Bright enough for HDR to shine
Flexible, easy-to-use smart features
ALLM and VRR included
So-so color production
Narrow viewing angles
Limited to 60Hz
In spite of supply chain issues pushing up costs, this 5-Series iteration is relatively affordable and comes out swinging with a bright, HDR-friendly picture, useful gaming features, and a robust smart platform that’s intuitive enough to make me forget my love affair with Roku. There are certainly more affordable 4K/HDR TVs out there, but very few of them offer this level of performance or net you gaming-centric features like Variable Refresh Rate.
There are a couple of flaws to know about before you buy: Testing revealed sub-par motion handling, inaccurate out-of-the-box color, and narrow viewing angles. None of these pain points truly hurt, though, nor does it surprise me that a TV of this caliber carries these weaknesses, but if you're picky about picture performance they're worth knowing about before you buy. But if you’re after better-than-average performance at a lower-than-average price, the 5-Series is one of the first TVs you should look into. It’s far better than it has any right to be, and that’s A-OK with me.
_**Updated February 2, 2022:** While we didn’t have any software issues in our testing, as The Verge reported, Best Buy temporarily removed all of its sale listings for TCL's Google TVs—including the TCL 5-Series—after receiving reports of buggy software. As promised, TCL says a software update has fixed the problem, and the TVs are now back on sale at Best Buy. In a statement to [9to5Google], TCL said, "With these updates, this product now represents the powerful performance that TCL and Google believe is the future of TV."
About the TCL 5-Series with Google TV
Editor's note: Although we tested the version of the 5-Series with Google TV's smart platform, we expect our performance results and data to be essentially the same for the Roku TV 5-Series models in the same year.
The TCL 5-Series with Google TV is available in four sizes. Our review unit is a 65-inch model sent to us on loan from TCL.
Here’s how each size in the series stacks up in pricing:
- 50-inch (TCL 50S546), MSRP $599.99
- 55-inch (TCL 55S546), MSRP $649.99
- 65-inch (TCL 65S546), MSRP $899.99
- 75-inch (TCL 75S546), MSRP $1,299.99
Although we don’t expect there to be much of a difference between the performance of each size, it’s worth noting that the number of local dimming zones (clusters of backlight LEDs that can be directly dimmed or brightened) is different depending on panel size. This means that there may be slight variations in contrast from one size to another.
We've reached out to TCL but haven’t yet confirmed the number of dimming zones for the 55- and 65-inch models. We do know that the 50-inch 5-Series features 28 local dimming zones while the 75-inch model features 60 zones.
Here’s a rundown of features shared by every size in the lineup:
- Resolution: 4K (3,840 x 2,160)
- Display type: LED with quantum dots
- Dimming technology: Full-array with local dimming
- HDR support: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+, HLG
- Dolby Atmos: Yes (native decoding, eARC support)
- eARC support: Yes
- Native refresh rate: 60Hz
- Smart platform: Google TV
- Color: DCI-P3 color space/10-bit chroma resolution
- Variable Refresh Rate (VRR): Yes
- Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM): Yes
- Other features: Google Assistant, Google Chromecast, Amazon Alexa
The TCL 5-Series with Google TV ships with a flat, ultra-slim remote control with a built-in microphone and several dedicated app buttons. It might take some time to familiarize yourself with the other buttons, as Google’s iconography is a bit hard to interpret at first, but once you figure them out, using the remote is quite easy.
The TV’s design is about as basic as they come, but if you’re like me, you might have a bit of trouble assembling the TV’s low-set, angular feet. Once affixed, they do a pretty good job of keeping the panel wobble-free.
The panel itself is relatively slim and its bezels are narrow, leaving the focus on the picture. It’s not a premium, eye-catching design, but it’ll blend into just about every room, and there’s nothing about the build quality that feels problematic.
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 before any readings are taken.
For both SDR and HDR tests, we used TCL’s “Movie” picture mode. We’ve chosen this picture mode because of its accuracy, but performance may vary depending on which picture mode is enabled. For example, you’re likely to experience a brighter picture with different settings enabled, but it may interfere with color temperature and overall color accuracy.
To get a sense for the TV’s average performance, we use a standard ANSI checkerboard pattern for most of our basic contrast tests. 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.
Our peak brightness measurements are taken with sustained windows to represent the TV’s peak brightness over a sustained period of time. Specular highlights (like brief flashes of reflected light) might reach higher brightness levels, but not for sustained periods of time.
