Excellent out-of-box performance
Snappy Roku OS
Great for casual gaming
Some light bloom
Roku or bust
About the TCL 5-Series (S555)
The TCL 5-Series is available in four different sizes. We received a 65-inch model on loan from TCL for our review. Pricing for the available sizes are as follows:
- 50-inch (TCL 50S555), MSRP $429.99
- 55-inch (TCL 55S555), MSRP $499.99
- 65-inch (TCL 65S555), MSRP $699.99
- 75-inch (TCL 75S555), MSRP $999.99
We expect performance across sizes to be similar, particularly color and grayscale accuracy, viewing angle, and gaming performance. There could be slight variation in contrast based on the number of dimming zones with different TV sizes—the bigger the TV, the more dimming zones it has.
TCL says the 5-Series has “up to 80 contrast control zones” so we can assume that number applies to the largest, 75-inch model. On our 65-inch sample, we calculated a total of 35 dimming zones.
The key specs for the TCL 5-Series S555 are:
- Resolution: 4K (3,840 x 2,160)
- Display type: LED with local dimming and quantum dots
- HDR support: Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG
- Dolby Atmos: Yes (native decoding)
- eARC support: Yes (HDMI 4)
- Native refresh rate: 60Hz
- Smart platform: Roku
- Color: DCI-P3 color space/10-bit chroma resolution
- Variable Refresh Rate (VRR): Yes
- Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM): Yes
- Processor: AiPQ
- Other features: AMD FreeSync, Apple AirPlay 2, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant
On all but the 50-inch model, there are wide and narrow positions for the 5-Series’ feet to fit smaller width tables or credenzas. But if you plan on using a soundbar, the feet might need to be in a wide position to accommodate it unless it’s an ultra-compact solution like the Sonos Ray. At a little over 22 inches, the feet in the narrow position aren’t wide enough to accommodate the relatively small Bose Smart Soundbar 600.
The TCL 5-Series comes with a Roku remote to work with the built-in Roku OS. It’s the base model remote without the microphone, assignable buttons, or headphone jack that comes with our favorite streaming device, the Roku Ultra. Still, it’s light, fits well in the hand, and gets the job done. If you have your TV connected via eARC to a soundbar or AVR with CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) turned on, the side-mounted volume controls will work with them.
The TCL 5-series offers a full complement of connections, including gamer-friendly HDMI 2.1 (albeit at 60Hz). The connections found in the cutout on the back of the display are:
- 4x HDMI 2.1 (60Hz, 1x HDMI eARC/ARC)
- USB 2.0
- RF connection (cable/antenna)
- Digital audio output (optical)
- Composite video + L/R audio in (mini 3.5mm connector)
- 3.5mm audio jack
Before testing each TV, we make sure the panel is on and receiving a continuous signal for at least 2 hours. Our 65-inch TCL 5-Series received this standard warm-up time before any readings were taken. In addition, the TV received the latest firmware updates at the time of testing.
To get a sense of the TV’s average performance, we use a standard ANSI checkerboard pattern for most of our basic contrast tests. We also use white 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.
I used the 5-Series’ Movie picture mode for SDR tests and Dark HDR picture mode for HDR. I chose these settings because of their color and grayscale accuracy. Performance varies depending on which picture mode is enabled, and with the 5-Series, when the backlight setting is changed, as I’ll discuss below.
For additional context, I also ran some tests in Normal SDR mode (which was significantly bluer) and the two additional HDR modes, but those results are not reported below.
All tests were created with a Murideo Six-G signal generator via Portrait Displays’ Calman Ultimate color calibration software.
- HDR contrast (brightness/black level): 562.4 nits/0.088 nits (ANSI checkerboard)
- SDR contrast, backlight at 40 (brightness/black level): 298.5 nits/0.052 nits (ANSI checkerboard)
- SDR contrast, backlight at 100 (brightness/black level): 558.5 nits/0.108 nits (ANSI checkerboard)
- HDR peak brightness (sustained): 697.8 nits (18% white window)
- HDR color gamut coverage (DCI-P3/10-bit): 91.1%
- SDR color gamut coverage (Rec.709): 99.6%
For SDR and HDR measurements, Local Contrast was set to High, Color Temperature was set to Warm, and all extra processing features—Action Smoothing, Natural Cinema, and LED Motion Clarity—were turned off. Additionally for HDR testing, Dynamic Tone Mapping was left on. While watching content, I turned Natural Cinema on to reduce judder (and I suggest you do the same). Sharpness was also lowered to 0.
I’ve included SDR contrast with the backlight setting at both 40 (its default) and pumped up to 100 to show its effect on contrast ratio. While the backlight setting of 40 produces only about half the light output as 100, it allows for deeper blacks and an overall better contrast ratio (5,740:1 as opposed to 5,171:1). In a dark room, this will lead to a slightly more dynamic and engaging image, even though it isn’t as bright.
