Over the past decade, we've said goodbye to more TV manufacturers than we've welcomed. Gone from the U.S. TV market are companies like Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Toshiba, Sharp, JVC, and Philips. Sure, some of those brand names have been licensed to other manufacturers, and some continue to sell TVs in markets outside the United States. But none is really a force to be reckoned with here. It seems like, each year, the number of manufacturers from which I can request review samples gets smaller and smaller. Right now, it's a whole lot of Samsung, LG, Sony, and VIZIO.
Of course, some major players from China have been more than happy to step in and fill the void. TCL and Hisense (which purchased the Sharp brand) have successfully built a stronger presence in the U.S. market over the past few years, and now LeEco is trying to do the same. Founded in 2004, LeEco's focus over its first 10 years was on the online viewing experience (reps describe LeEco as the "Netflix of China"). In 2011, the company branched into content creation with the introduction of LeEco Pictures, and in 2013 it introduced its first TV line to the Chinese market.
LeEco announced its U.S. presence with authority last July when the company revealed plans to acquire VIZIO for $2 billion. Then, this past April, the company made headlines again by announcing that the VIZIO acquisition would not proceed after all. In between those two headlines, LeEco introduced four value-oriented UHD TVs (as well as two smartphones) to the U.S. market, sold direct-to-consumer through the LeEco website. Now the company has expanded its distribution to include Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Costco, and Walmart, so the LeEco name might pop up in more places you shop.
Curious to see how LeEco's UHD TVs would fare, I requested a review sample, and LeEco sent along the 65-inch Super4 X65 UHD TV. It's an edge-lit LED/LCD TV with zone dimming, and it supports the playback of HDR10 High Dynamic Range content. Like most value-oriented models, it does not support the wider DCI-P3 color gamut, nor does it support Dolby Vision HDR.
The X65 incorporates the Android TV Web platform with a quad-core CPU and 32 GB of flash storage. It has a Harman/Kardon-designed speaker system and offers FluidMotion 120 technology to reduce film judder. Like most new TVs, it does not support 3D playback.
The Super4 X65 carries an asking price of $999.99.
The X65 has a slightly more distinctive design than some other value-oriented TVs, sporting a brushed aluminum finish (with about a half inch of bezel around the top and sides) and a pair of matching brushed aluminum feet. The two feet reside all the way at the edge of the frame (53.5 inches apart, to be exact), so you will need a long TV stand if you don't plan to wall-mount the display. LeEco includes little plastic inserts to cover the holes on the bottom of the TV if you don't plan to use the feet, which I thought was a nice touch.
The supplied remote has a solid heft with a brushed black face, and overall it does a nice job combining the buttons needed for TV functionality with the buttons needed to navigate the Android OS. There's no text describing any of the buttons; with a few, you'll need to perform some button-pushin' experimentation to figure out what they do. A built-in microphone allows for voice search within Android TV, and a dedicated Netflix button is available (okay, so there is one button with text on it). Unlike some designs from LG and Samsung, this LeEco remote will not control a connected cable/satellite set-top box or other secondary video source.
The connection panel consists of three HDMI 2.0a inputs (two side-facing, one down-facing), one with ARC and another with MHL. There's also a dedicated VGA PC input with accompanying audio, which used to be a common inclusion and now has all but disappeared. Other connection options include a basic AV input, three USB ports, one optical digital audio output, one 3.5mm analog audio output, and one RF input to access the TV's internal tuner. Finally, you get a LAN port for a wired network connection, or you can use the built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
Setup of the X65 is similar to the setup of any Android TV product: First you select your language, then you add the TV to your broadband network, and finally you sign in to or create a Google account. (You must have a Google account to use an Android TV device.) There's also an option to sign in to your LeEco account; as I mentioned above, LeEco began as a streaming video company, and this TV provide access to the "Le" streaming video portal.
