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TCL 65R617 65" 4K Ultra HD Roku TV

Review Date December 5th, 2018 by
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Highly Recommended
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Overview – With Dolby Vision, HDR10, wide color gamut capabilities, full array local dimming, Roku smart TV functions, and voice remote support, the TCL 65R617 4K TV offers several advanced features typically reserved for more expensive models. Though picture quality isn't quite on the same level as pricier flagship displays, the set offers one of the best performance to price ratios of any display on the market, cementing itself as our Editor's Choice Winner for Best Value TV of 2018. Highly Recommended!

OVERALL
Highly Recommended
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Intro

With the release of last year's 55-inch P-Series Roku TV, TCL shattered expectations for what consumers should expect in a value priced 4K TV. And with 2018's 6-Series, the company takes things even further, offering improved specs and a larger 65-inch model -- all while maintaining an industry-leading bang-for-your-buck price tag.

Sure, the display can't provide the same brightness, contrast, and color performance as some competing premium models from other brands, but for many budget-conscious buyers, the increase in picture quality those more expensive sets provide likely won't justify their $1,000-plus increase in cost.

There are some drawbacks and limitations here and there, but when it comes to overall value this really is the 4K HDR TV to beat. 

Specs & Design

The 2018 TCL 6-Series is currently available in 65-inch ($1,000) and 55-inch ($630) screen sizes. Slightly cheaper Best Buy exclusive 65-inch ($970) and 55-inch ($600) models are also available with the same exact specs minus voice support on the remote control. The 65-inch model received for this review uses a VA LCD LED panel with a 16:9 aspect ratio, an Ultra HD resolution of 3840x2160, and a 60Hz native refresh rate. In addition, the panel features full array local dimming with 120 zones (96 on the 55-inch). Likewise, Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range playback capabilities are included as well, along with DCI-P3 wide color gamut coverage with NBP Photon Technology.

From a design perspective, the display belies its budget pricing with an attractive industrial style marked by a brushed metal finish. Sure, the look isn’t quite as premium or fancy as more expensive sets, but the handsome silver aesthetic is quite pleasing. The back panel has a black plastic construction, and the unit's profile measures about 3-inches at its thickest point. Black metal left and right feet stands are included as well.  

With the feet attached, the TV measures 57.1" x 35.7" x 10.7", and weighs 52.3 lbs. Three HDMI 2.0a inputs (including one ARC), composite video, optical and analog audio outs, a cable/antenna input, a USB 2.0 connection, and an Ethernet port are all located on the right side of the screen. Meanwhile, the power connection is housed on the bottom left side. 

Under the hood, the display is powered by a Dual-Core CPU and GPU running the Roku OS smart TV platform. 802.11ac 2x2 Dual Band Wi-Fi (support 2.4GHz & 5GHz) connectivity is included as well. In addition, the package comes with a Roku voice remote (Best Buy model only includes a standard Roku remote) with simple click buttons for functions like Power, Home, Back, Volume, and Play/Pause. Likewise, dedicated launch buttons are also featured for Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and DirectTV NOW. Meanwhile, users can also opt to control the display via the Roku mobile app for iOS and Android devices.  

Finally, for those without a separate audio setup, the TV features integrated 8w x 2 speakers. They get the job done for casual viewing, but users will want to go with a more robust sound bar or full surround sound system for a true home theater experience.  

Setup

After unpacking the box and screwing in the feet stands, setup is similar to most other modern smart TVs. Users just need to connect the power, plug in any external devices, and then run through a pretty straightforward initial configuration process.

Once turned on, the TV prompts customers to select a language, country, and environment (home or store). From there, users can enter their wireless information to establish an internet connection. A software update will then download if necessary. Next, the TV will ask customers to visit roku.com/link on a web browser and enter in the provided code in order to activate the display. If you don't have a Roku account, you will need to create one in order to complete this step.

Following the activation, the web browser interface asks users to choose a name and location for the TV, along with some desired channels. After making a selection, the TV starts to add and update the chosen channels. An easily skippable intro video then starts to play and after that… setup is finally complete!