All of our tests are created with a Murideo Seven signal generator and tabulated via Portrait Displays’ Calman Ultimate color calibration software. I'll expand on our test results throughout the review, but for now, here are some key takeaways:
• HDR contrast (brightness/black level): 463.7 nits/0.061 nits (ANSI checkerboard)
• SDR contrast (brightness/black level): 410.9 nits/0.048 nits (ANSI checkerboard)
• HDR peak brightness (sustained): 550.3 nits (20% white window)
• HDR color gamut coverage (DCI-P3/10-bit): 93%
• SDR color gamut coverage (Rec.709): 98%
During testing, the TV’s advanced picture settings were kept in their default state: “Dynamic Contrast” and “Black Stretch” were disabled, “Local Contrast” remained on “High,” and the TV’s gamma setting was set to 2.2. In addition, the TV’s color temperature was set to “Warm,” and the motion enhancement settings—“Motion Clarity” and “Nature Cinema”—were disabled.
The TCL 5-Series offers enough connectivity flexibility for most users, but folks who were hoping to land HDMI 2.1 functionality will need to look elsewhere. That said, unless you consider yourself a power user, the 5-Series offers an acceptable array of inputs.
Here’s what you’ll find in a cutout on the back of the panel:
- 3x HDMI 2.0 (1x eARC)
- 1x USB 2.0
- RF connection (cable/antenna)
- Ethernet (LAN) input
- Composite input (with mini 3.5mm audio connector)
- Digital audio output (optical)
- 3.5mm headphone jack
What we like
Bright enough for HDR to shine—with inky black levels, to boot
Here’s some good news: This iteration of the TCL 5-Series is much brighter than the previous version I reviewed last year. And although you’ll have to spend more to get a TV that really shines in brightly lit environments, the 5-Series is more than capable of getting bright enough to make HDR content pop.
While sending the 5-Series an HDR signal, I consistently measured peak brightness levels between 500 and 600 nits. The 5-Series pairs these respectable brightness measurements with impressive black levels that settle between 0.04 and 0.06, depending on whether you’re watching SDR or HDR content. For comparison's sake, on the last version of the 5-Series, you could only rely on HDR brightness readings in the 300- to 400-nit range.
I watched a couple of episodes of my go-to Dolby Vision showcase, Our Planet on Netflix, and I was quite impressed with the 5-Series’ ability to deliver bright, punchy specular highlights, like reflections of sunlight on cresting waves. Despite the TV's somewhat limited number of local dimming zones, our 65-inch 5-Series did a heck of a job limiting light bloom (halos of light surrounding bright-on-dark picture elements). Shadowy areas of the picture maintain their detail thanks to the TV’s consistently deep black levels.
Curiously, the 5-Series is almost as bright in SDR as it is in HDR—I routinely clocked its peak SDR brightness between 400 and 450 nits. While a lack of distinction between SDR and HDR peak brightness is usually an indication that a TV’s HDR capabilities will be limited, the 5-Series gets much brighter in SDR than most TVs in this class, and its base-level SDR brightness in comparison to HDR is more of a luxury than a problem.
Google TV is flexible and easy-to-use
This model, however, uses Google TV like the newer Google Chromecast with Google TV streaming device. While Roku is still my favorite smart platform, Google TV is nevertheless a breath of fresh air when compared to most of the competition. It’s essentially a smoother, easier-to-navigate version of Android TV, complete with easy access to a vast library of installable apps. The software is zippy and rarely did I experience any sluggishness. In fact, the only aspect of the platform that left me disappointed was the initial setup process, which involved a great deal of licensing agreements and software updates. If your internet connection is rather slow, the setup might take you a while.
By default, the Google TV home screen prioritizes recommended content—some live, some on-demand. The good news is that the promotional stuff doesn’t dominate the experience, and the platform itself seems far more interested in helping you find content across all of your available channels than it does putting sponsored content in your face.
If you’re coming over to Google TV from Roku, it might take a day or two to adjust, as the Google TV experience—its menu software, its integrated search, and so forth—is more hands-on than Roku's. If you’ve used Android TV in the past, you’ll probably have an easier time making the adjustment.
A good pick-up for casual gamers
The 5-Series isn’t quite as optimized for gaming as some of its competitors, but it’s still a great option for casual-to-regular gamers who don’t necessarily need a high-octane gaming display. In fact, to get a more robust gaming experience, you’d almost certainly have to pay more for something like the Hisense U7G.
