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11/23 Update: This TV (65″) is currently on sale for $599 at Best Buy.
Have you ever had a piece of technology that seemed amazing, but suddenly seems outdated and old after a few years? This is exactly what happened to me with the last TV that I bought in 2017. It seemed great at the time, but I recently realized I could barely see what was going on in some TV shows, especially the dark scenes! I decided I wanted a TCL 6 series, R646, one of their flagship TVs from 2021.
This review will not be the most technical; if you want that check out something like the RTings review or this one from The Verge. The issue with a lot of other reviews for this TV is that they took off points because of some OS glitchiness. Tons of people talk about this on Reddit threads, basically asking “Is it good now?” Now those issues are fixed, making this a TV that warrants being discussed in the same breath as some of LG’s OLED TVs, which is a remarkable achievement.
11/23: $599.99 at Best Buy
- Contrast is amazing, deep blacks and the brightest brights
- HDR adds even more to the effect where supported
- Body: the brushed metal finish is quite nice
- Advanced features such as HDMI 2.1, Variable refresh rate, and 120Hz (where supported, generally gaming only)
- Google OS worked better than I expected
- Lost of options for tweaking settings
- TV legs: Built-in wire hiders in legs, and has a second narrow option allowing you to use a smaller TV stand. Note: The R655 stand is further improved with even better cable management
- The remote is just ok
- Weight: This thing is heavy. It weighs about 65lbs, which is heavy enough that I’m nervous to try and wall mount it. Definitely need a friend to help unbox it.
- No Airplay
- Sometimes sold for the same price as the newer model
Here are some things I considered:
Why did I buy TCL?
TCL is a brand that I really like, and for a lot of the same reasons that I like Giant bikes. They used to be a component supplier for other TV manufacturers. As it usually goes, they probably got tired of making other companies rich and decided they could do it themselves. I feel like TCL was kind of like Hyundai or Kia in the old days; their cars were considered cheap and unproven but over time they’ve proven themselves to be valid alternatives to a Honda. They were never a dupe, but were definitely an other in the TV industry.
My first TCL was one I bought in 2017, a 55” 4 Series Roku TV, 55S401, on sale for $350. When I got it I was blown away! It seemed massive, had 4K, HDR, and low input lag. It was amazing for gaming on my PS4 Pro and I sang its praises to anyone that would listen. I always a decent TV would cost way more, but this was affordable for me. As I mentioned, this faded with time. The contrast wasn’t actually very good, as dark scenes suddenly were unwatchable (It seems that content studios increasingly are designing their cinematography so that premium TV’s can shine more). At the end of the day, it was a budget TV that I got a great deal on. Even the screen size suddenly felt inadequate, so it was time for an upgrade.
The 6 series is TCL’s most premium offering, and they put out new models each year. They also usually keep selling the older models next to the current models, which can be a bit confusing for buyers. In fact, the current 2022 6 series is actually the R655, the R646 is the 2021 model. To make things even more complicated, there are different OSs available! You can get either Roku or Google, each having their own pros and cons.
Roku vs. Google?
These are smart TV OSs that allow you to use apps such as Netflix, HBO Max, Youtube, and all the other ones. Roku is generally more simple and easy to use, whereas Google is more customizable, powerful, and perhaps less approachable. More controversially, Google is glitchier. In fact, when this TV launched the OS was so bad that retailers pulled it from shelves! It was too laggy, and apps were force closing. However, Google and TCL worked on this and seemed to have fixed most of the issues. But do you even need to use the TV OS?
If you read any forums on this topic everyone will say the same thing: your TV’s built-in Roku/Android/Google smart TV software is garbage compared to a dedicated device. TV’s usually have a less powerful CPU powering them which can make the experience laggier and buggy. This is precisely why I use my PS5 for almost everything. It simply works better, and even makes the content look a bit better because of the extra processing power. If you’re not a gamer, an Apple TV or Roku device works great. Even if you’re not a gamer, I would say that it still might be worthwhile to use something like an old Xbox.
However, all being said, the Google OS has given me no problems. I haven’t pushed it too hard with tasks such as running multiple apps app the same time, and overall have had zero issues! One major downside is that the TCL Google TV’s don’t currently have Airplay. I imagined on my last TV I would use it a lot, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. But if you can imagine trying to show family some photos from your iPhone on your TV, or want to have friends play their music on your TV more easily, you might want to check out the Roku TV’s, or get a separate streaming box. You can even setup the TV as a dumb TV, fully turning off the OS!
Another issue that is less applicable to most people, is that you can’t use Roku branded speakers with a non-Roku TV. This means I had to sell my Roku speakers from my last TV, and with the new TV I used regular speakers with a receiver, which actually sounds better anyway!
Why I bought last year’s model:
I generally believe that it isn’t worth buying the latest and greatest with TV’s. You can almost always get a MUCH better deal if you buy something that is a year or two outdated. These are the TV’s that are frequently on “sale” as they are just old inventory that companies want to get rid of. It can be confusing when researching these, especially if you aren’t checking the manufacturing sites to get a better idea of where a TV fits in their range. Also, it can be confusing on sites like Amazon where a TV may look new but the release date (which Amazon lists and you should always check) could be from years ago.
