Review: TCL 65″ 6-Series 4K HDR Roku TV with Dolby Vision

TCL 6 Series TV with Dolby Vision AVS Forum Top Choice 2018

Introduction

Can you really get everything you need to enjoy TV, movies and console gaming in a 65″ UHD TV with HDR for under $1000? How about a 55″ TV, same features, for under $650? TCL’s answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!”, and it manifests in the form of its new 6-Series TVs: The 65″ 65R617 ($999.99) and the 55″ 55R617 ($649.99). These are not bare-bones models, either: These are HDR TVs that feature FALD backlighting, support for Dolby Vision as well as HDR10, and it’s all running on the robust Roku OS.

The 2018 6-Series is the successor to last year’s 55″ P-Series TV, but significantly improved the looks and performance. For 2018, TCL has wrapped the technology needed to achieve exceptional pressure quality in a package that features an attractive aluminum bezel, and upped the FALD zone count from 72 to 96, without raising the price of 55″ model.

And this year, the company is offering a 65 inch option with 120-zone FALD for $999, which is a rather disruptive price for TV of this capability. Just yesterday, a 65″ 6-Series review unit arrived at my doorstep. Unsurprisingly, I wasted no time getting it unpacked and sticking a meter on the screen.

You may be wondering “what’s the verdict?” after I’ve had a few hours with it? It’s “Wow!” No wonder TCL is such a fast-growing brand in North America, it’s providing a level of quality and features at an unprecedented price, at least for a 65″ TV. Today I’ll be live blogging as I go through the TVs modes, take some measurements, and check out a variety of content. This will be very interesting because TCL says that—given how few people ever get their TVs calibrated—the 6-Series will have accurate color right out of the box. Here’s the full scoop on that feature, called the iPQ engine:

“An iPQ engine is really designed to deliver accurate color out of the box without any need for calibration or any other settings adjustment by the customer. And there’s two elements that TCL is putting together to drive the iPQ engine technology: One, TCL one of three global TV brands that are vertically integrated; we produce the panel, we produce the backlight and we produce the whole module assembly.

“So, we understand the performance of every component that’s going into each TV since we’ve measured that earlier in the production process. Then, we have algorithm running on the TV, knowing the performance of those components. Therefore, we’re able to take out any slight variations that may contribute to color error in that tTV, without needing to have the customer do a calibration or adjust some other settings. You’re going to see out of the box, we’re trying to get as accurate color within the DCI/P3 color space accurate as possible, right out of the box.”


Giveaway (follow the link): Win a 55″ 6-series TCL 55R617 4K/UHD Roku TV with Dolby Vision!


Check out the full review below. Or, if you want to skip right to ordering one of these new TCL 6-Series TVs, which a number of people did the moment it went on sale, then…

Here are Amazon links for you:

TCL 65R617 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Roku Smart LED TV (2018 Model)

TCL 55R617 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD Roku Smart LED TV (2018 Model)

And here’s a Best Buy link for the R615 55″:

TCL – 55″ Class – LED – 2160p – 4K Ultra HD TV with HDR Roku TV (2018 Model)


Review

The 2018 65″ TCL 6-Series TV is a serious sign that China’s top TV maker is gunning for the top slot in the U.S. market that’s held by Samsung. Moreover, this is no abstract goal, given that TCL has quickly risen to become the number #3 brand in the nation for 2017 and “a steady #2″ for the past few months. The reason why is obvious, the company has made many savvy decisions like embracing Roku and FALD-LCD; consequently delivered a product that is fiercely competitive at its price point of $999 for a 65” TV.

Features and Specifications

The TCL 65R617 is a 65″ LED-lit LCD TV that features a 120-zone FALD (full-array local-dimming) backlight and support for HDR with WCG (wide color gamut). It uses a VA (vertically aligned) LCD panel for high contrast—when viewed at an optimal angle. TCL’s “NBP Photon” phosphor-LEDs provide the 65R617 with expanded color palette and HDR brightness levels.

TCL’s top TV for video enthusiasts supports HDR playback of both HDR10 and Dolby Vision content, be it from an external source or from built-in apps. It is fully calibratable in both SDR and HDR modes, but also comes with quite accurate picture mode presets to accommodate all kinds of content and viewing conditions. The TV’s three HDMI ports all support HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2, and as you’d expect one offers HDMI ARC. There is also an optical digital audio output.

Since this is a Roku TV, when you are connected to the Internet you get access to thousands of streaming channels with hundreds of thousands of movie and TV episode at your fingertips, or even at the tip of your tongue: It comes with a Roku remote that has voice search capabilities.

Thanks to the built-in Roku OS, you can fully control this TV using either the provided remote or the Roku app that’s widely available for smartphones and tablets.

