TCL has had a pretty hectic week. In the run-up to IFA 2023 it was revealed as the launch partner for Dolby’s nifty new Atmos FlexConnect TV audio tech, only to then unveil not one, but three new lines of TVs, including a new flagship X955 with an astounding 5000 nits max brightness.
Not having laid eyes on this TV, all we can say at the moment is that on a technical level, it looks very interesting. Available in 98-inch and 85-inch sizes the set has all the trimmings of a true flagship, with highlights including the use of a QD-Mini LED panel with 5000 dimming zones, and custom tech TCL claims will facilitate a quoted “27.5% increase in brightness, 33% increase in focusing angles and a 210% increase in light control precision".
The reason the TV’s unveiling had me rolling my eyes stemmed from the fact that, like every other company this year, TCL made a point of making a huge song and dance about the set’s nits count.
You can get an in-depth breakdown of what is a nit, in our dedicated advice page. But the cliff notes are that a nit is a measurement of luminance; one unit is roughly the brightness of a single candle. So a high nit count means a TV should be brighter.
Mini-LED, LCD panels traditionally offer high maximum brightness levels, but 5000 nits is still a very high claim, especially compared to OLED sets, which tend to dominate the pricier parts of our best TV buyers guide page. To put it in perspective, traditional OLED screens struggled to break the 700 nit count. So 5000 nits is a big leap.
It was only this year when new panel technologies, like MLA and the second generation of QD-OLED, hit the scene that OLED sets managed to creep their way up to the 2000 nit mark. Currently, the only two we’ve fully reviewed using these technologies are the MLA-powered LG G3 and QD-OLED-powered Samsung S95C.
So, what's the issue? The reason I don’t like the focus on nits is that, based on over a decade of reviewing TVs, I can safely confirm that while it can help in some instances for things like HDR performance, a higher nit count is by no means a guarantee of better picture quality. In fact, in some instances, it can be the opposite.
Picture quality is determined by a multitude of factors, including contrast, which is in most instances more informed by the black level and image processing than simply having a high max brightness.
This was a key theme of What Hi-Fi?’s Bristol Hi-Fi Show demo earlier this year. We pitted a Sony A95K QD-OLED against a Sony A80K OLED in a head-to-head shoot-out that really showcased the differences between the two TV panel technologies. In many ways, it was a direct display of how a higher nit count doesn’t always lead to a better picture.
The TVs are about as close to identical as you can get, with the only major difference being that the A95K used a first-gen QD-OLED panel with a 1200 nit max brightness, while the A80K used a basic OLED unit with a 700 nit max brightness.
Playing a scene from Pan, the A95K’s max brightness did display more detail around bright scenes, like a bright sunrise in the distance. Here the QD-OLED displayed a wider range of colours than the OLED, where the sun was just white. But this is because Pan is mastered at 4000 nits, a rarity in cinema.
Jumping to scenes from The Batman, which is mastered to a max brightness of 400 nits, this advantage was lost, and many of the team, myself included, actually preferred the A80K. This was because the colours on the A95K didn’t hold the same authenticity as the A80K, with reds, in particular, looking distorted.
This is the same reason we gave the S95C four, rather than five stars – we felt the picture wasn't the huge step forward we wanted, despite the brightness increase. We also pointed out in our G3 review that while the brightness added some oomph to movies, the tech had also inadvertently made it less capable than the outgoing LG G2 in some instances, with it showing noticeably paler colours than its predecessor in low-light scenes.
To be fair, TV makers are not the only ones to make eye-catching performance claims based on big numbers. Back in my old days reviewing phones, companies did the same trying to sell megapixels as a metric to prove how good their product’s cameras were. Again, it’s not as simple as that, and having more megapixels can actually be a bad thing, increasing the amount of processing required and increasing the risk of noise.
To be clear, this piece is in no way meant to besmirch the TCL X955. Until we get the unit into our test rooms to gauge its performance we can’t make any sensible comments on if it’s actually good or not.
However, I still can’t help but take some issue with manufacturers' current obsession to sell a high nits count as a metric of screen quality and hope the trend goes away sooner rather than later or, at the very least, the potential benefits are communicated better.
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