TCL Electronics, one of the biggest Chinese TV makers, is pushing hard into the fancier end of the market. The U55H8800CDS Ultra High Definition TV is clear evidence of that — a handsomely-styled 55-inch curved-screen unit selling at a relatively modest $2499 (and we've seen it selling significantly below that RRP).
And we do mean handsome. It comes as one piece in the carton, with its speaker section doubling as a stand, conforming to the gentle curve of the screen. What looks to be a panel of real wood veneer is centred between two black speaker grilles. You could imagine this TV in the smoking room of a refined men’s club.
The panel is tilted back very slightly, so it best suits placement on a fairly low cabinet. There are mounting points for the unit to be attached to a wall, but I’m not sure that it would look particularly pretty up there. It’s a reasonably thick panel, perhaps 50mm for most of it, accommodating the LED backlight array, while the tops and sides of this television have about 20mm of body between the edge of the picture and open space. The picture is, of course, rendered at 3840 by 2160 pixels on a screen with an actual diagonal of 138.7cm.
Curved screens started with OLED but have since come to be a marker of some premium LCD models. The curve here is mild — we’d generally prefer a flat screen (purists, we), but for those sitting more or less in front of the TV the curve here will have virtually no subjective effect on the visible geometry of the picture.
TCL has naively specified the contrast ratio of the TV at a rather lowly 4000:1. That’s likely the native performance of the panel before any fancy processing is performed. As we’ll see, that muchunderstates the effective performance.
The audio section is called a “harman/kardon Tuned Sound System”. There are an uncertain number of front-firing speakers, plus a pair of 75mm upwards-firing woofers (above) in the base/stand behind the panel.
There are four HDMI inputs, with support for 4K up to 60Hz, and HDCP 2.2 support for whatever commercial 4K sources may be thrown at us. There are good old-fashioned RCA sockets for the component video input and matching audio. Analogue composite video plus audio are catered for with both inputs and outputs via adaptor cables. There is also optical digital audio output and a 3.5mm analogue headphone socket.
Both USB sockets feature blue colour tongues, but don’t be fooled, only one of them is USB 3.0. These can be used for playing back media, adding a camera for Skype, or adding storage for the PVR function for TV.
There’s an Ethernet connection (oddly this is on the back, so requires the insertion of cable perpendicularly to the panel) and dual-band Wi-Fi for the network functions.
The remote control is dual function. Most of it operates as a conventional IR unit, but there are also ‘mouse’ and voice keys. The mouse key produces a pointer on the screen, which is useful for the smart functions.
The TV also supports 3D, using lightweight active glasses powered by a single CR2025 cell. One set is provided with the TV.
The smart features are powered by Android. A quad-core CPU and quad-core GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) provide snappy performance of these features.
Of course there’s a set-up wizard. This worked nicely, and the only surprise was that in the country selection section, the only choices were Australia and Algeria. Network connection was available in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The TV successfully captured all my local free-to-air TV stations. You can set the repeats to ‘Skip’ so they don’t appear in the EPG or the channel list.
Speaking of EPG, the TV does not support FreeviewPlus, and the ‘Guide’ seemed quite slow and was a touch clunky. It had several tabs for presentation, and one of them displayed thumbnail images of the various TV programs. It turned out that this was not the conventional broadcast free-to-air EPG, but an app called ‘Guide ON’ which seemed to draw much of its content from the internet. It could be switched off, letting you use the regular EPG. This was much snappier, but in the review TV had a couple of problems. The ‘Skipped’ channels appeared in it, and it got confused with the SBS radio stations, filling their entries with data from subsequent TV stations and putting the whole list out of kilter. This kind of thing can happen with a new TV model; expect a firmware upgrade to appear in due course to fix this programming error. Perhaps when they fix this, they can also have the TV retain the EPG data when it is switched off, so it’s ready for presentation next time you use the TV. In the meantime, you can revert to the ‘Guide ON’ app.
The default settings, as with many TVs, include having a stack of sharpness applied to the picture. This produced an unpleasant harshness, which was easily dealt with by winding it back to zero.
On the other hand, the TV deals with overscan in the best possible way. It has a specific overscan switch in the picture menu. This defaults to off when handling HD or UHD content — including free-to-air 1080i HD TV stations. But for 720p HD or SD stations it’s switched on. SD broadcasts frequently include irritating codes on the top one or two lines, so this is the best default, but you can turn it off if you wish to see the lot.
