Our Favorite Cheap 4K TV Looks Even Better With Quantum Dot Technology

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

“Quantum dot” technology sounds like a fake invention, something made up by a well-meaning marketing team. Well, it is, and it isn’t. Although different companies have different brand names for their own recipes, quantum dot displays are a real innovation that allows TVs to show off a wider range of colors, and they’ve become one of the best ways to get a beautiful TV at a decent price. This year, TCL brought quantum dots to its popular 6-Series, and speaking as someone who’s spent a lot of time with these TVs, I’m here to say that the upgrade is exciting.

I’m highlighting the quantum dots on the new TCL 6-Series with the Roku TV operating system because otherwise, the new one is very similar to last year’s model: 100 zones of dimming on the 55-inch, HDR, and Roku built-in. I reviewed that TV, and I loved it, so when TCL told me it was upgrading the guts and selling the new 6-Series for the same low price, I had to check it out. In addition to a new quantum dot film to improve the colors, there are more local dimming zones—100 in the $600 55-inch model and 120 in the $800 65-inch. Like the old 6-Series, this year’s model offers 4K resolution and Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos support. Unlike the old TV, the new one also supports a calibration app that works with Google Pixel phones and makes it easy to tweak your TV settings for more accurate colors.

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But really, I credit the quantum dots with improving the picture quality on TCL’s feature-filled but affordable TV. When the new model arrived, I set up it up right behind the old 6-Series and played the same content on each TV, looking for differences. They were meaningful. Put simply, the new 6-Series with the quantum dot display offers much richer, more accurate colors. That’s exactly what quantum dot technology is supposed to do!

Let’s take a step back. You probably heard of quantum dot displays, as they’ve been all the buzz in the TV world for about five years now. The technology itself about as complicated as you might expect from something with “quantum” in the name, but it’s also more science than marketing. The quantum dots are actually tiny semiconductor nanocrystals that glow a specific color based on their size when hit by a light beam. The smallest dots are around 2-nanometers across and glow blue. The largest ones are over 4 nanometers and glow red. Typically, TV manufacturers can add a film full of quantum dots to an LCD-LED TV, light it with a blue backlight, and generate more vivid, accurate colors.

That is an oversimplified explanation, but suffice it to say that TV makers can add quantum dot technology to existing models pretty easily and give the TV panels a wider range of colors. This might explain why TCL is selling the 6-Series full of quantum dots for the same price as the old TV without them. So I should repeat myself: the latest 6-Series is better than but still very similar to previous iterations. If you own the 2018 model, I can’t recommend you upgrade. Even though the new TCL TV is better, it’s not worth ditching a perfectly good and capable set to get marginally better colors. At the same time, I can’t say that most people would feel good spending over twice as much on the Vizio P-Series Quantum, another great quantum dot TV.

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Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

Mapping the difference between the $600 TV (this TCL) and the $1,400 TV (that Vizio) isn’t a super useful exercise. Based on specs alone, the Vizio P-Series Quantum is more competitive with the TCL 8-Series, which starts at $2,000 and also hopes to compete with Samsung and LG TVs that cost upwards of $3,000. And if all of these four-digit sums are boggling your mind, you’re on the right track. You’d better be obsessed with image quality if you want to spend more than $999 on the TV these days because as the new TCL 6-Series illustrates well, even the cheap 4K TVs are good enough for most people. They even have fancy technology inside, like quantum dots.

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So at the risk of repeating myself, the new TCL TV does a better job with colors than its predecessors. Skin tones look more natural. Details look sharper. Colors look more vibrant. In my side-by-side testing I spent quite a bit of time with Ex Machina, which is heavy on texture and shades of grey but with the occasional splash of color. It’s easy to see how much livelier the quantum dot-powered TCL TV looks compared to the older model. Meanwhile, Tall Girl is a Netflix movie about a tall girl that’s awash in bright colors all the time. I was impressed, however, by how the new 6-Series didn’t oversaturate them the way the other set does.

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I still shouldn’t convince you to upgrade your TV if you’ve already got something with comparable specs. The color accuracy is certainly nice, but you’re not going to see the sort of jump in quality in the new TCL that you’d see from spending a four-figure sum on something with more far more local dimming zones, a brighter display, and a better processor. However, I do have to shout out a couple minor upgrades on the new 6-Series. It sports an upgraded design with front glass that goes all the way to the edge of the screen—though you’ve still got a little bit of a bezel there. I’m also a fan of the concept behind the iPQ Engine Mobile calibration app that I mentioned briefly above. It just came out this week, so I haven’t spent much time with it. I did calibrate the display by taking pictures of the screen and then beaming the settings to the TV, which is certainly simpler and cheaper than hiring a professional.

All this makes holiday TV shopping sort of challenging. The TCL 6-Series is one of the most affordable quantum dot TV I’ve come across, but it’s not quite the most affordable. Hisense is selling a 55-inch quantum dot TV for $700, while Vizio is selling its M-Series Quantium for $500 to $550. You can also forget about the quantum dot technology, and get the TCL 5-Series, which offers a 55-inch for $530. (That TV honestly looks just like the old TCL 6-Series, though the specs are slightly different.) And you can certainly hope that a sale might bring down the price of Samsung and LG TV to something more reasonable.

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I can say this: you won’t be disappointed with the new TCL 6-Series. It was a great TV and a great deal last year. This year, the company upped the ante with a handful of meaningful hardware upgrades, and frankly, the terrific quantum dot-powered picture tells the whole story.

README

  • Better colors thanks to quantum dot technology
  • Handy Roku TV operating system
  • Incredibly handy price starting at $600
  • Still not worth upgrading from last year’s model or similarly cheap 4K TVs
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Adam Clark Estes

Senior editor at Gizmodo.

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