Review: TCL 65R635 Continues To Offer Big 4K Mini-LED TV Value
TCL’s R635 Roku TV series was first introduced in late 2020 bringing to the consumer market only the second generation of 4K UHD televisions based on new mini-LED full-array backlight technology in a surprisingly affordable premium 4K UHD TV class.
One year since introduction, the series is still available/vailid, offering an excellent value for anyone in the market for a respectably bright television will deep black reproduction, wide quantum dot DCI-P3 color gamut coverage and the popularly simple to use Roku smart TV platform.
Unfortunately, we found the television’s advanced picture settings interface that requires a Roku mobile app to use, impossible to connect to the television and we were unable to run a thorough calibration prior to this review. Our tests were therefore run with only the basic top level picture settings and brightness, contrast and motion control settings. For everything else — basically white balance (2-pt and 11-pt), gamma and color management adjustments — we had to go with the out-of-the-box settings. Fortunately, these proved to be respectably close to the BT.709 and DCI-P3 color targets, but still not ideal for balancing the overall picture to the room lighting conditions.
What stands out about this 4K HDR (2020) 6-series is the improved mini-LED backlight technology, some of the latest advanced gaming features, and generally excellent movie presentation, especially in dark room conditions.
As with many other TCL models, the Roku TV platform continues to be a top platform for easily finding and accessing the most popular streaming apps and even many more esoteric ones, which is critical in this age of cord cutting.
The TCL R635 Series encompasses a 55-inch model costing $774.99, a 65-inch model costing $1,139, and a 75-inch model costing $1,599.99, as of October 2021. These are COVID-era prices, which actually have been driven up by component shortages and strong demand for premium big-screen televisions heading into the 2021 holiday season. These are also well-featured high performing 4K UHD models available at a time when many of the best TV features are moving into 8K UHD class televisions costing much more and offering only marginally better images. So, it’s a good time to get one while quantities last.
Key features in the TCL R635 series include Mini-LED Full Array backlighting (160 zones in the 65-inch tested here, ranging up to 240 zones in the 75-inch model), VA-type 120Hz native refresh rate LCD panels, AiPQ video processing engine, 4 HDMI 2.0b inputs (one with eARC/ARC support), Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Dolby Atmos surround sound, High Dynamic Range support from HDR10/Dolby Vision/HLG profiles, support for HEVC and VP9-2 codecs, support for voice assistants (Roku Voice/Alexa/Google Assistant), support for AirPlay 2 and support for Apple HomeKit smart home devices.
For this review we used the 65-inch TCL 65R635 model, and we expect the features and performance characteristics (other than the number of local dimming zones) to be the same or very similar in the 55-inch and 75-inch models.
The 2020 6-Series has attractive styling with a thin black bezel trimming three sides of the screen and a slightly thicker gun-metal chin completing the frame at the base of the screen. The black bezel borders serve to blend in with dark edges of the picture making the panel framing nearly invisible from typical viewing distances. This series places the on-set power button somewhat unintuitively on the back of the set.
For table top placement, the television mounts on two claw-style V-shaped feet that mount at the far ends of the base of the screen. These are colored to match the gun-metal chin of the screen, and provide a solid, stable platform. The footprint of the assembled stand attached to the 65-inch model will require a mounting surface of at minimum 52-inches long by 14-inches deep, with about 2.5 inches of screen overhang at each end. There is a 3-inch gap between the placement surface and the bottom of the screen, allowing space for most of today’s soundbars without obstructing any of the picture. Check soundbar measurement specs before purchasing one.
Being a Roku TV, the TCL 65R635 packages the familiar Roku TV remote, which has been popular with many U.S. audiences. It’s a small, 5.5-inch-long matte-black plastic device that fits comfortably in one hand and offering a minimal button layout that is easily reachable by most users’ thumbs. Unfortunately, these remotes offer no button illumination for use in the dark, but the sparse number of buttons makes it easy to remember where the most needed controls are placed. Roku adds four quick-access buttons at the bottom of the button layout letting users jump right into the Netflix, Disney+, hulu or Sling TV apps, bypassing the home page in the process. The remote is designed to get users to their content as quickly as possible. The remote carries a push-button-activated mic to accept spoken commands to perform content searches without the need to key in search phrases from an on-screen softkey pad. Roku has been improving the accuracy and utility of its voice search platform with each successive OS firmware update, (now up to version OS 10.5). Roku is one of the few smart TV companies that continue to provide firmware updates and feature improvements long after purchase.
