Someday, there will be a reason to spend more than $1,000 on a TV. For now, save your money and buy the new TCL 6-Series. For the third year in a row, the $650, 55-inch model is our favorite TV—where beautiful picture quality and a usable Roku interface meet a reasonable price.
It has better picture than TVs that cost hundreds of dollars more, Roku OS built in, and even Chromecast for showing slideshows on the big screen. You can spend double the money for a slightly better-looking OLED TV, but this quantum dot, Mini-LED TCL is nearly as good—and comes with a better interface.
You should also save up some extra cash and buy a soundbar already, if you don’t own one.
If you’ve been skating by in the blue glow of an old Sony, Vizio, Samsung, or LG model, you might not be familiar with TCL. The Chinese company is a relative newcomer to the TV scene in the United States, but it has quickly made waves for its price-to-performance ratios.
TCL, like Vizio, operates in the sub-premium section of the market (that’s a mouthful), where it aims to offer really high-quality viewing experiences for the lowest prices around. TCL and Vizio were neck-and-neck at the start, but for the past several years we’ve given the edge to TCL, due in large part to its Roku interface.
Not only is the 6-Series’ onboard Roku OS much easier to navigate than other smart TV interfaces, it also gets some of the best support from developers. I’ve encountered wonky apps on individual TV brands’ operating systems, but the Roku ecosystem has so many users outside of TCL that Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu have clearly given it a high priority. Roku apps work better and break less. Even if you choose another TV, we suggest you buy a Roku stick for it.
The included Roku remote (a cute little wand) also works for voice search, which makes finding your favorite shows easier. I also like how simple it is to plug devices into the 4 HDMI ports (one eARC port for soundbars, three other standard HDMI 2.0b ports) with Roku’s interface. You tell Roku what you’re plugging in through a menu (game system, soundbar, Blu-ray player, etc.) and it will always show up on the home screen correctly labeled.
One thing that’s a bit less intuitive is finding the actual video settings for the TV. To do this, you’ll need to watch a piece of content, and hit the “*” Settings button on the remote to adjust your picture.
I recommend turning off all motion smoothing and turning on game mode if you’re plugging in a video game console. It’s subjective, but I liked the picture best when I switched the TV to Normal mode and then set the color palette to Warm, which made things a lot less blue. Your mileage may vary, but I recommend messing around until you find a look you like.
Annoyingly, you do have to adjust the settings for HDR content and non-HDR content separately. The TV supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and to adjust the settings you just have to press the Settings button on the remote when watching said content.
A Plain, Functional Design
The TV itself is a relatively bland mix of brushed metal and plastic, with thin bezels and about 4 inches of total depth off the wall.
TCL has done well to make sure that the included legs fit beneath the footprint of the TV, so if the screen itself fits on your existing TV stand, the legs will too (a problem on other legged TVs). I also like that it has included little channels in each leg for hiding cables, which makes it possible to have a cleaner overall look without buying extra cord-management accessories.
The 55-inch model is best for most small and medium-sized rooms; save the more expensive 65-inch or 75-inch models for bigger spaces. You can set up a 55-inch on your own (and I did), but you’re going to need help if you get the larger versions.
A Gorgeous Picture
The real secret to TCL’s latest 6-Series, and what sets it apart from nearly all competitors, is its use of Mini-LED backlighting. This technology allows the TV to have better, more focused local-array dimming than before. So it can darken or brighten small sections of the screen in sync with whatever you’re watching.
Instead of a few hundred standard-size LEDs in the backlighting system, you get thousands of smaller ones. This means darker scenes appear without annoying haloing or light bleed around brighter objects, and overall contrast is better than ever.
If it wasn’t so terribly written, I’d probably enjoy watching the super dark last season of Game of Thrones on this screen. As it is, I deeply enjoyed the way it treated The Mandolorian, which often uses shadows to very cinematic effect. In darker scenes, everything remained visible and vivid, and the occasional bright red blaster bolt looked fantastic.
The company’s onboard AiPQ engine does relatively well at upscaling standard HD images to 4K, though it can struggle with motion in video games and films when you have motion smoothing enabled. (It’s a feature I only ever recommend for sports.) It also does occasionally overbrighten super white-heavy scenes.
As far as gaming goes, if you’re looking for a TV to pair with a next-gen console, you’ll have to wait another year for an affordable TV that looks this good to take you to the performance edge; TCL didn’t include support for 4K, 120 frames-per-second gaming, which the upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles will support when they come out in November. Instead, you’ll get 1440p at 120 Hz, which is still very good. The TV also doesn’t support AMD Freesync or Nvidia G-Sync, so it’s not a great computer gaming solution. Owners of existing game consoles will love the way it looks, though. For example, my Nintendo Switch looked amazing on it.
Again, you shouldn’t buy a new TV without also looking at a soundbar (unless you already have one). The 6 series has speakers that work, which is about all the praise I can give them. You simply won’t enjoy what’s on-screen as much without dedicated speakers elsewhere.
The Best, Yet Again
The combination of features, a dead-simple interface, and outstanding picture quality makes this year’s TCL 6-Series, once again, our favorite TV of the year for most people. If you’re a serious gamer, you might consider spending more for a model that supports next-gen consoles, like the LG CX OLED (8/10, WIRED Recommends), but otherwise, there is virtually no reason to buy a more expensive model.
TCL still offers the best bang for your buck. We wish everyone else better luck next year.