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TCL 6 series (2018 Roku TV) review: Awesome picture for the price, and Roku TV seals the deal

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TCL 55R615 (2018 Roku TV)

(Part #: 55R615)
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The Good The affordable TCL 6 series has excellent overall image quality, with deep black levels, very good brightness, rich contrast and accurate color. Its Roku smart TV platform is the best available, with a simple interface and extensive streaming app support. The TV handles both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range sources.

The Bad Brightness and video processing fall short of some more expensive TVs.

The Bottom Line With superb picture quality that rivals TVs costing twice as much, TCL's 6 series is the best TV value we've ever reviewed.

8.7 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Value 10.0

I'll be surprised if any 2018 TV under $1,000 beats the picture quality of the TCL 6 series. Like, really surprised. And that's the price for a giant 65-inch screen, by the way: $999.99. The 55-incher is just $600.

The only TV that has a chance in my opinion is the 2018 Vizio M series. I haven't tested it yet, but I did compare the TCL with the 2017 M series. The TCL was better.

Of course you could pay more for a better picture. LG's C8 OLED TV has the best picture I've ever tested, but it costs three times as much. Among LCD TVs the Sony X900F and Samsung Q8 are better in certain areas like light output and motion, but the TCL looks better in a home theater environment with the lights down low. Of course it performs well enough with motion and in bright rooms -- and costs less than half as much.

Beyond image quality, the 6 series includes my favorite smart TV system, Roku TV. It trounces the apps, simplicity, responsiveness 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.

For savvy TV shoppers who prioritize getting as much picture quality for as little money as possible, the TCL 6 series is the odds-on favorite to win 2018.

Moar metallic

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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 Roku Streaming Stick Plus. The 2017 P series review also has a lot more details about the above features.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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 Fire Edition TVs 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 615 series 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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Key features

Display technology LED LCD
LED backlight Full array with local dimming
Resolution 4K
HDR-compatible HDR10 and Dolby Vision
Screen shape Flat
Smart TV Roku TV
Remote Voice (617 only)

Full array local dimming 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 has WCG (wide color gamut) capabilities, 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 Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range formats. It also touts a "120Hz clear motion index," but as usual, that's a made-up number. The 6 series has 60Hz native panel and can't match the motion performance of true 120Hz TVs.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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