TCL’s newest 6-Series and 5-Series 4K TVs use Google TV instead of Roku

TCL on Tuesday announced updated versions of its popular 5-Series and 6-Series 4K TVs.

The biggest update is that the new models run Google TV, Google’s big-screen operating system. Google TV is found most prominently on the search giant’s Chromecast streaming dongle, but it has also popped up on a handful of recent 4K TVs from Sony.

TCL first confirmed it would launch new Google TVs during CES this past January.

Prior to Tuesday’s launch, the 5-Series and 6-Series models exclusively ran Roku OS, which replicates the experience of a Roku media player on a TV without the need for extra hardware. TCL says it will continue to sell the Roku versions of those TVs, which launched last year.

Previously, TCL has offered Google’s older Android TV software on more affordable televisions in its lower-end 3-Series and 4-Series over the years. (Google TV is more or less a rebranded update to Android TV, with the same codebase but a new interface.) Variants of those sets that run Roku OS are available as well. Now, that dual-track strategy is making its way up TCL’s TV lineup.

Below is a list of screen sizes and MSRPs for the new Google TV models. TCL says each set will be up for preorder Tuesday, with the exception of the 75-inch 6-Series Google TV, which will be available to preorder “soon.” The 5-Series will begin shipping within the next couple of weeks, according to the company, with the 6-Series arriving shortly after that.

TCL 6-Series Google TV (R646)

  • 55-inch: $999.99
  • 65-inch: $1,299.99
  • 75-inch: $1,799.99

TCL 5-Series Google TV (S546)

  • 50-inch: $599.99
  • 55-inch: $649.99
  • 65-inch: $899.99
  • 75-inch: $1,299.99

Best Buy currently has product pages for the new 5-Series and 6-Series on its store website, though its prices appear to be slightly higher than TCL’s initially stated MSRPs as of this writing.

Familiar hardware

As for the TVs themselves, the new 5-Series and 6-Series Google TVs aren’t much different from their existing Roku TV counterparts. You can read our rundown of last year’s models for more on what to expect, but in short, the new sets still feature 4K resolutions, QLED panels, support for multiple HDR formats, and full-array local dimming. The screen-size options for both series are the same as before. They are still aimed more toward the upper-middle of the TV market, with pictures that aren’t quite as nice as that of a more premium OLED set.

The 6-Series remains the more technically proficient option, with a mini-LED backlight system and a greater number of full-array local dimming zones (up to 240, depending on what screen size you choose, compared to a maximum of 60 on the 5-Series). All of that should continue to help the TV to deliver improved contrast by comparison.

The 6-Series also has a few more gaming-friendly features, such as the ability to push a 4K image with a 120 Hz refresh rate—something the Roku version of the TV, which maxes at 1440p/144 Hz, cannot do. The 5-Series sets, meanwhile, cap out at 60 Hz, though both lines technically support variable refresh rates (VRR) and auto low-latency mode (ALLM).

There are four HDMI ports on the 6-Series, two of which are HDMI 2.1 and one of which supports eARC, compared to three simpler HDMI ports (with one that uses eARC) on the 5-Series. The 6-Series is the only one to support Wi-Fi 6 networking as well.

Both models still support the common HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision HDR formats. The Google TV versions, however, will also work with HDR10+, a lesser-used but relatively high-end standard that nevertheless helps future-proof the TVs for a time. The Google TV version of the 5-Series can now decode and pass-through Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound as well. The Roku model, alas, cannot.

In terms of picture quality, all of this should continue to be a largely positive thing. The 5-Series and, especially, the 6-Series have been regarded by TV reviewers as strong values in the midtier market for several years now, which has helped both TCL and Roku OS steadily grow in prominence. Last year’s Roku models didn’t do much to change that in a vacuum, but it’s worth noting that prices for both series appear to have risen significantly in recent months: the 5-Series Roku TVs that started at $400 last year now have an MSRP of at least $600, while the 6-Series models that started at $650 now cost at least $950. The new Google TVs aren’t significantly more expensive, but the inflated costs do lessen TCL’s value proposition.

In any event, I was able to briefly check out these new Google TV sets at a media briefing in New York City last week. I didn’t see anything that would suggest any major drop-off in display performance, though that kind of setting is far from ideal for evaluating display quality. TCL hasn’t shared any specifics with regard to the TVs’ internal processors or its planned Google TV update policy, either, so it’s also too soon to say how well each TV will hold up over time.

A Chromecast in your TV

The OS swap is the most tangible difference, but whether this is an upgrade will likely come down to what you want out of your TV software. Roku OS is far less complex than Google TV, what with its largely static grid of app tiles anchoring the experience.

By comparison, Google’s software is more fluid. It has fewer app tiles surrounded by more specific picks for TV shows and movies you might like, all driven by an algorithm-based recommendation engine. Voice searching is more robust with Google’s Assistant tech baked in, you can “cast” videos and view content recommendations from your phone, there’s Stadia game streaming if you’re into that, and it lets a TV slot more easily into a family of Google-compatible security cameras, smart lights, and other smart home devices. The 5-Series and 6-Series TVs will include dedicated kids profiles as well, which the existing Google TVs from Sony currently lack. In general, We gave the OS high marks when we compared the newest Chromecast to similar streamers from Roku and Amazon earlier this year, finding it altogether more featured and effective at surfacing content we actually liked than its rival platforms.

To make Google TV’s voice-based features work more readily, TCL has built far-field microphones directly into the TVs. This means you can activate the Google Assistant through its usual “Hey, Google” command, turning the TV into something like a bigger smart display. (Though you can still access the Assistant through the included remote either way.) The company plans to sell a $79 webcam that can plug into the TV for video calls, too, though it notes that other USB-based webcams will also work.

Each of the new TVs has a physical switch around the back that can disable the microphones if desired, and TCL says the sets will support Google “basic TV” mode that effectively turns off all the smart TV features built into the OS. But the prospect of always-listening mics and software that’s heavily dependent on reading your viewing habits may be a turn-off to those who are sensitive about data privacy (few TV brands are particularly strong in that area).

Nevertheless, the new models could be an appealing alternative for viewers who want a well-regarded TV and prefer Google’s platform over Roku’s. The new TVs could also be a boon for Google itself as it tries to get its living room OS in front of more eyeballs.

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Listing image by Jeff Dunn

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