The TV also starts up with its ‘Motion Enhancement’ in the ‘Middle’ position. There are also ‘High’ and ‘Low’ and ‘Customer’ (sic) settings. Both the top two produced extremely smooth motion on my most juddery test clips, but also delivered significant levels of picture distortion. I found it difficult to see the difference between the ‘Low’ and ‘Off’ settings. ‘Customer’ lets you tweak the level of judder control.
The standard colour settings were good, as were the contrast and brightness settings. The latter two properly spread the black-white scale evenly across the brightness spectrum. There was a very slight pink tinge on some of the almost full-white shades of the test pattern, but I can’t say that this was at all evident in use, even with black-and-white viewing material.
Running a few test pictures confirmed that the TV implements an array of individually controllable LEDs for backlighting. The local brightness control was extremely effective with room lights on. In a darkened room, it was clear that the back lights had not been programmed to turn all the way down to zero output, so there was always some back light glow. On a full black image the result was a bit of mottling from back light leakage. Nonetheless, black levels were respectable, the localisation was pretty good, and if you are setting up for an evening of darkened-room watching you can turn down the back light level, deepening the blacks further.
The deinterlacing of 1080i/50 and 576i/50 source content was motion adaptive and largely adequate, although inclined to flip over into video mode a little too easily. (I’d suggest using a Blu-ray player with good deinterlacing.) I’d be happy enough with feeding a set-top box’s output into this unit in native format.
Test Ultra High Definition material, delivered via USB (including HEVC H.265 content) and 2160p/60 supplied via HDMI worked perfectly, and beautifully. It had me glancing over at the thousand Blu-ray discs on my shelves, wondering how many of them I’m going to have to replace when those promised UHD Blu-ray players appear.
The 3D performance was pretty terrible. There was stacks of crosstalk.
The TV appears to do something quite rare: it supports auto-lipsync via HDMI. The timing chirp of the AV sync test clip emerged from the loudspeakers at the exact instant that the sweeping arm hit top dead centre. There was something even stranger: you may not even want to use this lipsync feature because the TV is so very fast. The processing delay was just 38 milliseconds. That’s with the standard picture settings, including the motion smoother switched on. And it’s about one quarter of the delay of most UHD TVs. We wonder how they do it.
But if you’re really keen on gaming, go into the Picture, Advanced Settings submenu and switch on Game Mode. That reduced the delay further, to something under 20 milliseconds. Any games involving reflexes would be far more playable on this TV than any other 4K TV we’ve yet reviewed.
See the ‘Smarts’ panel for details of apps and the interesting and extensive ‘GoLive’ channels which TCL provides via the internet.
The ‘Media Center’ app is for playing recordings made with the TV’s PVR functions, plus music, photos and videos from USB media or DLNA servers on your network (choose ‘Share&See’ for that). Photos were rendered at full 4K resolution, but the colour handling was 4:2:0 rather than 4:4:4 so some colour resolution was lost. Nonetheless, your high-res jpegs are going to look very fine indeed on this TV with just about 8MP resolution on display.
Music-wise, the unit happily played MP3, iTunes-style AAC and FLACs up to 96kHz, but not Apple Lossless. It streamed all the kinds of video I had available, including 4K. But while 4K from USB worked smoothly, over the network even 50Mbps material tended to stutter, suggesting that the network connection wasn’t fast enough, even with a wired Ethernet connection.
The Harman/Kardon-tuned audio was very good for a TV. There was a bit of upper midrange emphasis on music, and of course no really deep bass. But there was a good hint of upper bass and fine clarity at surprisingly high levels, for a TV.
So there you have it: curved UHD screen, very good TV performance, UHD both for now and the future, and brilliant performance for gamers. For $2500 (and we've seen it selling significantly lower). That’s impressive.
+ Excellent value for money
+ Good overall performance
+ Extremely low latency, great for gamers
- No FreeviewPlus
- Terrible 3D
- Buggy EPG
Tested with firmware: V8-NT67K01-LF1V148
Display technology: Curved LED/LCD panel
Screen size: 138.7cm
Native aspect ratio: 16:9
Native resolution: 3,840 x 2,160
Brightness: Not stated
Contrast ratio: 4000:1
Inputs: 4 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x component video, 1 x composite video, 2 x stereo audio, 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x Ethernet, WiFi, 1 x aerial
Outputs: 1 x 3.5mm headphone, 1 x optical digital audio, 1 x composite video, 1 x stereo audio
Audio: Harman Kardon tuned sound system (details not stated)
Included accessories: Integrated table top stand, IR/RF remote control, analogue expansion cables, 2 x 3D eyewear
Energy Rating label: 4 Stars, 392kWh per year
Dimensions (whd): 1245 x 790 x 209mm
Warranty: Three years
Product page: TCL Electronics