TCL 6 series (2018 Roku TV) review: Still the best picture quality for the money, period
Late 2019 update: New model available
Editors' note, Oct. 10, 2019: The 2018 TCL 6-Series reviewed here has been replaced by a newer 2019 TCL 6 Series. The two are very similar, but the new one does perform slightly better. For that reason I recommend the new one instead, unless you get a significant discount on the 2018 version.
What follows is the 2018 TCL 6-Series review as it was when last updated earlier this year, and which will no longer be updated.
More than a year after I first reviewed it, the TCL 6 series is still the best TV for the money you can buy. No TV in its price range can beat it, and that includes new 2019 models like the Vizio M8 series I recently reviewed.
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At this point the 6 series is heavily discounted from its initial price, making it a better value than ever. The 65-inch model regularly gets down to $700, and the 55-inch version down to just $500. Even the massive 75-inch version of the 6 series is a bargain at $1,400. Those prices might be different by the time you read this, however.
I can say the 6 series is the best because I've reviewed almost all of its closest competitors, including the 2019 M8 and Samsung Q70. I also compared it to a bunch of 2018 TVs, including the Vizio M-Series, Vizio P-Series, the Sony X900F and the Samsung Q8. All five offer similar image quality overall -- in a word, excellent, and each scored an 8 for picture quality -- so TV shoppers who want the best TV for the buck should gravitate to the cheapest. And that's the TCL.
Of course you could pay more for a better picture. LG's B8 OLED TV and Vizio's P-Series Quantum earned a 10 and a 9, respectively, in overall image quality, and both significantly outperform any of those TVs. If you can afford either one and relish image quality, they're worth considering. And if you can wait, there's more new 2019 TVs available now, but you'll have to wait until fall 2019, when TV prices bottom out, if you want the best deal. Speaking of waiting, TCL has yet to announce a 2019 successor to the 6 series, but we expect that to happen later this summer.
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 of areas, namely device control and a new cool ambient mode, but overall I still like Roku better.
Among all the major midrange TVs I've reviewed, the TCL 6 series rises to the the top and continues to earn CNET's Editors' Choice award. For savvy TV shoppers who want a 55-, 65- or 75-inch inch size and prioritize getting as much picture quality for as little money as possible, it wins. For other options and sizes, check out CNET's Best TVs lists.
Editors' note: There are two variations of the TCL 6 series. One version ends in model number "617" and the other ends in "615." The 615 models are exclusive to Best Buy, while the 617 models are found at Amazon and elsewhere. The only difference between the two is in their remote controls; see below for details.
Goodbye and good riddance to shiny black plastic, hello to a no-nonsense metallic finish. The 6 series outclasses 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).
The remote: Fewer extras in the Best Buy version
As mentioned above, the two versions of the 6 series, 615 and 617, have different remote controls.
The 617 series' remote has more features, namely a built-in mic for voice functions and the ability to communicate with the TV without needing line of sight. That means you don't need to aim the clicker at the TV.
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, 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, the 615 series is a better value. It comes with a standard remote without voice search and uses infrared (IR) technology so you have to aim it at the TV. And if you really want voice search, you can always access it using Roku's phone app, which also offers extras like headphone jack private listening.
|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)|
Full-array local dimming sets the 6 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, 120 zones for the 65-incher and a whopping 160 on the 75-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.
The 55- and 65-inch models also tout a "120Hz clear motion index," but as usual, that's a made-up number. The 6 series has a 60Hz native panel and can't match the motion performance of true 120Hz TVs, like the Vizio P-Series, Samsung Q8 and Sony X900F.
The exception is the 75-inch size, which has a true 120Hz panel. The result should be better motion performance, although we weren't able to test that size for this review to confirm. As usual, however, the benefits should be pretty subtle.
Around back you'll find a solid selection of inputs.
and HDCP 2.2)
- 1 analog (composite) video input
- 1 USB port (2.0)
- Ethernet (wired internet)
- 1 headphone jack
- 1 optical digital audio output
- 1 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.
LG's C8 OLED TV again sets the pace with a score of 10 in this subcategory, but the 6 series earns an 8 (Excellent), putting it in the company of LCD TVs that cost a lot more.
