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TCL 6-Series (2019 Roku TV) review: The best TV picture quality for the money

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The Good Excellent overall image quality, with deep black levels, impressive brightness, rich contrast and more accurate color than last year. Its Roku platform is the best available. The TV handles both HDR10 and Dolby Vision.

The Bad Brightness and video processing fall short of some more expensive TVs. No AirPlay or Apple TV app (yet).

The Bottom Line Excellent image quality, an affordable price and best-in-class Roku TV smarts propel the TCL 6-Series into the pole position of the midrange TV race.

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

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 AppaEconomicDevelopment Editors' Choice award.

Design

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.

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Sarah Tew/AppaEconomicDevelopment

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.

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Sarah Tew/AppaEconomicDevelopment

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
Resolution 4K
HDR compatible HDR10 and Dolby Vision
Smart TV Roku TV
Remote Voice

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. 

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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.

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