Over the past couple of years, there has been a big change in the way we buy televisions. Particularly in India, where we have happily ushered in the changing dynamics of more affordable price points for televisions in general, and also big screen TVs are no longer only reserved for the rich. What has worked best is how the quality and experience has not only improved, but innovation hasn’t been scarified at the altar of more attainable price tags. The latest chapter in that happy trend is the new TCL C8 Android TV series. Spoiler alert: It is brilliant!
The TCL C8 Android TV series gives you the choice of a 55-inch and a 65-inch display size. The 55-inch one, if that is good for your home, is priced at Rs 49,990 while the larger 65-inch version costs Rs 69,990. Really, why wouldn’t you put together a few more pennies and go for the 65-inch TCL C8 Android TV? Honestly, if you can, budget and space permitting, it is worth the experience that it delivers. For perspective, the most inexpensive 55-inch LG ThinkQ TV is priced at Rs 84,990 (55UK6360PTE) while the 65-inch version will set you back by Rs 1,31,990 (65UM7300PTA). Then there is the absolutely brilliant OnePlus TV 55Q1 which is priced at Rs 69,900, but remember, that is available in just the 55-inch screen size (We wish there was a 65-inch option, and we shall continue to hope). There is a whole lot of noise around the built-in artificial intelligence (AI) and voice controls in the TCL C8 Android TV, but really, what matters is that TCL has got the 4K ELED panel spot on, and that means it delivers on HDR as well.
Taking reliable display tech, and making subtle tweaks
Let us start with that exactly. The ELED display panel. But what is an ELED panel? It is essentially an edge-lit display wherein there are LED strips are placed at the top and bottom or even on the left and right side of the display panel to illuminate the screen. The advantage of this, compared with a full grid of LEDs behind the display is that the TVs can be thinner and with the newer light guiding tech at play, can also dim certain parts of the display better than Direct-LED TVs. The only possible drawback of this technology is that black levels aren’t always the purest—but that is a small tradeoff for the overall picture quality improvements across the board.
In case of the TCL C8 Android TVs, the display panel is made by the TCL-owned China Star Optoelectronics Technology company. The basic specs include 3,840 x 2,160 pixel resolution and support for HDR standards. If you instead go for the 55-inch screen size option, the specs remain the same all through. The TV also gets micro-dimming, which makes it quite adept at adjusting the illumination of different zones—it has virtually been divided into zones, or areas, where a cluster of LEDs work in conjunction to either brighten that part of the screen or make it darker, and that dictates how good the detailing and contrast is that you see on the TV. This is great news for movie buffs, because the darker scenes don’t look unnaturally bright or grey.
On a TV as large as the TCL C8 Android TV 65-inch, there is always the trepidation about how standard definition (SD) content would look—and mind you, that is most of our channels and the live sports streams on the Sony Liv app are no better, to be honest. Most big TVs struggle here. The image processing and upscaling tech on this TV does a fine job of making this really low quality content look more than acceptable on this massive canvas. Yes, you will see noise, some distortions in the millions of animations that news channels like to run simultaneously on the screen and colour won’t always be the most accurate—but it is watchable. And that itself is a big achievement.
4K HDR is when the TCL C8 Series Android TV really shines
Mind you, the reason you bought this TV would most likely be for High Definition and Ultra High Definition (also known as 4K) content, which includes streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, Zee5 and even HD channels on cable TV and DTH services such as Tata Sky. That is where the TCL C8 Android TV really shines through. Crisp, bright, natural and well detailed visuals are what you see. That is particularly true for 4K content, which looks absolutely gorgeous. If we are to look at TVs in this price range, The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime Video and Money Heist on Netflix don’t look better on any other TV than the OnePlus TV (which uses a QLED display) and this TCL C8 Android TV. This is a pretty rich panel as far as the colours are concerned, so you’ll have to probably dial down the colour settings a bit. Once that is done, the separation is good and no colour is overbearing—a lot of affordable TVs suffer from inaccuracies here, including reds that are too bright. That is not the case here, and in a way, the TCL C8 Android TV performs well above what its price tag may suggest or what you may expect. It is not just a large screen TV at an affordable price point—it is truly a premium television that delivers the sort of performance that you would expect from TVs well above the Rs 1,00,000 price point.
