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Clarifying the New TCL European Lineup with 8K miniLED

Like many, we were impressed with TCL’s new lineup announced on September 8, mainly because of the razor-thin miniLED 8K screens that use OD Zero technology and TCL’s AiPQ Engine™ technology. In the U.S. a press release announced that the new 85″ 8K model X9 would be available later this year (which will be sold in Europe as the X925PRO). The 85″ TCL X9 will soon undergo certification by the 8K Association.

According to the press release, “every frame on the X9 is intelligently enhanced by TCL’s AiPQ Engine technology which uses machine-learning to dynamically adjust color, contrast, and clarity as you watch for an unrivaled 8K HDR experience with three core picture quality algorithms – Smart 8K HDR for vibrant color, Smart 8K Upscaling for sharp clarity, and Smart 8K Contrast for dramatic depth.”

First, we were a little hungry for more market details as it wasn’t clear to us what models were available in which markets at what cost. That’s a pain point for most global brands as the mix of regulations, technical specifications, and market trends vary so much worldwide. So, not to get lost, we decided to start with just one market: Europe, and we went to the Product Development Director Europe at TCL Europe and spoke with Marek Maciejewski.

MinLED TVs from TCL including new 8K TVs. Image courtesy TCL

Maciejewski first gave us the actual lineup of 8K TVs that will be available in Europe. The 65X925 and the 75X925 will arrive in Europe in September, and the 85X925 Pro will hit European retail in December, except for the UK, where 8K will be introduced only in early 2022. All the new TVs support Dolby Vision IQ with adaptation to ambient light.

When we asked Maciejewski about the differences between European countries for their TV lineup, he told us that it was basically the same specs, the only difference being in the later 8K launch UK and the absence of the flagship 85X925Pro. But why the UK exception? Marek told us that the UK is considered the same as the EU but has more demanding requirements due to Freeview Play and BBC iPlayer certification.

“As of today, Freeview Play is up and running with AndroidTV, not yet Google TV. Due to the ongoing software development, and to get UK customers a competitive product now, we sell both the X925 and X925Pro in continental Europe with Google TV and, for the time being, just the X925 in the UK, with AndroidTV,” said Maciejewski. “TCL doesn’t believe the UK to be an extension of the US market as there are more significant differences in consumer demand than the European mainland.”

Russia is part of another business unit, even if the specs are the same from a technical perspective.

Maciejewski gave us the European price points, which are:

  • 2,999 EUR for the new 65″
  • 3,999 EUR for 75″
  • 9,999 EUR for OD Zero 85″ flagship

These TVs are the first to run Google TV in Europe, with the 8K models from the outset and other ranges switching to Google TV later this year.

Under the Hood of the Flagship Screen

TCL’s prowess in creating such thin screens for its 85X925 Pro is where its OD Zero technology comes in. The space between the LEDs that make up the pixels and the backlight layer has been reduced to zero. Just a quantum dot film is used between the layers to enhance color performance and reach over 85% coverage of the Rec.2020 color volume.

We asked Marek for clarification on the differences between the X925 and the 85X925 Pro. The thickness differs because only the 85″ screen uses OD Zero tech for now. The X925 uses miniLED backlit with thousands of blue LEDs regrouped into hundreds of zones, whereas the X925Pro uses almost 100,000 blue LEDs set up on over 2000 dimming zones. Peak brightness for smaller areas (which is what is useful for HDR) is about 2000 nits – note that the 65″ and 75″ screens are specified at 1000 nits. (See related article TCL Upgrades Award-Winning 6-Series with 8K Resolution for more on the US product launch)

What About the Power Consumption?

By March 1, 2023, the 8K TV exception from energy consumption regulations will terminate. All products will then be subject to a 0.9 Energy Efficiency Index (classed with an E sticker, i.e., be tagged in the 8th group from the top, with ten groups). The relevant EU regulation states that TV must run out-of-the-box within the specified power limits. However, it goes on: “If the user selects a setting other than those that are part of the normal configuration and this setting results in a higher energy consumption than the normal configuration, a warning message about the likely increase in energy consumption shall appear, and confirmation of the action explicitly requested.”

TCL is confident in reaching the EU targets, noting that it will be harder for smaller-sized 8K screens as the regulation use a formula that takes the screen size into account.

HDMI 2.1

Due to limitations with HDMI 2.1, the current 8K TV lineup doesn’t yet support a multi-view feature where the TV could display content from four 4K inputs.

Concerning the HDMI interface capabilities, Maciejewski told us that they couldn’t test it with commercial content sources above 4320p60 (i.e., 8K at 60 frames per second). However, the 85X925 Pro’s panel is native 120 frames per second 8K, and its HDMI port is expected to handle the data rates involved, so it should be HFR ready (HFR is High Frame Rate which is described as one of the pillars of UHD by the Ultra HD Forum guidelines here).

Market Expectations

So, what does TCL hope to see with the new 8K lineup? When we pointed out that recent analyst reports have projected a doubling of 8K TV sales in 2021 vs. 2020, Maciejewski told us that TCL expects 250 thousand 8K TVs to be sold in the EU in 2021. He also expects the category of 75″ screens and above to continue its rapid growth, leading to close to 1.5M such TVs by EOY 2021 in Europe.

TCL still sees 8K as a luxury TV segment, so at today’s price points, sales are linked to the largest screen sizes. Historically the volume bump in Europe comes from reaching below the symbolic 1000 EUR retail price. This trend has already happened for 55″ UHD, 65″ UHD, and 75″ UHD TVs.

In a recent interview with @Vincent_Teoh on the YouTube channel HDTVTest, Marek alluded to the challenges of the pandemic, having to address a booming market while dealing with chipset shortages. Looking forward, he reaffirmed TCL’s commitment to printed OLED panels with a factory under construction. He noted that QD-OLED projects are currently shelved, although they could be revived. In the meantime, all high-end TCL products use miniLED technology.