Built-in Roku smart platform
Doesn't get very bright
Limited viewing angles
The TCL 5-Series isn't perfect; it doesn't get as bright as other reasonably priced QLED TVs on the market and its display makes off-angle viewing difficult to swallow. Still, it's a marked improvement over TCL's mid-range TVs from last year, and it'll look good whether you're streaming movies, playing games, or watching sports. In short, it's a very respectable TV that's well worth its modest asking price.
Editor's note: Due to COVID-19 complications, this review leans heavily on test results in lieu of hands-on time with the TV.
About the TCL 5-Series
There are four sizes in this year's TCL 5-Series ranging from 50 inches all the way up to 75 inches. The variant we've tested is the 55-inch model, which we purchased and tested without any prior calibration.
Here's how each of the TCL 5-Series sizes shake out in terms of pricing:
- 50-inch (TCL 50S535), MSRP $399.99
- 55-inch (TCL 55S535), MSRP $449.99
- 65-inch (TCL 65S535), MSRP $629.99
- 75-inch (TCL 75S535), MSRP $1,099.99
Different sizes of TVs in a series tend to perform very similarly to one another, so we don't expect there to be major differences between the 50-, 55-, 65-, and 75-inch variants of the TCL 5-Series other than their respective screen sizes.
Here's a rundown of the TCL 5-Series' hardware and features:
- Resolution: 4K (3,840 x 2,160)
- Display type: VA LED panel with quantum dots
- Local dimming: Full-array local dimming
- HDR support: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
- Dolby Atmos: Yes (via eARC HDMI passthrough)
- Native refresh rate: 60 Hz
- Smart platform: Yes (Roku)
- Color: DCI-P3/10-bit color space
- Other features: Alexa and Google Assistant integration
The TCL 5-Series is a Roku TV, which means it arrives with a built-in Roku smart platform out of the box. We love the versatility and simplicity that Roku software brings to the table, and for most folks, it's good enough to take the place of any external streaming device.
Before testing each TV, we make sure the panel is on and receiving a continuous signal for at least 24 hours, allowing the pixels plenty of time to warm up. Our 55-inch 5-Series received this standard warm-up time before any readings were taken.
For SDR tests, we used the TCL's "Movie" picture setting. For HDR tests, we used TCL's "Dark" picture setting. We’ve chosen these settings because of their accuracy, but results may vary across picture modes. In addition, all of the reported test results below were gathered with the TV's backlight set to its out-of-the-box default of 60, but for the sake of thoroughness, we also took contrast readings with the backlight maxed out at 100. If you're planning on putting the TCL 5-Series in a bright room, setting the TV's backlight to its maximum might interest you, but we found its default setting of 60 to be good enough for a well-rounded picture, particularly in the TV's "Movie" and "Dark" picture modes.
We use a standard ANSI checkerboard pattern for most of our basic contrast tests—including the ones reported below—but we also use white and black windows ranging from 2% to 90% to test how well the contrast holds up while displaying varying degrees of brightness.
I'll expand on our test results throughout the review, but for now, here are some key takeaways:
• HDR contrast (brightness/black level): 231.9 nits/0.023 nits (ANSI checkerboard)
• SDR contrast (brightness/black level): 190.1 nits/0.021 nits (ANSI checkerboard)
• HDR peak brightness: 397.3 nits (50% white window)
• HDR color gamut coverage: 91% (DCI-P3/10-bit)
• SDR color gamut coverage: 95% (Rec.709)
The TCL 5-Series is equipped with a respectable array of inputs that will satisfy most folks shopping for a mid-range TV this year. Take a peek at the back of the TV's panel and you'll find all of the connectivity options housed in a shallow cutout.
• 4x HDMI 2.0 ports (1x eARC)
• 1x USB 2.0 port
• Composite input
• LAN ethernet port, RF input, optical audio output, 3.5mm audio output
What We Like
While not stunning, its performance is good enough for most people
There are a handful of areas where the TCL 5-Series' performance disappoints—and I'll get into those shortly—but for the most part, the 5-Series is about as good as you can hope for when it comes to TVs in its price range.
The 5-Series' panel type makes for deep black levels and decent overall contrast, and thanks to the inclusion of quantum dots, the 5-Series is capable of producing a rich, wide color gamut for both SDR and HDR content. The 5-Series didn't get as bright in our tests as we expected, but it's significantly brighter than last year's TCL 4-Series, which debuted at a comparable price point.
