It's not perfect, but the TCL X7 shows that better things are coming at the cost-conscious end of the ultra-high-definition television market.
On paper, TCL’s 2019 line-up sees it matching its rivals with all the latest technology: ultra-high-definition QLED screens with artificial intelligence for image processing, voice activation and running on the Android TV operating system.
In reality, TCL still lacks the finesse and consistency in screen quality of its more established rivals. But its TVs are aggressively priced, which will suit viewers less inclined to obsess over such things as dynamic range and a screen’s viewing angle.
The TCL X7 55-inch model looks the part, with a minimalist design, chrome stand and a built-in Onkyo speaker stylishly covered in black cloth. Two remotes come with the TV, one with all the buttons you’ll need and a simpler one designed more for interacting with smart TV menus and with a voice-activation button.
After experimenting with a few different operating systems, TCL has settled on Android, which will suit anyone with an Android phone. The Google Play Store on the TV allows access to a subset of the apps on your phone. Integration with YouTube is seamless, as it also is with Google Play Video for renting movies and TV shows. Voice commands work about as well as on any other smart TV – okay for the basics, but otherwise of limited usefulness.
Most of the apps you want are there, although Lightbox and Spark Sport, which you’ll need to stream the full schedule of Rugby World Cup games, weren’t available on the review TV. TCL expected them to go live by the end of this week. The TCL has a built-in Freeview Plus tuner, so you can watch free-to-air channels, record shows and access on-demand services by plugging in a TV aerial and connecting to the internet. Chromecast is built in, which makes wireless “casting” of content from a phone to the TV easy.
As much as I like Android TV, TCL’s implementation isn’t a match for Sony’s. The TCL X7 takes nearly 40 seconds to boot up. That, and the occasional lag in menu changes, suggest the TV’s processor is straining.
The processor is also put to work getting the best out of the QLED screen, which is similar to those used by Samsung. But Samsung’s 2019 line-up does a better job of image processing. The TCL gave a crisp and detailed picture during native “4K” video viewing on the “dynamic” setting. But for many standard-definition and HD sources, the display was often unnaturally bright. Conversely, although the screen has local dimming, some dark scenes were a bit murky.
Changing screen settings helped, but I’ve never had to make as many adjustments as on this TV, suggesting its image-processing capability isn’t quite there yet. The screen’s other deficiency is the viewing angle. From the side, the picture appears washed out. Audio quality is also imperfect, with plenty of treble but not a lot of bass to satisfy on movie nights. For that, you’ll want to buy a soundbar.
All up, the X7 is loud and bright and slightly underdone. But it is great to see an increasingly ambitious market contender. In September, TCL will release its 8K models, following Samsung with the highest-resolution screens on the market.
The X7 sells for $2699, but one retailer had it on special for $2281. At that price, it could be a worthy alternative to Samsung’s entry-level QLED TV, the Q60, for instance.
This article was first published in the August 17, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.