Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement | How we test TVs
Though it's a mouthful to say, the TCL L40FHDF12TA enjoys a reputation among Internet shoppers--namely on Amazon.com, where it's been one of the best-selling TVs so far this year--as an inexpensive television that provides a "cheap and cheerful" picture.
After testing, we can confirm that the TV does perform better than you'd expect for the money, but that's not saying much. It has a deceptively "dark" picture that is actually the result of some artificial tampering to make the black levels look better than they actually are. In essence, you'll never be able to get any usable shadow detail out of this TV, and colors, though initially exciting, are unnatural.
But we've tested plenty of TVs that perform worse than this model over the years, and they were much more expensive than this one. We'd never recommend this as your primary TV, but it could be decent for use in a bedroom or a guest house.
Back in 2005, Sony's newly introduced Bravia range sported a two-tone design that then became popular among TV manufacturers until it was eclipsed by piano black. TCL gives a nod to designs of yore with the black bezel and a silver strip on its L40FHDF12TA, but Sony did it better seven years ago. The TCL comes with a glass stand but unfortunately it doesn't swivel.
The remote control looks a little more up-to-date, with a piano-black casing and friendly-looking buttons. While they are thankfully few in number, we still found the remote difficult to use in a darkened room as the numbered buttons and the menu button are the same shape and close to each other.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||No|
|Smart TV||No||Internet connection||No|
|3D technology||No||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||No|
Features? You're not going to get them. The TCL is more bare-bones than a Halloween decoration. There's no 3D this or Smart that; this is an old-school TV with a fluorescent backlight--not one of them fancy LEDs you might have heard of. The only modern concessions are the three HDMI ports and the addition of a USB port for displaying photos and playing MP3s.
Most of its competitors exist in the $600 range--the original price of this unit--and in that range you can expect more connectivity and even better performance. But TCL does provide full-HD (1080p) resolution, which is still uncommon in really cheap TVs, and an onboard digital tuner. While it doesn't come with any smoothing, 120Hz or so on, we've always been disappointed in budget implementations anyway, so that feature isn't missed.
If you want to buy a television you can tweak, the TCL is not for you. It provides the bare minimum of controls with only Color Temperature and Tint as standouts. A lack of Gamma control really hurts this TV, as it's impossible to get any usable shadow detail out of the set without destroying the "pop" the manufacturers were going for.
Interestingly, the TCL is exactly one-tenth of the price of the Sony KDL-V40XBR1, which debuted in 2005, and though we don't have the Sony to compare it with, we think that it's possible the two might exhibit similar picture quality.
You see, in seven years the quality of LCD televisions is now light-years ahead of where it was in 2005, but by these modern standards the TCL is only barely acceptable. We found its worst weaknesses were poor black levels, lack of shadow detail, and inaccurate color. Detail levels were as good as you'd see on any TV of its price, however, and a lack of artifacts such as smearing or blockiness meant the picture was quite watchable.
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.
Black levels: The TCL's black levels--the most important characteristic when determining what makes a "good" picture--are below par. Balancing deep blacks with full shadow detail is part of what makes a TV picture look both accurate and dynamic, and the TCL just can't do this.
After adjustment the two comparison TVs had noticeably deeper blacks. One of our test scenes for shadow detail from the recent "Star Trek" movie involves the renegade Romulan ship skulking across the screen. While not the best arbiters of shadow details, the Sony and Samsung were able to convey that there was a spaceship with lights and decks and terrifying spiny bits, while the TCL looked like someone in the distance was shining a glowworm through a cheese grater.
Color accuracy: Due to a lack of controls, we weren't able to make the colors more natural, and the secondary colors in particular stayed way outside of the normal ranges. Skies and details like the screens on the USS Enterprise looked off-color compared with the same scenes on the Sony and Samsung. A distinct lack of green in the image resulted in skin tones that were a little too rosy and skies that would look good in a catalogue but didn't resemble anything you'd see in real life.
Video processing: The video processing of the TCL was probably the most impressive thing about its performance. The TV was able to decode 1080i content without judder or moire in our sports stand test, and in our "real-world" test the TCL was the equal of the more expensive Sony and Samsung in terms of smoothness when showing the fly-by shot of the aircraft carrier. Motion resolution, on the other hand, was poor, with only 320 lines being resolved, and though this wouldn't usually be very noticeable, we did see some blurring in the faces of passersby in the closing scenes of "Mission: Impossible III."
Uniformity: Uniformity is a recurring issue on LCDs, and the TCL L40FHDF12TA is no different. There are some lighter patches in the upper corners and dark gray blobs in the middle of the screen, but as on similar TVs it's not usually noticeable.
Bright lighting: The TCL has a matte screen, and while this doesn't increase the illusion of contrast as on some TVs, at least it's viewable in brightly lit rooms with few reflections.
|GEEK BOX: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.2391||Poor|
|Near-black x/y (5%)||0.2602/0.2614||Poor|
|Dark gray x/y (20%)||0.3247/0.3347||Poor|
|Bright gray x/y (70%)||0.3108/0.3138||Poor|
|Before avg. color temp.||10120.5496||Poor|
|After avg. color temp.||6728.0505||Poor|
|Red lum. error (de94_L)||7.6771||Poor|
|Green lum. error (de94_L)||5.6937||Poor|
|Blue lum. error (de94_L)||4.5383||Poor|
|Cyan hue x/y||0.2099/0.2958||Poor|
|Magenta hue x/y||0.3425/0.1609||Poor|
|Yellow hue x/y||0.4382/0.4833||Poor|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Fail||Poor|
|1080i De-interlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||320||Poor|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||320||Poor|