In my side-by-side tests against the Samsung Q8 and Sony X900F, the TCL more than held its own, with deeper black levels and better contrast in many scenes than those more-expensive sets. It couldn't get quite as bright, but still has plenty of light output for bright rooms and high-dynamic-range TV shows and movies. Color accuracy and video processing were also a bit worse than those others, but by no means poor, and TCL improved uniformity significantly, which was an issue last year.
So no, the 6 series is by no means flawless, but even persnickety videophiles will find plenty to like -- especially at this price.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.
Dim lighting: The TCL punched far above its weight in my dark-room comparison with the TVs calibrated to the same light output. Watching the incredible-looking 1080p Blu-ray The Greatest Showman, it kept pace with and in many ways exceeded the picture quality of the more expensive Samsung Q8 and Sony X900F, which are also equipped with full-array local dimming . It also looked better than 2017's Vizio M and the 55-inch TCL P series.
The key as usual was deep black levels, something the 6 series delivers very well. In the nighttime dance montage in Chapter 2, for example, its letterbox bars and the shadows between the buildings (9:22) looked and measured a darker shade of black than any of the other sets aside from the OLED. As a result the darker scenes looked just a bit more realistic and punchy on the TCL and a bit less realistic and washed out on the others. The differences were minimal to nonexistent in many scenes, and the contrast of the others was still excellent, but the 6 series had the slightest of advantages.
Shadow details were also excellent on the 6 series and better than what I saw on the Vizio or the TCL P series, which tended to crush the darkest areas slightly. The 6 series also controlled blooming, or stray illumination very well, although it had no clear advantage in this area with dim SDR (see below for HDR tests, however).
Bright lighting: The 6 series showed a big improvement in raw light output over last year, and outpaced all of the TVs in the lineup aside from the twice-as-expensive Samsung and Sony sets. Yes those two can get substantially brighter, which makes them a better choice for exceedingly bright rooms, but for the vast majority of rooms the TCL will be plenty bright enough.
Light output in nits
|TV||Mode (SDR)||10% window (SDR)||Full screen (SDR)||Mode (HDR)||10% window (HDR)|
|TCL 65R617||Brighter/Vivid||653||480||Brighter/Dark HDR||824|
|TCL 55P607||Vivid/dimming off||438||431||Brighter/dark HDR||448|
|LG OLED65C8P||Vivid||419||141||Cinema Home||792|
|LG OLED55C8P||Vivid||418||140||Cinema Home||788|
The 2017 Vizio M did get a bit brighter in HDR mode in its Vivid setting. That mode is highly inaccurate, however; in the Vizio's better Calibrated setting it fell short of the TCL (788 vs. 824 nits), and in HDR program material the TCL's highlights were better. I also appreciated that the TCL achieved its highest light output with local dimming set to the best (Local Contrast: High) setting. Last year you had to turn dimming off to get the TV at its brightest.
The TCL's matte screen didn't reduce reflections or preserve black level quite as well as the other sets in my lineup, but it was still very good.
Color accuracy: Prior to any adjustment my review sample showed a plus-red bias in its most accurate picture mode (Movie), which tended to make Caucasian skin tones look a bit too ruddy, for example. Even so, color was far from terrible before calibration, and most viewers would be hard-pressed to notice the reddish cast. After adjustment using TCL's superb system, however, color was as accurate as on any TV in my lineup.
Watching Showman, the TCL's color was excellent, with as much saturation and accuracy as any of the other LCD sets. Chapter 6 is packed with lots of bright and near-black color in the circus signs, the costumes of the performers and dramatic lighting, for example, and the 6 series delivered it all with a bit of extra richness compared with the other non-OLED sets. I chalk up the advantage to its superior black levels, which can improve apparent saturation.
Video processing: The TCL 6 series handled 1080p/24 content properly, preserving the cadence of film. New for 2018, there's a setting called Natural Cinema that's said to improve the look of film (24p) content, but in my standard test using the aircraft carrier flyover from I Am Legend, I couldn't see any difference whether the setting was turned on or off.
Two other new settings are also available now: Action Smoothing and LED Motion Clarity. The former introduces the soap opera effect in various strengths, but unlike such settings on most other TVs it doesn't improve motion resolution, which remained at the 300 lines typical of 60Hz TVs no matter how much Action Smoothing I applied. (As mentioned above I wasn't able to test the 75-inch size but I expect it to have a better result thanks to its 120Hz panel.)
