TCL 6-Series QLED TV Review: believe the hype

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Like last year’s 6-Series, the new-and-improved model offers sensational, quantum-dot-powered brightness and color, the best smart platform in the game, and a host of hardware features that go far beyond the standard-issue set you’re likely to find in budget TVs. Considering how well the 6-Series apes the abilities of TVs that cost twice as much, it’s a top value pick this year.

There are some concessions to mention, however: The TV’s design isn’t the swankiest, its built-in speakers aren’t that great, and it won’t quite set you up for a fully-loaded, next-generation gaming experience. But honestly, these are nitpicks—the TCL 6-Series is a sensational value proposition for all but the most dedicated A/V fanatics. You’re getting some of the best performance available in this particular price bracket as well as a host of thoughtful additions that’ll keep you covered for years to come.

About the TCL 6-Series

Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

The 2020 TCL 6-Series is a Roku TV, which means that every size in the series arrives with the Roku smart platform built right into the TV’s software—no external streaming device required.

The TCL 6-Series is available in three sizes: 55 inches, 65 inches, and 75 inches. Our review unit is a 55-inch model that we purchased from an online retailer. Being a quantum dot TV, TCL refers to the 6-Series as a “QLED” TV.

TVs belonging to the same series tend to perform similarly so long as there’s no major differences between each model’s display hardware. Each size in the 6-Series features a mini-LED display (more on this later), each with its own LED-zone count. Although the difference in local dimming zones could lead to some contrast variance, the zone count scales with screen size and does not change dramatically from one size to the next. In other words, we don’t expect there to be too much of a difference between the 55-inch 6-Series’ performance and that of the 65- and 75-inch models.

Here’s how each of the sizes in the series shakes out in terms of pricing and zone count:

  • 55-inch (TCL 55R635), MSRP $650 (128 local dimming zones)
  • 65-inch (TCL 65R635), MSRP $900 (160 local dimming zones)
  • 75-inch (TCL 75R635), MSRP $1,400 (240 local dimming zones)

The TCL 6-Series is a Roku TV, so each size in the series comes with the Roku streaming platform built into the TV’s software. In addition, each 6-Series comes with the easy-to-use, voice-enabled Roku remote.

Here are some key features shared by every size in the 6-Series:

  • Resolution: 4K (3,840 x 2,160)
  • Display: Mini-LED, full-array local dimming (up to 240 LED zones)
  • HDR support: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
  • Dolby Atmos passthrough: Yes, including HDMI eARC for full resolution to supported devices
  • Native refresh rate: 120 Hz
  • Smart platform: Yes (Roku)
  • Color: DCI-P3/10-bit color space
  • Other features: Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), Variable Refresh Rate (VRR, from 48 Hz to 120 Hz)

Avid gamers will be happy to note that the TCL 6-Series features a native refresh rate of 120 Hz (up to 1440p at 120 Hz) and supports Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM). In addition, when compatible gaming consoles and PCs are connected to the 6-Series, the TV automatically turns on something called THX Certified Game Mode, a suite of settings and features designed to improve the gaming experience. It promises low input lag and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), which minimizes screen tearing during video game play.

Performance Data

TCL 6-Series (2020) With HDR Content 2

Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

After giving the TCL 6-Series our usual pre-testing warm-up time, we tested its SDR and HDR performance in several different picture modes. For most of our review, we’ll be looking at the 6-Series performance in TCL’s “Movie” picture mode for SDR and its “Normal” picture mode for HDR.

Before testing each TV, we make sure the panel is on and receiving a continuous signal for several hours, which allows the TV’s pixels plenty of time to warm up.

For SDR tests, we used TCL’s “Movie” picture setting. For HDR tests, we took readings using TCL’s “Normal” HDR picture mode, its “Bright” HDR picture mode, and its “Dark” HDR picture mode. The HDR test results outlined here were taken in the TV’s “Normal” HDR picture mode, but contrast readings varied slightly from one HDR picture mode to the next.

