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TCL 5-Series (S535) 4K HDR TV review: The price is right

TCL 5-Series (S535) 4K HDR TV review: The price is right
“The TCL 5-Series punches well above its price point”
Pros
  • Full-array local dimming backlight
  • Solid black levels
  • Excellent backlight control
  • Expanded color Gamut
  • Low input lag
Cons
  • Doesn't get especially bright
  • HDR isn't impressive
  • Involved setup process

The TCL 6-Series TVs get a lot of press, but what about the 5-Series? Perhaps the reason it hasn’t gotten as much attention is because it has never really been a notable TV. Until now.

Because the 5 Series (S535) 4K HDR TV now comes with many of the features advertised on 2019’s 6 Series, TCL has a shot at offering similar performance to its prior 6-Series model at a much lower price. Let’s see if that pans out.

TCL 5-Series (S535) 4K HDR TV details

While we reviewed the 65-inch S535 model, our review also applies to the 50-inch, 55-inch, and 75-inch models.
Screen Size Model Number  MSRP
50-inch 50S535 $400
55-inch 55S535 $450
65-inch 65S535 $630
75-inch 75S535 $1200

First impressions

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

This TV came in much thinner than expected — especially for a TV with a full-array local dimming backlight system. There are virtually no bezels around the edge, just a thin strip of aluminum along the bottom. While the TV’s plastic feet feel a little light and cheap out of the box, their slim appearance is quite nice, and the feet can be placed in two different positions: wider toward the edges of the TV, or closer to the center for a smaller footprint. On top of that, the feet provide some cable management, although we found it tough to fit more than just a couple of HDMI cables into each one.

Inputs

TCL 5 Series HDMI
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The 5 Series comes with four HDMI 2.0b inputs, with ARC on the fourth input. The ports are not HDMI 2.1 capable, so you won’t be getting next-gen gaming features like variable refresh rate or 4K at 120 Hz. But it can handle 4K up to 60 Hz, which should be fine for most people. And while this TV isn’t a powerhouse built for next-gen gaming, it’s still a good TV to consider for casual gaming, especially because of its low input lag of about 11ms in game mode.

The remote and operating system

TCL 5 Series Roku Remote
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The biggest difference in the remote between the 6-Series and 5-Series is that you lose voice control. As far as the user experience, the Roku operating system features a “slightly refreshed” feel and the system now includes AirPlay and HomeKit as well. Picture setting adjustments, sound, and other preferences need to be selected and adjusted separately for each input, so between those setups and other obligatory software and app updates, you’ll need to employ some patience in getting this Roku TV up and running.

Picture quality

Let’s get down to the picture, which has some admirable attributes. The 5-Series has very good black levels for its price point, partially because of its VA panel (which unfortunately means that off-angle viewing is not great), but also because of its local dimming backlight system — which does a great job at not crushing the blacks, while still offering deep blacks and minimizing any kind of halo effect around bright objects on dark backgrounds that you might get from lesser backlighting systems.

TCL 5 Series
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Unfortunately, the 5-Series’ backlighting system doesn’t offer very high peak brightness. We noted barely any difference between SDR brightness and HDR peak brightness, regardless of whether we were watching HDR 10 or Dolby Vision. In fact, one could call into question whether this should actually be called an HDR TV because there’s not enough brightness to really give you those sparkly highlights from high-performance HDR. The contrast is there, but the peak brightness isn’t, so the HDR images don’t pop as much as we see with other HDR TVs.

“It’s a perfectly respectable TV”

The color does benefit from the use of quantum dots, so you will get a wider color gamut. However, you’re just not getting a significantly increased color volume due to lower brightness potential.

Overall, I think the picture quality is going to be a step up from what someone might be getting from a mid-tier TV from, say 4-plus years ago. It’s a perfectly respectable TV, and we’d even go so far as to say it outperforms its price.

Motion

The 5-Series also does well with motion. There’s still a tiny bit of motion blur with fast-moving objects, but it’s not something that can be seen very easily, so it works well enough for sports content. The 5-Series has a 60Hz native panel, so smoother motion can be achieved, but not without avoiding the so-called “soap opera effect.”

As for film content, 24 fps content looks very smooth and is absent of stuttering, which is fantastic for a TV at this price point.

Sound quality

As for sound quality, well, let’s put it this way: Get yourself a soundbar. There’s a lack of depth and not a lot of bass, which leads to a tinny quality to the sound. Dialog clarity also suffers, so a soundbar would be a good idea for most folks.

Gaming

TCL 5 Series gaming
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

As we mentioned, this TV doesn’t have HDMI 2.1 ports, so it won’t support variable refresh rate or other higher-end features like auto low-latency mode. But at 4K 60HZ, with a low 11ms input lag in game mode, casual gaming will work great. The only knock — going back to what we said about the picture quality — is that if you’re hoping to get something out of the HDR gaming experience, you’ll need a slightly brighter TV.

Our take

TCL 5 Series Roku Tv
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The TCL 5-Series is a great all-purpose TV that serves those who aren’t picky about HDR performance very well. The TV’s use of quantum dots expands the color gamut for a rich picture, while solid full-array backlight control provides better black levels and better-reduced halo effects than nearly any other TV in its price class. While it doesn’t get bright enough to pull HDR off impressively, most folks who just want a solid TV for a decent price aren’t likely to find that a deal-breaker.

Is there a better alternative

There is only one TV competitive with the TCL 5-Series in its price class and that’s the Hisense H8G Quantum, which sells for about the same price, runs Android TV instead of Roku TV, and can get significantly brighter. The TCL, while not as bright, however, does have better color accuracy. Otherwise, competing TVs from LG and Samsung don’t offer quantum dots or full-array backlighting and cant compete in terms of black levels and backlighting control.

How long will it last?

So far, TCL’s track record in terms of build quality is looking pretty good. We expect the 5-Series will serve owners for many years.

Warranty

TCL offers a one-year limited warranty. More information on TCL’s TV warranty can be found here.

Should you buy it?

Yes. For those looking for a quality TV with better performance than is typically expected for the price, the TCL 5-Series is one of the best budget-friendly options on the market.

If you want some more affordable TV options, you can also consider the best 4K TV deals available now.

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