While TCL’s reputation for delivering excellent TVs for remarkably low prices in the US has seen it enjoy a meteoric rise there, it has consistently struggled to share the same product standards elsewhere around the globe.
The 55-inch 55C735K, though, finally fixes this frustration, at least for the UK and Europe, combining an unprecedented feature count for its money with picture quality that shames some TVs costing twice as much.
Finding a TV as well featured as the TCL 55C735K for roughly £500 (around $600 / AU$900) is pretty ridiculous. Usually with 55-inch TVs this cheap you’re firmly in bog-standard, no-frills territory where the best you can hope for is some half-decent picture quality. The 55C735K, though, gives you much more than you’ve any right to expect, from both a hardware and software perspective. In particular, its Quantum Dot colours and impressive set of gaming features humble the specifications of pretty much all similarly affordable rivals. And many sets that cost hundreds of pounds more, come to that.
Note that the C735K series isn’t available in the US or Australia, where it should not be confused with the actually much less well-featured P735K. The P735K is also available in the UK, but despite sporting such a similar model number it doesn't support Quantum Dot colours or the latest high-end gaming features. So don’t pop one of those in your basket by mistake.
The 55C735K is pretty attractive for such a cheap TV. The frame around the screen is on-trend thin and minimalistic, and it wears a nice brushed grey, metallic-looking finish rather than the flat black look commonly found on budget models. Build quality, though, is fairly basic, with the screen’s light weight making it clear that the chassis is a largely plastic affair.
The screen rests on a robust, centrally mounted ‘plate’ style stand that attaches to the TV’s rear via a couple of angular, nicely sculpted necks. The screen isn’t nearly as thin as that of Samsung’s recently tested QE55Q60B rival, but it’s slender enough, at least over roughly half of its rear area, to be considered elegant. You can’t actually see its chunkiest rear section, either, unless you’re looking at the screen from much more extreme viewing angles than you’ll ever normally want to.
Just bear in mind that the chunky section will make the screen stick out further than you might ideally like if you opt to wall mount it.
The core facts about the TCL 55C735K are that it’s a 4K HDR TV built on a direct-lit LED backlight (where the lights sit directly behind the screen) VA type of LCD panel. VA panels tend to deliver better contrast but narrower realistic viewing angles than rival IPS technology.
The 55C735K has much more going on beyond these promising basics, though. For starters, despite its eye-openingly low price, it uses Quantum Dots to create its colours – an approach that should deliver a noticeably wider colour range than the traditional colour filter system.
Even more surprising for the 55C735K’s money is its support for the latest cutting-edge gaming graphics features of 4K/120Hz feeds (the screen is actually rated to 144Hz) and VRR on two of its four HDMIs. Precious few TVs on the happy side of £800 (around £970 / AU$1450) support these latest PS5, Xbox Series X and PC gaming features, and we can’t think of any other model that does it for the C735K’s price.
This will immediately win the 55C735K a gamer fan base – especially as it backs up its advanced graphics handling with support for ALLM switching, compatibility with the FreeSync Premium VRR system, a Game Bar screen providing fast access to game settings and graphics info, and an input lag figure in its Game mode of 13.4ms with 1080p/60Hz sources (that roughly halves with 120Hz sources). This is all seriously great stuff to find on such an affordable TV.
Screen size 55 inches (also available in 65in, 75in, 85in, 98in)
Type Quantum Dot LED
HDR formats HLG, HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, Dolby Vision IQ
Operating system Google TV
HDMI inputs x3
HDMI 2.1 48Gbps x2
Gaming features ALLM, VRR, 4K/120Hz
Optical output? Yes
Dimensions (hwd, without stand) 71 x 123 x 5.1cm
The 55C735K continues to go far beyond its price point by supporting all four of the main high dynamic range formats of HDR, HLG, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. So unlike, say, all of LG’s TVs, which don’t support HDR10+, and all of Samsung TVs, which don’t support Dolby Vision, the TCL 55C735K will play the best version available of whatever source you feed it.
In fact, the 55C735K even supports the Dolby Vision IQ system, where the advanced Dolby Vision picture settings can automatically adjust themselves to compensate for the amount of ambient light in your room so that you still get the right level of HDR impact.
Even the 55C735K’s smart engine is a pleasant surprise, built as it is around the latest Google TV system rather than its clunkier, less friendly Android TV predecessor. Google TV delivers a huge quantity of streamed content as well as gaming and productivity apps in an attractive if somewhat dictatorial full-screen interface. We couldn’t find the BBC iPlayer or All 4 catch-up apps, though, or the Freeview Play umbrella app. The lack of iPlayer support is particularly unfortunate.
As you would expect given the Google TV connection, the 55C735K supports voice control using the Google Assistant system – or you can use Amazon’s Alexa if that’s more familiar to you.
