Summer 2018 update
I’ve never tested a TV under $1,000 that beats the picture quality of the TCL 6 series. And that’s the price for a giant 65-inch screen, by the way: $999.99. The 55-incher is just $600.
I’ve now reviewed four of its closest 2018 competitors. In ascending order of price, they are the, , the and the . All five offer similar image quality overall — in a word, excellent — so TV shoppers who want the best TV for the buck will naturally gravitate to the cheapest. And that’s the TCL.
Of course you could pay more for a better picture:has the best picture I’ve ever tested, but it costs three times as much. In my side-by-side comparisons against the TCL 6 series, the Sony X900F, Samsung Q8 and Vizio P performed better in certain areas such as light output and motion, but the TCL looks just as good and in some ways better. Of course it performs well enough with motion and in bright rooms, and it costs significantly less than all three.
Beyond image quality, the 6 series includes my favorite smart TV system, Roku TV. It trounces the apps, simplicity and convenience of smart TV systems by LG, Vizio and Sony. Samsung’s system has it beat in a couple areas, namely device control and a new cool ambient mode, but overall I still like Roku better.
Now that I’ve reviewed all five sets, the TCL 6 series rises to the the top and earns CNET’s Editors’ Choice award. For savvy TV shoppers who want a 55- or 65-inch size and prioritize getting as much picture quality for as little money as possible, it wins 2018. For other options and sizes, check out CNET’s Best TVs lists.
Editors’ note, July 26: This review was originally published May 8. It has been updated with the Editors’ Choice award and its introduction modified to reflect recent reviews. The rating and remainder of the review have not been otherwise updated.
Also, as of late July, some retailers are charging extra because these TVs are selling out. To avoid paying more, wait for inventory to reappear at a large, reputable retailer such as Amazon or Best Buy. Currently, Best Buy is showing an “as soon as” shipping date of mid-August for the 65-incher at $970, for example.
Goodbye and good riddance to shiny black plastic, hello to a no-nonsense metallic finish. The 6 series out-classes the appearance of previous TCLs by encasing the thin frame in a dark, textured metal. It reflects more than a matte black but not too much, and creates a sleeker, more high-end feel than last year’s model.
TCL adds a bit of panache with a rounded power button and aggressive, angled legs. The Roku TV logo is subtle and tough to spot on the lower right, while the shiny TCL below the screen is anything but subtle.
As expected for a full-array TV, the 6 series is relatively thick when seen in profile, but from straight on, where it matters, the frame around the screen is quite narrow and minimal, with the typical slightly wider bottom edge. Speaking of that edge, its fit and finish on my review sample weren’t perfect: There was some slight separation along the bottom-left corner. It’s not a major issue (I probably wouldn’t return the set myself if I noticed it), but something to keep an eye on.
Rah-rah for Roku
I’m a fan of Roku TV, for reasons I’ve documented extensively in previous reviews. Here’s the short version.
- Frequent updates and feature improvements
- Simple menus with quick responses
- Full customization, including input naming
- Inputs on the same home page as TV apps
- More apps (and 4K HDR apps) than any other smart TV system
- 4K Spotlight and 4K apps category make finding 4K content easier
- Cross-platform search covers many services, allows price comparisons
- More Ways To Watch suggests streaming shows in antenna program guide
- Can pause live TV from an antenna source (and a USB stick)
For more info, check out my review of my favorite 4K Roku device, the. The also has a lot more details about the above features.
The remote: Simple, fewer features
Last year’s P series remote included two really cool Roku extras: a headphone jack that allows private listening, and a remote finder that makes the clicker easy to find in the couch cushions. The 617 series’ remote loses those extras, but it does have a built-in mic for voice functions, and communicates with the TV without needing line of sight.
Roku’s voice function is not nearly as robust as Amazon Alexa, found on for example, but it worked fine for searches and, thanks to another new software update, for app launching, switching inputs and tuning to an antenna channel. If the TV is off, a voice command like, “Launch Netflix” will turn it on and launch the app.
If you don’t care about the voice remote, Best Buy’s is a bit cheaper. It comes with a standard remote without voice search and uses infrared (IR) technology so you have to aim it at the TV.
|Display technology||LED LCD|
|LED backlight||Full array with local dimming|
|HDR-compatible||HDR10 and Dolby Vision|
|Smart TV||Roku TV|
|Remote||Voice (617 only)|
sets the P series apart from many competitors, and most TV makers reserve the feature for TVs that cost a lot more than the 6 series. TCL calls it Contrast Control Zone technology, but it means the same thing. The 6 series has more zones than competing Vizio TVs: 96 zones for the 55-incher and 120 zones for the 65-incher.
Having more dimming zones doesn’t necessarily mean better image quality, but it can help. That’s because smaller, more numerous zones allow the image to light up (and dim) more precisely, better separating the parts of the image that should be brighter from the parts that should be darker. It helps eliminate “blooming,” where a bright area can lighten one that should be dark. See picture quality for more on how it performs.
The 6 series hascapabilities, thanks to NBP Photon technology (Nano Band Phosphor), but according to our measurements it’s not as wide as many competing sets. Just like 2017’s model, the 6 series supports both high dynamic range formats. It also touts a “120Hz clear motion index,” but . The 6 series has 60Hz native panel and can’t match the motion performance of true 120Hz TVs.
Around back you’ll find a solid selection of inputs.
- 3x HDMI inputs (HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2)
- 1x analog (composite) video input
- 1x USB port (2.0)
- Ethernet (wired internet)
- 1x headphone jack
- 1x optical digital audio output
- 1x RF (antenna) input
The HDMIs are state-of-the-art and worked fine with everything I threw at them. The headphone jack is a nice touch, and unlike cheaper Roku sets, this one has Ethernet, too.