Review: TCL 65Q825 4K miniLED QLED TV Is A Premium Performance Value
Late last fall, TCL introduced the world to miniLED-backlighting with the delivery of its 8 Series 4K QLED LCD TV series. We finally got a chance to put one to the test, and balancing what we found against today’s asking price, we can say the set offers an excellent value for premium level 4K performance.
For our review we tested the 65-inch TCL 65Q825 4K Roku TV offering many more individual LEDs in the backlighting system than typical LCD sets. This promised to deliver more localized lighting control to produce more realistic and OLED-like black reproduction.
Since its introduction, the TCL 65Q825 has seen a significant price reduction, from the $1,999.99 introductory price to the currently available for $1,299.99 (available at Best Buy), presenting big-screen enthusiasts on a budget with a significant savings.
The television has a nice bright picture in both SDR and HDR with excellent color reproduction from its quantum dot technology. HDR images yield nice bright specular highlights and deep rich black performance from the thousands of tiny miniLED backlights. But, it’s not perfect; The LCD-based television uses a VA-type panel which has some issues with degraded color and contrast viewing off-axis from center screen (more so than the Sony 65X950H or Samsung Q90T), blooming/haloing around bright subjects on dark backgrounds and like some OLED TVs can, it will crush some fine shadow detail in the darkest areas of an image.
Despite this, images are bright and sharp and colors are rich and accurate enough to qualify as a premium-level 4K TV, according to Ultra HD Alliance premium 4K UHD specification criteria. In addition, TCL uses the Roku-TV OS as its streaming platform, providing an easy to use and navigate all-in-one smart TV solution with a slew of 4K and HD streaming apps to choose from.
The TCL 4K UHD Roku TV Q825 Series is available in two screen sizes including the 65-inch 65Q825 ($1,299.99 street retail) reviewed here and the 75-inch 75Q825 ($2,299 street price at time of posting) version, which offers more dimming zones, so we can’t say that picture performance levels of the two are identical, but they should be close. Both televisions were the first to appear on the market using new miniLED full array backlighting technology that utilizes up to 25,000 miniLED backlights (in the 75-inch version) across the LCD backplane for greater contrast and picture brightness to present strong high dynamic range (HDR) with more local dimming control, supposedly for better deep black level benefits. Our tests found the degree of effectiveness varies.
In the 65-inch, we measured post-calibrated peak luminance in a 10% D65 white window pattern at around 1,600 nits, which ranks close to the brightest LED LCD TVs on the market, making the TV suitable as a quality high dynamic range (HDR) performer.
Using conventional LED Full Array with Local Dimming (FALD) zone counting techniques, we came up with around 800 dimming zones in the 65-inch model. The zone dimming adaptation for miniLED appears to be somewhat different than conventional LED, however, so the actual dimming zone number could be higher. Despite the number, the level of localized control was not enough to eliminate blooming and to a very slight degree flash lighting was seen bleeding into letter box frames during dark scenes in some widescreen 4K HDR movies.
Nicely, TCL boosts color performance in this model series through the use of quantum dot (QLED) color enhancement film that raises the displayed color gamut above 90% UHDA-P3 recommendations, as required for a premium-level 4K television. We measured UHDA-P3 at an excellent 93.47% (1937 xy) and 94.52% (1976 uv).
TCL offers a very attractive cosmetic design in the 65Q825, with a thin silver bezel trim accenting a black textured metal frame around the edges of the screen. A 1-inch black trim piece along the chin of the screen leaves 3.5 inches of clearance between the bottom of the frame and the surface of the table or credenza upon which the set is placed. This leaves enough room for all but the tallest soundbars without intruding on any part of the picture. There is five inches of space between the screen and the horizontal stabilizer bar that juts out from the stand in front of the screen to provide a rigid, stable base. The television is quite stable with virtually no screen wobble.
The included stand consists of a T-shaped center-positioned set of black metal bars including the horizontally positioned front stabilizer piece that nicely matches the look of the screen’s chin trim. With the overall deep black level of the picture, the design tends to make the bezel blend in with the picture, helping to keep the focus of the eye on the image and not the television. Unfortunately, TCL doesn’t provide any cable management in the set design.
Credenzas or table surfaces will need to accommodate the TV’s 14-inch deep by 57-inch (34-inches for the stand’s front stabilizer beam) length footprint. The set can also be placed on a wall with an optional industry standard wall mount.