The magic of Onkyo's secret ingredients cannot be missed
Sound is what many TVs struggle with—expensive and not so expensive, they all struggle alike with tinny sound and completely inadequate detailing. The TCL C8 Android TV gets the Onkyo soundbar integrated within its beauty. It merges effortlessly with the TV near the base and the fabric finish has a high quality look about it. Onkyo is a Japanese audio brand well known for premium audio equipment, including home cinema products. They surely wouldn’t want their brand attached to a mediocre audio experience, would they? And the very fact that it has Onkyo credentials plastered on it, makes a world of difference as far as the user confidence is concerned. My observations come from two very distinct standpoints—the first is the observation that the audio hardware packed in the OnePlus TV 55 Q1 Pro does a very good job as far as detailing and bass is concerned, so much so that I have kept my trusty soundbar aside; and also that I prefer Denon and Yamaha sound signatures more than Pioneer, for example. So where does Onkyo fit in all this?
From the very outset, the sound that emerges from this soundbar is wider, more detailer and richer than the tinny speakers that televisions otherwise offer. There are two 10-watt audio drivers and 2 5-watt audio drivers working together. This is the sort of power that ensures this TV can go really loud, so be careful on that front. Dialogue clarity is extremely good (if you like watching stand-up shows, you’ll love this), the often missing details in a soundstage are replicated well (such as the sound of bullet shells dropping to the floor in the Netflix show You Cannot Hide) and last but not least, there is good amount of lower frequency that is audible. Usually, the movie experience on televisions seems to involve anaemic sound that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of lower frequencies completely. It is impressive how the TCL C8 Android TV delivers pretty wholesome sound. And if you are viewing content that has the Dolby Atmos audio, then it just goes up a notch or two.
The full-fledged Google Android TV platform is one of the slickest in the smart TV ecosystem. The good thing is, TCL doesn’t have any arguments with anyone, and that means you get the full range of video streaming apps available on the TV—Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5, Sony Liv, Voot and more. In fact, this Onkyo Soundbar is so good, you may even want to download Spotify on the TV and use it to play music from time to time. In case you haven’t checked it out, the Spotify app for Android TV looks absolutely gorgeous. The big add-on to the smart TV system is the voice commands capabilities—you can simply call out to the TV to invoke Google Assistant and direct it to play certain content, change the volume and update you on the weather for instance,. Then there is the TCL AI layer which allows you to control compatible smart home gadgets, for instance. Those could either be smart home devices that work with Google Assistant, or those that are compatible with TCL Home app. Basically, TCL wants you to invest in their new line of ACs too, which work with voice commands.
Is there anything really wrong with the TCL C8?
Well, there are no deal-breakers. But I do have a gripe with the remote that comes with the TCL C8 Android TV. The layout isn’t great and somehow, the fingers never really remember where the buttons are—you need to look down to figure out. There might be some inspiration waiting in the brilliant aluminium remote that OnePlus made for the OnePlus TV, which really takes that interface experience a couple of notches higher every time you pick it up.
Then there is the TCL Home app for smartphones—it is available for Android and iOS. For what should be a companion app to complement the TV, it seems a tad confused in what it is truly meant to do. First, it never remembers the TV that has been registered on it. I have to manually scan and add it every time to do the simplest of tasks such as change the volume. If feels as if TCL is using it more to push the shop functionality than actually the companion functionality.
The Last Word: I am Glad I Had This During The Coronavirus Lockdown
With a really good audio visual experience to build on, the TCL C8 Android TV is one of the very best among the big screen TVs around the Rs 50,000 price point, both screen sizes considered. The 4K performance is great, HDR looks gorgeous, Android TV is silky smooth and this also takes away the one sore point among TVs—the sound. I have to say the Onkyo sound system disguised as a soundbar works brilliantly, and puts even more expensive TVs to shame. Really, whatever your budget is, this 55-inch and 65-inch TCL C8 Android TV series is absolutely worth your money. Remember, you won’t need to buy a soundbar separately too.