What we don’t like about the Roku TV system is the placement of the “Advanced Picture Settings” in a special hard to find section of the Roku Mobile App, instead of in the television’s on-screen menu system, where most TV manufacturers place them. As mentioned, in our efforts to calibrate this set for our review we were unable to establish a connection between these Advanced Picture Settings on the mobile app and the television’s internal controls. We repeatedly received an error message telling us to restart the television — to no avail. TCL engineering specialists were unable to help us, and Roku technicians proved to be unreachable after repeated attempts. We’ll update if anything changes.
We were told by TCL company representatives that they had never heard of the issue before, although we pointed out a number of comments on online forums from frustrated TCL users complaining about the same or similar issues. We were told that some of TCL’s 2021 model series have improved the settings handling and we look forward to testing these out.
Lacking functioning controls for white balance, color management or gamma, we moved on to setting up only the basic picture modes and motion processing adjustments. We expect the vast majority of our readers do this any way.
Typically, we go with “Movie” mode or its equivalent (e.g. Cinema, Filmmaker Mode, ISF Day or Night, etc) in another brand of set. Note that this is a Dolby Vision HDR-ready TV so when playing Dolby Vision encoded content the television automatically shifts the picture mode into Dolby Vision Bright (or Dark) and makes other adjustments to motion processing to approximate the artistic intent as closely as possible within the limitations of the display. Similar adjustments take place for HDR when only HDR10 is present.
For HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range content setting the best Picture Mode will require first starting an HDR10 or Dolby Vision movie from an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc or from Netflix, Vudu, Amazon or a similar premium streaming service. Call up the picture setting by pressing the * button on the remote and chose a Picture Mode that appears correct to your eye. We found “Normal HDR” or “Dolby Vision Bright” to be the most accurate and made sure that the color temperature was set to “warm.” For movie viewing its generally best to disable Action Smoothing, LED Motion and Action Clarity to avoid the dreaded Soap Opera Effect that repulses most content creators, for making their images look more like hard overly sharpened videos than smooth, warm film based content seen in cinemas.
Our tests for HDR10 content found the 65R635 set to “Normal HDR” achieved peak HDR luminance of 1078 nits, measured in a 10% D65 white window pattern, 1140 nits measured in a 25% D65 white window pattern, 752.7 nits measured in a 50% window and 592.7 nits measured on a 100% D65 full screen pattern. The Ultra HD Alliance sets 1,000 nits or higher measured in a 10% white window as the threshold for a Premium UHD television, which this television meets with some room to spare.
The television is capable of achieving zero nits testing for black level, meaning the set is able to shut off LED lights at the zone level (160 individual LED zones in the 65-inch model). This helps make very wide contrasty images, however, the number of zones is unable to present fine dark shadow detail very effectively. Gray scale details and colors in dark segments of the picture tend to be crushed into the surrounding background. As an example, the scene from the Ultra HD Dolby Vision presentation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part. 2 streamed over Vudu completely engulfed in blackness the faint misty clouds that circle the legion of dark wizards amassing for battle at night on the hill top outside of Hogwarts. Disappointingly, the television also shows faint blooming across large segments of the screen around the moving starfield patterns from the Spears & Musnil UHD HDR Benchmark Ultra HD Blu-ray Test Disc.
However, the mini-LED system does an excellent job of making bright HDR specular highlights stand out from the surrounding background, and keeps extraneous light from leaking into the black letter-box borders around wide screen movie content.
Although it has fewer mini-LED zones than the 2019 TCL 8-series that first launched the technology into the consumer market, the 2020 6-series does improve on the former series’ tendency to show flicker when jumping between scenes of differing brightness levels, making for greater overall eye comfort than the forerunner models.
The TCL 65R635 includes a quantum dot color filter that presents a wide rich DCI-P3 color gamut with bright color volume, something that separates mini-LED TVs from OLED competitors. We measured the 65R635 with 94% of the DCI-P3 color recommendation, which is established for professional movie screens. This, too, is higher than the 90% threshold established by the Ultra HD Alliance for a premium UHD TV.
