June 16, 2024

Mikayla Macfarlane

Serving technology better

TCL QM8 Review: TV Value Champ Gets Bigger, Brighter and Better

11 min read
TCL QM8 Review: TV Value Champ Gets Bigger, Brighter and Better


Like


  • Relatively affordable

  • Excellent overall image quality

  • Best-in-class brightness and contrast

  • Capable Google TV system

Don’t like


  • Not as accurate as some competitors

  • Only available in 65-inch size and larger

If you want a big TV with an excellent picture but you don’t want to spend a fortune, the TCL QM8 belongs at the top of your list. This TV is even better than the best TV for the money I tested last year, the TCL 6-series. It delivered superior brightness and contrast, and it manages to keep the price pretty much the same. As long as your size bracket is “65-inch or bigger” and your price range is “not an OLED,” this is my pick for you.

On the other hand, if you need a 55-inch size instead, you should go for the Hisense U8K. Like this TCL, it’s also a Google TV that offers superb image quality and mini-LED technology for a price that’s much lower than you’d pay for an equivalent fidelity on a Samsung or Sony. I compared the TCL QM8 and the Hisense U8K side by side in the TV lab at CNET and though both looked superb, I give the slight edge overall to the brighter, more contrasty TCL. 

With two TVs this close in picture quality and features, the tiebreaker for me comes down to price. If the Hisense U8K is available for significantly less than the TCL QM8 at the time you’re reading this, I’d recommend getting the Hisense instead. The two are just that close. And if you’re wondering how much more you’d need to spend to get an even better picture, check out the pricing on the LG C3 OLED TV. It performed better than the TCL in my comparisons, but it also costs a lot more.

TCL 65QM850G TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

TCL QM8 series TV sizes

I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch TCL QM8, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have similar specifications and should provide similar picture quality. 

The QM8 sits at the top of TCL’s 2023 TV lineup. The less expensive Q7 and Q6 series lack mini-LED backlights and don’t get as bright as the QM8 series. I haven’t reviewed those models yet, but based on their specifications I expect they’ll have worse image quality overall than the QM8.

And if you happen to be in the market for a 100(ish)-inch TV, it’s worth noting that the 98-inch TCL QM8 costs more than $10,000 at the time of this writing while the 100-inch Hisense U8K costs around $4,000. Advantage: Hisense.

TCL 65QM850G TV

Seen here in its lower position, the central pedestal stand can be raised a couple of inches to make more room for a soundbar.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Stepped-up design and a sleeker remote

The TCL QM8 isn’t as sleek as a high-end Samsung, but I preferred its look and feel to that of the Hisense. The first thing I appreciate is the central pedestal stand, which I like better than the two-legs-to-either-side look. TCL gives you two different height choices with the stand as well so you can better fit a soundbar below the screen if you’d like. Note that unlike the LG C3 OLED, this TV is quite heavy, as usual for an LED LCD with a complex backlight.

The remote is a long, thin wand that looks nicer than you’ll see on most budget TVs, and I appreciated the backlit keys. That said, it suffers from a level of button clutter that makes it more confusing than Samsung or Roku TV clickers. There are two different menu buttons (one gear-shaped and another “hamburger”), a dedicated profile key for some reason, and no fewer than seven shortcut keys to streaming services, including the TCL channel that I had to Google just now to find out what it was. I’m willing to bet that key won’t wear out.

TCL 65QM850G TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

TCL went with Google TV over Roku TV (unfortunately)

Don’t get me wrong, the Google TV operating system is good, it just isn’t as good as Roku. And up until 2023, TCL has been using Roku TV in its flagship mini-LED models like the 6-Series. The company made the switch to Google in the QM8 and other 2023 sets to have “more control” over features and updates, according to a TCL rep I spoke with.

Google TV offers excellent voice results thanks to Google Assistant, along with a well-implemented kids profile mode and parental controls; tight integration with Google apps (in particular YouTube and YouTube TV); and more apps overall than proprietary systems like Samsung and LG, thanks to the Google Play store. Roku is simpler to use in my experience, however, and its search results are better than Google TV’s. 

TCL 65QM850G TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

In my tests on the QM8 Google TV’s system, the responses were quick enough, just as speedy as on the Hisense U8K. As usual with Google, I didn’t love the large chunk of space at the top devoted to promotions of shows and movies on various services. I also wish the “continue watching” row was higher up, rather than placed below the “top picks for you” and apps rows. There were lots of suggestions across various apps but still plenty of content I didn’t care about. 

