If something looks too good to be true, then nine times out of ten that’s because it is. Which means we’re always hunting around for that one-in-ten product, the best 4K TV that gives us 90 percent of the performance we want for a lot less than 90 percent of the price. There’s a chance the TCL 55C645 could be the one.
After all, it’s got the technology, the functionality and the specification of a TV costing three or four times its asking price… so could this be the exception that proves the rule? Or is it just another of those ‘too good to be true’ products, the frog that refuses to turn into a prince?
Design and build: deep is meaningful
As seems only reasonable at the price, there is nothing whatsoever that’s interesting about the design of the TCL 55C645. Seen from dead ahead it has decently slim bezels – there is some discreet branding across the slightly broader bottom bezel but it’s otherwise featureless. It stands on a couple of simple plastic ‘boomerang’ feet – they can be attached in a couple of positions, meaning the C645 doesn’t automatically have to stand on a particularly wide surface. In either position, the feet raise the screen high enough to allow a soundbar to sit beneath the bottom of the screen without problems.
You may prefer to wall-mount your new TCL, of course – it’s VESA-compatible, and at just 11kg is no kind of burden even to a partition wall. It’s over 8cm at its deepest, though, and has no cable-management or cable-cover – so it may not look the most elegant TV around once it’s up there.
There’s nothing wrong with the way this TV is built and finished. Oh, the plastics used in its construction don’t feel anything special, and there are quite a few exposed screw-heads on the rear panel – but keep the asking-price uppermost in your mind and the 55C645 has nothing to apologise for.
Features: more HDR than most
This is a 4K TV that uses quantum-dot QLED technology in conjunction with full-array backlighting (in 2040 discrete zones) to produce an image. Unlike a lot of much more expensive alternatives, the TCL C645 is compatible with all meaningful HDR standards, including Dolby Vision and HDR10+, and its two-channel, 20-watt audio system is capable of dealing with both Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD soundtracks.
It has a single HDMI 2.1 input, which takes care of eARC compatibility as well as the ALLM and AMD FreeSync aspects of current-gen console gaming. There are two more HDMI inputs, both of which are at 2.0 standard. Further physical connections are available in the form of a3.5mm composite video input, digital optical output, a 3.0-standard USB-A slot and a couple of aerial posts for the integrated TV tuner. There’s also an Ethernet socket. Wireless connectivity, meanwhile, is taken care of by Bluetooth 5.0 and dual-band wi-fi.
The 55C645’s picture processing is handled by the ‘AiPQ 3.0’ engine, while ‘MEMC’ (motion estimate, motion compensation) takes specific care of on-screen motion. ‘Game Accelerator’ claims to deliver 4K/120Hz – but in fact the TCL uses ‘dual line gate’ technology to enable its 60fps panel to show 120fps content. You’re only getting half the vertical resolution of true 120fps, of course – but, at the risk of labouring the point, take a look at the price of the 55C645 and then decide if DLG-assisted gaming makes you feel short-changed or not.
Interface: is it or isn’t it?
Things get just slightly weird where the TCL’s interface is concerned. According to the TV’s packaging, and to its start-up screen, it uses Android TV as a smart interface – but according to the smart TV home screen and to TCL’s own website, this is a Google TV device.
Either way, the home screen is a full-screen, big-tile number that’s just a little bit clunky in the way it operates. Downloading apps from the Google Play store takes a while, rearranging the titles into an order you’re happy with takes longer, and apps load in their own sweet time. Still, between Freeview Play and the app store you can access all of the catch-up TV and streaming service apps you’re likely to require.
Control of the TCL is straightforward enough, although again there’s a discrepancy between the company’s website and what’s possible in practice. The TCL website suggests the C645 has Google Assistant built in and that it’s not compatible with Amazon Alexa – but while Google Assistant is indeed built in, Amazon Alexa is available too. In fact, the screen itself prompts you to add the TCL skill to your Alexa app if that’s your voice-assistant of choice.
