Update: The TCL 6-Series QLED Roku TV (R625) has been replaced with the newer TCL 6-Series 2020 QLED TV with MiniLED (R635) that uses MiniLED technology. We’ll leave this review up for posterity, but if you’re looking for the latest TV in the vaunted 6-Series, check out the R635 instead!
Few TVs have changed the home entertainment space in the same way that the TCL 6-Series has – it’s made high-end features like Dolby Vision support, full-array panels and Wide Color Gamut available to consumers at a third of the cost of high-end TVs.
This dedication to serving you a low-cost alternative to the high-end TVs paid dividends: The original TCL P6-Series, the first of its kind, couldn’t stay on shelves for more than a few weeks at a time.
Now the newest addition to the lineup, the TCL 6-Series QLED (2019), is here to extend – and improve – that legacy thanks to a Quantum Dot (QLED) filter that makes colors more vibrant and contrast even more extreme and the new AIPQ upscaling engine.
Price and release date
The new TCL 6-Series QLED is available in two sizes – the 55-inch TCL 55R625 that costs $599.99 and 65-inch TCL 65R625 that costs $799.99.
Surprisingly this year’s 55-inch model is around $50 cheaper than last year’s 55-inch 6-Series TV while the 65-inch version is $200 cheaper than the 65-inch version last year. Somehow TCL continues to drive down the price of its own screens, making its 65-inch and 55-inch 4K TVs more affordable for everyone.
That said, TCL isn’t the only one driving down prices: Both Hisense and Vizio both have comparable TVs in the same price range that perform fairly similarly.
The Hisense H9F comes in the same two sizes – 55-inch 55H9F that costs $599 and 65-inch 65H9F that costs $899 – while the Vizio M-Series Quantum comes in a number of sizes with the 55- and 65-inch versions coming in at $599 and $799, respectively. We’ll break down the differences between the TVs below, but keep the prices for those other TVs in the back of your mind as you read our review.
Despite scoring some huge points in the performance department, the TCL 6-Series QLED isn’t the most beautifully-designed TV we’ve ever seen. For lack of a better word, we’d describe it as industrial – it’s all brushed chrome around the outside bezel with a small logo along the bottom edge of the screen near the IR receiver.
It’s fairly chunky and the v-shaped legs – attached via screws in the back – point inward to give it stability. There’s not really any way to manage cables that come into the back of the TV and, for folks who are all about wall-mounting their TV, it probably won’t look great on a wall considering how thick it is.
So how thick are we talking? At its thinnest point, the 6-Series QLED is a chunky 1.25 inches thick and over 2 inches at its thickest point near the bottom of the screen.
It’s thicker than most screens at this price point because it’s using a full-array panel – i.e. the LED lights are located throughout the screen rather than just on the edges. That’s a good thing because the TV can then be more uniformly lit, increasing brightness and enhancing contrast, but it comes at the expense of thinness.
Spin it around to the back and you’ll find four HDMI 2.0 ports with HDCP 2.2, one USB 2.0 port, a 3.5mm Headphone Jack and Digital Optical-In, plus an AV In port that takes your standard composite (Red-White-Yellow RCA) input, great for classic gaming or older AV devices. That’s one more HDMI port than was on the 6-Series last year – a small criticism that we pointed out in our last review – so it’s great to see that fixed for the 2019 model.
Design TL;DR: TCL’s 6-Series QLED is a bit on the thick side, but that’s because it houses the all-important full-array panel.
Smart TV (Roku TV)
In terms of its smart platform, not a whole lot has changed since last year – the TCL 6-Series QLED still uses the venerable, intuitive, egalitarian and downright exceptional Roku TV. It’s the operating platform that doesn’t care which streaming service you use and will show you search results from over a half-dozen services with a preference for free content.
That last bit is important, especially if you’ve ever used an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV, both of which would much rather have you stream from their ancillary streaming services over any of the third-party ones. Because Roku doesn’t have ties to a major streaming service – other than a vague deal to include FandangoNow on the home screen of the OS – it doesn’t push you any direction you don’t want to go and happily supports everything from Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV and Amazon, to lesser-known channels like Pluto.tv, tubi, Crackle and others.