TCL 65QM850G TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

Ultimately TCL’s choice of Google over Roku isn’t a deal-breaker, in part because there’s an easy and inexpensive solution if you want to use Roku’s system on the QM8 anyway. Just attach a Roku streaming device and use it instead of Google TV.

TCL QM8 features: Mini-LED maxes brightness and dimming

The big difference between the QM8 and cheaper LCD-based TVs is its mini-LED backlight. Mini-LEDs are (surprise!) smaller than standard LEDs, allowing them to be grouped into more local dimming zones. Full-array local dimming, in turn, is the best way to improve picture quality on LCD TVs. It allows the screen to dim and brighten different areas simultaneously. Smaller areas, or more dimming zones, mean more-precise illumination — which ultimately increases contrast, the most important ingredient in a good picture — but they’re not the only factor. 

The QM8 has a true 120Hz refresh rate, which leads to better motion performance than 60Hz TVs. Like most TVs in its class today, the 6-Series uses quantum dots that help improve color compared with non-QD-equipped TVs. And of course it supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range (HDR) formats (these days, basically the only manufacturer that doesn’t is Samsung). The QM8 also adds Dolby Vision IQ, which works with an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the picture.

Other features:

  • Four HDMI inputs (one with 4K/144Hz, one with 4K/120Hz, one with eARC).
  • Analog (composite) AV input.
  • USB port (2.0).
  • Ethernet (wired internet).
  • Headphone jack.
  • Optical digital audio output.
  • RF (antenna) input.

TCL 65QM850G TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

The biggest step-up in connections compared with the earlier TCL 6-Series Roku TVs is the ability to accept 4K/120Hz input signals, from an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, for example. The TV is actually capable of 144Hz input, according to TCL, but that extra bit of refresh isn’t a big deal in my book, and is available only on select PC cards. Other gaming extras are par for the midrange TV course, namely VRR, or variable refresh rate, and ALLM (auto game mode). One of the inputs also supports eARC.

One more feature to file under “not a big deal” is the QM8’s lack of a built-in ATSC 3.0 over-the-air tuner for NextGen TV broadcasts, something found on competing TVs, including the Hisense U8K. Those broadcasts are taking awhile to actually arrive and once they do, you’ll be able to attach an external tuner to watch them if you want. 

TCL QM8 vs. Hisense U8K and others: Picture quality compared

For this comparison I lined up three 65-inch TVs side by side: the Hisense UK8 and the TCL QM8, which cost about the same, and the LG OLED C3, which costs significantly more. I didn’t include other models in the lineup this time, but from past reviews I can say the image quality of the QM8 is significantly better — brighter, with better color and contrast — than the Roku TV Plus Series, Amazon’s Fire TV Omni QLED and the Vizio MQX (all of which cost less) and a bit better than last year’s TCL 6-Series and Hisense U8H. Let’s dive in.

TCL 65QM850G TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

TV and movies: Contrast is the difference between the brightest whites and darkest blacks, and it’s the most important contributor to TV image quality. This TCL TV is an absolute contrast beast. Watching my standard demo montage from the Spears & Munsil 4K Blu-ray, the QM8 delivered visibly brighter highlights than even the Hisense – despite their similar light output measurements – and matched it with a depth of black that was as close to OLED perfection as I’ve seen on any LED LCD-based TV.

On the flip side, I got the impression that the TCLQM8 looked a bit too brilliant in some scenes. The side-by-side images between it and the Hisense gave the TCL the brightness advantage time after time (it was around 200 to 400 nits brighter in the brightest highlights I measured with an LS-100 light meter) but the Hisense and LG C3 OLED both looked just a bit more natural to my eye. Both of those TVs measured more accurate as well, hewing closer to the target EOTF for HDR than the QM8. That said, my eye kept getting drawn back to the TCL’s brighter, more powerful picture.

The QM8 looked incredibly good in my Netflix comparison too. Watching the excellent Our Cosmos documentary revealed its superb contrast once again. Its black levels and shadow detail were second only to the C3 OLED, with minimal blooming, and a step darker than the Hisense, for more visible punch. The shots of deep space, stars and planets looked nearly as impressive as on the OLED, and scenes of the dark jungle were rich with detail and life.

Its brightness was also better, once again. I measured a spot of sunlight peeking through the trees (episode 2, 36:37) and the QM8 outshone the Hisense by nearly 300 nits (1,300 compared with 1,000), and it more than doubled the brightness of the OLED. Other highlights on the TCL were consistently brighter as well. At times its brightness again seemed a bit more intense than natural, and overall I thought the balanced image of the OLED still looked better, but the QM8 certainly has its appeal.