We use a standard ANSI checkerboard pattern for most of our basic contrast tests—including the ones reported below—but we also use white and black windows ranging from 2% to 90% to test how well the contrast holds up while displaying varying degrees of brightness.

I’ll expand on our test results throughout the review, but for now, here are some key takeaways:

• HDR contrast (brightness/black level): 580.3 nits/0.09 nits (ANSI checkerboard, “Normal” HDR picture mode)
• SDR contrast (brightness/black level): 478 nits/0.058 nits (ANSI checkerboard, “Movie” SDR picture mode)
• HDR peak brightness: 959.3 nits (50% white window, “Normal” HDR picture mode)

• HDR color gamut coverage: 96% (DCI-P3/10-bit)
• SDR color gamut coverage: 99% (Rec.709)

Connectivity

The TCL 6-Series is equipped with a collection of inputs that ought to be more than enough for casual users and just good enough for serious AV enthusiasts determined to future-proof their living room. Here’s what you’ll find on the back of the panel:

• 4x HDMI 2.0 ports (1x eARC)
• 1x USB 2.0 ports
• LAN ethernet port, RF input, optical audio output, 3.5mm audio jack

The 6-Series does not feature HDMI 2.1 ports, but given its upper-mid-range status, that’s not exactly surprising—we’ve only reviewed a few TVs this year that actually carry the spec, and these TVs were firmly in the high-end price range.

If you’re hoping to lock down HDMI 2.1 ports for their ongoing advantages, however, the 6-Series might represent a decent compromise, as many of these advantages (ALLM, VRR) are accounted for. That said, the 6-Series will not accept a true 4K signal at 120 Hz—the 120 Hz refresh rate tops out at 1440p.

What We Like

Quantum-dot brightness and color

TCL 6-Series (2020) With HDR Content 4

Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

The TCL 6-Series produces bright, voluminous color, covering 96% of the expanded P3 color gamut—quite impressive for a mid-range TV.

We loved what quantum dots brought to the table for the 2019 TCL 6-Series, and for this year’s 6-Series, TCL married quantum dots with its mini-LED technology, which was previously only found on the 2019 TCL 8-Series, the company’s flagship. Essentially, mini-LEDs are exactly what they sound like: very small LEDs. By grouping together a higher number of smaller LEDs, the brighter picture elements interfere less with the darker elements—and vice versa. TCL has demonstrated that this technology can have an impact on contrast performance, and while this year’s 6-Series doesn’t have nearly as many LED zones as TCL’s 2019 flagship, it nevertheless demonstrates better contrast control than its namesake from last year.

When we gave the TCL 6-Series an HDR signal while the TV was in its “Normal” HDR picture mode, we clocked its peak brightness at 959 nits while displaying a white box taking up 50% of the screen. In the TV’s “Dark” HDR picture mode, this number climbed as high as 1,065 nits. Of course, these measurements were taken while the TV was displaying a testing pattern, and these patterns are a standardized measurement of a TV’s potential. In normal use, a picture’s contrast will fluctuate depending on the type of content being displayed.

TCL 6-Series (2020) With HDR Content 3

Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

The TCL 6-Series can’t produce the near-perfect black levels of an OLED display, but it handles dark content quite well, and its overall contrast is bolstered by quantum dots and mini-LEDs.

Even so, it’s a fantastic set of test results for a 55-inch TV priced at $650. The TCL 6-Series will perform tremendously well in rooms that receive a heavy dose of ambient light during the day and it’ll look even better in the dark. Supporting these searing highlights are black levels that hold steady in the 0.05- to 0.09-nit range. It won’t produce the inky shadow tones of an OLED display, but the TV’s average brightness does more than enough to make up for its middling black levels.

Another benefit of quantum dots can be seen in the 6-Series’ color output, which is also seriously impressive for a mid-range TV. According to our lab tests, the 6-Series covers 99% of the Rec.709 color gamut and an impressive 96% of the extra-wide DCI-P3/10-bit color space, which means users will actually see improved color performance during certain HDR content like 4K/HDR Blu-rays and next-generation video games.