If you’re a cord cutter, you’ll love the Featured Free section of the homepage that shows you what’s available for free on the different services and Roku’s own streaming service, The Roku Channel,which provides its own collection of entirely free movies that change in and out every few months. These are invaluable resources for cord-cutters who want live cable-free, and a great alternative to channel surfing for folks who still have a box.
One nice surprise TCL and Roku tucked into the TV is that it’s Screencast-ready – a handy feature that allows you to cast content from your mobile device to your TV. This is nice if you have a group of friends over and they all want a turn showing their favorite YouTube clip, or if you want to use your TV as a digital picture frame when family comes to visit.
The only two downsides to Roku TV are that it’s getting a bit long in the tooth in terms of design and it doesn’t feature a particularly useful smart assistant, like Alexa, Bixby, Siri or Google Assistant. That’s something that every other major smart TV platform has and while we’ve never found them to be essential, they are niceties that we’ve come to enjoy.
Smart TV TL;DR: While you won’t find smart assistants here or any sort of AI, Roku TV has laser-precision focus on delivering nearly every known streaming service and cataloging shows and movies in its robust, searchable database.
If you temper your expectations, you’ll be very surprised with the 6-Series’ HD/SDR performance – it’s not the brightest TV in the world nor the best on the market in terms of upscaling, but it’s both surprisingly bright and offers good upscaling for the price. But let’s break both those points down a bit.
In terms of brightness, the 6-Series QLED is similar to last year at around 600 to 700 nits of peak brightness in HD/SDR mode. That gives it more than enough headroom to display both the brightest and darkest images in HD/SDR, making it a relatively strong pick for folks who mostly stick to traditional cable or HD streaming.
Even better, that brightness is heavily emphasized by its great contrast ratio and excellent black levels. For that we can thank its full array panel and several dozen contrast control zones that help the TV obtain higher contrast and can make even SDR content look great.
Upscaling, an area that we panned the original P6-Series for in 2016, has gotten significantly better this year thanks to the new AIPQ upscaling engine. According to TCL, the upscaling engine uses three main algorithms to add color, depth and clarity to sub-4K images and the result is that most modern HD/SDR shows or films look great on the TCL TV.
Unfortunately it’s not as effective with older content. For example, The Matrix streaming on HD from Netflix still had bit of noise in some areas and colors looked desaturated. The same film run through the Nvidia Shield’s AI upscaling feature or on Samsung or Sony TVs would look better, but the latter are obviously much more expensive than the affordable 6-Series QLED.
The other major downside to the TV’s performance is that it’s only a 60Hz panel. That means motion handling is fine, but can really suffer during fast motion. Worse, the way Roku TV is implemented here, you don’t have much control over how motion is handled: there are just three settings – high, medium, low – or it can be turned off entirely. (We opted for the last option and turned on Natural Cinema mode in lieu of motion processing.)
Four options are better than none, obviously, but Samsung’s 4K TVs offer a more controlled 10-point scale for around the same price.
HD/SDR Performance TL;DR: The 6-Series QLED is bright enough for HD/SDR content but not quite the best in the business in terms of upscaling.
Where the TV shines, both literally and figuratively, however, is with 4K HDR content. Sure, it never quite reaches the same peak brightness of QLED TVs from Samsung, but what’s on offer here will blow you away for the price.
Under the hood, the 6-Series QLED is rocking two important technologies – a full array panel and Quantum Dot filter. The former is what allows the TV to reach a peak brightness of around 800 nits without suffering from major haloing while the latter makes its colors really come to life. It’s that Quantum filter that makes its Wide Color Gamut tech even better.
Wide Color Gamut (or WCG) is the driving force behind super saturated images – blues being bluer, greens being greener and so on. TCL has a proprietary technology called NBP Photon that does this intelligently without risking oversaturation. In practice, the results are extraordinary and look way above what a TV in this price range should be able to produce.
