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Home Theater & A/V


It's no secret that the most popular type of HDTV on the market today is the LED TV. Technically a misnomer born out of marketing and convenience, the term "LED TV" actually refers to an LCD TV that utilizes an LED backlight to display an image. LED TVs have attained their popularity due to their affordability, varied screen size options, as well as their low energy consumption and compatibility with all different types of content.

The latest innovation in this field is the widespread use of "Quantum Dot" technology. While this may sound like something out of a sci-fi TV series, quantum dots are quite real and are commonplace in higher-end LED TVs. The basic science underpinning quantum dots revolves around their behavior when excited by certain frequencies; LED TVs equipped with quantum dots utilize a blue LED backlight, which in turn "excites" quantum dots into emitting red and green tones. In a nutshell, these TVs can display brighter colors that appear more lifelike and saturated, translating into a more pleasing image overall.

You’ll find two distinct layouts that utilize LED backlighting: full array and edge-lit. Full-array backlighting positions the LED backlight directly behind the LCD panel. This is often combined with a feature known as "local dimming" in higher-spec models, which can selectively dim or switch off LEDs depending on the desired image to obtain deeper black levels where they are needed. Edge-lit LED backlighting moves the LEDs to the edges of the panel, instead relying on special light guides to illuminate the screen.

In our research, we've noted that full-array LED TVs with local dimming consistently outperform their edge-lit counterparts in screen uniformity, black level measurements, and contrast with both standard and HDR content. When combined with quantum dot technology, these LED TVs are capable of generating an outstanding picture while keeping the cost versus screen size at a reasonable level.

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.

Vizio PQ65-F1 65" Quantum 4K HDR TV

Vizio's flagship P-Series has been extremely well-received due to its smart combination of picture quality, high-value pricing, and outstanding customer service. The latest P-Series Quantum ups the ante with the addition of a quantum dot layer in the LCD panel. Similar to Samsung's top-end offerings, the quantum dot layer improves color accuracy and range over what was already an impressive-looking display and rockets the PQ65-F1 to the top of its competitive set when it comes to outright picture quality.

The P-Series Quantum shares many of its physical characteristics with the standard P-Series, though subtle differences set the new flagship model apart. The overall design is similar, with the Quantum models swapping out the brushed metal look in favor of a slimmer bezel and more monochromatic appearance overall. The stand is similar to the regular P-Series; if the 65-inch version of that TV won't fit on your TV stand, the Quantum will not either. Connectivity is identical, with 5 HDMI ports, one shared component/composite video input, as well as a single USB port and the standard optical audio output and ethernet port. Closer inspection reveals a cable input, which makes a welcome return after Vizio experimented with deleting the TV tuner for a couple years. Overall build quality is excellent; the days of Vizio TVs being dismissed as budget-minded units are long gone.

While OLED TVs have been making all the headlines lately, Vizio has quietly refined its TVs and has become a class leader in LCD TV picture quality. The P-Series Quantum looks stunning when displaying its store demo; while this is true for most in-store display units, the PQ65-F1 gets even better once it's set up properly. The full-array LED backlight has 192 local dimming zones, and the aggressiveness of the local dimming algorithm can be adjusted to suit personal preferences. Combined with the color-enhancing quantum dot layer, the PQ65-F1 is capable of deep, inky black levels and vibrant-yet-accurate colors. A professional calibration is always recommended to get the most out of any display, but the PQ65-F1 looks outstanding out of the box and needs only minor adjustments for improved accuracy. This is easily one of the top performers among LCD TVs; the only way to get any type of picture quality improvement in 2019 is to make the switch to OLED and accept the drawbacks that come with that format.

Smart TV functionality is well-represented with the P-Series Quantum, with the company's SmartCast interface returning almost unchanged from the standard P-Series. Most of the popular streaming apps are present, with Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, and YouTube available right out of the box. That said, we've seen complaints regarding some sluggish responses when browsing the interface, and there is no option to load more apps if your personal favorite is missing from the list.

