TCL C645 review: a 4K TV that delivers well beyond its asking price

It's not the brightest or most fully-featured, but the TCL C645 is very modestly priced and its pictures are impressive all considered

(Image credit: TCL)
T3 Verdict

You can’t get something for nothing when shopping for a new TV - but the TCL C645, while not exactly the complete deal, has a lot more talent than its asking price might suggest.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Great specification at the money

  • +

    Some real picture-quality positives

  • +

    Good smart TV options

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Images are short of brightness and contrast

  • -

    Smart TV interface won’t be rushed

  • -

    Sound is abrasive

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‘Cheap’ isn’t automatically followed by ‘cheerful’ - in fact, where the best TVs are concerned, it hardly ever is. But if is anything, it’s optimistic. So here’s the TCL C645 QLED 4K TV with impressive specification, for less than half of what you might imagine is the minimum you’d have to pay for the best 55-inch models out there. So could this be the one, the TV that’s cheerful as well as cheap?

TCL C645: Price & Release Date

The TCL C645 is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom the 55-inch model is yours for an eye-catching £389. In the United States, the model with the most similar specification to this sells for $429, while in Australia you can get this very model for AU$679.

You don’t need me to tell you this is extremely aggressive pricing on the part of TCL. Something of similar size and specification from one of the bigger TV hitters (LG, Philips or Samsung, say) is going to cost you twice as much as this, easy. 

There are also other sizes at equally eye catching prices: so whether you want 50-, 65- or 75-inch, the TCL C645 has got your back... and your bank. So if the TCL is better than half as good, then it’s a bargain. Right?

TCL C645 review: Features & What's New?

TCL C645 TV review

(Image credit: Future)

The TCL C645 is a 4K QLED TV that’s compatible with every high dynamic range (HDR) standard worth having, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision being the obvious highlights. It controls its panel using the ‘AiPQ 3.0’ processing engine, with MEMC (‘motion estimate, motion compensation’) given specific responsibility for motion control.

Wireless connectivity is handled by Bluetooth 5.0 and dual-band Wi-Fi. Physical connections run to three HDMI sockets, a USB-A 3.0 slot, an Ethernet socket, composite video via 3.5mm input, a digital optical output and a couple of aerial binding posts. 

One of the HDMI inputs is at 2.1 standard, and it takes care of eARC functionality as well as having compatibility with some (but not all) current-gen console features. It’s got ALLM and AMD FreeSync covered, and uses its ‘Game Accelerator’ feature to create 4K/120Hz images - you’ll only get half the vertical resolution of true 120Hz content, though, as the C645 uses ‘dual gate line’ technology to allows its 60Hz panel to do the business. It’s not ideal, no - but have another look at the asking price and then see if you can live with it or not.

The TCL can deal with most soundtrack formats, up to and including Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD. It’s fitted with a two-channel audio system, driven by a total of 20 watts of power. 

TCL C645 review: Performance

TCL C645 TV review

(Image credit: Future)

The TCL having just the one HDMI 2.1 socket presents minor problems for some of us, of course - but the sockets themselves are easily accessible, so it’s not that much of a hardship to switch cables in order to test the C645 with both a UHD Blu-ray player and a PS5 games console

With some Dolby Vision HDR-assisted content from a 4K Blu-ray disc on the go, there’s plenty to enjoy about the picture quality that’s on offer here. The TCL is a composed and grippy watch, keeping even the most testing on-screen movement under control with barely a hint of ghosting or judder. It’s similarly adept with textures and patterns, keeping the edges of even quite complicated patterns smooth and stable while keeping picture noise to an absolute minimum.

Detail levels are respectably high, and the C645 does particularly good work with skin tones. The entire colour palette, in fact, is naturalistic and convincing - there’s the sort of variation and subtlety to tones and shades that is basically the whole point of QLED technology.

TCL C645 TV review

(Image credit: Future)

This is not an especially bright TV, though - its claimed peak brightness of 450 nits is nothing special, and in practice the TCL seems to struggle to hit even that modest figure. The white tones it creates are clean and varied, certainly, but they’re far from dynamic - and it follows that contrasts are not all that striking. 

Black tones are impressively deep, but a little short of the detail levels the rest of the colours enjoy - the full-array backlighting is impressive, though, remaining even and focused even in those scenes of darkness with just a little point of light within them. The relative lack of contrast isn’t helped by the reflectivity of the TCL’s screen, either.