Unpacking and Setup

You can tell that TCL is serious about being taken seriously from the moment you receive the boxed product. The box that the TV comes in is larger and sturdier than those of competing brands, and it’s not just for show. It looks like TCL has opted to minimize instances of units arriving with shipping damage by using robust packaging.

Weighing in at 50 pounds, the 65″ TCL is fairly light for a TV its size and I am not complaining! Unlike some 65 inch TV is, I was able to handle it easily on my own. Assembly was superfast because attaching the legs only requires tightening four screws.

The moment you plug it in, the 65R617 turns on and the setup process begins. Once you establish an Internet connection either sign up for Roku or log into an existing Rokuaccount, you are good to go.

I won’t get deep into the Roku user experience in this preview, but suffice to say it’s polished and responsive and intuitive; if you’ve used a Roku then everything will be familiar. What’s clear is the company understands user interfaces and provides a solid foundation to build a TV around.

Picture controls that are accessible using the remote control are what I’d call “consumer friendly” and can be used to optimize the picture without needing a deep knowledge of how TVs work. But crucially, the app offers 11-point gamma and CMS adjustments, in case you want to get the most out of the TV through calibration.. The best part is this feature does not require on-screen menus to use, and the settings are displayed in a grid on the smart device. The result is achieving an incredibly accurate calibration takes mere minutes.

Performance

Profiling and calibration of the 65R617 was performed using CalMAN software and a CR-100 colorimeter from Colorimetry Research. A CR-250 spectrophotometer was used to profile the CR-100 to the NBP Photon FALD screen.

For BT.709 SDR video such as broadcast TV and HD Blu-rays, this TV’s post-calibration performance was reference quality, even as viewed through CalMan’ ColorChecker, which often reveals sizable color errors with other TVs. But not this review unit… colorimetry was “textbook” perfect, so if you have a Blu-ray collection and you get this TV calibrated, you’re good to go.

Combined with the effective 120-zone FALD, the SDR picture quality of this TV is such that it raises the bar in terms of what to expect from a 65″ TV at $999, and even higher prices too.

While the native contrast of the 6-series LCD panel is exceptional for an LED-LCD, it is a bit lower than last year’s 55″ P-series. On the flipside, I perceive significant improvements in terms of viewing angle that more than make up for it. Plus, the 3X3 ANSI checkerboard pattern measurement I used on last year’s model yielded excellent numbers that are consistent with the colorful, contrasty, and all-around excellent image quality that this TV offers.

At this point you’re probably wondering what the catch is with this TV, given the superlatives contained in the description of its performance. Well, the answer is that the anti-reflective screen coating is not as good as what you see some more premium models from other companies. As a result, when you use this TV in a room where there is a lot of ambient light, and bright surfaces to reflect off of the screen, you get more visual interference than you would with  a pricier TV. But in practice this isn’t such a big issue because it’s irrelevant for sports, and most daytime TV shows are quite brightly lit, too.  Besides, you can compensate for ambient light by tapping into this TV’s inherent ability to get very bright.

Turning down the lights for critical viewing is recommended for any TV and pays huge dividends with this TCL. For example, Dolby Vision-mastered content looks quite unbelievable in a dark room, it’s true top-notch picture quality that I would’ve not thought to be attainable for less than $2000, had I not seen it with my own eyes.

Input lag remains extremely good at around 17-18 milliseconds in SDR and HDR game mode. That is a bit higher than last year’s 55″ P6-series (14 milliseconds SDR) because the 2018 6-series now includes additional image processing capabilities that add a few milliseconds of latency, even in game mode. But regardless, latency is super low, and so I expect this TV will be popular with gamers. Input, whether 4K or 1080p, is limited to 60 Hz, but for consoles and most PCs outputting 4K that’s not a limitation at all.

Aside from it not having OLED-like viewing angles, or quite as much HDR “pop” as super premium LCDs that cost much more, the TCL 65R617 looked great regardless of what I watched on it. NBA playoff basketball (RIP Sixers, good while it lasted) looked good, the TV kept up with the action. With gaming, sessions of Forza Motorsport 7, Madden 2018 and Assassin’s Creed all looked great in HDR playing from an Xbox One X. Spectacular, really.

The real mind-blower was Dolby Vision streaming from Netflix. I watched the show Rapture and I could not believe the detail, color, and contrast the 65″ 6-series TCL put out. It’s next-level visual fidelity that caught me off guard because in my view it’s “good enough”… Period. And by good enough what I mean is, why pay more for a TV unless you need some very specific quality that you’d have to pay a lot more for? Makes no sense; here’s what I posted in the forum:

“This looked really good. As in, scary good. Should I get more explicit? I have to come up with a good way to describe what’s going on here because that Netflix stream didn’t just look good, it was free of artifacts and looked incredible. If I were to base it just on what I saw last night, I don’t see why most people would bother buying an OLED or ultra-premium LCD at more that triple the price. As for “more money buys you more performance” that remains true. It’s just that the law of diminishing returns kicks in extremely hard right here at 999 bucks.”

