We spend a lot of time here in the Digital Life Laboratories, wondering how the other half live.
The half that can actually afford to buy the stuff we review, that is.
Take the OLED LG TV we reviewed a couple of weeks ago, for instance. Or the Samsung QLED TV from a few weeks before that. Those TVs weren’t for people in our half of the population. They were for people in the other half, hopefully your half of the population.
So this week we thought we would review a TV that is more in keeping with our own status in the socio-economic hierarchy, a relatively low-cost but nevertheless fairly full-featured TV from the Chinese manufacturer TCL, known as the X4.
For people in our half, we thought the X4 might turn out to be a good way to enjoy some of the recent advances in TV technology, without all the costs normally associated with them.
Advances such as Utra-High-Definition quantum-enhanced “QLED” panel technology – technology that’s in the same vein (though, as you will see, not in the same ballpark) as the aforementioned Samsung QLED TVs, which can cost three times as much as the TCL.
Advances such as very thin bezels, which gives you maximum viewing pleasure for minimum surface area on your wall or table.
And advances such as Google’s Android TV operating system, which levels the playing field between the haves and the have-nots by providing even cheap TVs with a large suite of excellent apps that easily outnumbers and outperforms the apps available on Samsung and LG TVs, even if the Android TV operating system itself isn’t nearly as nice to use as LG’s webOS and Samsung’s Tizen.
And for you people in the other half? Well the TCL X4 still might be a nice option for the maid’s quarters.
Though I’ll point out from the outset, the X4 is not priced like the TCLs you might be used to. It’s not a $600 TV, not by a long shot. No, we’re talking an RRP of $2199 for the 55″ X4 model, and $3299 for the 65″ model. So maybe I should qualify this review by saying it’s for people in the top half of our half of the world.
And for you people in the actual top half? Well I guess you must like your maid an awful lot to be putting a $2199 TV on her wall.
Made for the maid
Though, just an aside, you could save yourself some space by doing that. As I said, the X4 has a UHD display, four times the resolution of a regular HD display. One of the many advantages of that higher resolution is you can watch it from much closer, meaning you could shrink the maid’s quarters, perhaps by using part of it for that 10th bathroom you’ve always wanted.
I’ll also point out early on that the TCL X4 is not as good as the Samsung and LG TVs mentioned above.
TCL advertises that the X4 has a QLED display, meaning it uses some sort of quantum effect (they didn’t really go into details) to increase the colour saturation of images on the screen, and to improve the viewing angles of the LCD panel.
While the viewing angles on the X4 are significantly better than they were on the last TCL we reviewed a couple of years back, they’re still not quite what we were hoping for.
Colours remain true as you move away directly in front of the TV (as opposed to non-QLED LCD displays, where colour tends to distort or wash out quite quickly when you move off axis), but blacks still wash out on the X4 even when you’re just a little bit off axis: something we complained about with the TCL C1, too.
And while the colours aren’t bad on the X4, they’re nowhere near as deep and luscious as the colours that both Samsung and LG are getting out of their latest generation quantum-enhanced LCD displays, which are now almost as good as LG’s OLED displays when it comes to colour.
The difference between the X4’s quantum colours and the competition’s quantum colours is so stark, it had us wondering whether TCL might not be using some older version of the technology, more like Samsung, LG and others were using two or three years ago.
And speaking of older versions, we also have a number of concerns with the image processor on the X4, which is from 2015 and doesn’t always appear to be up to the rigors of processing a modern video image.
Our biggest concern is with image tearing and blocking.
In high-action sequences videos from a number of different sources including 4K Netflix, HD Netflix, HD Stan and locally stored 4K, HD and SD files, we frequently saw the picture break apart slightly in the areas of most movement, suggesting the processor wasn’t quite keeping up with the data throughput.
A matter of perception
It’s not the sort of thing everyone sees – we showed the same action sequences to some friends, trying to get them to see the problem, but they couldn’t see it – and, strangely, it wasn’t even something we could see all the time.
Watching the exact same action sequences from the exact same sources using the exact same settings, the tearing and the blocking artefacts were no longer present a couple of days later when we went looking for them again, and then a couple of hours later, when we had stopped actively looking, they mysteriously reappeared.
It might be a memory-related resource problem, where the image processor runs out of resources under certain circumstances that you may never encounter, but we think it’s worth mentioning because when the issue was present we found it distracting.
Indeed, there are a number of things about modern TVs that bug the hell out of some people and don’t bother others.
One of them is the so-called “soap-opera effect”, where too high a frame rate, often coupled with other settings such as motion control, blur control and judder control, can make a scripted drama feel more like a reality TV show, or (depending on the viewer) more like a documentary about the making of the show rather than the show itself.
If you’re in the section of the population that suffers from this effect, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It can be quite unsettling.
Now, fancy TVs that people in the other half buy have a loads of settings you can play with, to figure out a combination of settings that doesn’t trigger the soap-opera effect. But, as far as we were able to tell, the TCL X4 has only one motion-related setting you can play with, the “judder reduction” setting, which may not be enough for all sufferers of the affliction.
(I noticed the soap-opera effect quite markedly, and the best I could do to eliminate it on the TCL X4 was to set judder reduction to 0. I’d say it was 80 per cent of what I needed. If there were more settings I would have fiddled with them, too.)
No minor matter
These aren’t minor quibbles. They could be enough to affect your enjoyment of this TV, which otherwise does have quite a lot going for it. The range of apps you can get on its Android TV operating system is, as I said, second to none, and for those of you who care more about the content and less about the technicalities, the X4 could be a good choice.
Its Harman Kardon speakers sound very good, though TV speakers aren’t something we tend to pay a lot of attention to, given the way you’re meant to attach a surround-sound system to TVs like this.
Though of course, if you are getting the X4 so you can squeeze your walk-in sneaker closet into the maid’s quarters, then I guess the Harman Kardon speaker will matter a great deal. She won’t have room for a surround sound system, what with the TV, the bed and all the mops.
Unless I have it all wrong about how the other half lives. One day I’d like to find out for real.
TCL X4 TELEVISION
- Likes Android TV is flexible and has plenty of excellent apps. Good sound
- Dislikes Image processor appears underpowered
- Price $2199 and $3299 for 55″ and 65″ models respectively