TCL is focusing on bigger screens and adopting higher performance features such as quantum-dot displays and mini-LED local-dimming zones to capture a bigger share of the 4K Ultra HD TV market.
In the first half of 2019, the Chinese TV maker ranked second in its share of U.S. retail-level TV unit sales, up from third place in calendar 2018, NPD Group statistics show. But among TVs with screens larger than 55 inches, TCL contends that it could do a lot better than it is now.
In the first half of 2019, TCL accounted for 22% of U.S. TV unit sales in the 48- to 52-inch categories but only 13% of 65-inch units, said Chris Larson, TCL’s SVP for North America, in citing NPD.
To boost its big-screen share, the company is adding more 65- and 75-inch TVs to its North American lineup and launching its first North American TVs with quantum-dot (QLED) displays to widen color gamut. TCL is also launching the world’s first TVs with densely packed mini-LED backlights to heighten peak-brightness levels, distribute light more evenly across the screen, and boost the number of local-dimming zones to enhance contrast and add depth to an image.
In the top-of-the-line 75-inch 8 Series 4K TV, for example, TCL deployed more than 25,000 mini LEDs to create almost 1,000 dimming zones, up from a maximum 160 zones in other TCL 4K TVs employing more traditional LED-backlight technology.
TCL’s average U.S. selling prices continue to grow, Larson asserted, but the brand is “underrepresented in large screens over 55 inches.” TCL wants to “get better at capturing sales of a home’s main TV,” he said. The company will be aided in that goal with the recent opening of a Gen 11 panel factory that efficiently produces 65- to 130-inch panels in Shenzhen, China, he added.
To carry out its plans, TCL launched four TVs with quantum-dot displays, two in the 6 Series and two in TCL’s first 8 Series. The 8 Series steps up to add mini-LED backlighting.
All four are also the company’s first TVs with Dolby Atmos 3D surround.
The 6 Series models will be available in September in 55- and 65-inch sizes starting at less than $600. The 8 Series models will be available in October in 65- and 75-inch sizes at respective retails of $1,999 and $2,999.
All new TVs run Roku’s smart-TV OS, as do all other TVs in TCL’s 2019 lineup.
8K Timeline: As part of its performance focus, TCL will also incorporate quantum-dot and mini-LED technologies in its first 8K TVs for the North American market. They’ll be part of the 8 Series and come in sizes starting at 75 inches.
The 8K TVs will arrive in the first half of 2020 instead of this year, as previously targeted, to leverage the expected 2020 launch of 8K videogame consoles, the company said. The 8K consoles will be a “big market driver” for 8K TVs, said Aaron Dew, product development director for TCL North America.
Pushing the launch until next year will also enable TCL to ensure an optimum “out-of-the-box” experience when an 8K TV is connected to an 8K console via an HDMI 2.1 connection, he said. By then, it’s expected that the trade group licensing HDMI technology will have released compliance-testing specifications for all HDMI 2.1 features.
QLED Gamut: In the four new TVs, TCL is widening color gamut beyond what’s available through proprietary NBP (nano band phosphor) Photon technology, which lives on in new 5 Series models and in a carryover 75-inch 6 Series model.
With quantum dots, the new 6 and 8 Series will get even closer to delivering the full DCI-P3 color gamut, or range of colors, TCL said without revealing specifics. The TVs will also achieve 100% color volume in the P3 color range, boosting color saturation to deliver more vibrant colors at all brightness levels, TCL said.
TCL joins Samsung, Vizio and Hisense in offering quantum-dot TVs in the U.S.
Mini-LED Upside: Taking realism to higher levels, the 8 Series employs densely packed mini LEDs to produce peak brightness levels that no other LED-LCD TV on the market will exceed “in a real-world HDR viewing experience,” Dew claimed. That means brightness levels achieved when a TV plays typical HDR content in moderate lighting conditions, not when displaying test patterns measured by test instruments, he contended.
With up to almost 1,000 dimming zones in the 75-inch 8 Series TV and proportionately fewer zones in the 65-inch version, Dew also claimed “unrivaled” contrast levels compared to other LCD-LED TVs, which max out at hundreds of local dimming zones.
Because so many mini LEDs can be packed so closely together, the 8 Series delivers more precise lighting control over smaller portions of an image. As a result, more detail can be seen in the brightest and darkest portions of an image, thus increasing perceived image depth, and halos around bright objects are minimized on dark backgrounds, Dew said.
The densely packed array of mini LEDs also and produces more uniform colors and black across the screen, he said.
In the 8 Series, TCL is delivering more dimming zones than any rival LED-LCD TV currently available in the U.S., where Vizio offers up to 480 zones using larger LEDs. At January’s CES, Hisense showed a $3,499 quantum-dot U9F TV with 1,056 LED dimming zones, but it didn’t feature mini LEDs, and the company acknowledged that it doesn’t plan to launch it in the U.S.