TCL's DP648 4K Smart TV is one of the first to arrive in the UK from the major television manufacturer, occupying a similar price range as Hisense and hoping to offer some of today's more advanced resolutions and display capabilities at a budget price.
We were completely won over by this year's TCL 6-Series Roku TV over in the US - where TCL is much more of a household name - which packed in incredible picture quality for a sub-$1,000 price.
TCL's foray into UK markets will be looking to replicate the success it's seen stateside, but is the DP648 up to the same standard? We've run through what we thought of its design, picture quality, and smart TV platform (no Roku TV, sadly) in the rest of our in-depth review below.
Price and release date
The TCL DP648 is available now at £399 for the 43-inch model (reviewed here), and £499, £599, and £899 for the 50-inch, 55-inch and 65-inch versions, respectively.
Everything considered, it's certainly a bargain for any smart TV. But is a low price tag enough to sell a TV in an already crowded market?
In terms of aesthetics, there's a very thin black bezel around the edges of the display, before meeting the concrete-gray body of the set.
There's a very small TCL logo just below the screen, and two sharp-looking feet which are easily screwed into the underside of the television.
Strangely, however, there's a slight backwards tilt on the upper part of the TCL DP648's panel, leaning backwards from about halfway up. This doesn't stand out too much when you're watching face on, but nonetheless seems like an odd design choice for watching TV content made for a regular flat screen.
While it's very much a flatscreen display, the body of the set itself bulks out at the back, having to find somewhere to contain the bulk of the hardware, ports, and speakers. The panel itself, however, is pleasingly thin – 10mm wide – even if you're unlikely to want the rear shape of the set on view.
The build feels like unsurprisingly cheap plastic, though to be fair you're unlikely to spend much time looking behind the screen. There are however a good three HDMI ports (all 4K compatible), and ports for two USB 2.0, Ethernet, satellite input, an antennae cable, AC adaptor, CI (common interface), and SPDIF.
The remote might actually be the sleekest part of the package: a long and thin black slab with a smart, easy-to-read layout and quickfire buttons to jump straight to Freeview Play or Netflix, if that's where you're headed.
Design TL;DR: TCL's budget set feels a bit misshapen, but the panel is pleasingly thin, while the remote wins back some favor with its smart layout and sleek design.
Smart TV (SMART TV 3.0)
Unfortunately, unlike some TCL TVs in the US, you won't find the likes of Roku TV here. Instead, TCL's DP648 opts for a straightforward Linux-based SMART TV 3.0 platform, offering basic but uncluttered navigation of your HDMI ports, inputs, TV channels, and external apps and services.
A number come pre-installed, meaning that the likes of Netflix, Youtube, Rakuten TV, iPlayer, iTV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 On Demand come up immediately on the Home pane. The TCL DP648's TV+ App Store then offers a window into the other services you might want or need, such as BBC News, BBC Sport, and the like.
It's a very functional layout, but brings together everything you'd need from a basic smart TV with a well-designed remote that makes flicking through those identical menu panes almost a treat.
There's also a direct button to jump to Freeview Play, which integrates standard UK television channels (70 SD, 15 HD) with online streaming services like BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, all in one place.
Smart TV TL;DR: As much as we miss Roku TV, the TCL DP648's SMART TV 3.0 is still a straightforward, uncluttered interface for flicking through different apps, services, and inputs.
The TCL DP648 is obviously a 4K-capable television, but most of the content you'll find either on terrestrial channels or online streaming services will still be in regular ol' HD/SDR. So how does it fare?
Don't get us wrong, the TCL DP648 is perfectly capable of displaying HD/SDR content relatively clearly, with a good amount of visual detail, even if some is inevitably lost on a screen this size without the powerful picture processing needed to make all those pixels pull their weight.
The upscaling does a decent job of bringing HD/SDR content into sharper focus on its 3,840 x 2,160 display, even if you're still stuck with some grainy images that struggle to show in natural-looking colors. Skin tones were an occasional issue, meaning that pale faces could veer into a sickly off-white.
Worse than that was the TCL DP648's motion blur, which came out in full force for even slowly-moving panning shots. This is less of an issue for some shows and media than others, though it doesn't make the set ideal for watching sport or anything involving a lot of movement, even when we switched on the dedicated Motion picture settings to help offset that.
