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Vizio M-Series vs TCL 5-Series: Which should you buy?

Who wins in a head-to-head matchup between two popular mid-range TVs?

The Vizio MQ6 M-Series displaying 4K/HDR content Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

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While souped-up, cutting-edge TVs perennially draw eyes, budget-friendly, mid-range TVs are easily the most popular. And, like clockwork, these affordable marvels get better with every passing year, steadily offering more bang for your buck than their predecessors did.

The Vizio M-Series and the TCL 5-Series are two such TVs. While the 5-Series has been around a bit longer, these TVs are quite similar in terms of hardware and performance. To find out which one is right for you, we’ll need to do a side-by-side comparison.

Buy the TCL 5-Series at Amazon

Buy the Vizio M-Series (MQ6) at Walmart

Price

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details of picture quality and features, let’s take a look at the availability and pricing of each of these TVs.

Vizio M-Series (MQ6):

Similar to last year’s M-Series, whose Q7 and Q8 variants featured different hardware specs, the Vizio M-Series is also available in two variants: the MQ7 (which we’ve yet to test), and the MQ6. Despite differences in hardware, both variants fall under the M-Series namesake for the purposes of Vizio’s 2021/2022 lineup. However, for the purposes of this head-to-head matchup, we will only be considering the MQ6 variant of the M-Series.

There are six total sizes in the MQ6 lineup. Here’s how they shake out in terms of size options and pricing:

  • 43-inch (M43Q6-J), MSRP $399.99
  • 50-inch (M50Q6-J), MSRP $529.99
  • 55-inch (M55Q6-J), MSRP $579.99
  • 65-inch (M65Q6-J), MSRP $679.99
  • 70-inch (M70Q6-J), MSRP $849.99
  • 75-inch (M43Q6-J), MSRP $999.99

TCL 5-Series:

The TCL 5-Series is available in four total size options. Since its initial release, the 5-Series has actually gone up in price significantly, with the 55-inch model currently carrying a higher price tag than the 50-inch model. Here's how the prices shake out at the time of publishing:

  • 50-inch (TCL 50S535), MSRP $599.99
  • 55-inch (TCL 55S535), MSRP $549.99
  • 65-inch (TCL 65S535), MSRP $899.99
  • 75-inch (TCL 75S535), MSRP $1,299.99

Not only is the MQ6 variant of the Vizio M-Series is available in more sizes, it also wins out when it comes to price; the only M-Series model that costs more than its 5-Series counterpart is the 55-inch version.

Our pick: Vizio M-Series

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Design

The stand on the bottom of the Vizio MQ6 M-Series
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The bezel on the bottom of the Vizio M-Series (seen here) is quite prominent.

Neither of these affordable, mid-range TVs are dressed to the nines, but there’s good news: neither will look out of place in your living room. I’d describe the look and feel of both TVs as unobtrusive and, in fact, perfectly cromulent.

The M-Series places its panel atop two wide-set, angular feet that stretch close to the edges of the screen. The screen is surrounded with narrow bezels on three of its sides, with the bottom bezel being wider than the others. Around back, its chassis is wrapped in charcoal-colored plastic.

The M-Series’ remote control is a simplified version of past Vizio clickers, bringing it closer in design to TCL’s Roku remote. There are several dedicated app buttons at the top, a directional pad in the center, and volume controls on the bottom. The new Vizio remote also features voice recognition—new for this year.

The TCL 5-Series shares most of the M-Series’ design elements, including wide-set, boomerang-shaped feet and a panel that’s wrapped in charcoal-colored plastic. The bezels flanking the 5-Series’ screen are narrow, and its bottom bezel isn’t nearly as thick as the M-Series’ bottom bezel.

The stand on the bottom of the TCL 5-Series
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The 5-Series features two wide-set, boomerang-shaped feet that act as a stand.

Meanwhile, the TCL 5-Series’ Roku remote remains relatively unchanged over the last few years. It’s chunkier than most clickers, but it’s ergonomically sound, and its buttons are responsive. Unlike the M-Series, the 5-Series’ remote does not come with built-in voice recognition. For that feature, you’ll have to use the Roku app or upgrade your situation with the Roku Voice Remote Pro.