One interesting consideration is that Vizio has chosen to offer the P-Series Quantum in a single 65-inch size; according to the company, there are no plans to add any additional screen sizes until the whole series is updated for its next round. While larger TVs have been getting increasingly popular in recent years, you may want to measure twice to ensure that your living room/home theater setup is able to accommodate a 65-inch screen.

All things considered, the Vizio P-Series Quantum is one of the best LED LCD TVs you can get your hands on. If its single 65-inch size can fit in your setup, we believe it represents exceptional value for money and is a worthy alternative to the best OLED TVs on the market today.

Sony XBR65X900F 65" 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV

Mention the name Sony to anyone considering a new TV, and it'll conjure up mental images of unmatched performance, classy design, and superb build quality. This reputation was first cemented in the early days of mass-market CRT TVs, where the company's Trinitron TVs stood head and shoulders above the competition. Though competition in today's HDTV market is much more intense, Sony has successfully maintained these traits in its latest Bravia-branded LED LCD TVs. The XBR-X900F is Sony's top non-Master Series offering, and promises flagship-level performance at much more affordable pricing.

The X900F is instantly recognizable as a Sony TV, with its signature slim bezel and premium all-business look. The most radical departure is the loss of the center-mount stand - the X900F now comes with wide-set legs, though they sit closer to the center of the TV than just about all other rival models. This is particularly important if your TV stand is narrower than the TV; those of you interested in wall-mounting the set will be happy to know that the X900F comes with standard VESA mounts and consistent cabinet thickness. The 4 HDMI ports are split between the side-facing and bottom-facing ports (HDMI 1 faces outside, HDMI 2, 3, and 4 face the bottom with 3 as the designated ARC port), as are the 3 USB ports (1 and 2 on the side, 3 facing down). Analog video connectivity requires a 3.5mm adapter, and supports composite video only. Rounding out the connectors are the requisite TOSLINK digital audio output and 3.5mm audio jack for external audio devices not going through HDMI, as well as an Ethernet port if you prefer to hard-wire your TV to your network as opposed to using Wi-Fi. Though the X900F is equipped with an internal tuner, you'll probably want to utilize the cable/antenna input to connect it to an external antenna or cable feed. As with just about any Sony TV from the past few decades, the X900F is solidly built and offers no outward quality compromises.

One of the biggest draws of choosing a Sony TV over any of its rivals is superior picture quality; the X900F takes things a step further. Black levels are outstanding - easily one of the best performers among its LCD peers. The X900F boasts accurate colors as well, which shows the benefits of Sony's extensive involvement in studio and film technology. As always, a professional calibration will get the most out of any TV, but the X900F is so accurate out of the box that only the most dedicated professionals or cinema enthusiasts will consider any improvement it brings money well spent. One area where Sony demonstrates a clear lead over its rivals is in image processing, both with native 4K content as well as upscaling 1080p material and even 720p and 480p. Motion handling is among the best of any non-OLED or (dearly departed) plasma display, and Sony provides extensive options for judder-free 24p content - even through sources such as native 60p or 60i.

The X900F is an Android TV, which carries all of its benefits as well as drawbacks. Flexibility is excellent due to unhindered access to the Google Play store, though all of the available apps are TV-centric and may not replicate what you see on a phone or tablet. Athough some users report sluggishness in the interface, we found no general consensus when it comes to this aspect. Menus are laid out logically and intuitively, and the remote supports voice control through Google Assistant. The remote also features prominent buttons to lauch Google Play and Netflix; beyond that, the smart TV suite features Amazon Video, Hulu, Vudu, and YouTube, to name a few.

The X900F was released in 2018 and has remained on sale for a while, with online and in-store prices dropping sharply as a result. The 65-inch version can be found well under $2,000 at the time of writing - outstanding value, but there are some competitors that offer similar picture quality for hundreds of dollars less. Sony's TVs typically command a price premium due to their unique combination of design, unrivalled image processing, and cohesive all-around packaging. If these perks check the right boxes for you, the X900F makes an excellent addition to your home theater setup.

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