A cracking 4K TV, delivering high tech at high value
TCL 55C835: one-minute review
The TCL C835 series of 4K TVs builds on the key technologies of the previous C825 range with a process of improvement and addition.
The backlighting remains Mini LED, but here in a fourth generation that boosts brightness to an OLED-beating 1,500 nits peak, and now with a far higher level of LED control that also extends dynamic range. The thousands of tiny LEDs in our 55-inch TCL C835 review sample are grouped into 240 locally dimmable zones, while the 65-inch C835 has 288 zones and the 75-incher 360.
This LED light excites a layer of quantum dots to deliver RGB color with a claimed full 100% of the DCI-P3 space, greater even than the latest QD-OLED panels, and easy to believe when you see what this TV does with vibrant grass greens and deep ocean blues.
Google TV replaces Android TV as the smart interface, collating recommendations and providing access to near-endless apps. The remote control provides instant access to six of these from dedicated buttons (the channels vary by market), and also allows easy voice interaction from the comfy sofa. Gamers are well supported to 120/144Hz and input lag down to 6ms for the fastest refresh rates.
The default settings yield impressive results, supporting high dynamic range material in HDR10 or Dolby Vision, for which Dolby Vision IQ can adjust settings automatically to match your room environment. But you can still get in deep to tweak motion or color temperatures, and our best experiences with this TV had it delivering action shows like AppleTV’s Make Or Break and Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive To Survive with extraordinary OLED-like detail and realism – a performance level that makes this TV quite the bargain.
TCL C835: price and release date
TCL’s televisions can differ by market, especially between UK/Europe and the models that appear in the US and Australia. This year we gather that the European and UK versions of the C835 will be technically identical (the previous C825 had a key difference in the UK), while Australia got to meet the new range first, with the C835 range officially available from 1 June 2022.
Pricing is still TBA outside Australia, where the reviewed 55C835 is listed at AU$1,999 (about $1,380 / £1,125), the 65C835 at AU$2,999 (converting to around $2,065 / £1,685) and the 75C835 at AU$3,999 (around $2,755 / £2,250).
TCL 55C835: design
- Almost no bezels
- Thin but not wafer-thin
- Great remote
The TCL C835 is almost bezel-less, with a teeny 2-3mm picture surround and a thicker 1cm bottom bezel. The Mini LED backlighting prevents real wafter-thinness in depth, but the top third of the TV nevertheless extends only 3cm deep, doubling to 6cm for the bottom section with circuits and connections. As is TCL’s habit, those connections are all on the right side, which may hamper those who are replacing a TV with the more common left-side connections.
The remote control is worthy of praise, kept nicely simple, with those six service-specific one-touch keys and a top circle to activate voice control.
Unpacking and setting up was easy enough with the 55-incher; there’s one two-person lift to raise the TV from its box, but all edges are somewhat excessively protected by plastic film so you can safely lean it down while attaching the central stand, an easy six-screw operation.
TCL 55C835: features
- Google TV
- Mini LED backlighting
- Dolby Vision IQ
The Google TV interface used here is built on Android 11, and will put many users at ease with the familiar interface and how it accesses favorite apps, catch-up and subscription services, as well as essential settings. TCL has also added its own ‘channel’, which is actually dozens of live channels plus hundreds of on-demand shows, notably strong on documentary.
Sizes available: 55, 65 and 75 inches
Screen type: Mini LED LCD
HDR support: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HLG
Audio support: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, DTS
Smart platform: Google TV
HDMI ports: 4
The Google smarts also make setup an easy process, getting the TV on your home network and walking you through how to use the remote control for voice activation.
What makes this TV stand out is the quality of its picture processing and delivery from first the Mini LED zones that create the light, then the quantum dot field that converts the blue light to white, through a new type of VA LCD panel for TCL that allows a wide viewing angle, and finally an antireflection coating that assists performance in a lit room.
Dolby Vision IQ also aims to optimize performance, using a light sensor on the TV to adjust settings to your ambient lighting when you watch any Dolby Vision material. You can, however, easily switch this to either Dolby Vision Dark or Light, from which you can adjust other menus, such as curbing any excessive motion processing and bringing default color temperature back from ‘warm’ to ‘neutral’ for more realistic results.
Connections are all on the right side, with four various HDMI inputs – from HDMI 1 capable of full-bore 48Gbps operation for 4K/144Hz gaming, HDMI 2 marked as 4K/120Hz, and the other two presumably HDMI 1.4b, good to entertainment-style 4K/60Hz. The HDMI 4 input also offers HDMI eARC audio delivery to a connected receiver or soundbar. Optical digital audio out is also available, and a stereo analogue headphone minijack as well.
There are two USB-A slots for file replay or for storage to allow pausing, recording and timeshifting of live TV, though without timer recordings from an EPG. There’s an antenna connection plus Ethernet networking (or built-in dual-band Wi-Fi), and a minijack AV input with a splitter cable provided just in case you want to plug in a camcorder or VHS tape deck (hey, some of us still hold on to those things).
TCL 55C835: picture quality
- Thrilling brightness
- Vivid colors
- Well-handled dynamic range
We had very few problems achieving a spectacular picture quality from the TCL C835, whether streaming 4K HDR from its own Google apps or playing via HDMI from an AppleTV 4K or UHD Blu-ray player.
