Signaling its plans to move up market in the U.S. television business, TCL introduced Thursday the world’s first full-array micro-LED backlit 4K Ultra HD LCD TV.

The 75- and 65-inch “8 Series” sets, which like all TCL North American televisions, will feature The Roku TV smart platform, and will have greater contrast control using more than 25,000 mini-LEDs with many more zones than typical full-array LED LCD TVs to produce OLED-like deep blacks. It will also employ QLED quantum dot technology to produce a wide color gamut.

The company also introduced the 2019 iterations of its popular 5 and 6 series 4K LED-LCD TVs. The popular 6 Series models will also incorporate QLED wide color gamut technology for the first time.

Before getting into the product specifics, the company gave a brief over view of its recent successes behind televisions and other categories in the North American market. Chris Larson, TCL North America senior VP said, the company is currently the No. 2 TV brand in the United States with 18% market share in unit volume. By screen size, the brand has been dominant in the 32-inch category for a while, but has recently started to move up its share of larger screen sizes. It has recently grown its market share strength in the 43, 50, 55, and 65-inch segments. Larson said in the last couple of months the brand has grown into the top 3 brands for 75 inch models.

Following this success, the company is now “starting to grow our [average selling prices] and pentration,” Larson said. “That startegy is really important to us for a couple of reasons. One is that there are fewer TVs going to American households as people continue to use other devices for their video consumption in secondary rooms and other places.”

Larson said almost every market stat has shown the penetration of TV in U.S. homes has been down almost every year for the past six years.

He said large-screen TV is also very important to TCL because it has invested heavily in large-format LCD panel production. The company opened its T6 Gen 11 panel fab for mass production at the beginning of 2019. That plant was designed to very efficiently produce 65, 75, 85 and up to 130-inch panels in volume.

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Regarding the 130-inch screen size, he said, there are only two regional markets that can consume panels of that size — China and the United States.

Asked about how much of TCL’s success can be attributed to the company’s decision to use the Roku TV platform exclusively for the United States, Larson answered: “Roku is part of the solution. It’s not the only solution. It solves the content delivery issue in probably the best fashion of any streaming service out there. As content becomes more and more chopped up, finding the content you want to watch is going to become more and more vital… Roku makes that practical.”

Regarding the U.S./China tariff situation, Larson said there hasn’t been a need for a major strategy change, as yet. However, the company will be doing more TV assembly in Mexico.

“Logistically, that’s still not ideal as there will be added cost to doing that,” he said. “But we’ll do what’s right for the business. We still have two big factories down there.”

As for new 2019 TCL TV models, Aaron Dew, TCL product manager, said the 2019 model lineup has been ugraded with meaningful feature benefits and aggressive price points.

Among the new features for this year will be the use of QLED (quantum dot) color enhancement film in the 6 and 8 Series models. This is the first time TCL is releasing QLED-enhanced televisions in North America. Both series are expected to get to color gamut levels approaching 100% of the P3 color space recommendation, delivering many more natural colors than typical BT.709/Full HD sets.

As in the past, TCL TVs will support HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG high dynamic range.

In addition, 6 and 8 Series models in 2019 will have built-in Dolby Atmos 3D audio decoding, sans any upfiring or surround sound speakers. This is designed to expand the sound stage from the television’s built-in stereo speakers using psycho-acoustic technology to create a virtual 3D immersive surround sound experience. For those who desire a fuller experience, the televisions will pass through Atmos sound to compatible Dolby Atmos soundbars and home theater AVRs over the set’s HDMI-ARC port.

New this year in the larger sized 5, 6 and 8 series sets (50 inches and up), TCL will be adding a fourth HDMI input to the input selection. Dew said it is possible the company will be expanding the feature set to include some of the enhancements in the HDMI 2.1 spec on some inputs, but beyond mentioning a new Auto Game Mode (this sounds like ALLM but TCL prefers to talk about the benefits without naming the technologies) in 6 and 8 Series models, he declined to specify which other HDMI 2.1 features might be coming or when.

The 2019 6 Series 4K Ultra HD QLED TV line will ship this summer at suggested retail prices starting under $600. The series will continue to have screen sizes in 55, 65 and 75 inches, and a little later in the year will be refreshing the current 75-inch model with a model that features built-in Dolby Atmos decoding. These models will have full-array QLED technology with local dimming, starting at 100 zones in the 55-inch model, 120 zones in the 65 inch and 165 zones in the 75 inch model.

The 2019 5 Series 4K Utra HD LED-LCD TVs will have screen sizes ranging from 43 to 65 inches when they arrive this summer, and suggested retail pricing will start at under $300. These models will have direct back-lit LEDs but will use “global dimming” in place of the local dimming control used in the step-up series.

Regarding the 8 Series QLED TV, TCL will not bring 8K models to North America this year as it had originally planned to do at CES 2019. Larson said the lack of 8K content so far makes for less than a seamless experience, which is dampening enthusiasm. However, the company is planning to bring 8K content to its TVs next year when it plans its first 8K introduction here.

Dew said TCL’s mini-LED local dimming solution in its 65 and 75 inch 8 Series models brings a better solution for contrast control than other FALD sets on the market today. It is also designed to best Dual-Cell LED LCD TVS coming to market from Hisense and possibly the new Sharp management late this year or next. However, Larson acknowledged they will not achieve the “infinite contrast” level claimed for LG 4K OLED TVs.

With 25,000 mini-LEDs in the back light, TCL will exponentially increase the number of local dimming zones for greater black levels and brighter highlights, Dew said. He didn’t disclose peak brightness output, but acknowledged it will be the brightest LED LCD TV on the maket. However, he said it would not match the 4000 nit aspirational goal set by Dolby. The technology will also allow more even distribution of light across the screen, presumably for better uniformity.

The TCL 65-inch and 75-inch 8 Series 4K Ultra HD mini-LED LCD TVs (models 65Q825 and 75Q825) will hit retail in October at $1999 and $2999 suggested retail prices, respectively.

Another neat feature is a new smartphone based calibration app, designed to use the mobile device’s built-in camera as the colorimeter, while enabling users to simply run the diagnostic and correction adjustments in the mobile device software for quick and easy color correction without the need of a full professional calibration. Dew said the app will only work with select phone models (only Pixel and iOS devices have been approved so far) that TCL has identified as capturing a true D65 white balance for accurate color temperature measurement.

This is sort of a spin on Portrait Display’s AutoCal tools for CalMan software, except the settings are not adjusted automatically. Users will need to find the best levels and check the balance on the charts.

By Greg Tarr

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