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TCL TVs make 8K more affordable, slim down Mini-LED and expand Roku

The 6-Series with Roku, our favorite 4K TV for the money, will get an 8K version in sizes up to 85 inches.

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TCL
This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

TVs with 8K resolution have been around since late 2018 and we've always told people not to buy them. Their extra pixels don't especially improve image quality in my experience, and no TV shows or movies are available in 8K anyway. Most importantly, they're expensive. The cheapest 8K TV in the US is a 65-inch Samsung that costs $2,700, at least a grand more than any number of excellent 4K TVs.

Read more: 8K TV: What you need to know

TCL has been undercutting the prices of Samsung and pretty much every other TV brand over the last few years. In 2020 its 6-Series Roku TV won CNET's Editors' Choice Award as the best TV for the money. Now the China-based company is aiming to make 8K more affordable too. At CES it announced that a new version of its 6-Series would be available later this year with 8K resolution.

Now playing: Watch this: TCL brings 8K resolution to its value-conscious 6-Series...
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The company didn't share many more details on the new 6-Series (model R648) aside from mentioning that it would use TCL's AIPQ upscaling engine, Mini-LED backlights and the Roku operating system. Meanwhile the 4K version I liked so much will remain on sale.

The biggest detail TCL has yet to disclose is the price of its 8K TV -- and yes, I asked. But given the company's history of aggressive prices I'm willing to bet it will cost a lot less than $2,700 (which is about £2,000 or AU$3,500). If I had to guess, I'd say $2,000 for the 65-inch model to start, falling to $1,500 for the 2021 holidays. 

Here's where I remind you that 8K owners will be watching 4K at best for the foreseeable future. Japan's NHK has said it will broadcast the Tokyo Olympics in 8K, but there's no word yet on whether that broadcast will make it to the US (assuming the Olympics, already pushed back a year because of the pandemicactually happen). 8K video games are far from common. No major channel or subscription streaming service had announced 8K. The only 8K videos you can watch now are a handful of clips on YouTube or Vimeo, or video you shoot yourself

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The 8K TCL will use Roku's streaming system, but only YouTube and Vimeo have 8K video today.

TCL

A cheaper 8K TV won't do anything to solve the lack of 8K content, but it could tempt people worried about future-proofing their TV investment. Personally I'd rather invest in brightness, contrast or color than extra pixels.

Mini-LED slims down

The main reason I liked the 6-Series' picture quality was its excellent brightness and contrast for the money, a direct result of Mini-LED technology. In 2021 TCL will introduce a line of TVs featuring its third generation of Mini-LED, called OD Zero. Compared to current Mini-LED TVs such as the 6-Series, the OD Zero TVs will be much thinner thanks to a reduction in the distance between the backlight layer and the LCD display layer.

Mini-LEDs, not to be confused with MicroLED, are smaller than the LEDs used in most TVs and, in sets I've reviewed, they improve brightness and can make a backlight more precise, reducing stray illumination for example. TCL was first to sell a Mini-LED-based TV with the 8-Series in 2019, and LG and Samsung will follow in 2021.

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No other details on the new OD Zero TVs were announced, although TCL was careful to note that it's not the Vidrian Mini-LED system it has shown in the past, which embeds the LEDs in a glass panel to create thousands of dimming zones that improve backlight precision even further. The company did not announce any Vidrian TVs for 2021.

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The 85-inch TCL 4-Series will likely be among the least-expensive TVs of its size in 2021. 

TCL

Finally TCL said it would add its first 85-inch TVs to the 2021 lineup with three different models in that massive size: There's an entry-level 4-Series with Roku streaming (model 85R435), a step-up QLED model (85R745) and a flagship model with 8K resolution and OD Zero Mini-LED. 

TCL said the 85R745 would have full-array local dimming and support Variable Refresh Rate and 120Hz HDMI input. It didn't specify at what resolution, however. (The current 6-Series only supports 120fps at 1440p, not 4K.) And it didn't say whether that local dimming would be powered by Mini-LED.

TCL will announce more details on its new 2021 TVs, including specific series, pricing and availability, later this year.