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TCL 5-Series Roku TV (S535) review: A killer QLED TV value

A colorful quantum picture at a bargain price

TCL 5-Series Roku TV (S535) review
(Image: © TCL)

Our Verdict

By focusing on delivering a solid, quantum-dot 4K picture at an affordable price, the TCL 5-Series is a great choice for anyone on a budget.

For

  • Faithful colors
  • Built-in Roku smarts
  • Excellent price

Against

  • Mediocre sound
  • Modest brightness
TCL 5-Series Roku TV: Specs

Price: $479
Model number: 55S535
Screen size: 55 inches
Resolution: 3840 x 2160
HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG
Refresh rate: 60 Hz
Ports: 4 HDMI 2.1; 1 USB
Audio: 8 watts by 8 watts
Smart TV software: Roku TV
Size: 48.4 x 3.0 x 28.1 inches [w/o stand]
Weight: 32.6 pounds [w/o stand]

The TCL 5-Series Roku TV 4K set is another example of the cliche that every year TVs get better–and less expensive. The 55-inch model we tested for our TCL 5-Series Roku TV review turned in a solid, quality picture and comes with the popular Roku smart TV software, making for an attractive package that costs well below $500.

The TCL 5-Series uses a quantum dot layer to bring more colors to the LCD panel. (TCL and others refer to it as QLED, not to be confused with OLED.) It also supports Dolby Vision's HDR (high dynamic range) format for 4K content, as well as other standard HDR formats. To improve contrast within scenes, the TCL 5-Series also has full-array active local dimming so that it can subdue the backlight on one area of the screen while boosting another brighter area.

All of this amounts to a very satisfying picture–and a hard-to-beat price. Hisense's most comparable model, the top-of-the-line Hisense H9G Quantum Android TV (55H9G), costs roughly $200 more at retail. And the Samsung Q70T QLED TV, which also boasts quantum dot enhancement, is nearly twice the price of the TCL 5-Series even though the TCL turns in some superior numbers when it comes to color accuracy.

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TCL 5-Series Roku TV Review: Pricing and availability

The 5-Series is a mid-range model line for TCL. The higher end TCL 8-Series and 6-Series also use quantum dot LCD panels but come with a more advanced back light called mini-LED. So those sets also command a price premium, $200 or more over their 5-Series counterparts. Furthermore, the 5-Series comes in a wide variety of sizes, so it will appeal to a wider range of shoppers.

These other models offer different screen sizes and prices, but the same QLED panels are used on all of them. Aside from differences in the number of dimming zones, the feature set is identical and we expect performance to match what we see in our test results. We can safely recommend every size of the TCL 5-Series Roku TV just as strongly as we do the 55-inch model in this review.

As of this writing, most quantum dot TVs cost more compared to the TCL 5-Series. But don't expect that to last for long. Vizio's M-Series Quantum 55-inch set has already matched the TCL 5-Series price, and other companies, particularly Hisense, are bound to respond by either lowering prices or including the technology in less expensive models.

TCL 5-Series Roku TV Review: Design

Compared to the previous year's model, TCL has tweaked the design of the 5-Series. The bezel or border around the screen is a touch narrower and the set is slimmer at its thinnest point. The new TCL 5-Series is listed at 3-inches at its thickest point, but the top edge is about half an inch thick (last season's model was almost 1.5 inches at the edge).

TCL 5-Series Roku TV (S535) review

(Image credit: TCL)

Also slimmed down are the TCL 5-Series' legs. Last year's model had the angular v-shaped feet at each end of the panel. The current model has more rounded and svelte legs that have been brought in a couple of inches from each edge.

TCL 5-Series Roku TV (S535) review

(Image credit: TCL)

Incidentally, if you choose the 65- or 75-inch model of the 5-Series, TCL gives you the option of mounting the legs on the ends or toward the center of the screen. The latter is a big help in situations where your tabletop isn't quite as wide as the TV.

(Image credit: TCL)

If you're planning on a wall mount, the 55-inch TCL 5-Series works with a standard VESA 300mm x 200mm bracket.