There’s definitely only one remote control handset included, though. Like the screen itself, there’s nothing special about the way it looks or feels – but it’s comprehensive, fairly logically laid out and not as overtly ‘clicky’ as some alternatives that come with some other aggressively priced TVs. It puts you in control of some set-up menus that are either mercifully brief or annoyingly short on options, depending on how much you like to fiddle with your television’s performance.
Performance: look, don’t listen
It’s probably just as well that the TCL’s three HDMI sockets are easily accessible – as there’s only one HDMI 2.1 input, users with more than one UHD source (a games console and a 4K Blu-ray player, for instance) will find they need to chop and change. The benefits of using the one full-fat input with an appropriate device are pretty plain, though.
No matter if it’s a Dolby Atmos/Dolby Vision disc of No Time To Die or a copy of Gran Turismo 7 via a Sony Playstation 5 running at HDR10 the 55C645 is a composed, organised and stable watch. It manages to keep a solid grip on on-screen movement of all kinds – there’s no juddering or ghosting in a movie, no tearing in a game. And it does so while keeping detail levels respectably high, drawing edges with a confident hand and keeping even the most complicated textures or patterns under control at the same time.
The colour palette is quite extensive and the colour balance is naturalistic, and skin-tones in particular are convincing. QLED technology suggests a broader range of colours than a regular LCD panel, but while the TCL has no problem in offering variation to shades and tones it seems to stop a little way short of the 93% coverage of the DCI-P3 standard the company is claiming. Black tones are good for a backlit LCD panel, though, especially one as affordable as this – and the backlighting is properly focused and nicely even. It very seldom betrays itself, even in scenes of almost complete darkness.
This is not an especially bright TV, though, and while the white tones it generates are clean and every bit as varied as its black tones, contrasts aren’t especially impressive. The lighting effects in GT7, which on some televisions can pop from the screen with real determination, are rather subdued and understated here. There’s a ‘dynamic contrast’ control in the set-up menus, but its effect is so mild as to be indiscernible.
It’s also worth noting the reflectivity of the screen – it’s significant. If you’re watching in a bright room, the lack of on-screen brightness combined with its reflectivity can make for a rather confused and confusing experience.
Switching to an Amazon Prime stream of the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer Triangle of Sadness introduces just a little edginess and a hint of noise into images, but they’re otherwise just as composed as previously. What this switch also does, though, is reveal a few shortcomings in the implementation of the smart TV system. The content takes longer to load than on any other TV that’s been through this testing room in the last twelve months, and once it’s loaded and playing there’s a period of maybe 30 seconds – it feels longer – where the content jumps and stutters while the system establishes its buffer.
As long as you don’t feed it properly antiquated content, the 55C645 is a decent, if unspectacular, upscaler of sub-4K content. Pictures can get a little soft around the edges, and motion-control takes a predictable hit, but it remains perfectly watchable.
Sound, by way of contrast, isn’t all that pleasant. The TCL’s 20 watts sound wheezy and low-powered, and the stereo layout sounds confined and inhibited. The screen is no fan of volume, either – the louder you want to hear it, the more aggressive and edgy it becomes. Even the most affordable soundbar will be an improvement on the integrated audio system here.
TCL 55C645 verdict
You can’t expect perfection when you’re shopping at the entry level – and sure enough, the TCL 55C645 isn’t perfect.
It gets way more right than it gets wrong, though, and in many ways it outperforms its asking price to a significant degree.
Keep your expectations realistic and there’s plenty to like about the TCL 55C645, especially if you don’t really listen to it all that much
Impressive specification at the money
Stable, colourful images
Comprehensive smart TV offering
Pictures lack brightness and contrast
Smart TV can take a while to do its thing
Sounds thin and quite aggressive
TCL 55C645 technical specifications
|43, 50, 55 (version tested), 65, 75, 85in
|HDR10+, Dolby Vision, HLG
|1x HDMI 2.1, 2x HDMI 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, digital optical audio, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
|Smart TV OS
|1226x711x81mm, 11kg (without stand)
1226x776x265mm, 11.1kg (with stand)