TCL, the China-based TV maker that is now the number two TV brand in the U.S., has announced new versions of its 5- and 6-Series TVs powered by Google TV — the streaming media interface that runs on Google’s Android TV software. This makes TCL the only TV company to sell U.S. models powered by Roku TV, Android TV, and now, Google TV too.
TCL doesn’t consider these Google TV-powered models as upgrades to its existing Roku TV-powered TVs, but there are one or two differences which we’ll outline below. Here’s the new line-up — all models are available starting today as pre-orders.
Along with the new, content-focused Google TV experience, the new models get access to the Google Assistant in two ways: Built-in far-field microphones on the TVs let you speak hands-free commands that start with “Hey Google,” or you can you the Assistant button on the remote control to trigger the voice assistant manually. Either way, the Google TV models can act as full-fledged Google Assistant smart speakers with the ability to command and control any smart home function (including control of scenes) that you could do from a Google Nest speaker. If you’re not comfortable with the always-on far-field microphones, they can be disabled with a physical switch.
An ambient mode lets you turn these TVs into a Google Photos-powered digital photo frame when you’re not watching TV. And, as with all Google TV-based smart TVs or streaming devices, you can use the Google TV app on your Android phone to view personalized recommendations, watch content, or add titles to your Watchlist.
TCL is also adding two of its own special touches to the Google TV experience. First, TCL will sell you an $80 FullHD USB webcam which you can use to do Google Duo calls from your TV. Several other third-party webcams will work as well. Second, and this appears to be a TCL exclusive, you get kids’ profiles. Parents will be able to limit the time their kids spend watching TV, add parental controls to content, and set schedules for watching.
Both the 5- and 6-Series Google TV models will be the first TCL TVs sold in the U.S. to feature HDR10+ compatibility, in addition to HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision. Previous models (including the existing 5- and 6-Series Roku TVs) only offered HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG. HDR10+ adoption has been slow among streaming services and TV manufacturers, but given TCL’s sales clout, its move to include the Samsung-backed alternative to Dolby Vision could signal the start of a big change. The 5-Series also gets the ability to decode and passthrough Dolby Atmos, something the 5-Series Roku TV can’t do.
The 6-Series Google TV is also the first TCL model to boast Dolby Vision IQ, a system that uses a TV’s onboard light sensors to automatically optimize Dolby Vision’s settings based on the changing ambient light in your room.
With the 5-Series, you get up to 60 zones of full-array local dimming (FALD), while the 6-Series bumps that up to 240 zones, thanks to its mini-LED backlighting system that uses thousands of tiny LEDs.
The other major difference between the 5- and 6-Series Google TV models and TCL’s Roku TV versions is support for HDMI 2.1 features. The Google TV models get auto game mode (also known as auto low-latency mode) and variable refresh rate (VRR), but the 6-Series goes further, with two HDMI 2.1 ports that support 4K gaming at 120Hz, in addition to a dedicated HDMI ARC/eARC port.
Finally, TCL has added a new stand option to the 55-, 65-, and 75-inch models that let you choose between a wider or narrower stance to help with tabletops that might not be wide enough to accommodate a large TV at its full width.
Along with the new 5- and 6-Series Google TVs announcement, TCL also gave us some more hope that we will soon see its next-generation mini-LED panel, which it calls OD Zero. It will be featured on the next TV to join TCL’s big-screen XL-Series, likely an 85-inch 8K model that TCL will refer to as the X9 or X9 Pro, depending on where you live. TCL expects to show the X9 at CEDIA, a tradeshow that takes place at the end of August, and has plans to sell the new model before the end of the year.
OD Zero mini-LED backlight technology basically sandwiches the mini-LED backlighting system right up against the LCD panel for an incredibly thin profile and better performance.