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TCL 5-Series (S555) Roku TV review: unsurprisingly good

The Roku home screen on the TCL-5 Series (S555).
TCL 5-Series (S555)
MSRP $700.00
“The TCL S555 offers solid picture quality at a very nice price.”
Pros
  • Solid HDR performance for the price
  • Good out-of-box color in certain modes
  • Low input lag
  • High value
Cons
  • Poor off-angle viewing

The TCL S555 5-Series Roku TV is one I’ve been looking forward to checking out. I reviewed the 2021 5-Series Roku TV (S535), which was a solid TV, but then the 5-Series Google TV (the S546) came out and boasted some improvements over it. This was a bit of a departure for TCL – normally I’d have expected it would be essentially the same TV, just under a different Smart TV platform.

Well, the S546 — which you can still buy, by the way — performed a little better. And although it was a bit buggy at the time, as is the case with its more premium sibling, the 6-Series S646, those bugs have now been largely worked out.

I’ve been eager to check out the S555 because it is meant to have the same picture quality improvements of the Google TV version, but is built on the Roku platform. That being the case, I feel like I knew exactly what to expect from this TV — no surprises in store. But since I hadn’t yet gotten a chance to evaluate it for myself, I wasn’t comfortable including it in some of my Best TVs lists for 2022. Different sizes of the S555 could have potentially made the best under-500 dollar list and the best under $1,000 dollar list.

Well, it isn’t too late. This TV is still going to be relevant for many months to come. So, let’s see how this TV does, what you can expect from it, and whether you might want to buy this TV or a competing model, like the Hisense U7H.

Out of the box

Above, I said I expected no surprises from this TV. What does that mean? Well, starting with getting the TV out of the box, it means the S555 looks and operates a lot like I thought it would.

It’s not flashy, but it isn’t trashy either.

The 65-inch TCL 5-Series is relatively inexpensive at $600, but it isn’t the cheapest you can buy. And that pretty much describes the TV’s looks and build quality. It’s not flashy, but it isn’t trashy either.

The only thing that struck me as odd as I assembled this TV was that the screws didn’t seem to want to seat in their holes as I screwed them in. All’s well that ends well – the feet are now secure on the TV – but it was an interesting touch point. Still, far from a surprise.

Now, the feet only go in one spot on this TV. Unlike some models where you can position them inward so you can set it on a smaller media stand or shelf, you’ll need some width to accommodate this TV. In the case of the 65-inch model, about 50.25 inches.

There’s no real cable management, so I would suggest getting some Velcro ties to keep the cable mess to a minimum – I also find those ties clutch for when you’re wall-mounting, too.

If you do wall mount, I think you’ll like the way it looks. Like most decent TVs these days, it has minimal bezels on the top and sides, and a matte black strip along the bottom. There is a light under the TCL logo in the center that can be turned off in the Roku menu if you prefer.

Gaming

For connectivity, this TV has four HDMI inputs, and none of them offer full HDMI 2.1 bandwidth. But that does not mean this is a poor TV for gaming — in fact, it’s pretty solid.

What really makes this a decent gaming TV, though, is the very low input lag.

It’s got a 60Hz native panel, so it will max out at 4K 60Hz, but it does offer VRR, including basic Freesync. Now, how useful that will be to you, I’m not sure. It basically comes down to 48Hz and up to 60Hz, which isn’t a huge range, but that seems to mitigate a little bit of screen tearing in games that aren’t locked at a low refresh rate.

What really makes this a decent gaming TV, though, is the very low input lag of about 11 milliseconds in game mode at most resolutions, which is awesome. The HDR performance in game mode, as I’ll discuss shortly, is also quite nice.

Picture and brightness

Now, before I get into some picture quality measurement data, I do want to talk about one slight annoyance that remains from prior 5-Series models I’ve tested, and that’s a little bit of lag in the interface operation. From time to time, clicking around at a fast pace will get you hung up. It unfreezes eventually, but I’m easily annoyed by that. Also, if you have the TV connected to a soundbar, powered speakers, or A/V receiver via ARC or EARC — yes, it does support it — then you’ll notice that changing the volume is a really slow affair. Again, an annoyance that I expected, as I experience this on other TCL Roku TVs.

The picture tuning menu on the TCL-5 Series (S555).
Zeke Jones/Digital Trends

For my nit nerds out there, here are the basics. This TV punched up to about 550 nits in SDR, and just shy of 800 nits in HDR when calibrated to D65 white point. The SDR brightness I got is a tad bit lower than what some other reviewers charted, while the HDR peak brightness is a bit higher than what some others achieved. That’s in the Dark HDR setting, with the color temperature set to warm and the TV’s local dimming feature maxed out.

