It’s only been a couple of years since TCL exclusively competed in the entry-level and mid-level TV market. The introduction of the mini-LED backlight has allowed the company to play at the higher level, and the 8K UHD model number 65R648 reviewed here shows that it was not a technological fluke.
The good news for interested consumers is that TCL’s 65R648 isn’t just one of the better The 8K UHD TVs we’ve tested are also easily the least expensive.
Design and features
The TCL 65R648 is a 65-inch (64.5-inch measured diagonally), 10-bit, 120 Hz class TV with 8K UHD resolution (7680 x 3840 pixels). The matrix backlighting uses the aforementioned mini-LEDs, which are divided into 160 zones (240 zones on the 75-inch model). More on the meaning of that number later.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart TVs, where you will find reviews of competing offerings, as well as a buyer’s guide on the features to consider when purchasing this type of product.
The TV has a very slim bezel, weighs a hefty 70.1 pounds (about 73 pounds with the stand), and sports a square 400mm VESA mounting pattern. It is an attractive unit; honestly though, you really need to dig deep into the bargain bin to find an ugly one these days.
There are four HDMI ports, two of which support the full HDMI 2.1 bandwidth specification (8K @ 120Hz). Port four supports eARC for uncompressed 7.1 audio output. Other ports include coaxial for cable and antennas, ethernet, optical audio out, 3.5mm audio out for headphones, and a single USB-A 2.0 port.
Wi-Fi is 802.11ac, but as with all Roku TVs (sadly), there is no user Bluetooth. Roku is trying to push users to buy Roku proprietary audio devices, as if the market needed another standard.
The TCL 65R648 supports most of the latest technologies, including variable refresh rates, THX game mode, Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Digital Plus; but apparently it lacks support for DTS. High dynamic range support includes Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG, but there is no HDR10 + support if the specs are correct. Siri, Google, and Alexa are also supported.
How can TCL market an 8K UHD TV for so much less than the competition? We’re not sure, especially given today’s shipping realities. Market shenanigans? Proceed as your conscience dictates.
Interface and remote control
The TCL 65R648 uses the Roku operating system and requires you to log in to activate the TV, but you can use it without entering your credit card information. Beyond the annoying invasion of privacy (Android is even more to blame for this), Roku is my favorite TV operating system. It’s super easy to navigate and use and of course there’s all that free (ad-supported) streaming content that Roku is famous for.
I should also mention that Roku provides a very competent media player / streaming app. It had no problem playing the 8K HEVC files that I use for testing, and I was also able to stream movies over the local network from a NAS box. It’s also great for remembering where you left off in the movie.
TCL offers an enhanced remote control (shown below) with the 65R648. It uses the standard Roku layout and button selection, which is inextricably linked with what you see on screen. (Except for the advertising shortcut buttons, of course).
It’s heavy, in a good way – longer and sleeker-looking than the chubby black that ships with the other Roku TVs we’ve reviewed. It’s a nice bonus and hopefully a harbinger of things to come everybody Roku TVs.
TCL’s 8K UHD 6 series offers an impressive picture. Contrast is excellent in most conditions, thanks to the mini-LED backlight; the color of the quantum dot is accurate and very well saturated; and thanks to whatever CPU / GPU is in use, the video processing is very good. The latter is beaten at 8K UHD only by Samsung in my experience.
The screen uniformity is excellent and the viewing angles are wide. On the other hand, the brightness is just good (maybe 800 nits). It certainly doesn’t depend on Samsung (pre mini-LED) or Vizio levels, but it does. HDR looks, well, HDR-y.
Part of the reason for the lower, but still adequate, brightness is that mini-LEDs, like those employed by the 65R648, are not as bright as older backlighting methods. They’re dimmer, but they’re located closer to the filters and LCD screens, which makes up for a lot and also produces a lot less bleeding. In sufficient quantities, they allow for very granular backlight control.
However, when they are divided into just 160 zones, as on the 65R648, you will see an occasional oddity. With a field of stars, instead of the black spaces between the stars that you will see with an OLED TV, or the dark gray that you will get with traditional LED backlighting, there is a mixture of spots of various shades gray. It is like looking at clouds of gas instead of the vacuum of space. This artifact is minimized in mini-LED TVs with a higher number of zones, such as the TCL 8 series, but it is still visible.
When the TCL 65R648 upscales lower-resolution material to its native 8K UHD, it adds detail, but the level of detail isn’t as pronounced as it was with the Samsung Q90 we reviewed. The reason is likely to be Samsung’s old focus (i.e., in the Q90 era) on bright reflections in such details.
Even the sound of the TCL 65R648 is superior. It’s a little lacking beat, but the fact that you can hear the bass is a great achievement. The general sound of the four speakera down is also quite clear. Only Sony, with its flat controller that vibrates the display glass, does it better, and not as much as you might think.
Speaking of Sony… Unlike the much more expensive Sony Bravia Master Series Z9J ($ 7,000) that I recently reviewed, the TCL 65R648 plays both local HEVC 8K files and YouTube AV1 8K streams.
TCL’s 8K UHD 6 Series is easily the best value on the TV market right now, if you’re gearing up for the super-high-resolution future or want the best 4K UHD possible (after upscaling).
The closest 8K UHD competitor is Samsung’s Q800, which costs $ 500 more, though you’ll find stacks of decent 65-inch class 4K UHD TVs for less than $ 1,000. Frugality aside, if you’re buying in the $ 2,000 to $ 2,500 price range for any resolution, the TCL 65R648 should be at the top of your short list.