The best results reminded us of the test reels that TV manufacturers used to show us back when 4K TVs first arrived: “one day all TVs will look this good”, they said, and now it’s true, with Disney Plus nature documentaries or magnificent drone sequences from the Apple TV Plus surf series Make or Break delivered on the TCL as breathtakingly sharp and vivid video. During one sequence filmed in Newcastle, NSW, we paused a shot of a sports arena and came up close to the screen. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, filled the stand, and pretty much every face could be seen individually. Amazing detail (see image above).
We found little need for color adjustment, but kept an eye on the motion settings, which allow control of blur and judder reduction on scales of 0 to 10. The upper settings of these introduced the excessively clean ‘video’ look where you’re seeing more interpolated frames than real ones. But the lowest settings, as selected automatically in ‘Movie’ mode, produced notable judder over long panning shots, or where cinematography was less than perfect. A quite high 6 or 7 for both settings was a compromise across material, with the Clear LED Motion toggle also activated, as this seemed to minimize any pasty video effect and deliver the most accurate color palette.
There were more remarkable results when upscaling from standard Blu-ray and even from DVD. TCL has this year implemented Deep Learning AI super-resolution upscaling, while mere ‘AI’ further adapts settings to specific scenarios such as grass, faces and other detected content. How much this helps or interferes is hard to judge, of course, but old Star Trek episodes came up almost as shiny as their remastered versions.
TCL 55C835: sound quality
- Well balanced sound
- Rear ‘subwoofer’
- Onkyo-branded speakers
The built-in sound here is better than your average TV, using stereo down-firing drivers backed by a useful ‘subwoofer’ in the middle of the TV’s back. This fills out the sound so that it can handle daytime and casual viewing needs well, and even makes a passable player of music.
For high-quality music, or for movie sound with real impact, you need to move up to a true stereo or surround system; the TCL accepts Dolby Atmos and DTS soundtracks and can pass them to an external audio system via HDMI eARC.
TCL 55C835: smart TV and menus
- Google TV
- All streaming and catch-up TV
- TCL’s own channel
Google TV makes for a familiar and well-organized interface, with easy access to all the key video services and catch-up channels. It aims to be smart at filling its home screen with content from your selected services and did so here with a minimum of the YouTube promotion that has seemed prevalent in the earlier days of Android TV. That said, it didn’t include content from all available services, notably omitting TCL’s own channel of live and on-demand content.
Google TV also comes with Google Assistant built-in. The TCL TV doesn’t itself react to a ‘Hey Google’ command, but uses the remote control as a microphone extension. Press the Google Voice key on the remote, hold and speak, and you can make useful requests like ‘Switch to HDMI 1’ or ‘Mute’, ‘Unmute’ and so on. Given its video integration, Google answers questions like a Google smart display rather than a smart speaker – and presents similar quirks.
For those of the alternate voice service persuasion, the C835 can also be connected to Alexa smart devices.
Besides physical inputs and apps, you can throw video to the TV using Chromecast, MiraCast and, from this year, AirPlay 2 video from Apple devices.
Should I buy the TCL 55C835?
The TCL C835 TV made us sit up and think. In Mini LED, it has screen technology that equals OLED for impact and color, and beats it on brightness and dynamic range, so that its best images are breathtakingly impressive. And this is from a company that has its own breed of OLED in the wings, thanks to new ink-jet printed technology from its subsidiary China Star Optoelectronics Technology. This ink-jet OLED is due for launch in 2024, yet it’s hard to imagine how any new OLEDs will outperform what we are seeing here in value terms, especially after two more annual iterative improvements for Mini LED.
Brilliant screen technology, excellent processing, easy Google TV control: the TCL C835 has them all, and delivers them at an excellent price.
Buy it if…
You watch a lot of UHD content
The brilliance and sharpness of the TCL C835 make the most of streaming 4K content and UHD Blu-rays, while the Dolby Vision modes make it easy to get the best from high dynamic range content. Atmos and DTS soundtracks can be sent to a suitably big sound system via HDMI eARC.
You’re already a Google user
The Google TV interface will be easy for any user to understand (yes, even Apple devotees, and it has AirPlay 2 after all), but those already attuned to other Google services will get along best of all.
You have a bright room
With 1,500 nits peak brightness from the 55-incher, and also settings that adjust to the conditions in your room, the TCL C835 is a better choice to overcome ambient light than, say a TV using an OLED panel or lesser brightness LCD.
Don’t buy it if…
You have last year’s C825 model
While the C835 delivers significant brightness and dynamic range improvements, it’s not worth junking last year’s model just yet, especially with new technologies waiting in the wings.
You’re waiting for the next big thing
We live in a time where multiple screen technologies are competing for the best performance versus price. While Mini LED is impressing us greatly in the value stakes at the moment, TCL has ink-jet printed OLED waiting in the wings, and QD-OLED is already entering the market. The next few years will see a shake-out in panel technologies, and you might benefit by waiting.
It’s not yet in all markets, but Sony’s A95 series is the herald of Samsung; the display is new QD-OLED screen tech (Samsung Electronics has yet to fully buy in). Together with TCL’s IJP OLED and other developments, the next few years will see a screen technology shake-out.