TCL X7 QLED TV review: Full, Australian review
If I had to draw a line between TCL and any other tech company, it’d probably be Oppo.
In America, TCL might be one of the biggest brands around. However, in Australia, they’re separated from the big players by a wide margin. And if their recent attempts to close that gap remind me of anyone, it’s Oppo.
When Oppo moved into the Australian market back in 2016, their pitch that boiled down to two-step party trick. Rather than trying to beat the competition when it came to tech at the outset, they opted to settle for products that felt almost as good to use as the competition at a cheaper price and then shifted focus to making the argument for why the cutting edge bells & whistles you’ll get from Samsung aren’t worth spending that little bit extra. It’s about raising the floor for value rather than the ceiling.
And in that same vein, TVs like the TCL X7 aren’t arguing that things like five-step processing and support for every HDR format under the sun don’t matter or aren’t good. They’re saying that they don’t matter enough that you’ll want to pay extra for them right now. Stick with us, give it a few years and you’ll probably be able to get all the same bells & whistles for about half of what the competition is going to charge you right now.
Display type: LCD LED
Display size: 55-inches
Resolution: UHD (3,840 x 2,160)
Operating System: Android TV
Audio: Onkyo Audio + Dolby + DTS
Wide Color Gamut: Yes
Local Dimming: Yes
VESA Mount: Yes
Ports: HDMI (x3), USB (x2), A/V IN, Headphone Output, Optical SPDIF Output, HDMI ARC
Weight with stand: 16.5kg
Available from: The Good Guys,
So, up-front, it would be unfair to call out the look and design of the X7 as bad. It isn’t. But that’s not to say you can’t tell the difference in the effort that TCL and some of the bigger brands do. You definitely can.
It’s thinner at the top, wider towards the button (owing to the backlight) and boasts a two-pronged stand holding it up. You can swap the stand out and wall-mount is using a standard VESA mount.
This is one of those areas where folk like Samsung and LG still have a definite edge and TCL can only really fake it till they make it. You won’t find anything as radical as LG’s Wallpaper OLED nor as polished as Samsung’s Q90.
You’ve got all the usual ports: from HDMI to optical to AV. You’ve also got a pair of remotes. One is more minimalist (think Samsung’s One Remote). The other is more conventional. You get the best of both worlds. It’s a good approach, even if it isn’t all that new. The X2 offered much the same.
The final piece of the picture here is the ‘blade’ style speaker located underneath the display. It’s an Onkyo-tuned soundbar with a pair of 15W speakers and a pair of 5W woofers. It’s not amazing (or all that close to what you’ll get from even a smaller, dedicated soundbar like the Sonos Beam) but it is still nice enough to handle both Dolby and DTS content.
The screen itself? It’s a QLED akin to something you’d get from Samsung or Hisense. While the TCL X7 does offer wide-color gamut, local dimming and HDR support, it lacks the Quantum Processor found in this year’s Q-series TVs. It also falls short of the high bar set by Samsung, Hisense and most of the other big players when it comes to stuff like peak brightness and local dimming.
You don’t even get IPS viewing angles - something I honestly take for granted nowadays. This is the kind of TV where you’ll want to be sitting center-on in order to get the best experience.
Like previous TCL QLEDs like X2, the X7 runs on the latest version of Android TV. In addition to having a built-in ChromeCast, the good news here is that, due to the up-to-date software, it supports basically every streaming service under the sun and will probably offer support for any newcomers to the field as soon as they arrive.
Services like Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus are unlikely to launch without support for one of the world’s largest smart TV platforms.
The bad news is that the actual experience of using Android TV on the TCL X7 isn’t quite what it should be. The interface lags and some elements of the experience are located in a set of clunky menus outside of the Android TV experience.
Even doing something as mundane as turning off the built-in speaker to sub in a soundbar felt way more complicated than it should have been. At one point, the TV decided that it wanted to go into sleep mode in the middle of an episode of Killing Eve.
