TCL 65R617 65" 4K Ultra HD Roku Smart LED TV
TCL proudly claims that it is the fastest-growing TV brand in America, and it's not difficult to see why. Though the brand may not have immediate recognition like Samsung, LG, and Sony, TCL has quietly established itself as a quality manufacturer with TVs that fit any budget. The company finds itself in a select group of peers that manufactures LCD panels, backlight, and TV set in-house; among all other manufacturers that sell TVs in the US, only Samsung and LG do the same.
The 615/617 is a departure from TCL's previous design language; rather than the plastic used in lesser sets, the 615/617 features a metal bezel and stand. The design itself is inoffensive, and imparts the TV with a more premium appearance than other sets in this price range. Along the rear, the lower half houses all of the inputs - 3 HDMI inputs and a single composite video input, with no provisions for component video. Digital audio out and a 3.5mm analog audio output provide flexibility for wiring a sound bar to the TV, and HDMI 3 is clearly marked as the designated ARC-capable port. The ethernet port and cable/antenna input round out external connectivity options. As is the trend with newer TVs, digital connections are well-represented while analog ports become increasingly scarce.
What makes the 615/617 series stand out is its combination of features and inherent design that is just about impossible to find in this price range. This LED LCD TV utilizes a full-array backlight with local dimming - something found only on other manufacturers' top-performing (and most expensive) sets. As well, the 615/617's panel is capable of impressive black levels and high contrast ratios without resorting to any quality-enhancing tricks, which is surprising given the aggressive pricing of this set. Even straight out of the box, the 615/617 can display accurate colors with only minor adjustments to its built-in picture modes. A professional calibration will always improve the accuracy of any display, but the 615/617 performs well enough on its own to make you consider saving the money.
Many other HDTV manufacturers equip their sets with smart TV interfaces designed in-house - not so with TCL. Rather than expend additional resources on creating another user interface, the 615/617 simply comes with Roku TV built-in. The remote should be instantly familiar to anyone who has used a Roku streaming device, and the 615/617 can also utilize the Roku smartphone app for further flexibility. The 615 and 617 differ primarily in the smart TV functions - the 617 comes with voice control and an RF-operated remote, which does not require direct line-of-sight to the TV. The 615 makes do without voice control and uses a traditional IR remote, which requires pointing the business end of the remote directly at the TV for it to function. Otherwise, the 615 and 617 models are identical in terms of performance and functionality.
With TCL's flagship 615/617 model, the law of diminishing returns is on full display - no pun intended. Sure, there are 'better' TVs currently on sale, but at what cost? Short of studio professionals and film mavens, the TCL 615/617 offers 95% of the picture quality of today's top sets for a fraction of the price - all without any major quality or operational sacrifices.