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TCL 6 series could be the most incredible TV value of 2018

Starting at a hyperaggressive $600 for the 55-inch size, it checks all the picture quality and smart TV boxes. Watch out, Vizio.

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Ty Pendlebury/CNET

NOTE: This article is out of date, but being kept for reference. For CNET's latest take, check out our full TCL 6 series review. 

The TCL 6 series looks like one of the best TVs for the money this year.

For the last two years that honor has gone to Vizio, the No. 2 TV maker in the US after Samsung. I gave the 2017 Vizio M series our Editors' Choice award for hitting the elusive sweet spot between picture quality and price. 

Now playing: Watch this: TCL 6 series looks like a video quality value winner
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This year, however, TCL's 6 series is Vizio's worst nightmare. Available today starting at a very affordable $600, it comes in 55- and 65-inch sizes. Just like its predecessor, last year's 55-inch P series, the 6 series combines the best smart TV system, Roku TV, with the most important picture quality feature I look for in an LCD TV: full-array local dimming, something TCL calls "contrast control zones." 

And just like last year, TCL reserves the least expensive models exclusively for Best Buy. Here's how they break down.

TCL 6 series vs. Vizio M- and P-series

Brand Model Size Dimming zones Price
TCL 55R615 55-inch 96 $600
TCL 55R617 55-inch 96 $650
Vizio M55-F0 55-inch 32 $700
Vizio P55-F1 55-inch 56 $900





TCL 65R615 65-inch 120 $1,000
TCL 65R617 65-inch 120 $1,000
Vizio M65-F0 65-inch 40 $1,000
Vizio P65-F1 65-inch 100 $1,300





Vizio M70-F3 70-inch 48 $1,500
Vizio P75-F1 75-inch 120 $2,500

The only difference between the 615 models at Best Buy and the 617 models available at Amazon and elsewhere is the remote -- the TVs themselves are exactly the same. The 617's remote has a mic for voice search and other voice commands and also uses RF (radio frequency) to communicate with the TV, so you can point it anywhere. (In case you're wondering, the 2018 clicker is missing the headphone jack and remote finder features found on its predecessor.)

The 615's remote lacks voice support -- although you can still issue voice commands using your phone via the Roku app -- and uses standard IR (infrared) communication. If you don't care about the remote, the Best Buy version of the 55-incher is the better value at $50 less.

Update 5/1, 1:34 PM ET: TCL originally told CNET that the 65-inch Best Buy version would also be $50 cheaper ($950) but bestbuy.com currently has it at $1,000. When asked for an explanation, TCL's representative replied: "Best Buy sets their own retail prices. However, we expect them to adjust in late May to...$969."

Picture quality boxes: Checked

But forget the remote: the main appeal of the 6 series is its potentially excellent image quality. Those "contrast control zones" should significantly improve black levels and contrast, the building blocks of a high-quality home theater picture, especially with HDR (high dynamic range) TV shows and movies. 

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. The 6 series has significantly more zones than Vizio's 2018 M and P series, while Sony and Samsung don't divulge their numbers of dimming zones.

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TCL's special demo TV, with the LEDs themselves exposed, reveals its high number of dimming zones. 

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

TCL also touts a few other image quality extras. The 6 series has WCG (wide color gamut) capabilities, thanks to NBP Photon technology (Nano Band Phosphor) -- a buzzword that means color should come closer to the full DCI-P3 gamut that's ideal for HDR. TCL has also added a couple of HDR (high dynamic range) options designed to make dark scenes more visible in bright rooms. And just like last year, the 6 series supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range formats. 

TCL says the 6 series can get brighter than the P from last year, but didn't specify a number of nits. It also touts a "120Hz clear motion index," but as usual, that's a made-up number. The 6 series has 60Hz native panel.

Why Vizio should be shaking in its boots

TV makers like Samsung and Sony make excellent-performing non-OLED TVs, but they reserve their best picture quality features, like full-array local dimming, for TVs that cost a lot more than Vizio's and TCL's. The Sony X900F currently goes for $2,200 at 65 inches, while the Samsung Q8 costs $2,800. On the other hand, those TVs have a lot more brand cachet than TCL and Vizio.

If you care less about brand and most about getting the best picture quality for the money, however, the top choices for 2018 are Vizio's M and P series, and TCL's 6 series. That's because they cost about half as much as those Sonys and Samsungs. To table 2!

TCL 6 series vs. Vizio M- and P-series

Brand Model Size Dimming zones Price
TCL 55R615 55-inch 96 $600
TCL 55R617 55-inch 96 $650
Vizio M55-F0 55-inch 32 $700
Vizio P55-F1 55-inch 56 $900





TCL 65R615 65-inch 120 $1,000
TCL 65R617 65-inch 120 $1,000
Vizio M65-F0 65-inch 40 $1,000
Vizio P65-F1 65-inch 100 $1,300





Vizio M70-F3 70-inch 48 $1,500
Vizio P75-F1 75-inch 120 $2,500

On paper, TCL beats Vizio for number of dimming zones and price at the 55-inch size. The 65-inch TCL costs the same as the Vizio M series.

In addition to the info in the table above, it's worth mentioning that the Vizio P series has a 120Hz refresh rate (the TCL and the M series are 60Hz), which could improve its motion performance. Vizio also claims 1000 nits of brightness, while TCL doesn't list a brightness specification. I doubt those advantages will be worth the extra money, but we'll see.

Beyond image quality, TCL has a big advantage in smart TV. It uses the Roku operating system, which delivers best-in-class app selection and ease of use. Vizio's SmartCast system was my least favorite last year among all the major TV makers, and while the 2018 version shows some improvement, I seriously doubt it will be better than Roku.

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TCL's Roku TV system runs circles around Vizio's SmartCast.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Vizio does offer models larger than 65 inches, something TCL's 6 series does not. When I asked TCL's Senior Vice President Chris Larson the reason, he said local dimming and really big TVs haven't caught on as much in markets outside North America, so it didn't make as much sense for the company to produce a bigger 6 series in 2018. He hinted that a new fabrication facility designed to deliver larger sizes could change that calculation in 2019 or beyond, however.

That's all I know so far, and why I give the TCL 6 series the edge over Vizio in the early value race. Of course I won't know the winner until I review the TVs in person, but judging from last year, where the TCL P series was as good or better than the Vizio M in most areas, they should be very close. Stay tuned for the final verdict.

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