did pretty well.
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