TCL's 4K TV is a charmingly quirky panel. Its unusual design, sharp picture, great built-in sound, and value for money help make up for its shortcomings.
Crisp 4K image
Unconventional but cool design
Great sound performance
Game Mode's speedy image processing
Great value for money
Not a TV to mount on your wall
Interface is awful
App store is lacking
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With an increase in affordability and buying options, making the upgrade to 4K (or Ultra HD) is something any serious home cinema enthusiast who hasn't made the leap already should now be considering.
While TCL's a brand still trying to establish itself outside of its home of China, this 55-inch UHD panel ticks off a host of features sure to be on the wish list for anyone looking to embrace a world beyond HD.
4K? Check. Android Smart TV? Check. Quad-core CPU & GPU? Check. Active 3D? Er, yeah, that's there too, although 3D's become more of a niche function and something this reviewer can generally do without. But more on that later.
The U55H8800CDS also boasts one of those divisive curved screens. A questionable choice, sure – unnecessary at best and downright annoying at worst – but with manufacturers like Samsung and LG continuing to insist on the value of the curve it seems unfair to single out TCL for following suit. There must be someone out there to whom it appeals, right?
In fact, the curved screen's Marmite effect can be applied to this whole panel. It sets itself apart with a unique approach to styling that will not be to everyone's taste. But there's an assured quality to it all that leaves you feeling it should be pricier than it is, whether you like it or not.
In terms of the hit to your wallet, the TCL sits between comparative 55-inch 4K options from the likes of Samsung and LG, and the more budget TVs offered by retailers like Kogan, which boast similar specs but are clearly lower in quality.
This 55-inch panel costs $2,199 – its 65-inch sibling will set you back $3,299 – and it comes with a three-year warranty. Whether you like the styling or not, for a quality 55-inch 4K TV with smart insides that's a pretty good deal.
There's a distinct 70s flair to the U55H8800CDS, shunning the floating on air, razor-thin shard of glass approach to styling many manufacturers currently prefer.
That's not to say the panel is particularly bulky – it has a thin-ish edge of 20mm along the top and down the sides – but there's a solidness to it; almost a masculinity. It might appeal for the same reason someone prefers a ute over a sports car. It's not unattractive. Just different.
Part of that stems from TCL's choice of base. While other manufacturers have in the past used a thin metal stand, or even a semi-transparent support to add to that floating appearance, the U55H8800CDS proudly boasts a large, heavy base, with an unmissable dark panel running along the bottom of the screen.
This panel's 90mm tall and features a section of wood veneer in the centre, flanked by cloth-covered speakers. This is an unusual approach, and while the benefits of a curved screen are up for debate, there's something sculpture-like about the sweep of the panel and the angle at which it leans back from this heavy base.
Beyond the aesthetics, the U55H8800CDS is a smart TV with an LED backlit LCD screen, packing 3840 by 2160 pixels. The LED technology means that the independently-controlled diodes are only activated in the parts of the screen that require it, maximising the appearance of contrast. TCL's technology isn't as effective as the incredible results offered by the LG 65EG960T 4K OLED panel we reviewed earlier this year, but it's only a fraction of the price, too.
The TV has four HDMI inputs on its right side, which should come in handy as more 4K sources become readily available, as well as singular USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports.
A set of RCA connections for component video and audio input are also present, as well as 3.5mm sockets for A/V input and A/V output, a 3.5mm socket for headphones, optical digital audio output, and ethernet jack.
Naturally, for anyone who doesn't want their lounge room looking like a set leftover from The Matrix, Wi-Fi's also on board for wireless connectivity.
The smart TV portion of proceedings runs on the Android operating system, but that doesn't mean you can just sign into the Google Play store and start downloading all your favourite apps straight to your telly.
TCL has its own app store, which is functional, but laborious to navigate – the slight delay after inputting each letter during a search makes the whole process much slower than it should be.
Fortunately, TCL could provide additional functionality and make the whole app store process more fluid via updates should it so choose down the track.
Out of the box, the U55H8800CDS comes packing apps like YouTube, Deezer, and a web browser, while other apps like ABC iView, SBS on Demand, Facebook, Twitter and Spotify can be added as needed. Sadly SVOD services like Netflix, Stan and Presto are yet to surface on TCL's store, so you'll need to use one of the TV's HDMI inputs to connect another device like the Telstra TV or a PS4 if you want to access them.
The whole setup is powered by a quad-core CPU, while the TV packs a quad-core GPU as well.
Finally, the TV's sound comes courtesy of Harman Kardon, or at the very least was "tuned by" the iconic speaker brand, whatever that means. The mystery continues as unspecified speakers are mounted at the front of the TV in the bottom right and bottom left corners, while two 75mm upwards-firing woofers are located in the base of the panel at the back.