TCL 6-Series 4K HDR TV Review: Heir to the value throne
“The TCL 6-Series is one of the finest TVs you can buy on a budget.”
- Bright HDR highlights
- Deep blacks
- Excellent color when calibrated
- Good motion handling
- Quick backlight system
- Lack of shadow detail
- Out-of-box color is skewed
- Potential for dirty screen effect
Of the 2018 TCL 6-Series (R617) TV I wrote, “If the unbelievably low price doesn’t convince you, the 6-Series’ picture quality will.”
The 2018 TCL 6-Series was all the confirmation I needed that TCL was on track to become the highest value TV model you could buy in the U.S. The 2017 P-Series (not to be confused with Vizio’s P-Series) caught me off guard and its replacement, the 2018 6-Series (or R617), was groundbreaking. Naturally, the 2019 6-Series (R625) reviewed here has been highly anticipated.
To be clear, TCL’s new 6-Series is an excellent TV, and for the price, it is even more remarkable. But … I’m just not getting those super-stoked feelings this time. Am I being unfair?
I’ve been asking myself this question over and over for the past few weeks and I’ve decided: Yeah, I’m being a little unfair.
As a TV reviewer, I get to see the best of the best, price-no-object TVs, so I know just how good a TV can be when you can afford to throw money at one like breadcrumbs to pigeons in the park. I also review TVs that most of us can afford to buy, and historically I haven’t expected them to come anywhere close to the flagship models. But then TCL came around and messed that review paradigm up with its TVs. I’ve had to reconsider what we should expect for our money when buying a TV because of TCL.
So, really, it’s TCL’s fault that I’m not as gobsmacked by the 2019 6-Series as I have been by preceding models. That may seem like a backhanded compliment, but I don’t mean it as one. TCL just painted itself in a corner in terms of how easily it could tug at my heartstrings.
I still throw the full weight of my recommendation behind this TV.
The bottom line: The TCL 2019 6-Series is every bit a high value, high-performance TV as its predecessors. It doesn’t get everything right, and I have some news at the end of this review that may surprise you, but I still throw the full weight of my recommendation behind this TV.
What’s new this year?
In two words: Quantum dots.
If you’re not familiar, quantum dots are used in televisions to expand their color gamut and color volume. This means more colors from the color palette can be displayed and it also means those colors are displayed with more depth and more brightness. These days, quantum dots are what help determine whether an LED TV is premium or not, and they are a good initial indication of whether a TV is going to be able to produce impressive high dynamic range (HDR) images.
Unfortunately, one can not just throw quantum dots into a TV and simply enjoy better performance.
For the 2019 TCL 6-series, we do see significant expansion of the color gamut and some meaningful, if not more slight, increase in color volume. This is good news for folks who enjoy 4K HDR content, be it from Netflix, Amazon, or 4K HDR Blu-ray discs. For folks watching regular old cable or satellite, or still pulling out a standard Blu-ray or DVD, this improvement is not as meaningful.
Unfortunately, one can not just throw quantum dots into a TV and simply enjoy better performance. There’s an art to this technology and based on the out-of-box color performance, TCL hasn’t quite figured it out. The out-of-box settings leave colors a little wonky. Will most folks notice? I’m not sure. But I saw it without taking measurements. To be sure, video enthusiasts should hire a calibrator, because once this TV has been professionally adjusted, it’s color performance is exemplary.
By the way, if your calibrator seems to be grumbling under their breath while working on this TV, it’s because they have to go through the Roku TV app in order to make all the essential adjustments and the workflow is not … well, it’s not what most folks are used to.
How’s that HDR performance?
Somewhat surprisingly, the new 2019 6-Series has a slightly lower peak brightness than its 2018 predecessor. By slight, I mean less than 100 nits lower across various test patterns. Is this enough to make a real difference for most viewers? I don’t think so. I suppose with the right scenes, you could perceive a difference between the two TVs if placed side-by-side, but unless you are a specs geek, I wouldn’t weight this factor too heavily.
HDR performance isn’t purely a matter of peak brightness capabilities, though. I think there’s a tendency to hone in on brightness abilities because it’s much easier to pick up on less-than-sparkling performance than it is a lack of shadow detail/fine grey gradients, but if you’ve ever watched a TV where you know there should be something to see other than a big pool of black, then you know what I’m referring to here. Unfortunately, I feel like the latest 6-Series suffers in this regard where its predecessor didn’t, and it’s this step backward that gives me some pause.
Overall this is a very enjoyable TV to watch, but I noticed while watching dark shows in Dolby Vision — Netflix’s Ozark or Mindhunter, for example — that some scenes were very challenging to watch. In the video review above, I do my best to show this effect, but between limitations in camera equipment or the display you watch it on, it will be tough to see. To be fair, I found the Vizio M-Series Quantum didn’t do much better, so it is possible that the Dolby Vision mastering for these titles is simply not friendly to anything but the most capable displays, but I have watched these shows on many other TVs and not found myself struggling to make out essential details.