The TCL DP648 display is compatible with the BBC-developed HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma), as well as the HDR10 standard for UHD viewing – but more on that below.
HD/SDR TL;DR: The DP648 is perfectly capable of displaying HD content, though the picture processing isn't advanced enough to make all those 4K pixels pull their weight – and motion blur is a recurring issue.
Of course, if you're buying a 4K Ultra HD TV, you want to know how it actually fares with high-definition viewing.
The TCL DP648 is at the cheap end of 4K capability, so you shouldn't expect dazzling pictures so much as just a set with the minimum specs to display 4K at all.
When switching on to 4K content – whether that's gaming on a high-end console, using Blu-Ray 4K, or a compatible TV channel – there's a pick up in definition, but that's largely down to the content rather than the set itself.
The TCL DP468 does use a processing technique called HDR Pro, to mimic some of the enhanced imaging effects you'd find in mid-range HDR TVs, but you'll be disappointed if you come looking for the real thing.
A lot of the same picture issues remain, though we found that the set came into its own when showing brighter, pulsing colors, even if it struggled to sharply distinguish between similar shades.
When watching Black Mirror's USS Callister episode (season 4), the TCL DP648 fared much better with the cartoonish color palette of the scenes set on the eponymous spaceship, than with the moody grayscale tones of urban life back on Earth.
It's certainly far more suited to casual watching over committed 4K gaming, especially given the recurring motion issues.
There are dedicated viewing modes to optimize the picture processing for different types of content. The 'Movies' mode will tends to minimize the amount of picture processing so as not to meddle too much with the intended visuals of a film or TV show. The images might not 'pop' as much, but the colors and contrast ratio tend to be a bit more consistent.
It is thankfully simple to pop into Picture Settings from the remote and switch any of these features on and off, and this will often come down to personal preference.
Other modes like Standard, Dynamic, and Sports will try to affect the amount of motion blur, color contrast, and the like, depending on the programme or broadcast being displayed – though none of them drastically change the picture on offer.
4K/UHD TL;DR: 4K content is better suited to a screen of this size, and it's still a decently vivid experience even if it struggles with darker colors.
But enough of the eyes. What of the ears? The TCL DP648 comes with two downward-firing 8W speakers packed into the back of the television.
While the audio detail isn't exactly forthcoming, and doesn't have the benefit of forward-facing drivers or separate tweeters and woofers to broaden the soundstage, there's also little to complain about.
It comes bundled with standard Dolby Audio, meaning you're getting essentially the same basic audio offering of most TVs at this price range: nothing special, but you shouldn't be craning to make out dialogue either.
Sound TL;DR: Little to report on the DP648's basic but sufficient Dolby Audio speakers.
Other panels to consider
Those wanting more of an audio boost may want to wait for TCL's other UK-bound 4K television, the DC748. It looks to pack in much the same internals as the TV reviewed here – albeit only in the 55 and 65-inch sizes – alongside a dedicated JBL soundbar built into the base of the television.
At the sub-£500 price range, you might get a more consistent picture with Philips PUS6753/12 – a great-value 4K television that comes with the company's patented Ambilight tech. At an even cheaper level, the Philips PUS6262/05 offers a capable flatscreen for only £277.
If you head over to our best cheap TV deals page, you'll also find a number of competitively priced 4K TVs for only a few hundred pounds apiece. We also have a dedicated round-up of the best TVs under £500.
The TCL DP648 Smart TV offers 4K resolution on a budget, and it does what it says on the tin. It's a perfectly functional and easy-to-use smart TV, and with the basic upscaling and 4K capability to justify not being even cheaper.
If what you're after is a decently-sized screen at a low price, and aren't as fussed about some of the finer visual performance issues, this could well be your next set. But there are consistent motion blur and coloring problems, and the low build quality makes it a set that isn't that nice to look at when it's off, either.
For a sub-£500 television (i.e. the 43-inch and 50-inch models), those niggling issues are probably less important than the price tag; there are better options for the price though, and for a larger budget we'd recommend looking elsewhere.
Overall, the TCL DP648 doesn't quite match the promise of the TCL 6-Series, which offered truly capable picture performance at a bargain price, and we're disappointed not to currently be giving as warm a welcome to the budget TV brand here in the UK.
Edit: We previously referred to the DP648 having a 'tilted screen', though this turned out to be a manufacturing issue with our review model. The design section of this review has been amended accordingly.