What we like
Solid out-of-the-box performance
The performance improvements of LED TVs over the past few years has been impressive and that couldn’t be more apparent than with the 5-Series. Even without any adjustment, the TV’s color accuracy is great with deep blacks, particularly with SDR content. Apart from some slightly oversaturated reds and magentas, Movie picture mode looks stunning. Much of the image quality is due to the low black levels that fall around 0.1 nits and below, depending on the overall backlight setting and how much light is on screen.
That extra brightness delivers an image that pops even with the curtains open. The color accuracy doesn’t match that of SDR, but HDR images still look vibrant and engaging. Sauron’s eye is a menacing amalgamation of reds, oranges, and yellows throughout Lord of the Rings. The brightness doesn’t reach the levels of more expensive TVs that can regularly hit 1,000 nits or more, but the TCL 5-Series is still one of the brightest HDR TVs for the price.
The 5-Series’ viewing angle is suitably wide for a budget TV. There isn’t any major color shift or washout until you get more than 45 degrees off-axis, at which point some magenta tint can be seen in grays. Much like the 6-Series, the color shift is more perceptible than the contrast change, but even then it’s only an issue from a wide angle. So friends can pile in to watch the game or movie, and everyone’s experience should be similar.
It should be noted that if you want more light output in SDR and choose to increase the backlight setting from the default of 40, the color temperature gets slightly cooler the brighter it gets, adding some blue tint. It’s not a drastic difference, but it’s visible. If you’re in a room with ambient light, though, I’d say the tradeoff is worth it to keep the image bright and engaging.
Fast and intuitive OS
The built-in Roku OS is a breeze to use and navigating the apps and the menus is quick. The layout is customizable, so your most-used apps and inputs can be grouped together at the top of the app list, and it’s easy to add new ones (or remove unused ones).
Roku also isn’t as plagued by ads as some other streaming OS options. There’s a singular ad on the right third of the screen when you’re in the app selection tree, but there’s no need to navigate around it. Roku is my day-to-day streaming OS, and I don’t even notice the ad anymore.
Great for casual gaming
The 5-Series offers a bunch of features for solid gaming performance, especially for its price. It includes Auto Low Latency Mode to switch into the best settings when it senses a gaming console, Variable Refresh Rate—including FreeSync support for the Xbox or a PC—and four HDMI 2.1 ports.
The panel’s native refresh rate is 60Hz, so you won’t get the benefit of 4K/120Hz gaming on the 5-Series. For that, you’ll need to step up to the TCL 6-Series or Hisense U8H. But what you do get is smooth and responsive control. Game mode is a toggle within the menu as opposed to its own picture mode, so you still get the benefit of TCL’s excellent color and contrast performance in Movie and Dark HDR mode.
What we don’t like
Limited dimming zones leads to blooming
The more dimming zones a TV has, the better it is at defining the space between dark and bright elements. But when the number of dimming zones is more limited, such as in the 5-Series, the light from bright sections can bleed into the darkness creating what’s called light bloom.
The light bloom is most apparent with stark white images on a black background, such as film credits, where the black around the lettering has a dark gray glow as opposed to a deep black. It can also affect shadows directly next to bright elements in content. When K enters the orphanage in Blade Runner 2049 and the outside light streams past his back-lit silhouette, the dark details around the door get slightly washed out from the light bleed. The moment is fleeting and most noticeable when watching with the light out, so if you spend most of your viewing time in a dark room, the light bloom will be more evident.
What TCL is able to achieve with the low number of dimming zones is admirable, but when I see the bloom it leaves me wanting for more.
It’s Roku or nothing … for now
While we’re huge fans of the Roku OS, either in our favorite streaming devices or built-in to the TCL 5-Series, some might prefer a different variety of streaming OS. For now, at least, Roku is the only built-in option for the 5-Series. It’s very possible that TCL will follow suit with the previous 5-Series and come out with a Google TV version (quite possibly with some minor additions or changes in performance). But until that time comes, if you want a TCL for under $500, Roku is your only choice.
Should you buy the TCL 5-Series S555 TV?
Absolutely, it’s the best budget TV this year
There’s really no question which budget TV to consider. While previous 5-Series models were already solid performers, the 2022 TCL 5-Series is even better, with more vibrant colors, a brighter picture, features to satisfy anyone gaming on the Xbox Series X or PS5, and a streaming platform that’s intuitive and fast.
If you aren’t a fan of Roku, the Hisense U6H offers Google TV instead, but in most other ways it doesn’t stand up to the TCL. It’s not as bright as the 5-Series, and while the U6H has many of the same gaming features, FreeSync is only available in its smallest size. In order to get a TV that outperforms the TCL 5-Series, you’ll need to spend a few hundred dollars more at least.
That makes the 2022 TCL 5-Series by far the best value for anyone looking to get serious performance on a budget.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Editor, Electronics & Audio/Video@johntmhiggins
John is the A/V Editor for Reviewed. He is an ISF Level III-certified calibrator with bylines at ProjectorCentral, Wirecutter, IGN, Home Theater Review, T3, Sound & Vision, and Home Theater Magazine. When away from the Reviewed office, he is a sound editor for film and musician, and loves to play games with his son.
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