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TCL 6-Series Roku TVs start at $650, deliver even better picture

The latest version of our favorite midpriced TV adds mini-LED, 120Hz and THX gaming upgrades.

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- 06:41
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For the first time, mini-LED tech is available in TVs under $1,000.

TCL

For the last two years TCL's 6-Series Roku TV has been the best TV for the money and the new 2020 version performs better than ever. It adds mini-LED technology for improved brightness and contrast quality as well gaming-friendly extras such as 120Hzvariable refresh rate and THX game mode. Unlike last year's model, this one also comes in a 75-inch size. These improvements combined with an affordable price make the new TCL 6-Series Roku TV a contender to three-peat as my favorite TV value. Read my full review here:

At the same time, TCL is also introducing the 2020 5-Series. It costs less than the 6-Series and lacks mini-LED, but does include enhancements including QLED and full-array local dimming. It's also available in a smaller 50-inch size. Later this year, TCL will also release an 8K resolution version of the superb 8-Series, as well as 2020 versions of its popular budget 3-Series and 4-Series models.

All of these new TCL TVs will continue to be powered by the Roku TV operating system, my favorite smart TV platform for its simplicity, frequent updates and breadth of apps (Peacock and HBO Max notwithstanding).

The 6-Series and 5-Series are both available now.

TCL 2020 6-Series, 5-Series Roku TVs

Model Size (inches) Local dimming zones Mini-LED Refresh rate Price
75R635 75 240 Yes 120Hz $1,400
65R635 65 160 Yes 120Hz $900
55R635 55 128 Yes 120Hz $650
75S535 75 80 No 60Hz $1,100
65S535 65 56 No 60Hz $630
55S535 55 48 No 60Hz $450
50S535 50 40 No 60Hz $400
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4:43

Mini-LED comes to cheaper TVs

Mini-LEDs are, as you might have guessed, smaller than standard LEDs, allowing them to be grouped into more local dimming zones. Full-array local dimming is the best way to improve picture quality on LCD TVs. It allows the backlight -- the part behind the LCD screen that provides illumination -- to dim and illuminate different areas simultaneously. Smaller areas, or dimming zones, mean more precise illumination, which ultimately increases contrast, the most important ingredient in a good picture.

TCL is still the only TV maker to use mini-LED technology, first in the 8-Series and now in the 6-Series, but specs on the 6-Series aren't nearly as impressive. The cheaper 6 has around 1,000 LEDs and up to 240 zones, while the more expensive 8 has 10,000 mini-LEDs and 1,000 zones. For that reason the 6-Series did not perform as well as the 8-Series in my review.

Read more: Mini-LED is here: How smaller lights could lead to big TV improvements

TCL says the benefits of mini-LED in the 6-Series include better uniformity, "more powerful" brightness and "higher contrast precision" compared to last year's model. In my tests the new model's uniformity was basically the same but it was substantially brighter and in some scenes more precise -- and in others less-so. Overall, however, the 2020 6-Series definitely performed better than the 2019 version.

How it compares to 2020 competitors such as the Vizio P-Series and Hisense H9G remains to be seen. The Vizio actually has more local dimming zones than the TCL -- 200 on the 65-inch size -- Hisense has the same number and neither use mini-LED. We'll have to wait for the reviews to see for sure.

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65-inch and larger sizes in the 5- and 6-Series offer two choices in stand leg position: the extreme edge or more toward the middle. 

TCL

Improved gaming thanks to THX

The other big feature addition is something called "THX certified game mode." It's a special picture mode for video games that combines low input lag (TCL doesn't say how low, however) with features like Auto Game Mode, which turns on game mode automatically when connected to a compatible device, and Variable Refresh Rate, which reduces tearing and other artifacts in some games. The 2019 6-Series had AGM but lacked VRR. 

TCL says the new 6-Series can accept VRR inputs from 48 up to 120 frames per second, but at 120 FPS it's limited to 1440p (lower than 4K) resolution with HDR. It doesn't support proprietary VRR systems such as Nvidia G-Sync (LG TVs only) and AMD Freesync. The Xbox One X and One S support VRR and should work with the new 6-Series, while the upcoming Xbox Series X and PS5 will also support VRR.

In my tests THX's special sauce worked well to improve image quality and contrast in games while keeping low input lag. That said, while the gaming specs of the new 6-Series are an improvement over last year, they're still not as impressive as some 2020 TVs.

In addition to THX game mode, VRR and mini-LED, the 6-Series has a couple other features not available on the 5-Series:

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TCL's 5-Series lacks mini-LED but now includes local dimming and QLED color.

TCL

5-Series gets a bump too

I ignored the step-down 5-Series last year because it lacked full-array local dimming. For 2020, TCL includes that feature as well as quantum dot color, making the 5 a serious on-paper rival to models such as the Vizio M-Series. 

Both the 5- and 6-Series share a new dual-position stand leg arrangement on the 65- and 75-inch sizes that let you place the legs either out toward the edge of the panel or more toward the center. Both also include a cable cozy in the legs that let you kinda hide HDMI, power and other connectors.

Other features common to both series include:

8K 8-Series coming this year

In 2019, TCL said an 8K TV would be coming later in the year, but it ultimately failed to deliver one for the US market. This year it says the same thing. The 8K model will arrive "around the same time" as the new game consoles, said Aaron Dew, TCL's director of new product development on a conference call with reporters. That pegs the TV's release date sometime before the holiday season, possibly November.

Dew described the 8K TV as an 8K version of the current 8-Series, so it will likely include mini-LED, high brightness and all of those TVs' extras at least. The current, 4K version of the 8-Series will remain on sale throughout the year.

3- and 4-Series budget TVs: Pretty much the same for 2020

TCL also happens to make some of our favorite budget (read: dirt-cheap) TVs in the form of the 3-Series and 4-Series. For 2020 the company is not changing much. Here's what TCL's rep told CNET:

We will be transitioning much of 3- and 4-Series in the coming months. The changes will be minor updates and timing varies by-model. The key difference from S425 [2019 model] to S435 [2020] in 4-Series is the addition of an HDMI port (from 3 to 4) on 50-inch and above. All other performance and specs will remain similar although cosmetics will be slightly different. 32S325 becomes 32S335 and 55S425 becomes 55S435, for example.

It's worth mentioning that TCL is currently selling a 2020 version of the 3-Series in 32- and 40-inch sizes that runs the Android TV operating system instead of Roku. It did not announce any additional Android-powered TVs for the US market.

For more details on the TCL 6-Series check out my full review. I'm looking forward to reviewing the other 2020 TCL TVs soon.