The X65's user interface is almost identical to that of other Android TV devices I've auditioned, including the NVIDIA SHIELD and Xiaomi MiBox streaming media players. The Home menu begins with a row of Recommendations (mostly YouTube clips and recommended content from the Google Play suite of services). Below that is the list of apps, and the X65 includes most of the big names--such as Netflix, YouTube, VUDU, Hulu, Google Play, HBO Go/Now, Showtime, Sling, FandangoNOW, Pandora, PLEX, and DirecTV NOW. In fact, LeEco is first U.S. smart TV provider to get the DirecTV NOW app, and you can get three months of the service for free when you buy a LeEco TV. The most notable omission from the app lineup is Amazon Video.
For those who want UHD streaming, I did confirm that the X65's Netflix, YouTube, VUDU, Google Play TV & Movies, and UltraFlix apps all support UHD playback.
Finally, near the bottom of the Home menu is an icon for Settings, in which you can access the various setup tools for picture, sound, network, Bluetooth, Google account info, camera setup, and more.
The remote control also includes a direct Settings button, for quicker access to picture and sound adjustments. The X65 has a solid allotment of advanced picture controls, including: six picture modes (energy saving, standard, vivid, sports, game, and movies); a 100-step adjustable backlight; noise reduction; three color temperature presets, as well as two-point and 10-point RGB gain/bias controls; a dynamic backlight control to enable or disable to zone dimming of the edge LED lighting system; a seven-step gamma dial; and color space selection (BT.709 or native). The Motion control function is supposed to reduce motion blur and film judder, and the menu includes options for off, low, medium, and high (we'll talk performance in the next section). The X65 lacks a color management system that allows you to fine-tune the brightness, saturation, and hue of each color point.
On the audio side, the only adjustment option is to choose between six sound modes: standard, music, movies, news, game, and original sound. The speaker system has solid dynamic ability, and I found that the original sound mode produced the most natural quality. The X65 has built-in Bluetooth and supports the connection of external Bluetooth speakers and headphones.
The X65 has Chromecast built in to wirelessly stream content from compatible apps on your PC and mobile devices, and the Chromecast function worked fine for me. The TV also supports media playback via its USB ports and through apps like PLEX and Kodi. I really liked the look of the interface for USB media playback; it's clean and colorful and easy to maneuver. The TV successfully played files in the MP4, M4V, MOV, MKV, MP3, FLAC, WAV, and AAC formats. The interface pops up automatically when you insert a USB drive; however, I couldn't figure how to manually launch the interface from somewhere else in the menu system.
When I first set up the X65, I placed it temporarily in my living room, which is a much brighter viewing environment than my theater/testing room. The X65 was well suited to this type of viewing space, as all of the picture modes are very bright by default. Every mode I measured was over 100 foot-lamberts with a full-white field--the brightest was the Standard mode at about 115 ft-L, and even the Movie mode came in at 109 ft-L. That's much too bright for a dim or dark theater room, but it was a good fit for daytime viewing in a bright living room. Daytime HDTV and sports content really popped, and the Movie mode also appeared to be reasonably accurate out of the box.
The X65 has a less reflective and more matte-like screen than many higher-end TVs. On the plus side, this makes room reflections less obvious on the screen surface. The drawback is that the matte screen doesn't go as good a job of rejecting ambient light to improve black level and contrast in a bright room. When I later compared this TV directly with my reference LG OLED TV, the LG produced a sharper, clearer image with better contrast and depth, even though it's not as bright overall, in part because of its reflective screen.
Next I moved the X65 to my official testing space and walked through the measurement/calibration process. Not surprisingly, the Movie mode measured the closest to our reference HD standards out of the box. Perhaps a little surprising was just how close to reference standards this value-oriented TV measured. The maximum grayscale Delta Error was just 5.24 (anything around five is considered good), with a gamma average of 2.18 (we use 2.2 as the target). The white balance veers a bit too cool, or blue, with the brightest signals, but the color points measure fairly close to Rec 709 target points: green was the least accurate with a Delta Error of 5.7, and cyan was the most accurate with a DE of 0.72.