Gaming-centric features

In many ways, the 6-Series’ upgrading its native refresh rate from 60 Hz to 120 Hz is really all it needed to do in order to be a better gaming TV than its 2019 predecessor, but TCL went a couple steps further this year when it comes to recruiting gamers. It’s not quite loaded for bear in the way it would be if it were equipped with HDMI 2.1 ports, but in the absence of HDMI 2.1 support, this feels like the best we’re gonna get—at least for now.

The 6-Series features a suite of enhancements called THX Certified Game Mode, which turn on automatically whenever the 6-Series detects a supported game console or PC. In essence, this is a collection of software features—including some that are typically associated with HDMI 2.1 support, like Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), the latter of which reduces screen tearing and artifacts during video games. It doesn’t support AMD’s proprietary VRR feature, FreeSync, but what’s here should behave similarly. Without HDMI 2.1 support, the 6-Series won’t be able to display 4K content at 120 FPS (whenever such content comes to consumers down the line), but it does support 120 FPS up to a resolution of 1440p.

In other words, if you’re planning on buying a Playstation 5 or Xbox Series X later this year, you can consider the 6-Series to be a pretty good compromise, all things considered.

Our favorite smart platform

TCL 6-Series (2020) Roku Smart Platform

Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

Being a Roku TV, the TCL 6-Series comes with our favorite smart platform built right into the TV’s out-of-the-box software. You’ll find support for the usual suspects (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Video) and plenty more via the Roku channel library.

Roku streaming devices are known for their simple, easy-to-navigate user interfaces and zippy response time, and the Roku platform built into the TCL 6-Series is no exception—the apps, inputs, and menu options are neatly arranged, and cycling through the Roku menu options couldn’t be easier.

In many ways, given its speed and simplicity, the Roku experience is one that can be appreciated by both casual users and nerds like myself who spend hours a day bickering about TV specs online. Roku software might not be as flexible as, say, the Android OS on a high-end smart TV, but it’s easy to comprehend within seconds of picking up the remote. This all adds up to what we feel is the best, most well-rounded smart platform experience in the industry right now.

If you already own a Roku streaming device, the TCL 6-Series can potentially replace it. If you don’t already own a Roku box or stick, you’re probably going to wonder how you got by for so long with anything else.

What We Don’t Like

Garden-variety design

TCL 6-Series (2020) Design Panel

Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

The panel itself isn’t exactly slim, but the tradeoff here is full-array local dimming and over a hundred LED zones.

A TV’s overall design obviously isn’t the most important things in the world, but we were a bit disappointed with the 6-Series’ chunky, utilitarian design. The bezels are narrow—though not notably so—and the bottom of the panel is accented with a silver, brushed-metal-style texture that doesn’t extend past the bottom of the TV. The panel itself isn’t nearly as slim as the ones you’ll find on posher, more expensive TVs, but I suspect that this is about as slim as a mid-range TV can get when it’s loaded up with full-array LEDs.

TCL 6-Series (2020) Roku TV Logo

Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

The bottom of the TCL 6-Series’ panel is accented with a brushed-metal-style texture.

Beneath the panel are two boomerang-shaped feet that seemingly adhere to the same worn-out style guide that’s been passed from one engineering team to the next for the last four or five years. These feet make up the TV’s integrated cable management system, too, since they’re capable of hiding the TV’s connected cables. Overall, I’d characterize the 6-Series design as “sturdy, but not swanky.” In fairness, these design elements are popular because they’re easy to configure and keep the real estate below the TV free for additional equipment, but it would be nice to turn the page on some of these design philosophies one of these days.

One thing worth noting (which we really appreciate, actually) is that the 65- and 75-inch versions of the TCL 6-Series offer a second pair of slots for the TV’s feet that sit closer to the center of the panel, so anyone who opts for one of those larger sizes will have the option to arrange the stand situation into something more manageable for narrower surfaces. I don’t find that this setup improves the look of the TV at a glance, but like I said: utilitarian.