Is the screen clean?
Those of you who are into TV reviews and general TV tech are well acquainted with the term “dirty screen effect.” The problem comes from a sub-optimal LCD panel that doesn’t display greyscale with uniformity across the screen. This can manifest in several ways: Darker corners, vertical banding, or general blotchiness. The latter of those three seems less common today, but we’ve seen plenty of vertical banding and vignetting in the corners over the past few years, including with the 65-inch TCL 6-Series we reviewed last year. Compounding the issue of dirty screen effect is that it is inconsistent from unit to unit. For example, the 75-inch 6-Series we reviewed last year was pretty clean.
Fortunately, we got a very clean R625 to review from TCL, but that was no accident. Manufacturers typically evaluate review samples before they are sent out, and given that the first sample I received was apparently damaged in shipping, I am even more convinced the review unit I got had been gone over with a fine-toothed comb.
I am far less convinced that this will be the case for consumers. The so-called “panel lottery” is still a thing in this modern day of quality control, so as much as I hate to say it, I do think it is a good idea to prepare yourself for the possibility of having to exchange a TV if you happen to get one of the few that has this “dirty screen.”
How will you know? Well, if you don’t notice anything then you should be perfectly fine, but if you want to check to be sure, pull up sports with a lot of uniform color. I like using hockey, golf, tennis, or football (U.S. or European!) as they all have wide swathes of green, brown, or white which will expose any hazy spots.
How’s it sound
You don’t buy a TV for how it sounds these days — most of them are pretty unimpressive — but if you have no interest in buying a soundbar or connecting a full-on home theater speaker system, you will rely on the TV’s onboard sound and I think you should know how it ranks.
Fortunately, the 2019 TCL 6-Series doesn’t sound terrible, and that’s praise enough. The dialogue is clear, and sound effects don’t get in the way or distort. The Vizio M-Series Quantum on the other hand? Yuck. You will be needing to factor the cost of a soundbar in with the TV because it’s not worth listening to on its own. Fortunately, Vizio makes some terrific low-cost soundbars.
Anyway, back to the TCL: Its sound is perfectly serviceable, so don’t feel like a soundbar is a necessary accessory.
I can’t recommend this TV as an outstanding gaming display for a few reasons: Crushed blacks, no auto low latency mode, and no variable refresh rate. If you want a world-class gaming display look at an LG OLED or Samsung QLED TV. Still, if you’re a more casual gamer, this TV should do just fine thanks to impressively low input lag.
Good ‘ole Roku
Those of you who regularly read my TV reviews (thanks, folks!) already know I am an unapologetic fan of Roku. For those who aren’t aware, I think Roku TVs are among the easiest to use now that virtually every TV today is a smart TV. For those who have to get used to a new way of doing things, Roku offers the path of least resistance.
And lest you think I’m just playing to the most common denominator, let me clarify that I think Roku offers the best overall streaming TV experience you can get, whether it is baked into the TV as it is here, or comes through one of Roku’s streaming sticks or boxes. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!
The TCL 2019 6-Series (R625), with an MSRP of $599, is an outstanding choice for the average viewer and a solid choice for the TV enthusiast on a budget. Sparkling HDR highlights, impressive color when calibrated, deep black levels, and mostly impressive contrast make for a TV which, once again, punches above its price class. My excitement is quelled by a lack of shadow detail due to crushed blacks, and I wish the color was a bit more accurate with out-of-the-box settings, which is why this TV gets a 3.5 instead of a 4 this year.
I wholly recommend purchasing this TV for folks who look forward to watching 4K HDR content with improved color information, but if all you’re going to watch is cable or satellite TV, I’d scoop up a 2018 TCL 6-Series (R-617) instead. And besides, if you want a 75-inch model, the newer R625 isn’t yet an option.
Is there a better alternative?
If there’s a competitive option to the TCL 6-Series in terms of picture quality this year, it would have to be the Vizio P-Series Quantum (not to be confused with the P-Series Quantum X, which is excellent, but way more expensive). The Quantum costs more than the TCL, but it’s higher backlight zone count and peak brightness make for a punchier image, and the out-of-box color setting are a bit more accurate. At this price, however, the 6-Series (R625) is nearly impossible to beat.
How long will it last?
The R625 isn’t a TV that offers the latest HDMI 2.1 features, so it is not as future-proofed as competing sets from LG and Samsung. Still, for all but the earliest adopters, I think this TV is a very fine choice.
TCL offers a one-year warranty against defects in materials or workmanship to the original owner of the television if purchased from an authorized retailer.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The TCL 2019 6-Series (R625) is one of the finest TVs you can buy for the money.
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