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What is the best TCL 4K TV for gaming? And should you go that cheap?

What if you’re on a budget, but still want a large 4K HDR TV? TCL is ready to deep dive under the $650/£500 mark for a 55 inch set, and its 65 inch TVs are also just $900/£750. But is TCL any good as a TV manufacturer? Let’s find out. When Asia’s tech companies crash the market, they crash it hard and TCL is one of these brands. It came out of nowhere, but brought a 65 inch 4K HDR LED TV for 900 bucks. And you are like: can this be any good? Heck, the new iPhone XS Max costs more. We can even dive into student budget territory with $650/£500 for 55 inch. And we are not talking about a cheap panel, the 2018 6-Series features full-array backlighting with local dimming and Dolby Vision. It also comes with a built-in Roku Ultra in the US and is powered by Roku OS (Important to know: The EU version features Android TV 8.0).

It is fast, it’s upgradeable with a full app store and integrates every app imaginable under one hood: Showtime for Billions, HBO Go for Game of Thrones and Westworld and Hulu for the first season of a new Hitman show, written by John Wicks’ Derek Kolstad. Now you have to pay for these services, but the TCL menu has one layout for everything and upgrades all apps “automagically”. Android TV can be a little bit sluggish at times, as it’s not the fastest OS, but it does come with a full app store. If you're looking for an alternative, the best LG TVs for gaming are right here. And if you're looking to compare all TVs, here's our guide to the best gaming TVs.

TCL reinvents itself: gone is the cheap look and feel

You’ve very likely never considered TCL, because the 5-series was a disaster: 273 nits brightness is the lowest of the lowest end, the viewing angles were bad, the build quality was horrible. It was all plastic and looked like what a lot of people would refer to as cheap. But every brand deserves a second chance and TLC uses this opportunity with its 6-series TVs. Brightness has gone up to 850 nits, which is on a par with most LCD sets. And Yes, the bezels are a little bit thicker than on premium Samsungs, Sonys and LGs (who have pretty much eliminated them) but the whole body is covered in metal. All bezels are made out of brushed aluminum which looks very sexy. Now we are not talking about designer TVs here, if you want that the Sony A8F is the right choice, the LG Signature Series or one of Samsung’s QLEDs like the 2018 Q8C. But these TVs are almost triple the price of TCLs 65 inch flagship 6 Series R617. Important to note though: before you buy, measure at a retailer of your choice because this is a TV that requires a fairly big entertainment rack. The 65 inch has quite a footprint. It also has no cable management and a rather ugly back, so it’s not a TV to place in the middle of your living room. Unfortunately the remote also looks cheap and feels like a plastic kids toy. Would be nice to have a more premium alternative for a little bit more.

The pros and cons of TCLs LED technology 

Pros: If you are on a tight budget, you get a seriously good picture out of these sets. Viewing angles are not great, bear this in mind, but the color accuracy and HDR performance of the 6 series is impressive for a set of this price class. Do yourself a favor and don’t go cheaper - the 4 and 5 series both offer 4K HDR, but 273 nits doesn’t work for a great HDR experience. TCL also makes its own panels and they are seriously focusing on speed: input lag and response times are excellent, at times better than much more expensive sets from premium brands. 

Cons: These TVs are inexpensive and you can feel and see that. Vertical banding can be an issue, where you can see some glimmering white stripes lurking in the background. Is it a complete deal breaker? That depends on which content you consume. It’s not on fast moving shooters, it is for games with a lot of cut-scenes and if you are a Netflix aficionado. There is also a bit of vignetting in the four corners going on, which is a problem a lot of LCD panels face. Vignetting can become a problem when the background is white like with an ice hockey game or in the mountain scenes of Rise of the Tomb Raider, but in most other games it’s barely an issue. In general the uniformity of TCL sets is not good - the company builds its own panels and have a lot to learn, especially when we talk about viewing angles. 

Gaming performance: 16ms at 4K@60 Hz. Wow.