TCL 5-Series Roku TV Review: Ports

The 5-Series comes with a healthy array of connections. On the back panel you'll find 4 HDMI 2.1 ports, one of which has the audio return channel (ARC), making it handy for a connected soundbar or AV receiver. The HDMI ports only support 60 Hz 4K, but only ardent gamers will be disappointed by that. Also on the back, there's a cable/antenna input, a USB 2.0 port, an analog audio out jack, an optical audio output, and a mini-jack AV input (for old video gear). The last connection requires an adapter, which isn't included (competitors like LG do include the needed dongle).

(Image credit: TCL)

The 5-Series set also has an Ethernet port. However, most people will make the needed Internet connection wirelessly. The 5-Series supports the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. Bluetooth is available but not for headphones but rather for the Roku remote and the brand's own wireless speakers.

TCL 5-Series Roku TV Review: Performance

Picture settings on the TCL 5-Series using the Roku TV software is pretty rudimentary. You can select brightness levels (Normal, Bright, Brighter, Dark, and Darker). We choose the Normal brightness setting and then under advanced picture settings we selected Movie mode. (Additional choices are Normal, Sports, Low Power, and Vivid.)

TCL 5-Series Roku TV (S535) review

(Image credit: TCL)

You can also make more detailed settings for individual inputs, which we did. In the settings menus, you'll find brightness and color temperature adjustments, for example, for each mode. And while there is no FilmMaker Mode, which turns off most video processing so that the look of the original movie can come through, there is the ability to turn off motion smoothing, for example, which is already shut off in Movie mode.

In handling 4K programs, the TCL 5-Series did a commendable job. Grogu is still our go-to guy and the set did well handling The Mandalorian. Bright laser fights and dimly lit scenes fared equally well. The shadowy encounter with Werner Herzog, for example, looked good with dark objects like a black jacket against the dark background maintaining their detail. And HDR helped make the blue flames of the armor maker's fire truly brilliant.

The TCL 5-Series also ran the gauntlet of some of our favorite 4K movies, including Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Again, red highlights looked crisp against dark backgrounds without creating halo artifacts, and the sun-drenched scenes of California looked consistent from edge to edge without the banding you often see on subtle color transitions.

Better still we tested the set watching some standard HD 1080p and 720p content to see how well it would do upscaling it to 4K. Suffice it to say, the TCL 5-Series did remarkably well; upscaled images looked good, aided and abetted by some brilliant colors. A Technicolor Hitchcock film, the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, for example, looked appropriately stunning. Doris Day's silk suit shimmered and the reds and golds of the Albert Hall were appropriately sumptuous without becoming garish.

We also tested the TCL 5-Series for cordcutters by using a Mohu antenna to pull in over-the-air stations. There were a couple of dozen available channels in our area, and we wanted to see how the set did upscaling such 720 p and 1080 p content. It did well enough bringing such HD programs up to 4K so you won't find its upscaling distracting.

One downside of the TCL 5-Series is that its horizontal viewing angles are mediocre. So if you're the unlucky one who has to sit on the end of the couch, you may notice a slight loss of color intensity and brightness. It's certainly not as severe as you'll witness on some older, non-quantum-dot TVs, but it's not as good as what OLED sets offer.

TCL 5-Series Roku TV Review: Test Results

Submitted to our standard suite of tests using an X-Rite i1 Pro spectrophotometer and SpectraCal CalMAN Ultimate calibration software, we found the TCL 5-Series delivered some of the most accurate colors that we've seen. It yielded a Delta E result of 1.76, besting last year's top-of-the-line TCL 6-Series R635 (2.84) and the Samsung Q70T QLED TV (2.44). However, the quantum dot-equipped Hisense H9G Quantum Android TV did better in this test (0.91)–but costs more.

(Image credit: TCL)

In terms of reproducing the overall color spectrum, the TCL 5-Series fell in line with what we've seen from other quantum dot sets. It reproduced nearly the full Rec 709 color palette at 99.85 percent. Pricier OLEDs often deliver far more than 100 percent of the Rec 709 spectrum, but those models cost 150 percent more than the TCL 5-Series.

If the TCL 5-Series has a notable weakness, it is in the area of brightness. It is common for us to see numbers of around 600 nits with a 10 percent test pattern. The TCL 5-Series gave us 391.9 nits. While that sounds like a significant difference, we still found it acceptable watching programs using the set's less-bright Movie mode. Even in a normally lit room, we didn't feel the need to boost the brightness or switch to Vivid mode.

