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TCL’s Budget Friendly 5-Series (S525) 4K HDR TV Review

TCL is the budget-friendly brand to beat, with several models that perform as well if not better than much more expensive competition. In fact, I think TCL can be thanked for a shift in the TV industry toward higher-performance televisions with lower prices. So where does the 2019 5-Series sit in TCL’s lineup, and is it worth purchasing one with TCL’s 2020 lineup likely due to hit store shelves in August? After all, a 65-inch model costs just $600, while the 55-inch variant is only $400. Those prices are tough to beat.

The TCL 5-Series is a much better-looking TV than I expected for the price. It’s top and side bezels are extremely thin, the TV’s profile is also quite thin, and the TV’s “feet” are attractive as well. Included with the TV is an increasingly elusive composite video breakout cable, a set of AAA batteries, and a Roku remote. This particular Roku remote does not have a built-in headphone jack nor is it a voice remote, though private listening and voice control are available through the Roku app for iOS and Android — we’ll be talking about that app quite a bit in this review.

The 5-Series isn’t a high-end TV, at least not in price. This TV doesn’t offer local dimming zones for its direct backlighting. This means the TV has much more uniform brightness across the screen than an edge-lit TV would. But because it can’t dim any of those backlights, it could struggle to offer deep blacks, especially in scenes with bright objects on dark backgrounds. The 5-Series, like all TCL TVs, is a Roku TV, which means not only do you get a Roku home screen filled with customizable input names and apps, Roku is also the interface one uses to adjust any kind of setting.

If one does jump through the hoops and optimized settings for a better picture, they will be rewarded by what appear to be very rich colors and impressive contrast. That last bit came as a surprise to me. This TV’s contrast is remarkably good considering there’s no local dimming, and since there are no dimming zones to control, there are no annoying backlight fluctuations to deal with when watching in a darkened room. Also, I was pleasantly surprised at the mitigation of halos around bright objects on black backgrounds. Even though the screen doesn’t ever get pitch black, it gets dark enough to offer decent contrast.

At $600, the TCL 5-Series is a good value, with good picture performance and a mostly friendly Roku TV experience. Its out-of-box picture performance leaves something to be desired, and it can be difficult to optimize the picture settings for all content. Once it is adjusted, however, it can offer slightly better-than-average picture quality which most viewers will enjoy.

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