By testing our TVs before and after calibration we get a sense of its out-of-the-box performance as well as its fully-realized potential. Unfortunately, the FS5600 is lacking just about every picture customization tool, so calibration is a disappointingly breezy process.
I began in the television's "Cinematic" mode with the color temperature set to "Normal." The only adjustment I made was to lower the FS5600's backlight from 65 to 49.
If a 50-inch, full-HD TV for a hair under $600 seems like a good deal, it's only because there might not be a worse 50-inch full-HD TV on the market today than the TCL 50FS5600 (MSRP $599.99). With no smart platform to speak of and a variety of technical woes, the FS5600 isn't recommendable.
There's almost nothing positive to say about this TV. Based on the panel's size and price, it's clearly aimed at budget shoppers in need of big TVs—but the performance I found doesn't even satisfy entry-level standards. There's no justifiable reason to recommend this TV to anyone, regardless of what their criteria might be. Simply put, there are much better options on the market.
A TV screen is comprised of red, green, and blue sub-pixels, and the quality of its picture is largely dependent upon how evenly it emphasizes those sub-pixels. If a TV over-emphasizes blue, for example, its image appears cooler than it should.
The FS5600's sub-pixels are so disproportionate that they are literally off the charts. Blue is too blue, green isn't green enough, and red is just happy to be here.
Because shades of gray, black, and white are all comprised of RGB sub-pixels, we measure a TV's grayscale to determine how much color is erroneously present in ten separate shades of gray. The amount of error is represented with "DeltaE," with the ideal being a DeltaE of around 3 or less.
The FS5600 failed this test in spectacular fashion. Yet again, the test results are so bad they are off our charts. Prior to calibration I measured a DeltaE of 23.12, and post-calibration wasn't much better. There's so much color in the grayscale that it's almost misleading to call these values "gray."
Design features that range from "elegant" to "boring"
The FS5600's 50-inch panel rests on a smooth, hexagonal glass stand. This is a nice choice compared to the ubiquitous black-plastic stands that dominate the rest of the market.
The rest of the TV is disappointingly milquetoast; charcoal-on-black plastic and a run-of-the-mill remote control. On the back of the television is an L-shaped indent for various connections. There are three HDMI inputs, composite and component inputs, an SPDIF audio output, a VGI port, a headphone jack, a coaxial connector, and a USB port.
Without smart features or extensive customization options, the menu software is sparse. This is probably for the best, though, because navigating the menu is an exercise in trial-and-error.
Manufacturers strive to adhere to an international standard for HDTVs known as Rec. 709, which provides reference points for color accuracy. We measure our TVs based on this standard and plot the results visually on a color gamut. The gamut itself contains seven points: three primary points (red, green, blue,) three secondary points (yellow, cyan, magenta,) and a white point.
Needless to say, the TCL 50FS5600 struggles mightily to produce accurate colors. Its fatal flaw is its white point, which behaves more like light-blue. Cyan and magenta are critically blue-shifted as well. Without even the most basic calibration controls, these color points are unsalvageable.
From bad to worse
Watching a movie on the FS5600 is not a pleasant experience. The first thing you'll notice is just how poorly its color production is. Skin tones, foliage, and clouds appear sickeningly blue (find out why on the Science page). Nature documentaries in particular (or anything portraying a reality as we see it) will undoubtedly look "off." It's not unusual for lower-end TVs to struggle with blue-, green-, or red-shifted color palettes, but the FS5600 is particularly bad in this regard. In fact, there's no doubt in my mind that even the most casual viewers will notice something is amiss with this TV's color.
Despite the FS5600's respectable black level, shadows still appear flat and nondescript. The glossed-over details are a result of the TV's luminance handling, which turns darker regions of a picture (the wrinkles in clothing, for example) into swaths of muddied, homogenous goop; instead of conveying a convincing, deep-looking scene, this panel's images appear flat and unrealistic.
Even more off-putting is the FS5600's inability to display smooth, fluid motion. Again–it's not unheard of for TVs to struggle with motion, but the FS5600 is downright nightmarish in this regard. I winced my way through an action sequence in The Hobbit with bleary-eyed, slack-jawed wonder: How does a television proclaiming a 120Hz refresh rate look this bad? Well, we used our signal generator to send an 120Hz signal to the FS5600, and lo and behold, it didn't receive it. It would appear as though this TV does not have a native 120Hz refresh rate. The motion is strobe-like; the flailing arms in a sword fight resemble those in a flip book. It was enough to give me a pressure headache.
Move along, nothing to see here.
This TV has no smart features, shoddy motion, and very skewed color. I cannot stress enough how much of a chore it is to watch content on the FS5600, and if your television isn't fun to watch, what's the point? The flaws are deep enough to miff even the most casual viewer, and no bargain price is worth that.
Should you happen to be in the market for a TV of this size, there are much more palatable options. Vizio's 48-inch E480i-B2, for example, comes in at $10 less than the FS5600, and it actually manages to produce a brilliant, accurate picture.
A television's contrast ratio describes its peak brightness over its deepest black level. We consider contrast ratio (and black level, specifically) the most important element in exceptional picture performance. That said, impressive contrast performance doesn't always ensure excellent overall picture quality, as the TCL FS5600 proves.
Compared to its peers, the RS5600's contrast ratio of 6580:1 is excellent; sadly, the rest of the TV's performance is so impoverished that the great contrast is nothing to get excited about.
Our viewing angle test determines how far away from a head-on angle viewers may sit before a TV's picture degrades past an acceptable point. Because the FS5600's screen is 50-inches, viewing angle takes on considerable significance. A 32-inch TV, for example, is small enough to minimize the impact of a poor viewing angle.
Our test revealed a below-average viewing angle of 29°, or ±14°. Despite its size, the FS5600 is not a well-suited TV for group viewings.
Gamma describes a television's distribution of luminance throughout a spectrum of dark-to-light. A poor gamma curve manifests in the form of blotchy shadows, and color gradients that lose detail as they transition from one shade to the next.
The ideal gamma sum for a dark room is 2.4, but unfortunately, the FS5600 produces a pre-calibration gamma of 1.62. Essentially, this means that a dark room will never be an adequate setting for this TV because it will only compound the loss of detail in the darker areas of the picture.
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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