TV nerds like myself have waited a long time for details on TCL’s 2019 televisions, and now that the TV maker has finally unveiled its new sets, they don’t disappoint. Two new models — the high-end TCL 8 series with fancy mini-LED tech and an upgraded TCL 6 series that adds QLED color — are immediate contenders for the best TVs of 2019. And of course, every new TCL TV has built-in Roku TV, my favorite smart TV system.
TCL has become one of the most popular TV brands in the US, growing by more than 60 percent in 2017 and 2018 according to market research firm NPD, trailing only Samsung and Vizio in units sold. During that time, however, its growth has mostly come from entry-level models like the 3 series and 4 series — among my top choices for budget buyers — but not in midrange and high-end sets.
Now the company aims to broaden its appeal to video-quality aficionados and others willing to pay more. “With the 8- and 6-Series powered by the latest QLED color technology, there are few TVs available that can match their cinematic picture quality,” said Chris Larson, senior vice president of TCL.
That claim has merit. With the 2018 6 series, my Editors’ Choice among LCD TVs, the company demonstrated it can nail the sweet spot between price and image quality. The new versions look even better on paper. Here’s all the new 2019 TVs TCL announced today.
TCL 2019 8, 6 and 5 series TVs
|Model||Size (inches)||Local dimming zones||QLED color||Price||Available|
TCL 8 series: 25,000 mini-LEDs can’t be wrong
The 8 series shares a price ballpark with Vizio’s P-Series Quantum X and Samsung’s Q80R but could potentially outperform either one — or any other high-end LCD TV. The reason? Small LEDs, and lots of ’em. TCL says the 8 series has 25,000 LEDs on the 75-inch size (and proportionally less on the 65, but representatives didn’t specify exactly how many).
They’re mini-LEDs, and this is the first time a TV maker has used them in a US model. Mini-LED is different from MicroLED, the display technology used by Samsung in its hella-expensive The Wall TVs, and rumored to be used in the 2020 version of the Apple Watch. MicroLED is a potentially revolutionary display tech and a candidate to replace OLED as picture-quality king, thanks to emissive technology that does away with the liquid-crystal structure of traditional LCD TVs. Mini-LED adds more, smaller LEDs to the backlight behind that structure, but otherwise the 8 series is a traditional LCD TV. I asked TCL to specify at what size a standard LED becomes a mini-LED, but representatives declined.
Thanks to mini-LED, which TCL calls “Quantum Contrast,” the 8 series has around 1,000 local dimming zones, roughly twice as many as the 75-inch Vizio Quantum X (Samsung doesn’t specify its number of dimming zones). Local dimming is the best way to improve LCD picture quality, and more zones generally means less stray illumination in dark objects, which leads to better contrast and overall image quality. TCL also claims superior brightness (although unlike Vizio it doesn’t specify a number in nits), improved brightness uniformity, wider viewing angles and thinner design.
In a side-by-side demo with a Samsung Q80R, the TCL 8 series indeed looked very impressive, but I’ll wait until I can review one to pass judgement — and compare the 8 series to an OLED TV like LG’s C9.
TCL 6 series: QLED could make a great TV better
If you don’t want to spend two grand on a TV, yet still want a great picture, you’re probably more interested in the updated 6 series. This year’s version includes all of the goodness of the 2018 model, including a few more zones of full-array local dimming powered by standard-size LEDs, and adds quantum dots (also used on the 8 series).
TCL’s adoption of “QLED” proves Samsung doesn’t have a monopoly on that futuristic-sounding acronym — TCL even uses the same font as Samsung. It stands for “quantum dot LED TV,” and those dots are microscopic molecules that, when hit by light, emit their own, differently colored light. Quantum dots also appear in Vizio’s new 2019 TVs including the M-Series Quantum. In my tests they do improve HDR color, which was a weakness of the 6 series last year.
Aside from some styling tweaks the 6 series is otherwise the same as last year. TCL didn’t reveal whether there would be a cheaper Best Buy variant, and didn’t announce a 75-inch size yet.
TCL 5 series: Meh
Far less exciting to me than the other two is an update of the 5 series. The only upgrades are cosmetic; TCL says the new version will have the same image quality as the 2018 model, which didn’t really float my boat.
As I mentioned at the top all of the new TCL sets use Roku’s operating system. The 8 and 6 series include Roku’s voice remote, while the 5 series has the standard clicker. All of the new models support Dolby Vision, and the 8 and 6 series can handle Dolby Atmos audio as well.
Calibration using your phone: What the what?
At the end of the demo session TCL’s representative pulled out a phone and showed me a screen from an upcoming new app. Called “iPQ Calibration,” it’s designed to let users adjust color and other image quality aspects — in other words,— without the need for any specialized equipment.
The rep told me the idea was to keep the process as simple as possible: just pair the app with the TV and take a series of photos of the screen, which will display gray and color test patterns. The TV will make the adjustments automatically.
Due to limitations of phone cameras, the app will only work with some phones, including Google Pixels and iPhones. It will be compatible with 2019 TCL TVs and perhaps with earlier models as well. I wouldn’t expect the same results as a professional calibration, but it could help with TVs that have drifted in color over time. The app will debut later this year.
I’m looking forward to reviewing the new TCL TVs soon.