AV inputs on the TCL 65Q825 all face out from the right side of the television making it convenient for positioning the television up against a wall or in a tight cabinet. It includes four HDMI 2.0 inputs (one with ARC) and no support for new HDMI 2.1 features. The set includes a mini jack for analog audio output but it does not support component-video connections, meaning the set will not play signals from legacy technologies like pre-HDMI DVD players. The television includes one USB port, which supports the most popular AV file formats for photos, videos, and music from USB storage devices like flash drives or some external hard drives. Also offered are a digital optical audio output, an ethernet port, and coax antenna/cable input. Unfortunately, TCL only includes an over-the-air tuner for ATSC 1.0 broadcasts. It does not have internal tuning for the new NextGen TV (ATSC 3.0) broadcast standard.
The TCL 65Q285 supports three HDR profiles including: HDR10 (static metadata), Dolby Vision (dynamic metadata) and Hybrid Log-Gamma (live broadcast HDR). The television does a very good job presenting brighter overall images with richer and more nuanced colors when fed content supporting each of these profiles. Specular highlights are bright and vibrant with color where present without any overt detail clipping. The television also presents deep inky blacks, although the local dimming system does tend to crush fine shadow detail in dark areas of an image.
Unfortunately, measurements for HDR EOTF showed the television slightly below the curve used for brightness grading, indicating the television’s images will be slightly darker than intended by the filmmakers.
The TCL 65Q825’s local dimming control can be adjusted in the Local Contrast settings, where options are offered for “High”, “Medium” and “Low.” The high setting deepens black performance and reduces blooming in some instances, but tends to increase problems with the aforementioned shadow detail crushing.
In the Netflix documentary on Adam Lambert and Queen streamed in HD/SDR, for example, shots of Brian May being interviewed against a dark background, showed May’s long, flowing dark hair was almost totally engulfed into the black surroundings. This is similar to issues we’ve seen in some OLED TVs and lower-quality HDR LCD TVs.
In the dark-scene torture test from the standard HD Blu-ray disc version of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 2″ the night sequence where Voldemort and his legion of dark wizards amass on a mountain top, details we look for like the swirling ethereal gray (or on some TVs black) misty clouds couldn’t be seen at all, being thoroughly absorbed into the black background.
In addition, scenes like the star-filled space scene at the opening of 4K HD Blu-ray version of “The Martian” in HDR, showed fewer visible stars than we can see on some competitive 4K FALD sets, like the Sony X950H.
The 65Q825’s FALD performance is much better in scenes of mid to high brightness levels.
As stated, the TCL 65Q825 does a very fine job presenting rich accurate colors from a wide UHDA-P3 color pallet. Coupled with the brightness of the backlighting system, this presents nice details and hues inside areas of bright specular highlights.
For calibration, Roku has developed a system that uses the Roku smartphone app to calibrate certain more advanced picture settings, like 11-point white balance and CMS, through the smart device and not with controls embedded on the television set. We found some issues maintaining a connection between the app and the television during calibration. The default settings of the display are very close to accurate out of the box, however.
The coral reef sequences in the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 were brilliantly bright and clear with colors of reef fish almost electrically vibrant. Black was presented deep and dark in submarine crevasses, and the television’s image processing does a nice job mitigating color banding (false contouring) in the underwater sequences.
Calibrating for SDR, we found the default settings for standard dynamic range (SDR) BT.709 sources to be very accurate out of the box, without the need of significant adjustment for grayscale color or CMS to get an accurate performance. Skin tones were lifelike if slightly warm (orange) in the 6500-degrees Kelvin color temperature picture mode setting (Warm).
TCL also provides a smartphone-based app solution to calibrate the television using the camera in select iOS and Pixel smartphones as the calibration light meter. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a smartphone with a compatible camera system to test this out.
TCL uses the Roku smart TV OS as its primary platform for streaming capability in the United States. This very popular platform offers a uniform look and performance across supported devices and brands. The TCL 65Q825 was no exception. Finding apps from a deep library of streaming services is delightfully simple and satisfying. Roku continues to offer one of the widest libraries of app support on the market, with the one recent notable exception of HBO Max, which is still absent due to carriage negotiation snags. Otherwise all of the majors are present including: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vudu, Apple TV+, Disney+, YouTube and hundreds more. The Roku Channel also offers a slew of ad-supported movies, programs and news services available subscription free to cord cutters.
The Roku user interface also makes it very easy to switch back and forth between streaming services, cable/satellite set-top boxes and free over-the-air (ATSC 1.0) broadcast TV stations with on-screen channel listings nicely present in a grid-style guide.
