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TCL’s new 6-Series is the best 4K HDR TV to buy for under $1,000

Great picture, Roku’s software, and an improved design

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

For the second year in a row, TCL is making the best TV you can get for under $1,000. The company used 2017’s excellent P-Series 4K HDR TV as the foundation for the renamed 6-Series. It runs Roku’s simple, straightforward software and delivers a viewing experience that’s truly dazzling for the price. TCL also addressed the cheap look of last year’s TV by upgrading from glossy black plastic bezels to a brushed metal trim. The 6-Series comes in 55-inch ($650) and 65-inch ($1,000) sizes. Best Buy’s version of the TV knocks off $50, but you lose out on voice controls with the included remote. Otherwise, the TV itself is identical.

TCL really turned things around with the 6-Series’ design. Whereas its predecessor had a look that immediately gave away its bargain price, this TV takes on a more premium aesthetic. All it took was changing from a plastic frame to metal. The 6-Series has a brushed, gunmetal appearance that completely hides fingerprints, smudges, and dust. There’s a large, circular power button at the bottom right for those times when your remote has been lost to the couch cushions.

As for connections, TCL includes:

  • Three HDMI 2.0a ports with HDCP 2.2 (only HDMI 3 offers ARC)
  • Ethernet (not always a given on affordable TVs)
  • One USB 2.0 port
  • Optical audio out
  • Headphone jack
  • RF connector (cable / antenna)
  • Mini-3.5mm connector (component / composite)

The new remote actually loses some functionality compared to the old one that came with the P-Series. There’s no longer a built-in headphone jack for private listening, which disappointed me a bit. It’s a feature you won’t regularly use, but it’s one that’s still great to have. If you don’t want to wake anyone up when streaming shows or movies late at night, you can still listen to the TV’s audio through Roku’s smartphone app. But that’s a hassle by comparison.

Not that this TV’s speakers are going to be rattling the walls. If there’s one thing about the 6-Series that continues to be so-so, it’s the built-in audio. It’s well-balanced at low to mid volume, so you’ll be able to hear dialogue clearly. But don’t expect any sonic miracles from two 8-watt speakers. A decent soundbar should be mandatory if you want sound that does this TV’s picture justice.

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

And what an excellent picture it is. The 55-inch 6-Series has 96 full array local dimming zones, and the 65-inch model bumps that up to 120. The bigger the number of dimming zones, the more precise, granular control the TV gets over which areas of the screen are lit up and which are dark. Contrast is punchier, and blacks are darker even in instances where there’s something bright elsewhere on the screen. TCL bests Vizio’s 2018 P-Series — its closest rival on the price / performance balance — in the 55-inch size; the Vizio has 56 zones. Both companies have 120 zones in their 65-inch TVs, but the Vizio is $300 more expensive at that size. (Vizio’s P-Series has a smoother 120Hz panel than the 60Hz in the 6-Series, but that’s for another review.)

I’ve found 4K gaming with my Xbox One X on the new TCL to be visually mesmerizing. This TV continues to offer some of the lowest input lag you can get, and something like Forza Horizon 3 can really show off its HDR color range. Both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are supported, and the availability of 4K content keeps climbing. I watched Black Panther, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Coco, and Paddington 2 (don’t judge) on the 6-Series, and they were all good demo material for showcasing its splashy, vibrant colors and tack-sharp image. TCL says its new iPQ Engine ensures accurate colors out of the box, but you’ll still want to go through calibration to unlock this TV’s full potential. Roku’s mobile app helps to make that a quick process.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Would those movies look better on a $2,000 Samsung or LG OLED? Most certainly. Top LCD TVs from Samsung, Sony, and even the aforementioned 2018 Vizio P-Series can get brighter, and there’s no beating the perfect blacks of OLED. But despite being so much cheaper, the TCL never feels like a compromise or stepping stone. If you’re someone who sees no reason to spend lavishly on a TV, you’ll be happy. Just put thought into where you’re putting it, and be cautious about viewing angles. Like the 2017 P-Series before it, watching the 6-Series off-center detracts from the experience a bit. And if you buy one, give the screen on your 6-Series a close inspection once it’s out of the box. Based on what the good people at AVSForum have to say, TCL still seems to struggle with uniformity, banding, and stuck pixels on some panels. There’s always variation between displays, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

The Roku software running on the 6-Series remains uncomplicated and very responsive. The tiled app interface is easy to pick up, and Roku’s store offers all the must-have streaming apps and plenty of more niche options. If you plug in an antenna, Roku automatically populates channel information in a nice, clean programming guide. I don’t love seeing ads for random shows or streaming channels on the home screen, and I’ve never touched the Fandango-sponsored stores to buy TV shows and movies. I wish there was a way to just hide that stuff, but it’s easy enough to ignore. If you want the most 4K HDR content, I recommend plugging in an Apple TV 4K because of Apple’s generous free upgrade policy for past purchases and Movies Anywhere titles. Hopefully other companies like Vudu and Google start giving customers free UHD upgrades soon.

TCL’s new 6-Series didn’t need to change much to remain one of our leading TV recommendations. But the company made the right improvements. It no longer looks like a budget TV. The HDR color range and brightness have seen slight improvements, and it’s still a wonderful set for Netflix streaming and gaming. If you’re looking to spend under $1,000, it’s really a contest between TCL and Vizio. It’s hard to argue that the 6-Series is anything but a great choice.

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