The 5-Series is versatile, too—provided you're not looking for a top-of-the-line experience across all content types. It features a native refresh rate of 60 Hz with mostly judder- and blur-free motion handling, but avid sports viewers and hardcore gamers might shy away from it in favor of a 120 Hz TV. That said, if all you need is a dependable, up-to-date 4K TV—particularly if you're upgrading from a non-4K TV—the 5-Series will serve you well.
Our favorite smart platform is built right in
The TCL 5-Series is a Roku TV, which takes everything we love about Roku streaming devices and puts them right into the TV's software. Several popular apps—like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+—come pre-installed on the 5-Series and can be accessed from the TV's home screen. Users can also pick and choose which apps to download (dubbed "channels") from thousands of options in Roku's Channel Store.
In addition to the vast library of apps available for Roku users, Roku streaming devices are known for their simple, easy-to-navigate user interfaces and zippy response time, and the Roku platform built into the TCL 5-Series is no exception—the apps, inputs, and menu options are neatly arranged, and cycling through the Roku menu options couldn't be easier.
If you already own a Roku streaming device, the TCL 5-Series can likely replace it. If you don't already own a Roku box or stick, there's a good chance you'll prefer the simplicity and reliability of Roku to whichever device you currently use.
What We Don't Like
It doesn't get as bright as we'd like
Being a quantum dot TV, one might expect the TCL 5-Series to get substantially brighter than most LED TVs that feature standard VA panels. And although the 5-Series does climb a bit higher than most of these alternatives (particularly when its backlight setting is maxed out), you'll need to temper your expectations before getting swept up in the hype that typically surrounds QLED TVs.
In our peak brightness tests, we consistently clocked the 5-Series between 250-350 nits when receiving an HDR signal. With its backlight setting maxed out, our peak brightness readings climbed as high as 420 nits in HDR. It's not blazingly bright by any stretch, but it's slightly brighter than the similarly priced Samsung TU8000, which doesn't feature quantum dots. That said, along with richer, more voluminous color, improved brightness is one of the hallmarks of a well-engineered QLED TV, and the TCL 5-Series doesn't quite live up to its own hardware.
The picture gets dimmer off-angle quickly
Like most TVs that feature a VA-style panel, the TCL 5-Series trades great contrast for volatile off-angle viewing. This makes it a less-than-ideal pick for people who are hoping to entertain large groups of people huddled around the TV—whenever it's safe to do that again, of course. In those situations, the folks who're sitting off to the side will get a slightly compromised picture compared to those with a direct line of sight.
Fortunately, we didn't notice any color-shifting when viewing the 5-Series from off to the side, but the picture does get dimmer and more washed-out the further away you move from the center. This is something to keep in mind particularly if you're looking into the 75-inch version of the TCL 5-Series, as presumably you'll (eventually) want to entertain a crowd with such a gargantuan screen.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, but if you're hung up on performance, consider jumping up a level
The TCL 5-Series is a respectable, better-than-average TV that will satisfy the majority of people shopping for a bargain—especially the folks who might be upgrading to a 4K/HDR TV for the first time. Its contrast is relatively good (despite its disappointing brightness), its color production is terrific when compared to other TVs in its price bracket, and you can hang your hat on the 5-Series' built-in Roku smart platform.
If improved performance and additional features are alluring enough for you—or if your living room receives a fair amount of ambient light—the TCL 6-Series might be worth the jump in price. The 55-inch 6-Series is only around $100 more than the 55-inch 5-Series and gets about twice as bright. Plus, the 6-Series features a native refresh rate of 120 Hz, supports various gaming features like Variable Refresh Rate and Auto Low Latency Mode, and simply produces an all-around better picture. Bear in mind, however, that the 65-inch version of the TCL 6-Series is roughly $250 more than the 65-inch 5-Series (and there's a $300 difference in price when comparing the 75-inch models) so the jump in cost becomes harder to justify as you move up in size.
All told, the TCL 5-Series is a deal hunter's dream—provided your expectations are properly calibrated. For casual viewers who just need a dependable new TV with minimal pizzazz, it's sure to please.
Meet the testers
Senior Staff Writer@Reviewed
Michael Desjardin graduated from Emerson College after having studied media production and screenwriting. He specializes in tech for Reviewed, but also loves film criticism, weird ambient music, cooking, and food in general.
Julia is the Senior Scientist at Reviewed, which means that she oversees (and continually updates) the testing of products in Reviewed's core categories such as televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, and more. She also determines the testing methods and standards for Reviewed's "The Best Right Now" articles.
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