Roku includes its familiar Roku remote to control both the television and the on-screen user menu. We’ve always enjoyed this remote and interface and welcome its minimalist button design. The remotes are also very easily replaced if ever lost.
We were very impressed with how easy the 65Q825 was to setup with a Wi-Fi network and connected home theater components, satellite/cable set-top box and a 4K UHD Blu-ray disc player. The television remote turned off and on our AVR and the television simultaneously. Turning on an Oppo 4K UHD Blu-ray player seamlessly switched the AVR and TV into the proper input sequence.
The Roku system recently updated its voice search system, making the use of spoken commands to find programs on YouTube or from the library of streaming services fast and surprisingly accurate with a minimum number of attempts. For those who prefer to use an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice control device, the television is designed to work with either platform.
Viewing Angle, Screen Glare, Uniformity
The TCL 65Q825 had some issues with loss of contrast and color in off-axis viewing from both horizontal and vertical viewing postions. Color and contrast shifts can be seen by moving several steps to the right or left of center screen, or by standing up and raising eye level above a normal seating position. This could be an issue if you plan to wall mount the screen at a high angle.
The screen does produce a noticeable level of screen glare, particularly when viewing dark images in a lighted viewing room. We recommend watching the set with the rooming lighting off as often as possible.
Our review model presented a slight trace of visible smudging and vignetting on a full screen gray test pattern and similar darking around the top edge and corners of a full white screen pattern. However, we didn’t see any distracting hints of this leaking through in real world images with camera pans or action sports scenes.
The TCL 65Q825 has a native 120 Hz refresh rate LCD panel, which works well by itself at reducing motion blurring in film-based content. However, like most televisions, the set does present some image judder and noticeable soap opera effect results when setting the “Natural Motion 480” system too high on film-based movie content. Overall, TCL’s motion handling is pretty good with the motion processing systems turned off, and that’s the way we recommend setting the television for regular use, or switching in on to reduce motion blurring with live sporting events. When more is necessary, TCL adds to this a system called LED Motion Clarity, but this uses a Black Frame Insertion technique that tends to darken the overall image while producing visible flicker. Again, we recommend keeping this off for most viewing situations. Unfortunately, TCL does not offer a Filmmaker Mode on this set, which would shut this off automatically when a film-based content source is detected.
TCL has developed a capable on-board sound system with support for internally decoded Dolby Atmos audio that opens up the sound stage significantly using psycho-acoustic signal processing for more immersive virtual-3D effects. Although Dolby Atmos is typically associated with its ability to present 360-degree surround from the inclusion of overhead height channels, this implementation tries to simulate these effects without the presence of actual overhead speakers in an outboard speaker setup. We weren’t convinced by overhead effects, but we could distinguish a wider sound stage that made for a more dynamic overall sound presentation than many onboard TV sound implementations. Where Dolby Atmos soundbars and home theater systems are used, the television also passes through Atmos data over the set’s HDMI-ARC port.
The TCL65Q825 offers a Game Mode which helps to reduce input lag from video games, but this isn’t as low as on some of the best LG and Samsung premium 4K Ultra HD sets. We measured a respectable 20.7 ms in 1080/60p and 4K/30p, which is sufficient for most game players, but might be a little slow for high level players.
At the currently reduced price, the TCL 8 Series 65Q825 presents what we believe to be an excellent value for a 4K TV with premium-level picture quality and very good on-board sound. The set produces deep inky black and presents movies well when viewing in a dark room setting. The combination of miniLED FALD backlighting and quantum dot enhancement film also helps the set present a wide gamut of rich accurate colors from movies streamed through the pain-free Roku smart TV platform or a connected Ultra HD Blu-ray player, alike. This is to be balanced with some issues with crushing of fine shadow detail, blooming and haloing around bright objects against dark backgrounds. But to do better would require shelling out significantly more money for a similarly sized LG 65B9 ($2,199) or Sony 65A8H ($2,499) 4K OLED TV, the Sony 65X950H 4K LED-LCD TV ($1,698) or the Samsung 65Q80T ($1,785) or 65Q90T ($2,199) 4K QLED TVs. We think the TCL 65Q825 4K miniLED TV offers one of the best performance/price bargains available right now, and worthy of your strong consideration where budget is an issue for a good quality big-screen TV.
We therefore award the TCL 65Q825 4K miniLED QLED TV 4.5 out of 5 hearts.
The TCL 65Q825 used for this review was a company loan.
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By Greg Tarr
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