TCL Series X X4 QLED

TCL is one of the world’s biggest makers of TVs. But this Chinese brand is still not quite so well known in Australia due to it being a relatively recent entry under its own name. That doesn’t mean it’s behind in technology, as demonstrated by this 55X4US 4K Android TV, which proved quite the bargain.

EQUIPMENT
The TV’s 55-inch panel offers Ultra-HD resolution, and uses QLED technology. That’s Quantum Dot, which delivers precise wavelengths of light for maximum efficiency and accuracy. Its inputs support Ultra-HD Blu-ray and HDR signals, TCL branding the TV as HDR800, which we take to mean a maximum brightness of 800 nits.

The top 36cm of the screen’s height is just panel, with the electronics contained in the 44mm-thick bottom section. So that top part has something of the appearance of those OLED sheets of glass. It’s not quite that thin, but still super-slim at just 8.6mm, according to our measurements.

One slightly unusual but welcome design feature is that all the inputs are in a single line on the edge of the chassis. Most TVs have several there, but also some on the back. (Antenna and network connections are almost always on the back.) Does it matter? If you want to closely wall-mount without making large holes in your wall to accommodate an aerial cable, yes it does. They are 130mm in from the edge of the screen, so from front-on the cables should be invisible. It’s also worth noting that all connections are on the right-hand side, whereas almost all other TVs have them on the left.
Another unusual feature: underneath the panel is a forwards-facing, cloth-covered grille containing a speaker system designed by harman/kardon. Shooting sound in the wrong direction is the greatest weakness of modern panel TVs. There’s none of that here.

The TV has an HD tuner with support for FreeviewPlus. It supports time-shifting and recording of TV using USB storage.

This is a smart TV running Android 7.0, which we reckon is a wise choice. Android is a very stable platform and runs well even on relatively modest processors. New out of the box, the TV has 9.5GB of storage available for apps and content.

The TV comes with two remote controls. The larger one is IR only. A smaller one (amusingly called the ‘exclusive’ remote control in the manual) has fewer keys, but it connects via both IR and Bluetooth, and it features a microphone so you can issue Google search commands, and an on-screen pointer controlled by movement of the remote. You can also use the Android TV remote on an Android phone or other device.


PERFORMANCE
The first step of the wizard was language selection. The default was ‘English (UK)’. You may want to resist the temptation and scroll all the way to the bottom of the long list for the additional varieties of English, including ‘English (Australia)’.

Then there was network set-up. Android TVs make this easy if you have an Android phone or tablet, and this TV was no exception. We just followed the on-screen instructions to use our Android device to search for ‘Set up a device’. The phone found the TV almost instantly, and a couple of quick steps had the TV connected to our Wi-Fi network. After that came the TV tuning section, largely automated, and that was it. We checked later and found that the TV’s Wi-Fi is dual-band.

That Android set-up did more than just assist in the Wi-Fi connection. It also transferred our Android credentials so that we could go into the Play Store on the TV and install additional apps without having to log on. And, somewhat to our surprise, the first time we went to the Netflix app we didn’t have to log onto that either.

One change in the settings is definitely worth making. Look under ‘Power’ and switch on ‘Instant power on’. Otherwise (the default) you’ll be waiting a significant time for the TV to boot up from scratch. With ‘Instant power on’, it took only five seconds for the picture to appear, since there was no longer any need for Android to boot up.

The other thing you should change is the default sharpness setting, from 50 down to 13 or less. It produces a visible ringing (thin ghosts around high contrast edges) in the default setting. You’ll need to go into the ‘Advanced’ picture settings menu to change that. When watching broadcast TV, also consider switching ‘Overscan’ off in the standard picture settings. This is on by default when free-to-
air TV stations are showing, even HD ones. It is off by default for full-HD or higher external inputs.

One last settings change. For some reason local dimming is not switched on by default. We kind of stumbled across this, since we’d found the black levels on our test patterns quite reasonable. But they became somewhat better with it switched on.

TCL only specifies a contrast ratio of 4000:1, which seems like a low number. We reckon that’s because TCL is not yet quite as disingenuous in its marketing as some other brands. TCL is clearly talking about the native contrast ratio of the panel. Many others would quote some larger dynamic measure for the same panel. In reality, the black levels and local brightness discrimination proved at least as good as that from any other edge-lit LED/LCD panel on the market.

