TCL's latest mid-range C2 LED television gives you just about everything you could want from a TV at a surprisingly reasonable price, in five different screen sizes. You get Android TV, with built-in Netflix and Stan apps and Chromecast, HDR video support and an integrated soundbar. So why wouldn't you buy it?
What Is It?
The $1199-plus TCL C2 is available in five different screen sizes, to suit everything from the most modest apartment to the largest living space you could reasonably think of. The cheapest 49-incher carries that $1199 price tag, a 55-inch is $1599 (and adds a Harman/Kardon badge to that under-slung soundbar), 65 inches is $2699, 70 is $2999 and the top 75-inch panel is $4299. These are pretty tempting prices; for TVs with the TCL C2's feature-set, you'd usually be looking at a few hundred dollars more in each screen size from a major brand like Samsung or LG.
The TCL C2 has preloaded apps for Netflix and Stan, both services that support UHD and HDR video, and you can load any other Android TV app that's on the Google Play Store. Being an Android TV, TCL's C2 gives you a built-in Chromecast for your smartphone to cast video to -- saving you $99 for the 4K-compatible Google Chromecast Ultra, and saving you the need to switch to the Chromecast's HDMI input when you want to cast video -- the TCL will switch automatically to the Chromecast app when prompted by your phone.
It's also nice to see an integrated Harman/Kardon soundbar on the C2, too. It delivers pretty good sound for a TV on the 65-incher I tested. You'll always get better sound from a standalone sound system, but better built-in sound is always better; the TCL C2 delivers better stereo audio and more low-end than most TVs out there with the exception of the $4999-plus Sony Bravia A1 OLED. And you can load Google Play Music, too, or string up a bunch of tracks in a playlist on the YouTube app.
There are some caveats with the TCL C2's picture quality, limitations from its very low price. You get HDR video support, but the TV doesn't have any kind of local dimming for its LED backlight, and that means its black levels aren't great when there's only a small amount of bright white content on screen. HDR relies on low blacks and bright whites, so this is probably the C2's main flaw: its picture quality with ultra-high-def and high dynamic range content isn't up to snuff. It's got the resolution down pat, but contrast is mediocre.
Should You Buy It?
TCL's strongest competition comes from a new line of Hisense ULED TVs, aggressively priced in the larger 65- and 75-inch screen sizes -- and with better picture quality to boot. You'll get broadly similar features from either; Android TV on the TCL gives you more apps, but Hisense's Netflix and Stan are equally good anyway. The TCL C2 has better sound out of the box, but neither stands up to a proper soundbar. Hisense's N7 ULED has local dimming for better picture quality, but neither stands up to a Samsung QLED or any OLED out there.
I get a lot of questions -- like, a lot of questions -- about the picture quality of the cheapest 4K TVs out there. And there's no getting around the fact that there are some great deals out there. But my preference is always to suggest something from the middle of the market -- not the absolute bottom of the bargain basement. It's this slight step up that gives you the real-world advantage of something like Android TV and its oft-updated, widely available apps, and HDR-10 video support for Netflix and your 4K Blu-rays. It's worth it.
If you want a TV that does pretty much everything you could want a new mid-range TV to do: that is, play 4K HDR video, stream video straight from Netflix or Stan, and handle Chromecast for all the apps on your phone, the TCL C2 fills those roles admirably. It's not quite up to Sony snuff in terms of the refinement of its Android, it's not quite up to Hisense snuff in terms of its picture quality, it's not up to a standalone soundbar in terms of its sound quality, but it's a step up from the bargain-basement Bauhn and Soniq crowd in just about every one of these aspects that matters.
Because of that, the $1199 to $4299 TCL C2 is one of my top picks in its price range. Short of any incredibly good cut-price deals from any of TCL's top competitors -- I'm talking the LGs and Samsungs and Sonys and Panasonics of this world -- you'll be hard pressed to find strong competition for the C2. You get a lot for the money, if you're fully aware of what you're going to get.