The high color volume, which shows additional shades that come out in bright lighting, is evident in the sunlight shining through the leaves in the Rain Forest Chapter of the Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc of the BBC’s Planet Earth II.
Out of the box SDR were pretty close to the color targets for the BT.709 color space, although the accuracy tends to drift slightly in the brightest levels. We were unable to adjust this without access to the Color Management System of White Balance Advanced Picture settings.
The TCL 65R635 has a 120Hz native refresh rate panel which tends to handle motion pretty well without activating any of the motion smoothing or anti-judder controls. However, viewing certain scenes in 24p and 30p content can show blurring and judder artifacts from certain fast moving objects. This is visible in the netting in the swinging mesh hammock test sequences from the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark Disc 2 Blu-ray test disc. Motion adjustments can take this away, but at the price of introducing some Soap Opera Effect in film-based content. You’ll have to decide what bothers you more — motion blurring or overly sharpened images.
The TCL 65R635 has a nice complement of video inputs, including 4 HDMI 2.0b ports, one of which support eARC/ARC from supporting connected devices. Other inputs include 1 USB port, a digital optical audio output, a 3.5mm analog audio output, an RCA-type analog audio output, a composite video input requiring an adapter, an antenna/cable connector, and an Ethernet port.
The 65R635 has a Vertical Alignment (VA)-type LCD panel which has limitations in its ability to preserve contrast and color when viewed from a few steps to the left or right of dead center screen. This should be taken into account if the television will be placed in a room where audiences are seated at wide angels around the screen, or if the screen is wall mounted too far above seated eye level. Those seated off-axis to the screen will see a significantly washed out image the farther they sit from dead center screen.
TCLs AiPQ image processing system does a generally nice job at reducing edge jaggies and video noise in weaker content sources, like upscaled SD or HD images displayed on the full 4K screen. We didn’t see any distracting elements caused by quardrupled artificats in the upscaled resolution, although some 4:3 SD content sources from YouTube can appear a bit softer in focus on the 4K screen than on screens closer to the native resolution of the original material. Overall, however, this was not a problem. Some color banding is present in some upscaled sources. Low-light mosquito noise in the dark harbor sequences at the start of Blu-ray Disc edition of Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End were kept to a palatable minimum.
Screen uniformity from our sample model was generally very good for full gray screen and black screen content, meaning we didn’t perceive any dirty screen effect leaping through pans and other sequences of real world content. Color uniformity was also very good.
Being a 2020 set, TCL had not yet implemented the full bandwidth HDMI 2.1 inputs and some of that interfaces more advanced gaming features are left off of this set. However, the television does include a THX Certified Game mode in the Picture Mode settings.
Of the advanced game features, the set supports Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), which helps the set automatically switch into game mode upon sensing supported incoming content. This helps the set achieve optimial low input lag and reduce some frame tearing as does the supported Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) for new generation game consoles, like the Xbox Series X/S.
We tested 1080/60p input lag at reasonably respectable 18.7 ms in Game Mode.
The TCL 65R635 only has limited stereo audio system, but the addition of Dolby Atmos sound expansion helps to broadend the sound stage to present a full overall sound with clearly audible dialog. That said, it lacks the deep bottom that a subwoofer can provide and can’t mask the somewhat shallow and boxy hollow effect of the tiny internal speakers. As with almost any flat-panel TV on the market today, we suggest adding on a good quality soundbar and subwoofer package or a full multi-channel home theater audio system.
The TCL 65R635 mini-LED LCD TV is among the strongest values still on the market for a well-featured, reasonably strong performing 4K Ultra HD TV. The mini-LED system does a very good job of presenting bright HDR specular highlights and deep black, while avoiding issues with image retention. Sadly, we had some real issues trying to get the two-piece advanced picture settings system to work through the Roku mobile app, inevitably forcing us to skip a thorough calibration. But with just a few tweaks to the basic picture settings menu we found this television produced a high quality picture experience for movie lovers. It also offers a few of the newer tools for competitive advanced video game play. Even with prices going up for this series as we get into the holiday season, this is among the best value buys you are likely to find for a premium-level 4K television of this caliber this year. The TCL 65R635 is a recommended buy earning four out of five hearts.
The TCL 65R635 use for this review was a company loan.
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By Greg Tarr
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