TCL 6-Series (2020) Design Stand Feet

Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

The 6-Series’ stands tall atop two boomerang-shaped feet. On the 65- and 75-inch versions of the 6-Series, you’ll find a second pair of slots for these feet that sit closer to the center of the panel. This is to accommodate the placement on narrow surfaces.

Built-in speakers that cry out for an external audio solution

There’s no way around it: although the 6-Series—which houses two 8-watt speakers—gets reasonably loud, the sound quality itself is quite rough. To our ears, it sounds like the TV’s low-end audio production muddies the mids and highs in any given mix, which often leads to dialogue that’s hard to make out.

In lieu of a complicated surround sound system, we recommend pairing a TV like the TCL 6-Series with a decent soundbar, especially when movie night rolls around. Fortunately, we recently revamped our round-up of the best soundbars of 2020, should you need any recommendations.

Should You Buy It?

Yes—this is one of the most value-packed TVs of the year

TCL 6-Series (2020) With SDR Content

Credit: Reviewed / TJ Donegan

The 2020 TCL 6-Series blows away entry-level TVs, outshines nearly all of its similarly priced mid-range competitors, and even manages to give high-end TVs a run for their money. It’s one of the best TVs of the year.

A TV like the 6-Series will inevitably have some tradeoffs, but rarely do I encounter a TV with so few tradeoffs relative to its asking price. There are plenty of entry-level TVs that are more affordable than 6-Series, but when you compare the difference in cost to the difference in performance, it’s almost silly; for not much more than some of the most prominent budget-friendly TVs on the market, the 6-Series performs several times better.

Let’s look at it another way. There are better-performing, high-end TVs than the 6-Series, but when you compare the difference in cost to the difference in performance, the results tell the opposite story: The gap in dollars is much bigger than the gap in picture quality. As I sit here, I’m finding it hard to imagine plunking down nearly twice as much money on a top-shelf QLED TV that only gets somewhat brighter than the 6-Series and whose smart platform experience doesn’t come close to Roku’s.

Even when kept within its own mid-range price bracket, the 6-Series still casts a long shadow. The 55-inch Samsung TU8000, for instance, is $50 less than the 55-inch 6-Series, but the 6-Series eats that Samsung’s lunch when it comes to picture quality. Comparing the 6-Series to the Sony X800H is even more revealing: The 55-inch X800H costs $150 more than the 55-inch 6-Series but doesn’t perform as well and can’t come up with any of the 6-Series’ gamer-friendly features.

Did I mention that both the Samsung and the Sony don’t come with Roku?

There are still a handful of value-packed TVs set to release this year that ought to give the TCL 6-Series a run for its money when we finally review them (the newly upgraded Vizio M Series Quantum immediately comes to mind). We’re also excited to review the 2020 TCL 5-Series, a pared-down sibling of the 6-Series that went on sale at the same time and might prove to be a sensible alternative for shoppers who don’t necessarily need to be won over by an impressive spec sheet.

For now, believe the hype: The TCL 6-Series is a wildly good TV that’s poised to win over casual viewers and AV enthusiasts alike.

Meet the testers

Michael Desjardin

Michael Desjardin

Senior Staff Writer


@Reviewed

Michael Desjardin graduated from Emerson College after having studied media production and screenwriting. He specializes in tech for Reviewed, but also loves film criticism, weird ambient music, cooking, and food in general.

See all of Michael Desjardin’s reviews

Julia MacDougall

Julia MacDougall

Senior Scientist


@reviewed

Julia is the Senior Scientist at Reviewed, which means that she oversees (and continually updates) the testing of products in Reviewed’s core categories such as televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, and more. She also determines the testing methods and standards for Reviewed’s “The Best Right Now” articles.

See all of Julia MacDougall’s reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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