Conclusion

You’ll be hard pressed to find a better value in a 65″ TV than the 65R617 65″ 6-series Roku TV. A measure of what a great TV it is is that in forum discussions, it’s as if readers ignore the price point altogether and simply ponder “does it beat this TV? that TV? and in each case the TV in question costs more or is lacking crucial features like a 120-zone FALD backlight, Dolby Vision, and the quality user experience of Roku.

In 2017 TCL gave a hint at what’s coming with the 55″ P6-series TV. Now it seriously raises the bar for affordable performance at the 65” size by offering “the works” for $999. It’s an obvious AVS Forum Top Choice! for 2018.

Measurements

For all the color Geeks out there, here are charts from a variety of picture modes and settings combinations, both uncalibrated and calibrated.

All measurements performed with CalMan 2018 software and Colorimetry Research meters (CR-100 colorimeter and CR-250 spectrophotometer).

Color temperature

Locking in accurate color with a 10-point grayscale adjustment is genuinely beneficial. While I do not expect most buyers to get a professional calibration, minor adjustments that only take a few minutes transform this already surprisingly accurate 6-series TV into a display device that punches way above its weight.

Long story short here is all of my measurements incorporate a 10-point grayscale correction, because each and every TV will be slightly different in this regard. Please note, out of the box color for this TV is still very accurate, with only a slight red bias to the color balance in the unit that I got, one that’s right on the threshold of imperceptibility. TCL says its iPQ technology assures consistent color performance out of the box and if what I see in the review unit is consistent with what ships then that is a true claim.

Peak Luminance Readings

Everyone loves peak luminance readings these days. Since much HDR content is mastered to 1000 nits, there’s much interest in how close TVs come to hitting the target.

First, let’s look at peak luminance for HDR in Movie mode, TV brightness set to Brighter, with color temp. set to Warm and using the “Dark HDR” picture mode. This is the magic combination if you want an HDR picture closest reference, and you should view the TV in a darkened room:

Dark HDR picture mode:

Full Screen: 600 nits

50% Window: 725 nits

25% Window: 888 nits

10% Window: 765 nits

5% Window: 745 nits

Next up, SDR peak luminance in Movie Mode (Brighter), which would basically be for sunlit rooms:

Full Screen: 510 nits

50% Window: 590 nits

25% Window: 625 nits

10% Window: 530 nits

5% Window: 515 nits

If what you’ve got is evening ambient lighting a living room, you’ll probably wind up using “TV brightness: Normal” for much SDR viewing. Here are peaks with that setting:

Full Screen: 440 nits

50% Window: 484 nits

25% Window: 474 nits

10% Window: 410 nits

5% Window: 396 nits

And now let’s look at SDR peak luminance in Movie Mode (Darker)*:

Full Screen: 178 nits

50% Window: 177 nits

25% Window: 169 nits

10% Window: 146 nits

5% Window:  143 nits

* This mode is suited to watching HD Blu-ray in the dark and is effectively reference-quality when doing so.


Charts & Stuff

This first batch is a classic, it’s good old-fashioned movie mode with the lights out. For that, I set the TV as follows:

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There’s one tricky tweak, which is I had to use the app to set the gamma to 2.4, which is optimum for dima and dark-room viewing:

This is also where you can set the strength of the noise reduction, or turn it off if you expect to feed the TV pristine sources.

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And now the good stuff:

Uncalibrated, measurements were very good. Typical TV viewers will be thrilled.

Here’s grayscale/gamma, uncalibrated:

The main issue is things get a bit red i the highlights, and those highlights get a bit bright. But everything is relative, this is good for any TV that has not been calibrated and great for an affordable TV.

Calibrated results are jaw-dropping. You want to be watching this TV, it’s offering reference-quality color and gamma for HD Blu-ray and broadcast TV and so much more. Wow.

Here’s the CMS readings, uncalibrated:

Pretty good, and erring toward going just a bit too far on the primaries, instead on not far enough. Were it not for pesky blue (it’s always blue!) it would be 100% easy. Anyhow 99% coverage is basically the same as 100% and that’s what I measured, with modest errors.

Calibrating the CMS results in great measured results, again we are in reference territory thanks to the small size of the color errors. 98.6% coverage is again limited only by Blue and again is so small as to not really matter.

Nothing wrong with these saturation sweeps:

Or these luminance sweeps:

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And what it all adds up to is a Colorchecker sweep that speaks to what’s been achieved here. You saved enough money on this TV to afford a calibration. If you get one, you’ll have as good a TV as you can get for watching Blu-ray, at least going by the numbers. I am blown away!


 


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