The 55C735K’s connections extend to four HDMIs in total, a single USB 2.0 port, an Ethernet port, a 3.5mm headphone port, an optical digital audio output, and wi-fi.
Even the TCL 55C735K’s 2 x 10W audio support goes beyond budget TV norms. First because it has been designed in conjunction with acclaimed audio brand Onkyo, and second because it supports Dolby Atmos playback.
The TCL 55C735K’s theme of punching well above its price weight continues with its picture performance. Once you’ve tweaked away one or two preset gremlins, anyway.
Because of these gremlins, first impressions are mixed, with some strong contrast and vibrancy potential being undermined by some crushing of details in dark areas and overwrought colours. The TV’s first mistake is only providing three main picture presets: Vivid, Low Power and Movie. This really doesn’t leave viewers with enough easy options to get to a well-balanced picture they like, with each preset exhibiting enough issues to make TCL’s decision not to include some kind of Standard preset that sits somewhere between the Vivid and Movie settings seem pretty bizarre.
The default Vivid mode, for instance, is a particularly bad offender when it comes to the crushed detail in dark scenes and distractingly overwrought colours. The Movie mode fixes the lost shadow detail issue impressively well but struggles with too much red in the mix and heavy amounts of greyness over dark scenes. The low-power mode, meanwhile, is just too dark to do HDR effectively.
Fortunately, the tools are provided to fix most of what the 55C735K gets wrong out of the box. So in the Vivid mode, which is probably the all-round most enjoyable setting once you’ve got it set up right, you can bring back the lost shadow detail by increasing the black level setting to around 56, and setting the Adaptive Contrast to Low. This latter change also stops dark scenes from looking unstable, as the TV isn’t working so distractingly hard to continually adjust its light output in response to changes in image content.
Turning off the Dynamic Colour option in Vivid mode, meanwhile, largely fixes the overblown colours issue, especially when it comes to skin tones, which no longer look forced and plasticky. In fact, as well as looking more natural, the richest and subtlest colour areas both gain significantly more finesse and nuance, making the image look more three-dimensional and detailed.
Adjusting the Adaptive Contrast, Black Level and Dynamic Colour settings as described does make colours look less vibrant and reduces the 55C735K’s black level performance. However, in both cases, the net outcome is a much more natural, consistent and immersive picture. In fact, the outcome is a picture that still has better black level response, better shadow detailing, and better colour than pretty much any other TV at anything like the same price. And plenty of TVs at a much higher price point, come to that.
The 55C735K’s pictures also have a nice 4K snap to them once the shadow detail and colour crush issues have been sorted out, and this holds up, too, when there’s movement in the frame, thanks to some impressively blur- and judder-free motion handling.
The 55C735K’s HDR tone mapping is good enough, too, to deliver reasonable amounts of subtle shading in the brightest HDR picture areas, avoiding the excessive bleaching out of these HDR picture areas that can sometimes afflict such affordable TVs.
Probably inevitably for the 55C735K’s price, its pictures can’t get bright enough, even in Vivid mode, to deliver anything like a fully formed HDR experience. There’s also a faintly blue tone to dark scenes that you can’t eradicate without upsetting other aspects of the colour balance. And finally in the negative column, upscaling of sub-4K sources is merely adequate, lacking the sharpness and colour tone precision you get with the best upscaling processors around.
Nothing about the 55C735K’s mildly tweaked pictures, though, prevents them from being much better than they’ve any right to be for such an affordable TV.
The 55C735K’s Onkyo sound system is solid-to-good for such an affordable TV. It can go impressively loud, for starters, and it can also project that volume a healthy distance to the left and right of the TV’s bodywork, creating a wide soundstage.
The TV’s mid-range is expansive enough, too, to deliver a nicely rounded tone that doesn’t get too shrill in the trebles or too distorted or 'phutty' at the bass end. Dialogue remains clear and warm even when there’s a royal racket going on behind it, too, and the soundstage doesn’t collapse in on itself during massive movie moments like all too many built-in TV sound systems do.
While the 55C735K’s bass is largely distortion-free, though, it’s also not particularly deep. This leaves action scenes lacking heft and weight – a fact that combines with the way the sound doesn’t really push forward into your room to leave you feeling a little detached from the audio action, despite its decent left/right spread and warm tone.
The 55C735K marks a watershed moment for TCL’s fortunes in the European market as it finally sees the brand managing to combine a feature count that embarrasses many much more expensive TVs with some properly decent picture and sound quality. All at a price that will have more established rivals quaking in their boots.
- Picture 4
- Sound 3
- Features 4
Read our review of the Samsung QE55Q60B
Also consider the Hisense 55A7GQ
Read our Samsung QE50QN90B review