Furthermore, gamers will appreciate this TV's snappy response. In image lag tests the TCL 5-Series returned a time of 13.1 ms, which was half the time of the Samsung QN55Q70TAF (27.6 ms), quicker than last year's TCL 6-Series Roku TV (21.5) and even faster than the Hisense 55H9G quantum competitor (16.1 ms). Pair that with the HDMI 2.1 support needed to get most of the advanced features offered the Xbox Series X or PS5, and the TCL 5-Series shapes up to be one of the best TVs for 4K gaming, provided you don't care about ultra-high frame rates.

TCL 5-Series Roku TV Review: Audio

Sound quality is not one of the focal points of the TCL 5-Series. Yes, it supports Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks, but the standard today for leading sets is the more robust and three-dimensional Dolby Atmos format. (The competing Hisense 55H9G, for example, supports Dolby Atmos, as does TCL's step-up model, the 6-Series.)

(Image credit: TCL)

Flat panel sets in general do not distinguish themselves in the sound department. And the TCL 5-Series is no different in this regard with its diminutive 8-watt speakers. Consequently, there's not a lot of attention directed to audio features here, and it has a very narrow soundstage. Everything seems to emanate from the center of the screen.

However, the TCL 5-Series does have several preset audio modes: Big bass, High Treble, Music, Normal, Speech, and Theater. The last setting produces the most well-rounded balance of high and low notes for watching most programs. Speech delivers dominant higher-end frequencies in an attempt to focus on dialogue, with mixed results. Big bass does deliver a little bit more on the lower end, but the Theater mode is superior in this regard. Nonetheless, if you are looking to fill a large living area with cinematic sound, we suggest adding one of the best soundbars or connecting the set to a full-blown surround sound system.

TCL 5-Series Roku TV Review: Smart TV

The TCL 5-Series comes with the familiar big red splash screen of Roku TV. Not only does it make finding and streaming different online sources of entertainment a snap, it also helps with setting up the TV.

(Image credit: TCL)

The Roku interface will walk you through the basics on-screen, including connecting the TV to your home Wi-Fi network. It will automatically look for any software updates (there was an update available for our tests), and you can enter your email to activate an existing Roku account. Downloading channel apps for the Roku TV will consume most of your setup time, depending on how many you typically use. A brief narrated video will run through the features of the Roku remote at the end of the process.

Even for the uninitiated, the Roku smart TV software could not be easier. It will see an attached cable box or antenna, and then you just download your preferred streaming sources. Roku supports all the major content providers from Netflix to Disney+. Roku has been at it longer than anyone else, so there are literally thousands of "channels" available, which is not to say that there aren't any gaps.

(Image credit: TCL)

As of this writing, Roku and the Spectrum cable company have been squabbling about rights and fees for the Spectrum app for several months–so it is not available. And there is no expected date for when it will return. (Existing Spectrum customers who downloaded the channel to older external Roku boxes can still watch it, however.)

Apple iPhone owners will be pleased to learn that they can share videos, photos, and music on TCL 5-Series using AirPlay. And you can mirror any Android smartphone on the set's screen.

TCL 5-Series Roku TV Review: Remote

The remote control for the TCL 5-Series is a run-of-the-mill Roku remote for TVs. The remote is smaller than a protein bar with minimal buttons. A four-way directional pad with an "OK" button in the center gets you around menus and settings, and there are dedicated buttons for launching Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, and Sling TV.

(Image credit: TCL)

The major distinction between this remote and those for higher-end sets is that the TCL 5-Series controller doesn't have a microphone built into the remote, so you can't do voice searches at the push of a button. If you want to do that, you'll need to use the Roku app on your smartphone. The same goes for late night listening; you're best off using earbuds connected to your smartphone to keep things down to a dull roar.

TCL 5-Series Roku TV Review: Verdict

If you're looking for a solid, quality picture from a quantum dot set, the TCL 5-Series is one of the leading contenders in this category. It isn't perfect, but its picture is as good as (if not better than) much of the competition, including what we've seen in our Hisense H9G Quantum Android TV (55H9G) review and the Samsung Q70T QLED TV review, delivering very accurate colors for less money than either of those models. The Roku smart TV features are also straightforward for those who just want to set it and forget it. Yes, there are more feature-rich OLED sets available, but those models are more than twice the price of this rather pleasing 4K TV.