The 5-Series is not equipped with full-bandwidth HDMI 2.1 inputs and its native refresh rate is limited to 60Hz, so 4K gaming at 120fps is out of the question. However, the 5-Series supports both Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR)—two sought-after features that improve the gaming experience by limiting input lag and frame rate-related artifacts.
Hardcore gamers will most likely miss 120Hz gaming, but if you want to pair an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 with a budget-friendly TV, there aren’t very many options that do more for the price. Ultimately, securing HDMI 2.1 and a better refresh rate will cost you more.
What we don’t like
Colors aren’t as rich and accurate as I’d hoped
Like last year's 5-Series Roku TV, the Google TV version is equipped with quantum dots—microscopic nanocrystals embedded in the panel that serve up highly saturated reds and greens. Once upon a time, quantum dots represented the crème de la crème of television display technology. These days, you’ll find them in mid-range offerings like the 5-Series, but they’re a nice hardware feature to hang your hat on.
While the 5-Series does offer decent color production, its colors aren’t as impressive as what we’ve seen on similarly priced quantum dot TVs this year like the Vizio M-Series. Our lab tests indicate that the 5-Series is capable of covering about 93% of the HDR color gamut (DCI-P3) and 98% of the SDR gamut (Rec.709)—decent for the price, for sure, but not as good as we’ve seen in this class. The top QLED and OLED TVs cover around 95-97% of the HDR color space, which—believe it or not—is something you can really see during HDR content.
The bigger issue has to do with the 5-Series’ out-of-the-box color calibration, which features a white point that skews heavily toward blue, even in the TV’s most accurate picture mode, and even with the TV’s color temperature set to its warmest setting. The cooler hues were noticeable to my naked eye while simply watching TV, but to be completely fair, I stare at TVs all day. Your mileage may vary.
For most folks, the inclusion of quantum dots and the 5-Series all-around decent color production will be perfectly acceptable, especially if they favor brighter, inherently cooler picture modes. If you’re a stickler for color accuracy, the TCL 5-Series cries out for professional calibration. That said, if you’re thinking you can calibrate out this excess coolness, keep in mind that it may mean sacrificing some of the TV’s brightness.
Lackluster off-angle viewing and motion handling
Like most contemporary TVs with VA-style panels, the 5-Series’ viewing angles are pretty limited. Sitting just a couple of feet away from a direct, head-on viewing angle will result in a loss of contrast and color fidelity—something to consider if you’re shopping for a crowd-pleasing 75-inch TV. Fortunately, the TV’s limited number of dimming zones (70 or lower, depending on the size) actually help when it comes to off-angle viewing. Often times, while watching a TV with a ton of dimming zones, you can see them “working” (dimming/illuminating) when viewing the panel at an off-angle. This is not the case with the 5-Series, though it's viewing angles are nevertheless quite narrow.
A worse issue to my eye is the 5-Series' motion handling, which can be distractingly juddery during fast-paced films. Camera pans in particular bring out some unfortunate motion judder, and while some of the motion enhancements found in the 5-Series’ “Motion Clarity” submenu can alleviate the issue to a certain extent, there’s only so much you can do to smooth out fast-paced motion on a 60Hz TV. If you intend on watching a fair amount of cinematic content, you’ll probably want to enable the 5-Series’ “Nature Cinema” option and fine-tune the motion clarity. This might also be a reason to spring for a 120Hz TV, which can play 24fps content without frame interpolation.
Should you buy it?
Yes—it's one of the best options in its price range
Between its more-than-respectable HDR performance, its terrific incorporation of Google TV, and its gaming chops, the 5-Series is a fantastic TV for its price range.
You could certainly spend a bit less on a competitively priced mid-range TV—(the Vizio V-Series comes to mind)—but you won’t be spending that much less, and what you’d leave on the table is probably worth the extra dough.
Alternatively, if you jump up a price bracket, TVs like the TCL 6-Series and the Hisense U7G deliver a better picture and more gaming flexibility, but casual viewers will most likely notice the price hike more than they notice the added benefits that come with it.
If you simply want a great 4K TV that's a step or two above the baseline options, the 5-Series with Google TV is an excellent compromise—especially in a marketplace where TVs like this are hard to come by.
Meet the tester
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.
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