TCL 6-Series (2019 Roku TV) review: The best TV picture quality for the money
Update Sept. 11, 2020: There's a new version of this TV. Check out our full 2020 TCL 6-Series review for all the details, including comparisons to the 2019 model reviewed below.
It's easy to pick a cheap TV -- just shop on price. And it's relatively easy to pick an expensive TV -- just get an OLED. But a tougher decision faces the big group of TV shoppers in the middle, those who are willing to pay a bit more for an impressive 4K HDR image, but don't want to drop an arm and a leg on an OLED TV. Let me help you make that decision right now.
The best picture quality for the money in 2019 belongs to the midpriced TCL 6-Series. It's currently $800 for the 65-inch model and $600 for the 55-inch one. No TV I've tested in that price range, including the excellent 2018 version, performs better. And you can definitely pay more for TVs that perform worse.
TCL has improved color for 2019 thanks to quantum dots -- hence the mention of "QLED" in TCL's marketing material -- and revamped the styling a bit. Otherwise the Chinese TV-maker stuck to the same winning formula it used last year: great picture quality paired with Roku TV. The 6-Series has excellent contrast, plenty of brightness and minimal blooming, beating other excellent sets such as the Vizio M8 and Samsung Q70 by a hair in overall image quality. And TCL's built-in Roku, my favorite smart TV system, beats those TVs' streaming systems handily.
If you want a better picture than this TCL your next stop in terms of price is something like the TCL 8-Series, Vizio's P-Series Quantum X or an even higher-end Samsung QLED. I haven't reviewed those yet so I can't say for sure how much better their pictures will be, but I know how much they cost: hundreds more than the 6-Series, with some approaching the price of OLED TVs like the LG B9. I feel comfortable saying none of those TVs will approach the value proposition of this TCL, and no cheaper TV performs better. That's why the 2019 TCL 6-Series earns the CNET Editors' Choice award.
The TCL 6-Series certainly doesn't look cheap. The sheet of glass fronting the screen runs all the way to the edges along the top and sides for a clean, minimalist look. The metallic bottom edge is thicker and slightly brighter gray, matching the stand legs. Seen from the side the TV is an unapologetic rectangular slab, not the gradually thickening cabinet found on competitors. As a result the 6-Series looks chunkier and a bit less modern from off-angle.
Those stand legs are perched at the extreme edges of the TV, another unusual move. You'll need a nice wide tabletop or stand -- 57 inches wide the the 65-inch sample I reviewed -- to support it. Of course like any TV you can also wall-mount the 6-Series.
Why Roku TV rocks
I'm a fan of Roku TV, for reasons I've documented extensively in previous reviews. Here's the short list of reasons to love it:
- 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).
My review sample didn't get Roku's latest software yet, version 9.2, but when that happens a few other nifty features, including a voice-activated sleep timer and curated content "zones," will appear. Check out my writeup of Roku's 2019 players for more new additions, and my review of my favorite 4K Roku device, the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, for other details on Roku itself.
One thing currently missing from the Roku platform in general and this TCL TV in particular -- and available on competing smart TVs from Vizio, Samsung and LG -- is support for Apple's AirPlay system. Samsung TVs also currently offer Apple's TV app. Apple says the TV app will be available on Roku at some point in the future.
The 6-Series includes the simple Roku remote with built-in voice control (unlike last year TCL hasn't announced a cheaper variant that lacks the voice remote). Roku's voice function isn't 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.
Key TV features
|Display technology||LED LCD|
|LED backlight||Full array with local dimming|
|HDR compatible||HDR10 and Dolby Vision|
|Smart TV||Roku TV|
The most important picture quality extra is full-array local dimming, which TCL calls Contrast Control Zone technology, but it means the same thing. The 6-Series has plenty of zones for the price: 100 zones for the 55-incher and 120 zones for the 65-incher. If you're keeping track that's four more zones and the same number as last year, respectively. It's slightly better than the Vizio M8, which has 90 zones in both sizes.
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. TCL's mini-LED system, available on the high-end 8-Series, takes this to an extreme.
Like that Vizio and the Samsung QLED TVs, the 6-Series also uses quantum dots -- its biggest on-paper advantage over its 2018 predecessor. Those dots are microscopic nanocrystals that glow a specific wavelength (color, for example) when given energy. They improve color compared to non-QD-equipped TVs. My measurements showed slightly better color in the 2019 6-Series than last year's model, and it looked more accurate in my comparisons.
Just like 2018's model, the 6-Series supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range formats. These days basically the only manufacturer that doesn't is Samsung.
The TV also touts a spec called "Natural Motion 240," 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 Quantum, the Samsung Q70 and Sony X950G.
Note that TCL didn't announce a 75-inch version of the 2019 6-Series yet. It announced that size separately in January at CES (a TV that happened to have a 120Hz refresh rate), so perhaps it will do so again at CES 2020.
Around back you'll find a healthy set of jacks.
- 4 HDMI inputs (HDMI 2.0a 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 2019 6-Series adds a fourth HDMI input compared to the 2018 model's three. It lacks some of the HDMI 2.1 extras found on some competitors such as variable refresh rate, but it does feature auto game mode, designed to automatically engage the low input lag setting when connected to a compatible gaming device. The headphone jack is a nice touch, and unlike cheaper Roku sets, this one has Ethernet, too.
In my side-by-side comparison, the TCL 6-Series' picture was as good or better than any of the TVs in my comparison lineup with the exception of the LG B9 OLED. It was slightly better than both the Vizio M8, which costs about the same, and the Samsung Q70, which costs a lot more. It also traded blows admirably with the more-expensive Vizio P-Series Quantum. In my rating scale all of the LCD-based TVs I've reviewed were good enough to score an "8," for excellent picture quality.
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: For my home theater tests I turned to Martin Scorsese's 1995 classic, Casino. The 2019 TCL maintained an inky shade of black in the opening white-on-black titles, slightly outdoing the 2018 TCL and the Samsung and matching the Vizios. The trend continued in the shot of the bosses around the smoky table (3:36), where the 2019 TCL delivered better black levels than any of the LCDs -- although the Vizio Q came close and it was tough to tell the difference at a glance.
In brighter scenes like the establishing shots of the gaudy casino floor (5:41) all of the LCDs looked very similar in terms of contrast and depth of black in the letterbox bars, although the Samsung again lagged slightly behind. Shadow detail on the TCL was excellent, as was the TCL's ability to curtail blooming or stray illumination, although in neither area was it significantly better or worse than the other LCDs.
Bright lighting: The TCL 6-Series delivered ample light output for any lighting situation and plenty of oomph for HDR, with an SDR peak brightness that falls short of only the three more-expensive TVs in its competitive set. It also measured brighter than the Vizio P-Series Quantum (P659-G1) in every other brightness category.
Light output in nits
|TV||Brightest (SDR)||Accurate color (SDR)||Brightest (HDR)||Accurate color (HDR)|
|TCL 65R617 (2018)||653||299||824||824|
As usual the Vivid picture mode was brightest on the 6-Series but I recommend the accurate setting instead for everyday viewing. It's easy to get an accurate bright-room picture with the TCL: Just set the picture mode to Movie (or Bright HDR) and crank the TV Brightness setting up to Brighter. For dark rooms, conversely, the best choice is Movie (or Dark HDR) with the TV Brightness: Darker setting. Vizio is still the easiest, however, with its Calibrated and Calibrated Dark settings.
TCL seems to have improved the screen finish on the 2019 6-Series, which dimmed bright reflections in my viewing room slightly better than the 2018 version. The screen still did a worse job preserving contrast and black levels than the Vizio M8 and especially the Samsung (which had the best anti-reflective screen of any LCD in my lineup) however. That's hardly a deal-breaker though.
Color accuracy: The TCL 6-Series measured as accurate as any TV in my lineup bother before and after calibration, and as usual its superb contrast helped the colors pop. In Casino I appreciated the garish hues of the Vegas streets and the gaming floor -- as well as the outfits Sharon Stone's character wears. The film's few natural colors, which include the grass of the ballfield and the blue of the desert sky, were also rendered faithfully. But again, no TV stood out as much better than any other in this area.
I did encounter one strange issue where the TCL's colors appeared highly exaggerated, with oversaturated reds in particular. It only happened once during my testing, however, and I couldn't get it to repeat itself. The colors looked normal again after I switched sources.
Video processing: The TCL 6-Series handled 1080p/24 content properly, preserving the cadence of film as long as the Natural Cinema setting is turned on. Disabling that setting created a jerky 3:2 pulldown motion in my standard test using the aircraft carrier flyover from I Am Legend.
Two other settings also affect motion performance: Action Smoothing and LED Motion Clarity. The former introduces the soap opera effect in various strengths, while turning it Off removed the effect entirely (note that the setting is properly grayed out when Natural Cinema is turned on). Unlike such smoothing 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.
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 ever measured. With Game Mode engaged it was just 11 milliseconds with both 1080p and 4K HDR sources. With Game Mode turned, lag increased quite a bit to 94ms with 4K HDR, but remained the same (11ms) with 1080p.
Uniformity: The screen of my 2019 TCL 6-Series review sample maintained admirable uniformity, with just slightly darker corners than the middle and no visible backlight structure or overt dirty-screen effect. Full-field test patterns revealed it was a bit better than the Samsung and Vizio P in this area, similar to the 2018 TCL and slightly worse than the Vizio M8, but none were bad by any means.
From off-angle it preserved black levels and fidelity about as well as the other LCDs. Of course the OLED's screen was more uniform and basically perfect from off-angle, outdoing any of the LCD sets.
HDR and 4K video: Just like with SDR the TCL held its own in impressive fashion when I switched to the highest-quality 4K HDR video. If anything it pulled ahead of the LCD pack in most ways.
I started by comparing the montage from the reference Spears & Munsil UHD HDR benchmark disc. The TCL 6-Series looked great, falling short only of the OLED overall. Light output was excellent, with the brightest highlights in specular areas such as the sunrise (2:12) and among the brightest in full-field whites such as the clouds above the mountains (0:13) and the snowy pasture (0:38). The Samsung matched the 6-Series in the latter scene, but the Vizios were dimmer by around 100 nits, a difference I could see in my dark room side-by-side without having to measure. That said, it would be tough to spot the brightness difference without such a comparison.
The TCL also excelled at the difficult scenes with black backgrounds. The honey dipper (2:27) looked brilliant with deep black and admirable lack of blooming, while the Samsung and 2018 TCL both appeared with lighter, more washed-out backgrounds. Black levels on two Vizios were similar to the TCL in this scene, with the P-Series Quantum perhaps slightly deeper and showing a bit less blooming. But between the three the TCL looked best mainly because of brighter highlights, leading to superior contrast overall.
The 6-Series' color was excellent in the grass and flowers, without the over-saturation issues and reddish tinge I saw on the 2018 TCL 6-Series. I also didn't see any major color gradations or banding issues in the skies and clouds, artifacts that did show up on the Vizio P-Series Quantum at times.
Next I popped in the 4K HDR version of Casino and it was more of the same, albeit on a lesser scale. Compared to the benchmark disc's montage, which is designed to tease out differences and really challenge TVs, Casino made all of them look more similar -- and all are great performers.
During the dark boss shot in the opening (3:39) the TCL maintained a darker shade of black than any of the LCDs aside from the Vizio P-Series Quantum. Highlights, such as the lamp above the boss' table, were a bit dimmer on the TCL than the Samsung and Vizio M-Series, but the TCL's overall punch and brilliance in most scenes was a thin notch better than either one.
Colors looked mostly similar, and were good quality on all of the TVs, from the lights of the Vegas strip to the greens, pinks and reds of the flowers on the wedding dinner table (41:47). Once again the 2019 TCL beat its predecessor with a more natural, balanced look, and it kept solid pace with the other TVs, all of which also have quantum dots or OLED for wide color gamuts.
Differences reappeared when I compared streaming on the Samsung, TCL and Vizios using the TVs' built-in apps. I streamed an episode of Stranger Things on Netflix. The TCL's presentation of the Dolby Vision feed looked great, with black levels and punch that outdid the Samsung by a hair (I attribute this more to the TVs themselves, not to the fact that the Samsung's version was HDR10, not Dolby Vision), Meanwhile the M8 looked too dark, with crushed shadow details in the default Calibrated Dark mode. The Vizio P-Series Quantum looked the best of these by a nose, with deeper black levels than the TCL and good shadow detail. But again its highlights were slightly dimmer.
Note that I compared the TVs in what I considered to be their best default settings (namely TV Brightness: Brighter and Picture mode: Dark Dolby Vision for the TCL), and most of these differences can be evened out or tweaked in picture settings. In Dolby Vision and Stranger Things (which is quite dark), for example, the TCL looked a bit better to me with its TV Brightness setting at Normal or Bright instead of Brighter.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0045||Good|
|Peak white luminance (SDR)||653||Good|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.17||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||0.66||Good|
|Dark gray error (30%)||0.14||Good|
|Bright gray error (80%)||0.43||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||1.21||Good|
|Avg. saturation sweeps error||1.12||Good|
|Avg. color error||0.98||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||300||Poor|
|Input lag (Game mode)||11.03||Good|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.005||Good|
|Peak white luminance (10% win)||881||Average|
|Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976)||97.39||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||4.60||Average|
|Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR)||11.00||Good|
Correction: Originally this review said the 2019 6-Series lacked the Auto Game Mode feature. It does in fact have Auto Game Mode.