Most of the time, I found myself preferring to use the more-or-less identical interface of the Nvidia Shield TV - which should say something about the experience of Android TV on the X7. It’s hard to go too wrong with it but, at the same time, the X7 doesn’t stand out as an amazing testament to what Android TV can offer.
That being said, the TCL X7 does offer parity with more expensive TVs in one key aspect: voice control. You can kit it out using Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. However, you are a little limited here to the basics. Play this. Pause that. Raising the volume. It’ll probably become more mature (and reliable) through future software updates but right now it sits a bit closer to novelty than genuine value-add.
Though there are caveats, in action, the X7 is far from dim. Like other QLEDs, it’s almost painfully bright at times. If you like your home cinema experience bright and saturated, that’s not going to be a bad thing.
For better or worse, there’s not that many ways to customise the picture settings on the X7. I’m no stranger to the experience of tinkering with the inner workings of the display panel until I get the exact experience I want out of a TV but I found myself frequently frustrated and sometimes puzzled by the X7. It wasn’t always clear whether why I couldn’t find this or that setting.
Still, viewed in isolation, the TCL X7 leaves nothing to chance. If you sit down in front of the TV and watch something like Gareth Edward’s The Raid or a new HDR-graded TV series like Amazon Prime’s Good Omens, you’ll probably have a good time with it. In particular, I found that the X7 did a great job of emphasizing the more cinematic moments peppered throughout the supernatural comedy series.
Even if it’s not as nice as some of the other options out there, the X7 is still a big, bright, 4K TV with a wide color gamut at its beck and call. These things can only look so bad. And, as you might expect, 4K content looks the best.
The upscaling that the X7 offers just can’t hold a candle to what you get out of more premium brands. As someone who’s been jumping from TV to TV over the last few months, telling the difference between what a Sony TV can offer versus an LG or Samsung can in terms of upscaling was something a trial. Telling the difference between that and the TCL X7 was far from it.
So, unless you’re exclusively watching 4K content on this thing (spoilers: if you’re looking to buy this over more-expensive options, you probably won’t be), you’re probably going to be watching upscaled content it doesn’t always look as good as it feels like it should.
In time, the TCL X7’s game mode proved another weakness. When enabled and connected to a HDR-enabled game like Red Dead Redemption 2 (running on a PS4 Pro), it resulted in some pretty choppy gameplay experiences. Uneven frame rates abound and, even if the nature of the beast makes it hard to pinpoint exactly what might be causing that, it’s hard to praise.
And, in light of these shortcomings, the lack of creature comforts you’ll find in the TCL X7 begins to weigh on you. Like something like an Oppo smartphone of old, it’s defined as much by its clear limitations as it is the areas where it excels and excites your imagination.
Of course, there is the recommended retail price to bring you creening back to earth. It’s 2019, and at an RRP of $2199, the TCL X7’s lack of extended HDR support feels like a drag where earlier efforts felt like a bargain.
The Bottom Line
The TCL X2 was a solid foundation. A bargain TV that offered a surprising amount of what the premium alternatives of its time did. However, at that time, HDR support was splintered, Android TV wasn’t as common as it is now.
The world has changed and cast in this new context, the TCL X7 can’t help but feel like a tired retread. It’s not bad. But there’s no clear evolution in what’s being offered here versus what’s come before. It feels just as good but it doesn’t feel much better, nor does it feel better in the ways you’d expect it to.
It feels like this TV was conceived of and produced almost on autopilot. There are plenty of pain-points and blind spots that TCL could have exploited here. In a way, that’s almost noble in a way. But when it comes to value-driven TVs like this one, you probably don’t want nobility. You probably don’t want everything to be as expected. You want the surprises. You probably want the unexpected but satisfying delight of feeling like you’ve got one over on the masses who buy from big brands like Samsung and LG.
And, as decent as the X7 is, it never really surprised me.
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