It's always nice to see a value-oriented display with good out-of-the-box numbers because, in this price range, people are less likely to pay the few hundred dollars for a professional calibration. Switching to the X65's Movie mode will get you much of the way toward an accurate image, although it is worth noting that, before calibration, skintones looked a little redder than neutral in darker scenes.
If you are willing to invest in calibration, you'll be happy to hear that it can produce even better results. The first thing I did was dial back the Movie mode's excessive brightness by turning down the adjustable backlight until I got to the 40 ft-L that I prefer for movie/TV watching in a dim to dark room. Using my meter and CalMAN software, I was able to lower the maximum grayscale Delta Error to just 1.83 and remove the blue/cool balance with brighter signals. Skintones looked more neutral, with less red, in those darker scenes. As I mentioned, the TV doesn't have a color management system, so I could not precisely tweak the six color points. However, I noted that the red, green, and blue primaries were all a bit oversaturated; so, by simply lowering the general color/saturation control a bit, I was able to lower the Delta Error and improve accuracy for those three points. (See our Measurements section on page two for more info.)
With everything properly dialed in, I dug in to some of my favorite DVD and Blu-ray demos. Brighter scenes from films like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Insurgent, and Flags of Our Fathers looked good: solid detail and overall contrast, rich color, and a generally clean image without a lot of digital noise. The viewing angle was also respectable; image saturation in bright scenes held up at a wider angle.
When I switched to darker scenes, that's when the LeEco's main performance issues revealed themselves. For one, the TV's overall black level is just average. Not surprisingly, my reference LG OLED TV blew away the X65 in both its depth of black and its ability to render fine black details in darker scenes from Rogue Nation, Gravity, and Flags of Our Fathers. I no longer had VIZIO's 2016 E Series TV on hand to do a direct comparison, but my previous notes suggest that the VIZIO's full-array backlight with local dimming was more competitive in performance against my OLED. The bigger issue, though, and one that's common to edge-lit LED lighting--is that the X65's screen lacked brightness uniformity. With dark content, the corners were clearly brighter than the rest of the screen, causing the screen to look "cloudy" and hurting the ability to see black details in those areas.
Next it was time for some UHD/HDR testing. I tried out the X65 with all three of the UHD payers I have on hand (Samsung UBD-K8500, OPPO BDP-203, and Sony UDP-X800), and with all of them the TV automatically switched into its HDR picture mode when it detected HDR content. (As with other TVs, you need to enable the HDMI inputs for 4K/60p in the setup menu.) I also successfully streamed HDR content from the X65's internal Netflix app.
To be honest, though, HDR content didn't look all that great. The picture was pretty noisy, the contrast wasn't that great, and the color didn't look accurate. I made some improvements via the picture settings: I lowered the sharpness control to remove edge enhancement, I turned up the noise reduction, and I turned off the Adaptive Contrast function, which causes obvious and sudden shifts in brightness. Measurements later confirmed that the TV's white balance is too blue in HDR mode, and you can't access the RGB gain and bias controls to fix it. Measurements also revealed that the EOTF/brightness tracking was way off the mark, and the X65 can't get anywhere near as bright with an HDR test pattern as the new higher-end UHD models from Sony, Samsung, and LG.
The X65 also earns lower-than-average marks in the processing department. It picked up the 3:2 signal in 480i and 1080i content, but it was slow to do so. As a result, I saw some jaggies and moire in my DVD test scenes from The Bourne Identity. It also failed many of the 2:2 and assorted cadence tests on my HQV Benchmark and Spears & Munsil test discs. So you'll want to let your source devices handle the upconversion and deinterlacing functions. Last but not least, the X65's Motion control did not appear to do much of anything to improve motion resolution in the test patterns I use on the FPD Benchmark Blu-ray disc. I saw no major difference in blur reduction between the off, low, medium, and high modes. All the modes employ some degree of frame interpolation (or smoothing), so you can get judder reduction if you want it.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
Here are the measurement charts for the LeEco Super4 X65 TV, created using Portrait Displays' Spectracal CalMAN software. These measurements show how close the display gets to our current HDTV standards. For both gray scale and color, a Delta Error under 10 is considered tolerable, under five is considered good, and under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye. Click on each photo to view the graph in a larger window.