My take on this TV includes that 800-nit result because I factory reset this TV and rechecked that number many times over. I would like to think it is representative of what’s on the market, but my review sample did come straight from TCL, so keep that in mind.

Picture quality rock-solid for the price.

The out-of-box white point and color errors on this TV in the Movie mode for SDR and Dark HDR mode for HDR10 were not bad at just shy of 4 on the white balance, and about the same for color. That’s technically visible, but not by much — anything under a DeltaE of 3 is meant to be indiscernible by the average human. And while it didn’t take a lot for me to correct the bright white balance, for some reason, my adjustments through the Roku app were ineffective at white stimulus levels of 10%, 20%, and 30%. I was going to reach out to TCL about this, but I’ve recently learned this is something I may need to take up with Roku.

Realistically, though, I really don’t see anyone getting this TV calibrated, so what’s important to me is that it looks great out of the box, and in those picture modes. it does. In Standard, it is unsurprisingly way too blue, and of course, Vivid looks like hot garbage, but that’s true on just about any TV.

Here’s my take on the picture quality: it is rock-solid for the price. For anyone who remembers how impressed reviewers were with the TCL 6-Series from three or four years ago, it’s like that. Today’s TCL 5-Series looks like yesterday’s TCL 6-Series, but at a lower price. And, I mean, who can complain about that?

The SDR brightness and HDR brightness are good for the price, though not the best out there – I’ll get to that in a minute. The contrast is excellent for the price, thanks to solid backlight control, even if it doesn’t have a ton of local dimming zones. The color is brilliant and well saturated – on angle at least – and motion is perfectly acceptable, though you won’t get as smooth a picture from this TV as one that does 120Hz. You do, however, get a bit less stutter, since the reaction time isn’t as quick, which I think some people will actually prefer.

I only have two real complaints about this TV. One is that off-angle viewing is not great. If you’re sitting dead-on-center, you’re getting a really, really nice picture. If you sit off to the side, you really aren’t. Thanks to the VA panel, we get those deep blacks and great contrast, but also due to the pretty basic VA panel, we also get disappointing off-angle viewing. It is what it is.

Also, I didn’t exactly win the panel lottery on this TV with regard to dirty screen effect. It isn’t terrible, but I see it. If you don’t really see dirty screen effect, now isn’t the time to remove the veil from your eyes – not if you’re considering this TV or another at this price point. It’s just part of the deal.

Sound quality

The TV’s sound is unsurprisingly quality is not great. And by that, I mean that I would personally not be able to go without at least a basic soundbar. I almost hate bringing this up since it is so common at this price point, but the Hisense U7H sounds better than it should and, well … that’s as good a segue as any to what I think is an inevitable comparison.

Stiff competition

So, who should buy this TV, and who should buy the Hisense U7H? Well, first, I know there are some who may not feel that is a fair comparison, and that’s because, as of this writing, the Hisense U7H costs a bit more than the TCL S555. Actually, the S555 sits between Hisense’s U6H and U7H in terms of price, which makes doing a direct comparison difficult. But since the picture quality is so similar between the two, I’m going to go ahead and make the comparison anyway, because I think a lot of shoppers will do the same.

A man watching a movie on theTCL-5 Series (S555).
Zeke Jones/Digital Trends

If you prefer the Roku OS built-in, then the S555 is the choice. But if we take the smart TV platform out of consideration, you do get better specs from the Hisense U7H. It’s a brighter TV in both SDR and HDR, and it has a 120Hz panel with HDMI 2.1 bandwidth support from two of its HDMI inputs (although it does seem to struggle with proper 4K 120Hz gaming a bit). Also, the Hisense U7H manages to offer judder-free 24 frames-per-second (fps) movie content when you get it from a 60Hz source like a cable box, whereas the TCL S555 seems to falter with that a bit. Not a lot, but a bit.

On the other hand, the TCL S555 has lower input lag across its supported resolutions, and to me is a less flickery TV. And I’m not sure the brightness differences between the two are going to be super meaningful for most viewers. So, I guess I’d say if you are a nit nerd and want the most brightness for your money and want the 120Hz panel and HDMI 2.1 bandwidth, well, the U7H may be a better choice, at least on paper.

But if you want to save a little money, the TCL S555 strikes a great balance between cost and performance – the kind of performance that’s impressive enough to deliver some wow to your eyes, without punching much of a hole in your wallet. I have enjoyed watching it very much. Now, personally speaking, if the cost increase wasn’t a concern, I’d say step up to the TCL 6-Series if you can. The return on investment is well worth it if you are a video enthusiast. But if you’re just looking for a solid TV that is loaded with value. the TCL S555 is an excellent choice – no surprise there.

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