We had one compatibility issue. For some reason our Oppo BDP-203AU Ultra-HD Blu-ray player would not work when connected to the TV via a Denon AVC-X8500H home theatre amplifier. All that the TV would show was the snow of the kind you normally see with an HDCP failure. The player would work when connected directly to the TV. A Samsung Ultra-HD player would work when connected via the Denon receiver. An Oppo BDP-103AU would equally work via the receiver. The BDP-203AU worked via the receiver with several other TVs and projectors. We guess it’s just one of those things.

We’d strongly recommend that you feed your DVDs, and any 1080i/50 Blu-ray discs you have, to this TV from a player that can perform high-quality deinterlacing. It seemed far too ready to treat film-sourced content as interlaced, producing noticeable distortion. But with a high quality signal, the picture quality was excellent. Blacks were impressive — not OLED impressive, but impressive for an LED/LCD TV. Even in a darkened room we enjoyed dark scenes with our attention rarely distracted by any breakthrough of the backlight.

The TV has a motion interpolation system to reduce judder. The control for this one is kept very simple. Instead of abstruse descriptive terms, the ‘Motion clarity’ item has a setting you can adjust between 0 and 10 for ‘Judder reduction’. The default was 10 and that tended to overdo it, overly smoothing motion and producing a fair amount of heat-haze distortion. We wound it back to the
2 position. That took the edge off the judder without creating any noticeable distortion. By ‘taking the edge off’, we mean that it seemed to interpolate one frame between each two real frames. (The higher levels added more.) On the nastiest test clip we used, that improved clarity enormously, while leaving some judder visible. On most scenes in which judder is only slightly visible, the motion became very smooth.

The TV seemed to be calibrated to the correct grey-scale levels for regular 8-bit video from Blu-ray and DVD. For HDR signals, a little liberty had been taken, allowing some discrimination between 1100 and 1200 lumens test bands, even though it’s doubtful that the TV can deliver those actual levels. That’s a reasonable compromise between ensuring a bright picture, while allowing some graduation of extremely bright items in the signal.

NETWORKING
The network performance of the TV was perhaps its weakest aspect. It was easy to use, as all Android TVs are, and the pointer feature (‘Air Mouse’) was useful in selecting things. But the picture quality of material streamed from our server was not very good. In particular, 4K video seemed to be bottlenecked down somewhere along the line to, we’d estimate, even lower than 1080p resolution. It worked, but rather spoilt the 4K effect. Photos were also bottlenecked down before display, looking to us as if it were a 1080p filter. Some of that may have been due to the connection being Chromecast, which seems to support no more than 1080p even in Google’s own 4K Chromecast model.

What did work rather well was music. We were able to stream 192kHz FLAC music files to the TV, and they sounded remarkably good given they were being played back by a TV. For that we must thank the harman/kardon-assisted front-firing speakers.

CONCLUSION
Taking into account a three-year warranty and the very reasonable selling price of $2199 (and as with most TVs, you’d likely get better at the retailer), we reckon the TCL 55X4US TV to be a real bargain.

TCL 55X4US 4K television
Price: $2199

+ Excellent value for money
+ Lovely thin screen
+ Good Android implementation

- Video and photo handling via network limited in resolution

Tested version: Android 7.0, Kernel 3.10.79, build NTG46
Display technology: LED/LCD QLED panel
Screen size: 138.7cm
Native aspect ratio: 16:9
Native resolution: 3840 x 2160
Brightness: HDR Premium 800
Contrast ratio: 4000:1
Energy rating: 5 stars, 334kWh per year Inputs: 3 x HDMI, 1 x composite video, 2 x stereo audio, 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x Ethernet, Wi-Fi, 1 x aerial
Outputs: 1 x 3.5mm headphone, 1 x optical digital audio
Audio: Harman Kardon tuned sound system (details not stated)
Included accessories: Table top stand, 2 x remote controls, analogue expansion cable
Dimensions (whd): 1231 x 795 x 204mm /1231 x 758 x 44.1mm with/without stand
Weight: 16.5/16.0kg (with/without stand)

Contact: TCL Electronics Australia
Telephone: 03 8541 4666
Web: www.tclelectronics.com.au