If you have a receiver or sound bar connected to the display you will also want to make sure that the CEC option is activated in the System settings menu. Likewise, if you have 4K HDR devices connected to the TV you will want to make sure that HDMI 2.0 is selected for the corresponding port under the TV Inputs settings menu.

For review purposes, I connected an Onkyo receiver to the ARC port, along with an LG UP970 4K Blu-ray player and a Fire TV Stick 4K. Video and audio playback were essentially problem-free with no signal issues or syncing problems. Likewise, the TV successfully passed Dolby Atmos audio from apps like VUDU and Amazon Prime Video to the receiver. 

Standard Picture adjustments are available for each input by pressing the Asterisk symbol on the remote after the desired source is selected from the main menu. Likewise, additional expert picture adjustments for gamma, noise reduction, 11-point white balance, and color space can be accessed via the Roku app on a mobile device connected to the same Wi-Fi as the TV. Though it's very nice to have these options for further fine-tuning, I really wish they were just integrated into the TV's menu rather than the mobile app – especially since I ran into some intermittent issues with the app (more on that later). 

For SDR playback, users will get the most accurate out-of-box dark room performance using the Movie picture mode with the TV Brightness option set to Darker (a brighter mode will, of course, be more suitable for bright room playback) and the color temp set to Warm. When HDR10 or Dolby Vision content is played, a corresponding badge will flash toward the top right of the screen. For HDR, users will get the most accurate out-of-box performance with the highest nit output using the Dark HDR or Dark Dolby Vision picture mode with the TV Brightness option set to Brighter and the color temp set to Warm. 

Unfortunately, however, the TV Brightness setting does not seem to remain independent for SDR and HDR content. This means that, while I preferred Darker for SDR content and Brighter for HDR, the TV would always keep the same setting for both modes forcing me to manually change the brightness back and forth every time the display switched from SDR to HDR and vice versa.

Likewise, backlight brightness seemed to always revert to the default intensity when navigating through menus in the Roku OS and its various apps. The backlight would then visibly dim to my chosen setting whenever video content would start to play through any of the apps. This was only a minor annoyance, but it's still worth mentioning. 

Local Dimming

One of the main selling points of the 65R617, is its Full Array Local Dimming feature. This technology uses LED light sources positioned in multiple dimmable zones across the TV's panel, allowing the screen to brighten or darken in selected spots to coincide with the content being played. As a result, the display is able to achieve deeper black levels and more precise HDR highlights compared to edge-lit models or LCDs without any dimming.

The effectiveness of local dimming is based largely upon how many zones a manufacturer is able to implement in their panel (typically, the more the better) and the particular algorithm a company uses to tell those zones how to operate. The 65-inch 6-Series comes equipped with 120 zones (the 55-inch model features 96). For comparison's sake, competing 65-inch sets from VIZIO feature 100 to 120 zones, and Samsung's flagship 65-inch Q9 comes with around 480 zones.  

In practice, the local dimming works great, allowing the TV to produce very deep and uniform black levels with most content. In fact, when using the High local dimming setting, blacks are capable of completely disappearing in a dark room, offering an inkier appearance with SDR and HDR material than competing 2018 models from VIZIO.

With that said, as beneficial as the local dimming is with most content, the tech is still prone to a few key quirks and limitations when displaying certain material.

Though definitely the exception rather than the rule, noticeable blooming and flashlighting were visible during my testing from time to time, particularly when watching select HDR content with bright highlights against otherwise dark environments. Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ended up serving as a torture test for the panel in this regard, resulting in a deep but very patchy look with rather abrupt transitions from bright areas to completely dark areas -- almost like a flashlight was being shone on the characters and objects positioned in the lighter parts of the screen. Likewise, while letterbox bars were capable of dimming to pitch black on some titles, surrounding zones would often bleed into the black when displaying brighter elements close to the edges of the frame, frequently causing bars to elevate to a grayer appearance.

Again, most material was free from these distractions, but it is something viewers will likely notice from time to time with similar content. Thankfully, however, blooming was surprisingly minimal around scrolling credits, subtitles, and other text -- something that is more of a problem on other local dimming sets I've reviewed.  

4K HDR Performance

To demo the 65R617's Dolby Vision and HDR10 picture performance I sampled a variety of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and streaming content from services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and VUDU, including titles like Incredibles 2, Planet Earth 2, Blade Runner 2049, Game of Thrones, The Other Side of the Wind, La La Land, The Punisher, Sucker Punch, Jack Ryan, The Grand Tour, The Haunting of Hill House, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Altered Carbon, and more.

Though not quite capable of hitting the 1,000 nit peak that a lot of HDR material is graded for, the 65-inch 6-Series is capable of pushing close to 800 nits in its Dark HDR mode -- offering impressive brightness for a model in this price range. Likewise, the display uses NBP Photon Technology to cover around 94% of the DCI-P3 wide color gamut.

Together, the brightness and color performance result in some of, if not the, best 4K HDR performance I've seen for a display in this class, producing a vibrant, sharp, and often striking image that belies that set's budget price tag.  

Bold primaries in Incredibles 2 simply popped from the screen without any hint of bleeding or oversaturation, while specular highlights in various explosions and energy blasts radiated from the panel with precision and impressive clarity. 

Other demo-worthy titles like Planet Earth 2 highlighted all of the display's strengths, allowing the panel to render sumptuous colors, impeccable fine detail, and gorgeous contrast through tropical islands, snowy mountains, and lush jungles -- making it easy to spot individual hairs on animals and intricate textures in backgrounds. One sequence, featuring volcanoes, was especially impressive, with flowing lava that glowed with a pleasing HDR sheen.      

Neon lights in Blade Runner 2049 and Altered Carbon also demonstrated impressive luminance, while shadows remained deep. Likewise, a trippy club scene in Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind was rife with psychedelic hues and inky blacks, making it clear that the benefits of Dolby Vision HDR can extend beyond contemporary digital titles to vintage film productions as well.         

As a whole, the TCL 6-Series came very close to rivaling other much more expensive 4K HDR TV models I've demoed or reviewed. Sure, peak brightness was never as blindingly punchy as the best LCDs and the local dimming was never as precise as the pixel-level contrast achieved by OLEDs, but the quality offered here is almost unmatched in this price range. 

1080p SDR Performance

Beyond 4K HDR content, I also sampled several SDR Blu-rays and streaming material, including titles like Wonder Woman, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Dark Knight Rises, Roger Waters The Wall, The Good Place, Riverdale, American Horror Story, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and more.

As is the case with many well-performing HDR sets, HD content essentially looked flawless here with no major issues to report. Black levels were fantastic for an LCD and since peak brightness is lower for SDR output, blooming was less of an issue with standard content than it was with HDR material.

Dark sequences in American Horror Story came through with good shadow delineation, and Diana's training scenes on the island of Themyscira in Wonder Woman carried an appropriately colorful and bright quality with lush greens.

Overall, the set maintained balanced contrast, accurate Rec. 709 colors, and sharp 1080p detail with all the titles I demoed. Likewise, upscaling of lower quality YouTube streams and other sources was solid as well. 

Uniformity, Viewing Angles, & Reflections

When it comes to screen uniformity, the TCL 6-Series performs pretty well, but our loaner panel was not without some flaws. When viewing various full-screen grey and color patterns, some faint differences in brightness and hue were sometimes visible across the screen along with a very slight purple push toward the left side.

Likewise, the corners of the display were a little darker than the rest of the panel and a very mild dirty screen effect was visible during some content with bright backgrounds and lots of motion and panning (like hockey games and figure skating). With that said, these irregularities were never out of the norm for LCD panels of this type and they were not noticeable during most real-world content.

A little more noticeable, however, was a thin banding line right down the center of the screen. Though very faint, after spotting it for the first time, I did go on to see the line during real-world content here and there, particularly material with more neutral color palettes. Small defects like this are not uncommon, of course, and the degree to which they appear will vary from panel to panel. In this case, the line didn't end up being much of a factor during the vast majority of my testing.   

Meanwhile, viewing angles were pretty good for a VA LCD, though colors and contrast would still fade and skew a bit when viewing from off-axis. Likewise, blooming from the local dimming would also become more noticeable. With that said, overall off-angle performance seemed to be a little better than competing VIZIO sets and I didn't notice any shifts in picture quality on the extreme left and right sections from a centered position like I did on some of those models.

Finally, the TV handles light and reflections fairly well, placing it more or less on par with similar offerings from other manufacturers. But while bright room performance is generally good, light sources directly across from the screen (like a window with the curtains pulled back in my living room) will definitely still cause noticeable reflections. 

Roku OS & Voice Control

Powered by the Roku TV OS, the TCL 6-Series offers a robust library of streaming apps, including several popular services with support for 4K HDR10 and Dolby Vision (when available) like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, VUDU, FandangoNow, and YouTube, along with virtually any other video platform you'd want like Hulu, Google Play, HBO GO, Showtime, and more.

Essentially acting like a built-in Roku player, the TV's navigation and playback were very responsive during my testing, offering smoother performance than many other competing smart TV systems. Likewise, outside of one forced restart, I didn't run into any notable crashes. With that said, browsing could sometimes get a little sluggish in the Netflix app (likely since the service automatically starts playing titles as you hover over them). 

Beyond standard app support and options for various streaming rentals and purchases, the Roku interface also includes access to the Roku Channel, 4K Spotlight Channel, and Dolby Channel. The latter offers access to several Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos demo clips which are perfect for showing off the display. Meanwhile, the 4K Spotlight Channel compiles various 4K and 4K HDR titles from different apps, making it easier for users to see what Ultra HD content is out there. Finally, the Roku Channel offers a surprisingly solid selection of free ad-supported movies and TV shows available to stream, including a mix of contemporary titles and classics in HD and surround sound when available. 

When it comes to control, the Roku OS supports voice search and commands via the included voice remote (not included with the Best Buy model). In practice, this worked quite well offering similar performance to a dedicated Roku player, allowing me to search for titles and launch apps by pressing the microphone button and talking into the remote.

Likewise, the platform also offers support for mobile app control. This feature usually worked pretty well, allowing me to navigate and make selections on my smartphone exactly as I would on the included click button remote. Likewise, the mobile app also includes voice search support and access to more advanced picture settings. With that said, despite always being on the same Wi-Fi connection as the TV, there were several times when the app could not discover my display, even after restarting both devices, forcing me to manually enter the TV's IP address to pair them.

Final Thoughts

Pros

  • 4K HDR10 and Dolby Vision support
  • Wide Color Gamut capabilities
  • Deep blacks via full-array local dimming with 120 zones
  • Integrated Roku smart TV platform
  • Industry-leading bang-for-your-buck pricing

Cons

  • Blooming/flashlighting visible in some content
  • Not quite as bright as more expensive models
  • Native 60Hz panel instead of 120Hz

The TCL 65R617 isn't the best performing TV on the market, but it is the best performing TV in its price range. Packed with advanced features like Dolby Vision, wide color gamut, and full-array local dimming, the display is capable of achieving very impressive 4K HDR picture quality without breaking the bank.

In fact, the display is almost completely unmatched in its class. Only the VIZIO P-Series P65-F1 presents a worthy value-priced alternative. But while that display can get a little brighter in some instances, uses a native 120Hz panel, and is less prone to blooming, it costs $200 more. Likewise, the TCL is capable of deeper black levels and features the more robust and responsive Roku smart TV platform.  

Really, budget-conscious buyers can't go wrong with either model. At the end of the day, though, I have to give a slight edge to the 6-Series. As our Editor's Choice Winner for Best Value TV of 2018, the TCL 65R617 is Highly Recommended.

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