LED Motion Clarity uses black frame insertion to boost motion resolution (to an impressive 1,200 lines) and combat blur, but comes with the usual trade-offs: a significantly dimmer image and visible flicker. I recommend all but the most blur-sensitive viewers keep it turned off.
The TCL has the lowest (best) input lag I've measured in a long time. With Game Mode engaged it was just 15.43 milliseconds with 1080p sources, and 17.5ms with 4K HDR sources. With it turned off, lag increased quite a bit to 56ms and 121ms, respectively.
Uniformity and off-angle: This category was a weakness for the 2017 P series, but not the 2018 6 series. With full-field test patterns it looked nearly as good as the others, with edges just slightly darker than the middle and no visible backlight structure as seen on the P. In tough program material, namely a hockey match, its dirty-screen effect was no worse than any of the other sets in my lineup, and definitely superior to its predecessor.
A mixed bag from off-angle, the 6 series preserved black-level fidelity better than the other LCDs aside from the P series -- it didn't wash out as badly -- but showed more color shift in bright areas. If I had to choose I'd prefer TCL's approach because it makes for better contrast from seats outside the sweet spot, at the expense of color accuracy.
HDR and 4K video: As usual for a good full-array local dimming TVs, the TCL's SDR strengths with SDR translated well into HDR too. Its image was brilliant and punchy, and while it fell short of the highlights achieved by the Sony and especially the Samsung, it showed a higher-contrast image in dark scenes. The only TV in my lineup that looked consistently better with all HDR images was the LG C8 OLED -- in other words the TCL held its own very well against the more expensive Q8 and X900F, and beat the 2017 M series once again.
For my first HDR test I slipped in the 4K Blu-ray of The Greatest Showman. The TCL's black-level advantages showed up best in darker scenes like the ballet recital (Chapter 7, 33:35). The TCL's letterbox bars and shadows behind the dancers appeared darker and truer than any TV aside from the OLED, while still preserving excellent shadow detail in the folds of the curtains. It's worth noting that the 2017 TCL P series came closest to the 6 series black level, but shadows in this scene and others looked less detailed and a bit muddy.
When the shot panned out to show the dancers, the Samsung (215 nits), Sony (139) and LG C8 (164) showed brighter, more impressive highlights in the central pink tutu (the TCL hit 97 nits), as well as in other highlights I measured. That brightness advantage did lend their images extra pop, in both mixed scenes like that and in brighter scenes, like the approach to the house at the beginning of the chapter. In my side-by-side comparisons I did prefer the look of those three more expensive TVs in brighter scenes over the TCL.
Blooming is often an issue in HDR with its extra brightness, but the TCL controlled it well, even in difficult sequences like the white-on-black credits at the end of Showman. None of the other non-OLED TVs kept the black area as free of stray illumination as the 6 series.
The TCL did appear less color-accurate than the three higher-end TVs, although it did beat the Sony and Samsung for richness and saturation in many scenes. Skin tones in the Showman appeared a bit redder in particular, although not as skewed as on the TCL P series or the Vizio M. According to my measurements it also fell shorter of their color gamuts, although in this film the disadvantage was tough to spot.
Playing Altered Carbon on Netflix, the TCL's less accurate color was apparent compared with the others. In Episode 1 as Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) talks to the barkeep (45:05), for example, their skin tones looked a bit too reddish and oversaturated, and that slightly reddish case applied to the plush chairs and lighting in the room as well. The 65R617's color issues showed up in my measurements as well, where the color checker showed more overall errors than competitors. That said, color wasn't terrible, and as usual it would be a lot tougher to see the difference beyond a side-by-side comparison.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0008||Good|
|Peak white luminance (SDR)||653||Good|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.39||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||0.39||Good|
|Dark gray error (30%)||0.04||Good|
|Bright gray error (80%)||0.16||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||0.70||Good|
|Avg. color error||0.42||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1,200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||300||Poor|
|Input lag (Game mode)||15.43||Good|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.004||Good|
|Peak white luminance (10% win)||825||Average|
|Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976)||94.63||Average|
|Avg. color checker error||3.42||Average|
|Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR)||17.5||Good|