Cheaper TV holds up against expensive rival

Television shopping is as baffling as choosing a bottle of wine, only less delicious. You look at the labels: Which is better — LED, OLED or QLED? And then you look at the cost: Does twice the price mean twice as nice?

Not necessarily. The new 6-Series might upend how you think about buying your next big screen. It boasts picture tech that rivals what you can get from bestseller Samsung — and, at $600 for a 55-inch model, it costs half as much.

The thing is, this TV is from a brand you might not be familiar with: TCL. The Chinese company has quietly become the third-largest TV maker by units in the world (and second-largest in North America), according to IHS Markit, by integrating design and manufacturing while outsourcing software to Roku, the streaming box maker.

What’s the catch? We tried to find out by comparing it to the 2018 Samsung Q6, which retails for $1,300. We found that, yes, TCL is cutting corners. But TV tech has improved so much so quickly, you might not even notice.

The TCL 6-Series and Samsung Q6 both have the picture tech that matters in a premium, future-proof TV. The screens are 4K — quadruple the pixels of an HD set — so you can stream ultra-HD movies that reveal every little detail. And both TVs also support high dynamic range, or HDR, which makes a growing number of specially edited movies and TV shows look more realistic by heightening the brightest and darkest parts.

The average TV viewer won’t be able to tell the differences, but there will be some who can. For example, Samung’s Quantum Dots technology shows brighter colors without washing out detail.

The bigger difference is not the screen technology but the ways in which you can use the TV. TCL uses smart TV software and a remote from Roku.

Samsung’s Q6 TV comes with a lot more smarts. It can sync up with a Samsung phone, run a special ambient mode that tries to blend in with your walls and take a wide array of commands and questions through a microphone on its remote connected to Bixby, Samsung’s talking AI. The Q6 will even run a connected home with a Samsung app called Smart Things. This is a TV that can pop up and say: “Your laundry is done.” And the remote is far superior.

But if you’re using your TV in more traditional ways, you’re still getting a great looking home theater but at a significantly cheaper price.