The top charts show the TV's color balance, gamma, and total gray-scale Delta Error, below and after calibration in the Movie mode. Ideally, the red, green, and blue lines will be as close together as possible to reflect a neutral color/white balance. We currently use a gamma target of 2.2 for HDTVs and a darker 2.4 for projectors. The bottom charts show where the six color points fall on the Rec 709 triangle, as well as the luminance (brightness) error and total Delta Error for each color point.
We also measured the TV in HDR mode. It measures a maximum brightness of 398 nits at 100 IRE in a 10 percent window. The chart to the right shows the HDR mode's EOTF (aka the "new gamma") tracking; the yellow line is the target, and the LeEco (gray line) does not track closely along it.
For me, the biggest performance concern is the screen's lack of brightness uniformity, as it hinders performance with darker movie and TV scenes. Higher-end edge-lit designs use a more effective, more aggressive dynamic backlight to deal with this problem, while some of the other value-oriented manufacturers have switched back to direct LED backlighting to avoid the problem.
I haven't had a chance to review any other value-oriented TVs that support HDR, so I can't say how the X65's HDR performance compares with others in its price class. What I can say is that the X65's HDR performance is underwhelming. The TV can't get as bright as higher-end HDR-capable TVs, it doesn't support the wider P3 color gamut, and its accuracy in the HDR picture mode is sub-par.
On the ergonomic front, the picture adjustment menus actually cover almost half the screen, which makes it trickier to perform a precise setup...or at least slower, since you have to quit out of the menu to check your work and then navigate back into it to make further adjustments. And sometimes, my adjustments were not saved; I'd tweak a setting and then later notice it was back at the default.
Comparison & Competition
It's ironic that, arguably, LeEco's biggest competition in the U.S. market comes from the company it almost purchased: VIZIO. VIZIO's new E65-E0 ($849.95) and E65-E1 ($899.99) are HDR10-capable UHD TVs with full-array LED backlighting and 16 zones of local dimming to produce better black levels and brightness uniformity. VIZIO's models are not Android TVs per se, but they do have Chromecast built in to stream content directly from mobile devices and computers--and VIZIO recently added the ability to stream HDR10 content to the E Series. The VIZIO models lack an internal TV tuner, which might be a drawback for cord-cutters who want to tune in live local channels.
TCL's new C Series Roku UHD TV supports Dolby Vision HDR and uses a full-array LED backlight with 72 zones of dimming and wide color gamut support. The 65-incher costs $1,099.
Is LeEco's Super4 X65 a good choice for someone who's looking for a sub-$1,000 TV? That depends on what you're looking for. Performance-wise, the X65 is a decent option if you need a TV for a brighter viewing environment and you mostly still watch Blu-ray, DVD, and HDTV content. It's also a solid choice for someone who wants an integrated Android TV interface and plans to do a lot of streaming via Chromecast. And it has a nicer design than many of the basic black-box TVs in the sub-$1,000 category.
If, on the other hand, you watch a lot of movies in a dark room and/or are excited about adding HDR to your AV setup, the X65 isn't your best option. I haven't yet tested VIZIO's new 2017 E Series that supports HDR10 or TCL's Roku UHD TV with Dolby Vision, but both use full-array backlighting with local dimming, so I'm going to assume they'll perform better in the black-level and screen uniformity departments.
The U.S. TV market is cutthroat, and LeEco certainly faces a lot of tough competition in the value-oriented category. I think improvements need to be made in the backlighting and motion-resolution categories if the company wants to make real headway with home theater enthusiasts. The question is, will the company even stick around long enough to evolve? According to Bloomberg, LeEco was recently forced to scale back its U.S. ambitions after missing its 2016 sales forecast by a large margin and cut back on its U.S staff. That doesn't inspire much confidence.