Now I’ve criticized a lot, but boy does TCL deliver when we talk about raw gaming performance. I’ve measured 16ms in Battlefield 1 and 18ms in Call of Duty: WW2 in 4K@60Hz on Xbox One X. Your mileage varies per game, but in general I have to say: these are surprisingly good TVs for shooter fans - and some of the best gaming TVs you can get. The picture quality might not be the best but really that only matters for epic single player experiences. If you are a Call of Duty or Overwatch fan and you literally just play these super fast games, the 2018 6 series can be a true winner for you. You won’t have the same premium grandeur in God of War, Spider-Man, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, or Red Dead Redemption 2 like on a much more expensive set from LG, Sony or Samsung, but for this little cash this is a very decent option. Especially if you are mostly playing alone, because most people sit on a couch directly in front of the TV anyway. Viewing angles only matter once you invite over a lot of friends that sit on a different couch or multiple chairs and don’t directly face the TV. TCLs don’t support variable refresh rates though like Samsung QLED, it’s always native 60Hz.

The best TCL 4K-TVs you can buy

TCL 6 Series R617 - 55 inch

The best TCL TV you can buy

Very strong gaming performance
Good black levels
Good HDR experience
Poor sound, an external solution is a must
Problematic viewing angles

There are two types of people who I’d recommend this TV to: if you are on a budget and a Call of Duty or Overwatch guy or lady and that’s all you play, this is a great TV for you because input lag and the raw gaming performance is excellent. In fact it’s one of the best TVs that have been widely reviewed, even when compared to sets triple the price. The second group of people who should invest are those looking for a second, cheaper set for the bedroom or anywhere else in your home. It has some banding, some noise issues, a bit of clouding, a little bit of vignetting, but as a second TV it’s totally fine. The HDR experience is okay, sometimes actually pretty good, color reproduction is accurate, brightness levels are totally fine. The 2017 sets were seriously bad with their way too low peak brightness that didn’t work for HDR. But this is a good entry level TV for 4K HDR. Here's a more detailed look at the TCL R617 55 inch 4K TV.

TCL 5 Series S517

Even cheaper, still decent

Strong gaming performance
Has Dolby Vision
Decent black levels
HDR not really enjoyable
Flat, boring sound

Certainly not a designer TV, but totally fine. The footprint is giant though, measure before you buy. There is also no cable management, so don’t use it in the middle of the room. I like the native contrast of 6000:1 which produces nice black levels. Unfortunately all TCLs I’ve seen so far struggle with viewing angles, they massively lose contrast when you are not sitting perfectly in front of it. Reflections are also noticeable, so you’d have a tough time with this one when playing in a room with big windows. The biggest issue is the HDR peak brightness at just 273 nits. That’s the lowest I’ve ever seen on a TV for quite a while, so the HDR experience is okayish at best. The raw gaming performance and response times, however, continue to blow me away: these TVs are cheap, but they are perfect for fast shooters.  

TCL 4 Series 49S405

If you are on a really tight budget...

Great gaming performance
Decent picture quality
Dull HDR experience
Poor sound

We’ve all been there but rather save up a little bit of money. The 5 series 55 inch is $480/£479. You can dive deeper, but the 4 Series has a peak brightness of 169 nits. That doesn’t work for HDR meaning you can’t enjoy all of these new HDR shows on Netflix like Narcos or Marvel’s Daredevil that look stunning on a good TV. Gaming performance is fine actually, but you are sacrificing a lot of picture quality for the price difference of five pizzas. Better sacrifice the pizza, get the 5 series instead. HDR is going to completely the change the way you enjoy entertainment, both in TV shows, movies and games. 

Should you buy a TCL 4K TV in 2019?

If you’re on a tight budget, TCL’s best sets are a good option. While you’re usually ok with the 2018 models, some of them a bit hit and miss. While researching for this feature I encountered some buyers complaining about vertical banding, clouding, vignetting and overall uniformity issues. You can get a good entertainment experience out of it, but you have to be prepared to swap the set if it isn’t quite right. However I’d definitely recommend the 6 series as a second TV for some Netflix enjoyment in the bedroom, and if you’re all about Call of Duty and Overwatch - the panel is super fast, with excellent response times. It’s not a great TV for epic single-player experiences like God of War, but a good budget choice for shooter fans. As an alternative I’d totally recommend the Sony X930E, which is an excellent choice and not that much more expensive. 

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