Pretty much all of the above applies to the current-gen console gaming experience, too. Motion is stable, colour fidelity is good, and detail levels are high - and despite its lack of outright brightness, the TCL makes the most of lighting effects. The way black tones are readily crushed to uniformity is unhelpful, though, especially if you’re a fan of those FPS and/or RPG titles with action that always seems to happen down a coal-mine.

Switching to 4K content from a streaming service can see a little edginess and noise creep into images, but not fatally. It’s when you step down below 1080p content that the TCL really throws the towel in: detail levels dip, edge-definition loses positivity, and on-screen motion can become problematic. Keep your viewing up at Full HD standard as a minimum, though, and the C645 remains a very watchable screen.

The sound it makes is no great shakes - hands up who wasn’t expecting that to be the case? The audio the TCL delivers is narrow and confined, with a latent edginess that gets more and more pronounced the further you wind the volume up. In extremis it can be quite aggressive - but the positive spin to put on this is that you won’t have to spend very much at all on one of the best cheap soundbar deals to make worthwhile improvements.

TCL C645 review: Design & Usability

TCL C645 TV review

(Image credit: Future)

As I may have mentioned already, it’s important to keep the price of the C645 uppermost in your mind when assessing it - and that goes for ‘design and usability’ as much as any other aspect of the product.

To be fair, though, it’s difficult to know where any meaningful economies might be achieved when it comes to the design of a television. When it’s not powered up, and you’re seated at regulation viewing distance from it, one TV looks very much like another - and the TCL has nice slim bezels, some discrete and confident branding across the bottom, and stands on a couple of simple ‘boomerang’ feet that raise it sufficiently to accommodate a soundbar beneath. So far, so absolutely standard.

The feet can be attached in two positions, in fact - so the C645 needn’t require all that wide a surface to stand on. You may prefer to wall-mount it, though, and if so should take the pro (it’s VESA-compatible and thus there are numerous brackets available) and con (it’s over 8cm at its deepest, which means it’s not the most discreet when wall-mounted) into account.  

There’s nothing special about the plastics TCL has used to build the C645, which shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise. It feels sturdy enough, though, despite its trifling 11kg weight (for the 55in model), and it’s put together perfectly well - there are no squeaks or groans from the chassis.

TCL C645 TV review

(Image credit: Future)

As far as usability is concerned, things take a turn for the slightly odd. The TCL is supplied with a fairly standard remote control - it’s slightly eccentric in its layout but useful enough. It puts you in charge of some set-up menus that allow a degree of control over the picture quality, but nothing like as much as the likes of, say, Panasonic or Philips grant you - as many customers will find that a blessing as find it a disappointment, though, I’m quite sure.

It also allows you to navigate the C645’s smart TV interface. Both the screen’s packaging and its start-up pages indicate that it’s an Android TV interface, but TCL’s website disagrees - it reckons it’s Google TV, and once the home page has loaded it certainly looks like it might be. Either way, it’s a mildly breathed-on version of either Android or Google - it occupies the entire screen, and it doesn’t have all that many apps as standard. 

If you want some of the best streaming services, say, Disney+ or Apple TV+, the app must be downloaded from the Google Play Store - and that takes longer than it really ought. Once you’ve got all the apps you want and you fire one up, that too is a longer process than we’ve all become used to. The smart TV interface gets there in the end, though - and thanks to the inclusion of Freeview Play, all the catch-up TV services you want are available too.

You may prefer to use your voice to get things done, of course. The TCL has Google Assistant built in - everyone is agreed on that. But while the company’s website states the C645 doesn’t work with Alexa, the TV itself offers you the chance to integrate it into the Alexa app - there’s even an Alexa skill for it. So at least as far as my review sample is concerned, you can take your pick between Alexa and Google Assistant. There’s a ‘mic’ button on the remote and voice-control works well.

TCL C645 review: Verdict

TCL C645 TV review

(Image credit: Future)

If you’re not willing to compromise, you’ll probably overlook the TCL C645 - but that would be a mistake. Its extremely modest asking price buys you some real picture-making talent and a comprehensive (if rather lazy) smart TV interface too. As long as you don’t do all your viewing in a very brightly lit room, this is one of the best sub-£500 TVs you can currently buy.

Also consider

The Hisense A7H is due to be replaced any moment now - but that should mean it’s available for even less than it was a year ago (if you're able to find it, that is). Which means its already great pound-for-pound picture quality will look even more impressive…

Simon Lucas

Simon Lucas is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine and website – since then, he's written for titles such as Wired, Metro, the Guardian and Stuff, among many others. Should he find himself with a spare moment, Simon likes nothing more than publishing and then quickly deleting tweets about the state of the nation (in general), the state of Aston Villa (in particular) and the state of his partner's cat.