Originally I wanted to get the 2020 Roku model, the R635. However, it actually cost more than the newer 2021 model which I bought. The R635 was still selling for $1,000, compared to the $800 I spent on the R646. Seemed like a no-brainer to get the newer model for less!
The R646 has QLED, which is a variation of an LED LCD, adding a quantum dot film layer. I have no idea what that means but it makes the screen look a lot nicer than a regular old LED LCD. QLEDs tend to be brighter and cheaper than an OLED. OLEDs are a whole new tech, where instead of having a big backlight the screen lights up individual pixels. This is why dark scenes look so good on OLED; the individual pixels turn off. This makes the contrast look amazing, and OLEDs are considered to be the best-looking screens overall. QLEDs use local dimming, which basically divides the screen up into zones that can dim to improve contrast. Generally, newer TVs will add more zones to increase the effect. OLED look better generally, but with that said, I found the QLED to be a massive improvement over a regular LED TV.
Shut up already, how is the TV?
To do a very nontechnical test, I put off watching Amazon’s new Lord of the Rings show: Rings of Power. With my speakers set up, I launched the Prime app from my PS5. Before I even got to the show, wow this TV was vibrant. The colors on this thing really pop, and I was already pumped. Another good sign; I paused the TV on a black screen and left for a minute. When I came back my girlfriend and I both thought the TV was off. It wasn’t, it is just that good at blacks. The show started, and one of the opening scenes is inside a dark icy cave. Even with lights on in the room, we could see perfectly what was happening. When the elves got ambushed by a cave troll (wow this just got nerdy), we both jumped a bit, as the speakers and video were both so good. I paused to change the audio a bit, so that the TV would level the sound a bit better. Immersion is good, but we didn’t want to feel like a giant troll was actually in the house. At one point during the show, I got goosebumps, sealing the deal. This thing looks amazing.
I took some photos in different lighting conditions to show how it looks. All photos were taken with an iPhone 13 Pro.
Old TCL 4 series vs TCL 65R646
Night viewing w/ light strip backlight
Daytime: three windows and an overhead light on, no backlight
How does this compare to other TV’s such as OLEDs?
I had my heart set initially on an LG OLED TV. OLEDs are considered to be the best TV’s around, with the deepest blacks and best contrast around. What finally changed my mind were two factors, burn-in and cost.
Burn-in is when an image on the screen get’s “burnt in” and is always semi-visible afterward. This happens with stagnant images on screen, think a gaming HUD or perhaps the chyron or logo on a news channel. There are best practices that can be employed to avoid this, but it isn’t something I wanted to worry about.
Cost: The 65” LG C1, which is last year’s flagship OLED TV, is usually on sale for about $1500-1700. It can cost more or less than that of course, sales depending. This is double the cost that I paid. Mine was on sale for $800, 200 off of MSRP. I think that the commentary about the Google OS scared people off, leaving more inventory on my model. The other OLEDs I like are Sony’s, but they cost even more. The Sonys use the same panels as LG but have better processing for upscaling lower resolution content.
In the end, even $800 is a lot of money for a TV and I couldn’t justify spending more money than that. After scouring forums and countless videos comparing the TVs, this Youtube video comparison from MinimalisTech sold me. It compared the R646 to the even newer LG OLED C2. In the end, he said the performance was very similar, which is kind of shocking. Check it out.
Other companies have good offerings as well, but generally comparing the performance, I couldn’t find anything with the same performance as the TCL at similar prices. Some TV’s with similar specs almost cost as much as an OLED TV! If you’re going to spend that kind of money, then get the real deal.
You shouldn’t buy if:
You love Roku: TCL has gone back to offering Roku on its 2022 6 series entry, the R655. You could also get the 2020 R635, but it doesn’t have HDMI 2.1, has fewer local dimming zones, and doesn’t get as bright.
Need Airplay: Not available on Google OS
If it isn’t on sale: If this TV is selling for $1000(65”), stay away! That’s the MSRP of the new model, the R655. Retailers frequently sell old models at prices that don’t make sense. I recently saw the R635 for $1000, which is ridiculous.
You want a bigger sale: Now that the R655 is out, I wouldn’t be surprised if the R635 and R646 are on sale this black Friday or cyber Monday.
You need the absolute best: OLED is the best, but get ready to pay for it.
It’s too expensive: There’s nothing wrong with holding onto an older TV and saving your money! TCL also has the 4 series (the TV I replaced), and the 5 series which are much cheaper but less premium. These TVs would be fine for casual viewing.
I spent a lot of money on this TV, but I could have easily spent a lot more. To soften the blow, I sold my old TV and speakers for $300, which made the impact much less! Now I have a TV that wows, is future-proof for at least a few years, and supports all of the PS5’s advanced features such as variable refresh rate and 120hz content. If you’re in the market for a TV, definitely check this one out.