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TCL 5-Series Review: Affordable 4K, HDR Gaming

Christopher Coke Posted:
Category:
Hardware Reviews 0

4K has arrived: content is plentiful and games look more beautiful than ever before. With each passing year, the tech gets better and the prices become more affordable. If you’re still on the fence, the TV we’re looking at today may just make you jump down. Coming in as low as $299 for the 50-inch version and $529 for the $65-inch, does its input lag and picture quality make it a worthy buy? Join us as we find out!

Specifications

  • Current Price: $349
  • Smart TV: Roku TV
  • Screen Class: 43", 50", 55", 65"
  • Network Connection: WiFi, Ethernet
  • Backlight Technology: LED Backlight with HDR Dynamic Contrast
  • Resolution: 4K UHD
  • High Dynamic Range: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HLG
  • Wide Color Technology: NBP Photon
  • Motion Performane: 120 CMI, Natural Motion 240 (55" and 65")
  • HDMI, USB Ports: 4 HDMI (43" 3 HDMI), one with HDMI ARC, 1 USB 2.0
  • Sound Technology: Dolby Digital
  • Game Mode: Auto
  • Free Mobile/Tablet App: Yes
  • Easy Voice Control: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Roku Voice
  • Remote: Easy-to-use remote
  • Digital TV Tuner: with program guide and live TV pause (with optional USB drive)
  • Design: FullView, Gunmetal

Last year, my family and I purchased the TCL 6-Series following a review we conducted here on the site. It was the holiday season. I’d done tons of research and found that the 6-Series was the TV to beat under $1000. When TCL reached out and asked if I’d be interested in taking their new and improved 5-Series for a spin, I jumped at the opportunity to compare.

As a schoolteacher and writer, I’m not the kind of person that rushes out to buy the most expensive new tech. Like most people, buying a new TV is an investment I make once every five years or so, and I definitely want to get the most bang for my buck. In a way, the TCL 5-Series is targeted at people exactly like me.

The 5-Series is TCL’s budget-friendly performance line. It doesn’t have the absolute top-end features but it does offer a lot for the asking price. The 55-inch model I tested comes to market at $349 with HDR, Dolby Vision, 4K, good WiFi, and gaming-worthy input lag. In fact, I used it as both a TV and a gaming monitor and there wasn’t a shooter this thing couldn’t play seamlessly with its auto Game Mode.

Around the back, there are four HDMI ports. I was able to connect my gaming laptop (used for the pictures), Xbox One, PS4 Pro, and Nintendo Switch. The fourth port is also an ARC port, which supports two-way communication. If you’re running a sound system, that allows you to get rid of a second return cable. There’s also a USB port that you can pull media from or use to pause live TV. If you’re streaming in 4K, you may want to use the Ethernet port for a wired connection, though I was able to stream Netflix Ultra just fine over 5GHz WiFi.

The TV itself is also really nice. The panel is thin and though is does curve out where the main circuits are housed, it’s a far cry from last generations FHD TVs. There are two feet on the bottom that aren’t the most impressive; they hold the TV fine but are lightweight plastic and won’t stand up to much abuse. I do like that you can reverse them to use on smaller TV stands, however. Still, wall mounting makes a lot of sense here with the VESA mount on the rear.

One thing I’m not a fan of is the single-button onboard control. It’s functional for selecting menu items but it just doesn’t replace physical buttons in the event your remote breaks. That said, I found out first-hand when my kids lost my remote that you can download third-party apps to control the TV using your smartphone, but I’d still like to at least see separate volume buttons.

But let’s get into it. What’s the screen like? TCL has used a VA panel here, which affords you good blacks and rich colors. That’s obviously enhanced with HDR and Dolby Vision content. As you’ll see in the pictures here, it’s a very good looking screen for the money.

That said, this isn’t the top of the line HDR experience you can find with one of their larger (and much more expensive) 6-Series sets. Peak brightness comes in just under 400-nits which is unfortunately low. There’s also no local dimming. It does support wide color gamut and Dolby Vision is still great for taking in movies, but a scene like the picture above will literally leave you squinting on a 1000-nit display. Likewise, the blacks just aren’t as deep because of the lack of local dimming.

There is a real balancing act going on here because there are competitor TVs on the market that trump these specs, but the price really does make a compelling case here. The 5-Series definitely looks better than any SDR set I’ve seen. If you’re looking to get into this new world of TV features, this is certainly a way to try it for yourself without spending dramatically more on a 1000-nit, full-array locally dimmed screen.

Where I found the TV really shined was with gaming. The input lag is very good and isn’t noticeable at all. I don’t have the hardware to test this in-house at the moment, but after concluding my test window, like you, I turned to the good folks at Rtings.com who peg it at a low 12.4ms at worst. That’s remarkably good for a 4K TV running 10-bit HDR. As a gamer, that honestly goes a long way toward making this a recommended buy for those of us without lots of money to spend.

Another area the 5-Series is slightly, but not very, behind more expensive models is viewing angles. I noticed a slight color shift set in when viewing content from an angle. It’s not bad, but to get the best from this model, you’ll definitely want it positioned straight on from where you’re sitting.

Final Thoughts

Having recently been through the TV buying process myself, I know too well the back and forth that happens when balancing budget with features. The TCL 5-Series strikes a strong middle-ground here, offering a very good price for 4K gaming and movies. It’s not going to hit those pinnacles of peak brightness on much more expensive models, but it’s still able to deliver a great picture and excellent gaming performance for the cost.

Pros

  • Excellent input lag makes it great for gaming
  • Solid feature set for the cost
  • Very good picture
  • Lots of features afforded through Roku integration
  • Excellent price

Cons

  • Low peak brightness
  • No local dimming

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight