TCL 6 series (2018 Roku TV) review: Still the best picture quality for the money, period

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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.

8.6 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Value 10

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Editors' note, Oct. 10, 2019: The 2018 TCL 6-Series reviewed here has been replaced by a newer 2019 TCL 6 Series.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.

Moar metallic

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.

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. 

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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 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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Around back you'll find a solid selection of inputs.

  • 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 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.