TCL 5 Series (2018) TV Review
This 4K HDR TV is perfect if you don't want to spend a lot of money
A few years back, TCL developed a reputation as a proprietor of decent-looking TVs at budget-friendly price points. TCL’s TVs weren’t often the best looking in Best Buy, but they offered agreeable customers an affordable option with all the essential smart features.
These days, there’s nothing quiet about TCL’s reputation—its value-packed TVs seem to get better with each passing series. The 2017 TCL P Series was our favorite low-cost HDR TV of the year, and most recently, this year’s TCL 6 Series blew us away with its killer performance and low, low price tag.
The TCL 5 Series isn’t quite as dazzling as the 6 series, but its expansive, user-friendly Roku functionality combined with its workmanlike performance makes it a great option for folks who don’t necessarily need a top-shelf TV and the costs associated with one.
There are a few things to know about the 5 Series before you break out the credit card. First, it doesn't get very bright, so it probably wouldn't be a good fit in a sunny, well-lit room. If that's a concern for you, we recommend spending a little extra on the TCL 6 Series. Additionally, its viewing angle is considerably narrow, so if you're hoping to entertain friends and family on a regular basis, you might want to consider a more accommodating option.
About the TCL 5 Series
The 5 Series is available in four screen sizes, which are all more or less identical except for the size of the panel.
• 43-inch (TCL 49S517), MSRP $399.99
• 49-inch (TCL 49S517), MSRP $449.99
• 55-inch (TCL 55S517), MSRP $499.99
• 65-inch (TCL 65S517), MSRP $899.99
The mostly-plastic panel sits atop two wide-set, angular "feet." Overall, the presentation isn't going to turn any heads, but the quality is right around what you'd expect from a TV in this price range.
Each size in the 5 Series features a wide color gamut for HDR, three HDMI 2.0-compatible ports, a USB 2.0 input, an ethernet port, a shared component/composite input, and a coaxial jack.
Here’s the rest of the 5 Series’ key features at a glance:
• 4K resolution (3,840 x 2,160)
• High Dynamic Range compatibility (HDR10 and Dolby Vision)
• Built-in Roku streaming platform with Roku remote
• Native 60 Hz refresh rate
Unlike the TCL 6 Series, the 5 Series is edge-lit, not backlit, so there’s no local dimming software here.
Our review unit (a 55-inch model) was received on loan from TCL and given a full day to break-in before we conducted any tests.
What We Like
For the cost, the 5 Series' performance gets the job done.
Unsurprisingly, if you stand it side-by-side to an OLED TV—as my colleague Lee and I recently did—the TCL 5 Series' shortcomings are readily apparent. Fortunately, I don't imagine very many people will be setting up the 5 Series directly next to a better, pricier 4K TV.
For most people, the 5 Series is a perfectly acceptable TV that'll look good in most settings—particularly in dark rooms. The 5 Series features a wide color gamut that covers an impressive amount of the expanded DCI-P3 color space, and the resulting picture is better off because of it (even if the 5 Series overall color production isn't as vivid and saturated as its higher-end competitors).
And, although its ability to brighten leaves a lot to be desired (more on that later), the 5 Series is nevertheless sporting an impressive contrast ratio of around 5300:1, thanks to black levels that are surprisingly good for a mid-range LCD.
A word of caution, however: When it comes to calibration, there are not very many tools in the TV's on-board software. There's no option for adjusting white balance, and the TV's color management system is more or less locked down out of the box. There are a number of preset picture modes to choose from if you bring up the settings menu while watching content, and we recommend using the 5 Series' "Movie" mode for SDR content and "Dark" mode for HDR content if you're looking for the most accurate picture possible. Additionally, users can access advanced picture settings—like point-by-point white balance adjustments—in an optional Roku mobile app.
All of this adds up to a picture that, simply put, looks damn good. It ain't great, but it's damn good for what it is and how much the TV itself costs.
I spent a couple hours watching Ready Player One and was surprised with how little I found myself nitpicking the TV's minor flaws—especially given my instincts as a reviewer to zero-in on every flaw I happen notice. Don't get me wrong: There's definitely some minor blemishes here and there, which I'll be getting into shortly. But Ready Player One is stuffed to the gills with dimly lit scenes featuring hundreds of moving objects, and none of the details of these sequences ever felt like they were suffering from juddering motion or crushed blacks.
If you're looking to replace an older 4K TV, the 5 Series will suffice, though it might not impress. If you've never owned a 4K TV before, you'll probably be thrilled with this one.
A smart platform that won't let you down
One of the most irritating aspects of modern televisions is dealing with the various quirks and shortcomings that tend to drag down even some of the better TVs we see. Speaking personally, I can tell you that my TV at home is still hooked up to a streaming box, despite the fact that it comes with its own proprietary smart platform baked right into the TVs software.
There's no way around it: Most built-in smart platforms are sluggish, difficult to navigate, and restrictive when it comes to the type of content you can load or unload onto the TV itself.
The 5 Series is a delightful exception. As we've seen time and time again, the marriage of affordable TCL TVs with Roku's integrated smart platform is a match made in heaven. Not only are you saving money on the TV itself, you're also saving money by avoiding the need to buy an external streaming box somewhere down the road.
In addition to being fast, responsive, and easy to use, we love the platform's sheer amount of flexibility when it comes to both the pre-installed apps that ones that are available to install on your own.
What We Don't Like About The TCL 5 Series
It doesn't get very bright—even during HDR content.
One of the biggest distinctions between the 5 Series and more high-end 4K TVs is its inability to get as bright as those premium sets. In SDR, using an ANSI checkerboard pattern, we clocked the 5 Series at around 260 nits. When HDR is initiated, the TV just doesn't get much brighter than that. The 5 Series' deep black level (0.042 nits) does a decent job offsetting this, but if you're watching content in a bright room, you might find yourself wishing the screen was brighter.
A narrow viewing angle makes for a limited viewing experience
The 5 Series' VA-type panel is fine for people getting a direct, head-on look at the screen, but for folks sitting around the living room at an off-angle, the picture will be drastically different. In our tests, we found that sitting just 10° off-center will see a roughly 65% drop in contrast, which means if you're planning on entertaining guests, not every seat in the house is going to be ideal.
The internal speakers are kind of a bummer.
Look, when it comes to audio, I ain't expecting much out of any TV's built-in speakers—especially one built with a budget in mind. But the speakers in the TCL 5 Series are truly, noticeably bad, and even folks who don't usually fuss over matters of audio are likely to take note.
Should You Buy It?
Yes—if you're looking for a respectable, affordable 4K TV and don't mind some shortcomings.
The TCL 5 Series is a fine TV—one that most people would be pleased with. Its disappointing HDR performance doesn't hold a candle to the performance of better, higher-end TVs, but it's price tag is lower by an order of magnitude, and its cut corners aren't likely to detract from the experience for non-fussy viewers.
Additionally, the 5 Series' Roku integration is an absolute home run for folks who're looking for a simple, easy-to-navigate smart platform. If you're hunting for a TV with built-in smart features that rival some of the best external streaming devices on the market, look no further.
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