TCL 65QM850G TV

A game bar displays essential information, including refresh rate and HDR status.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Gaming: TCL has improved some of its gaming features, though the QM8’s level of extras isn’t quite as comprehensive as what you find with Samsung or LG. In the settings menu (Settings > system) there’s something called Game Master that turns on VRR and Auto Low Lag Mode and allows access to a game bar and three different gaming specific picture modes. The game bar (accessible by holding down the three-line menu button under the Home key on the remote) shows current gaming status, including real-time frames per second, HDR and other features, and allows you to switch between the three modes. 

Playing Starfield, I preferred the look of the Original mode to the other two (FPS and RGB), both of which looked very blue and unnatural. A toggle for “shadow enhancement,” with four levels, exposed progressively for shadow detail. Viewers playing dark shooters might prefer that, but to my eye it just washed out the already pale-looking game even more. As with some TVs, you can even add a crosshair (called “Aiming Aid” by TCL) and adjust the style. 

As expected, the TCL checked all the boxes on my Xbox Series X’s compatibility menu, including Dolby Vision for gaming. Input lag in HDR was excellent, at 13.9 milliseconds (for some reason my devices didn’t register in SDR, so I couldn’t test lag there). 

Comparing the game mode image quality between the Hisense, TCL and LG C3, the story was similar to what I saw with TV and movies. The C3 looked the best overall when I played Starfield, and the TCL had the brightness advantage, but the image of the Hisense looked a bit more balanced to my eye, with more natural color, than did the TCL’s. Overall, however I preferred the more dynamic picture of the TCL over the Hisense for games in my side-by-side comparison.

Bright lighting: With its prodigious light output, the QM8 is a superb bright-room performer as well. It’s one of the brightest TVs I’ve ever measured, and only fell short of the Samsung QN90B because the Samsung “cheats” by not being able to sustain its brightness over time.

Light output in nits

TV Brightest mode (HDR) Accurate mode (HDR) Brightest mode (SDR) Accurate mode (SDR)
Samsung QN65Q90B 3,316 1,981 2,625 974
TCL 65QM850G 1,975 1,975 1,739 1,448
Hisense 65U8K 1,966 1,966 1,720 1,240
TCL 65R655 1,387 1,194 1,292 624
LG OLED65C3 861 817 501 464
Vizio M65QXM-K03 939 742 958 608
Roku TV Plus 514 455 579 404

I appreciated that for HDR, the TCL’s most-accurate picture modes are also its brightest (IMAX and Movie). With HDR sources aside from games, I’d recommend simply leaving the TV in either one of those modes regardless of lighting condition. For SDR (standard dynamic range), the brightest mode is Sports, but it’s not very accurate. Fortunately, Movie is still plenty bright for just about any lighting condition, and quite accurate.

The TV’s screen finish did a fine job handling reflections, about as well as the Hisense U8K, but it didn’t preserve dark areas as well as the C3 OLED.

TCL 65QM850G TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

TCL QM8 settings and picture mode notes

The most accurate picture mode for HDR was IMAX, which measured slightly better than the next-best (Movie) in my tests. Both were slightly red in grayscale and didn’t follow the EOTF as closely as some comeditors, but the advanced color tests (Colormatch HDR and Color Checker) still qualified as Good in the Geek Box (see below). 

Note that only Movie allows you to tweak things like brightness and color (IMAX has no picture adjustment options). For SDR mode, Movie was the best, but in its default settings it was still relatively inaccurate, so I tweaked it slightly to achieve a better image (namely changing the color temperature setting to -4 and gamma to 2.2). Those tweaks are reflected in the results below.

Geek box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.017 Good
Peak white luminance (SDR) 1739 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.13 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 3.68 Average
Dark gray error (30%) 2.59 Good
Bright gray error (80%) 4.60 Average
Avg. color checker error 3.37 Average
Avg. saturation sweeps error 2.60 Good
Avg. color error 1.82 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
Input lag (Game mode) [No result] N/A
HDR10
Black luminance (0%) 0.023 Good
Peak white luminance (10% win) 1975 Good
Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976) 97.29 Good
ColorMatch HDR error 2.89 Good
Avg. color checker error 2.93 Good
Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR) 13.90 Good

Check out how we test TVs for more details on the Geek box and our TV testing methodology.

Portrait Displays Calman calibration software was used in this review. 





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