In terms of picture modes you’ll find a few good options here – for basic HD/4K content there’s Movie, Normal, Sports and Vivid, plus Low Power, which is the default setting right out of the box. We really liked Vivid for its saturated images and turned the TV brightness setting up from normal to bright and color temperature from warm to normal.
You also can’t talk about the TV’s 4K/HDR performance without covering Dolby Vision, the higher-end HDR standard that has a metric ton of metadata to bring out the most in the TV. Content captured and transmitted in Dolby Vision contain more low-light and ultra-bright details than standard HDR10 ever could on its own. Having it available here on a TV at this price point speaks volumes of about the value TCL created here.
No Dolby Vision demo content? Don’t worry about it.The Dolby app offers free clips of Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos content that you can use to showcase your new TV. Educational, entertaining and best of all free, it is a welcome addition to TCL’s spectacular set.
Unfortunately all of that content doesn’t look so good when you start sitting off-axis from the TV – shift too far left or right and the TV loses color saturation quickly. That’s typically true for any TV that uses a VA panel, but somehow the desaturation effect feels more dramatic here.
Last but not least, all the issues we had with motion that we mentioned above in the HD/SDR section apply here as well.
4K/HDR TL;DR: This TV has all the tech it needs to make 4K HDR content really shine. It’s not Samsung QLED levels of gorgeous but it’s still seriously good-looking.
While the 6-Series QLED excels in picture performance, sound quality leaves a bit to be desired. In fact, compared to the excellent images, the TV sounds… well, fine, but not all that immersive or clear.
And that’s not for a lack of trying – the 6-Series offers a number of ways to enhance the audio like surround sound upscaling and dialogue enhancement, but neither of these can overcome the real obstacle – the two 8W down-firing speakers that sound a bit harsh at higher volume levels and really lack any sort of oomph in the bass.
In terms of tonal balance, the 6-Series emphasizes mids and highs rather than wall-shaking bass but at times even the dialogue can be hard to hear. Moreover, the TV falls a bit short on music or games where explosions reign supreme.
The best thing you can do with the money you save on the TV is invest in a soundbar, preferably something that takes advantage of the TV’s Dolby Atmos support like the Vizio SB36512-F6, Sony HT-X8500, LG SL9YG or the Samsung HW-Q70R Soundbar.
Other panels to ponder…
Last year, the TCL 6-Series was about the only budget TV we felt confident in recommending to readers, friends and family… this year, however, there are two other TVs – the Hisense H9F and Vizio M-Series Quantum – that offer similar performance around the same price point.
The Hisense H9F, again available in the same screen sizes, offers a better overall picture quality and uses a 120Hz panel making it a bit better at handling motion. Like the 6-Series QLED, it offers Dolby Vision support but the downside is that some Hisense TVs – like the H8F and H9F – use Android TV… which can be a bit slow and bloated.
The Vizio M-Series Quantum has the benefit of coming in four screen sizes, making it slightly more versatile, and comes with two 20W speakers that trump the 8W speakers found on the TCL 6-Series QLED. The downsides are that the Vizio uses SmartCast, a pretty limited OS, and has a slightly lower peak brightness that impacts HDR performance.
It’s not a perfect TV but at the price it’s hard to beat the TCL 6-Series QLED R625. It’s more colorful than previous years thanks to the Quantum Dot filter, and slightly better at upscaling thanks to the AIPQ upscaling engine.
It’s still not as good as the leading TVs from Samsung, LG and Sony in the upscaling department and still has some motion issues due to the underlying 60Hz panel, but at just $599 we can easily overlook these issues.
That said, if you can’t overlook them as easily, there’s the Vizio M-Series Quantum with 20W speakers or the 120Hz Hisense H9F that offer upgrades in the audio and visual departments if you don’t mind giving up on Roku TV.
A far cry from where things were three years ago when the 6-Series first hit the market, this is a very good year for value 4K TVs.