So, who’s got the edge? While they’re similarly designed TVs, I appreciate the look of the TCL 5-Series by a hair. That said, the M-Series comes with remote-based voice recognition right out of the box, and the clicker’s slimmer profile feels a touch better than the Roku remote. This one’s a tie.

Our pick: Draw

Features and smart platform

Vizio's SmartCast smart platform, as seen on the Vizio M-Series (MQ6)
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

When it comes to apps, Vizio's SmartCast smart platform offers most of the usual suspects, but there's no app store to download new software.

When it comes to software- and hardware-related features, the Vizio M-Series and TCL 6-Series offer a similarly modest selection. Being budget-friendly TVs first and foremost, there aren't a ton of bells and whistles here, but here's a look at what both TVs get you:

  • 4K resolution
  • HDR
  • Quantum-dot color
  • Dolby Vision
  • eARC
  • Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple AirPlay 2
  • Auto Low Latency Mode

In addition to Auto Low Latency Mode, the Vizio M-Series also supports Variable Refresh Rate and AMD FreeSync, giving it a distinct edge in the gaming category.

On the other hand, if you turn your attention to these TVs’ respective smart platforms, the TCL 5-Series has a massive advantage. Being a Roku TV, the 5-Series comes with our favorite smart platform baked right into the TV’s software. Roku offers an easy-to-use interface and a Channel Store with a vast library of installable apps—an experience that will please casual users and A/V enthusiasts alike.

Being a Roku TV, the 5-Series comes with our favorite smart platform baked right into the TV’s software.

Vizio’s SmartCast smart platform, on the other hand, is a bit tougher to navigate, and crucially, does not offer a way for users to download new apps. The usual suspects are accounted for—Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, and more—but your experience is limited. The M-Series’ inclusion of Google Chromecast is a nice feature to hang your hat on, but it can’t fill the void left by the absence of an app store.

PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X owners will no doubt gravitate towards the M-Series for its gaming enhancements, but for most folks, the benefit of the 5-Series’ Roku software will have more of an impact on their experience than the lack of Variable Refresh Rate.

Our pick: TCL 5-Series

Performance

The Vizio M-Series MQ6 displaying 4K/HDR content in a living room setting
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

While the Vizio M-Series (seen here) features incredible color production, its inability to get meaningfully bright during HDR might be a turn off for cinephiles.

The M-Series and the 5-Series offer so-so motion handling and decent (if flawed) viewing angles, which is to be expected for mid-range TVs with 60Hz refresh rates and VA-style panels.

When it comes to color and contrast, however, these TVs tell a different story. While the Vizio M-Series offers incredible color in both SDR and HDR, colors on the TCL 5-Series don’t quite pop the same way. And although the 5-Series is capable of climbing as high as 400 nits during HDR, the M-Series tends to top out between 250 and 300 nits. For reference, high-end TVs often achieve over 1,000 nits of brightness.

Neither TV delivers HDR content as impressively as a bright, high-end LED TV.

Neither TV delivers HDR content as impressively as a bright, high-end LED TV, but the M-Series is especially limited in its ability to visually differentiate SDR and HDR content due to its limited brightness. On the other hand, the 5-Series colors look somewhat muted when compared to the M-Series’ colors. As such, the winner of this category comes down to whatever you value more. If you’re really excited for HDR content, the TCL 5-Series might be a better choice. However, the M-Series’ colors will bring more vivacity to certain programming like nature docs, sports, and video games.

Our pick: Draw

And the winner is…

The TCL 5-Series displaying HD content
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

Colors on the TCL 5-Series (seen here) don't pop as much as they do on the Vizio M-Series, but the 5-Series is capable of getting brighter.

For most folks, the TCL 5-Series is probably the better choice, thanks to a friendlier price tag, a more robust smart platform, and a slightly brighter picture.

That said, this is one of the closest head-to-head exercises we’ve ever done, and if you consider yourself an avid gamer, the Vizio M-Series should certainly intrigue you. While its HDR performance is disappointing and its software isn’t as flexible as a Roku TV’s, the gaming enhancements in tow will serve you well in the coming years.

Buy the TCL 5-Series at Amazon

Buy the Vizio M-Series (MQ6) at Walmart

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