On Tuesday, TCL launched the latest iterations of the popular 6-series and 5-series 4K HDR TVs. Both lineups are available starting today, but TCL says the former will have “limited availability”
Prices for the 5 Series start at $ 400 for a 50-inch model, then move up to $ 450 for a 55-inch model, $ 630 for a 65-inch model or $ 1100 for a 75-inch model. The 6 Series, meanwhile, costs $ 650 for a 55-inch model, $ 900 for a 65-inch model or $ 1400 for a 75-inch model.
The 6 Series and 5 Series tend to be TCL’s most recommended models for buyers of TVs that have offered affordable performance and simple Roku TV software at reasonable prices in recent years. The 6-series seats in just below the company’s highest end models in the 8-series, while the 5-series is just ahead of the more budget-friendly TVs in the 4-series and 3-series. In general, TCL’s television operations have increased success in the United States; today, the Chinese electronics company only tracks Samsung in the US market share.
6-series 4K TV: moves up to mini LEDs
The most important addition to this year’s 6-series Roku TVs is the mini-LED backlight, which TCL first introduced to mass-market TVs with its premium 8-series sets last year. As the name suggests, mini-LEDs are significantly smaller variants of traditional LEDs – usually 0.2 mm or less. Because mini-LEDs are so small, TV manufacturers can include much more of them in their screens: there are more than 25,000 mini-LEDs on the back of the aforementioned 8-series, and TCL says there are “thousands” of 6- series.
The result is ideally a TV that can more accurately dim some parts of the screen while other parts light up and thus improve the contrast compared to a typical LED LCD panel. The dark parts of an image may look darker, the light parts may look brighter and it should be less “blooming”, where a light part of an image seeps too far into what should be a dark part. (Think of an image where the night sky surrounding a bright moon is unnaturally brighter than the rest of the darkness around it.)
As for the new 6-series TVs, TCL says that the mini-lamps illuminate up to 240 local dimming zones in the entire matrix – ie. areas of the screen that can be illuminated or dimmed by the backlight. It is significantly less than the 1,000 zones advertised in the 8 Series and smaller than some of the higher traditional LED TVs, so the contrast performance here will probably not be something unsurpassed. This figure of 240 zones only applies to the most expensive 75-inch model.
It still exists likely to be an improvement over last year’s 6-series TV: while the previous 65-inch 6-series model maxed out at 120 local dimming zones, for example, this year’s 65-inch set has 160. The 55-inch 6-series TV Meanwhile, 128 have local dimming zones compared to 100 last year.
In general, mini-LED technology is something of a stop between aging LED-lit screens and more advanced display technologies such as OLED and microLED, both of which can achieve superior contrast by dimming each pixel individually. LG and, to a lesser extent, Sony have been the only TV manufacturers to put out OLED TVs at relatively affordable prices – although others like Vizio are starting to join them. MicroLEDs may be the gold standard for screen quality – compared to mini-LEDs, microLEDs are around 0.01mm – but they are still not available to the general public in part due to high manufacturing costs. Mini LEDs offer milder benefits, but benefits nonetheless – and they are more affordable to produce, which is why we see technology seeping down to popular TVs like the 6 Series today.
Like last year’s model, the new 6 Series uses a QLED display. For the unknown, this is not same as OLED, which is essentially a different – and highly superior – display class. Instead, it’s another iteration of traditional LED LCD panels – one that, when implemented well, can produce more saturated colors by using a light-filtering film with “quantum dots” between the backlight and the LCD layer. In simpler terms, there is reason to expect good color performance for the money, as was the case with last year’s sets. High quality LED panels can still surpass OLEDs in terms of maximum brightness, although TCL did not reveal how many brightnesses the 6 Series can display.
In addition, TCL says that the new 6-series TVs support up to a 120Hz refresh rate and a variable refresh rate (or VRR) ranging from 48 to 120 frames per second. Both should help with mobility, especially with fast video games. (The company has previously announced that VRR will appear as an update to select 6-series TVs from 2019.) These are also the first TVs to have THX’s new certified game mode label: this is a image mode that aims to reduce latency and delay for competitive games without sacrificing too much in the way of contrast and color. We need to see how well all of this works in action, but it may come in handy with the upcoming Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Each 6-series TV comes with four HDMI ports, all of which support Auto Low Latency Mode (or ALLM) – which lets compatible game consoles switch to TV game mode on your own – and VRR. One port supports eARC, an audio-over-HDMI feature that helps simplify connection to audio fields and AV receivers. While these are remarkable features that come standard with the HDMI 2.1 specification, none of the 6-Series TVs have a dedicated HDMI 2.1 port, so you will lose a modicum of future-proofing compared to higher-end TVs. the specification.
The TV series themselves still have a brushed metal finish with thin side edges, but they now have a smart cable management system that is tucked into each model’s stand. They still support Dolby Vision HDR, HDR10, HLG and Dolby Atmos surround sound. And all run the Roku OS, which remains a simple platform for accessing streaming content, albeit one that still lacks new apps like HBO Max and Peacock due to publisher disputes.
5 Series 4K TVs: QLED and local dimming
The more affordable Roku TV series in the 5 Series should be a step down in picture quality, but they now come with QLED panels for the enhanced color benefits mentioned above. They also include a full local dimming feature for the first time: this includes only 40, 48, 56 or 80 zones depending on the size you buy, which is not a ton, but it would help the TV perform better with HDR content. However, there are no mini-LEDs.
The 5 Series has four ALLM-supported HDMI ports, with one port supporting eARC. They also support Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG but max out with a refresh rate of 60 Hz. So do not expect exceptional agility during games. The design here is not quite as premium as the one in the 6 Series, but its frames are similarly narrow, and it has the same built-in cable management system.
In more forward-looking news, TCL says it plans to provide more information about its new premium-tier 8-series TVs, which will include at least one model with an 8K resolution, later this year.