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TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) review

A solid value-priced 4K smart TV

TCL 4-Series Roku TV (43S435) review
(Image: © TCL)

Our Verdict

The TCL 4-Series demonstrates that 4K is mainstream now, with respectable picture quality and the very convenient Roku TV smart interface.

For

  • Excellent value-priced 4K
  • Good color fidelity
  • Solid Roku skills

Against

  • No Dolby Vision support
  • Minimal sound adjustments
  • Picture adjustments are difficult to find
TCL 4-Series Roku TV (43S435): Specs

Price: $289
Model number: 43S435
Screen size: 43 inches
Resolution: 3840 x 2160
HDR: HDR10, and HLG
Refresh rate: 60 Hz
Ports: 3 HDMI 2.1 (1 ARC); 1 USB; 1 headphone jack; 1 composite; RF; digital audio; Ethernet
Audio: 8 watts by 8 watts, Dolby Digital Plus
Smart TV software: Roku TV
Size: 38.2 x 22.3 x 3.3 inches [w/o stand]
Weight: 15.4 pounds [w/o stand]; 15.6 pounds [w. stand]

Not everyone can be the best TV and the brightest screen, and that's okay. Sometimes it's actually just as important to deliver respectable performance at an affordable price. That's the sweet spot for TCL's 4-Series sets.

The TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) cements 4K resolution with HDR (high dynamic range) support as de rigueur today, with this 43-inch LCD model for less than $300. It's also a smart TV and able to handle most streaming and online entertainment sources thanks to the inclusion of the Roku TV software. It makes for a full-featured little package that's simple to use and that surprisingly only makes a few compromises in eliminating a handful of high-end features.

TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) review: Pricing and availability

Available now, TCL unflinchingly offers more options in the 4-Series line than you can shake a remote at. Sets in the 4-Series are available in sizes from the 43-inch model we tested all the way up to 85 inches. List pricing starts at $289.99 for the 43-inch set and goes all the way up to $1,599.99 for the big 85-incher.

The company also offers the 4-Series in two different smart TV flavors, Roku TV or Android TV. Our review focuses on the Roku version, indicated by the S435 model number. Android-equipped sets are distinguished by the S434 model number, but the hardware used on both versions of the 4-Series is identical. (To be fair, though, there is no 85-inch Android TV model.) However, because our reviews look at both hardware performance and user experience, which can be greatly influenced by software and app selection, we won't be discussing the Android TV models at length in this review. 

That said, across both the TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) and Android TV (S434) models, we expect to see the same level of performance on all models. From port selection to features like HDR support and display technology, our recommendations should carry over from one model to the next.

Out of six different TV model families, the TCL 4-Series is the company's entry-level 4K line. There is one model family below it, the 3-Series, but it doesn't support 4K and starts with a 32-inch 720p set for just $159. If you're considering going in the other direction and looking at an upgrade over the 4-Series, the TCL 5-Series Roku TV (S535) includes features that are lacking in the 4-Series, such as a quantum dot display and Dolby Vision support for just a bit more.

TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) review: Design

Dressed in basic black, the TCL 4-Series follows what has become a standard design with splayed legs on either end to support it on a tabletop. The V-shaped legs are steady enough, but it doesn't take much to support a set that weighs less than 16 pounds. If you'd prefer a wall mount for this set, you should purchase a standard VESA 200 x 200 millimeter bracket, which can be found on our list of the best TV mounts.

(Image credit: TCL)

Around the picture is what we consider to be an average-sized bezel. It's about half an inch thick on the top and sides, and slightly wider along the bottom. The bezel doesn't detract from the picture, although the TCL badging on the bottom of the frame is a little distracting given the size of this set. And as with most LCD sets, while the display itself is thin, the supporting electronics, connections, and rear mounted speakers make it thicker, bringing it to almost 3.5 inches at its widest point.

TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) review: Ports

If you're putting this 43-inch set into a bedroom or home office, you'll find it has all the needed connections to make it work. On the left back side is the lone power plug, with all the source connections on the opposite right side.

(Image credit: TCL)

There are 3 HDMI 2.1 ports with one offering ARC (audio return channel) support for sound bars. Also here is a USB port, a headphone jack, composite video plugs, digital audio output, an RF coaxial port, and an Ethernet port. Most people will use the built-in Wi-Fi 802.11ac with dual band support to make the necessary Internet connection.

TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) review: Performance

The TCL 4-Series set doesn't deviate from the Roku setup script. Enter your language, location and wireless network essentials, and you're good to go. It didn’t automatically recognize components we connected to it, but it has a long list of options to choose from. In picture settings, there are 5 preset modes: Brighter, Bright, Normal, Dark, and Darker. (There's no Filmmaker Mode support, which we generally prefer.)

However, if you go into individual input settings you can make further adjustments the backlight, contrast and color temperature. For further tweaks, such as noise reduction and gamma adjustment, you can use the Roku app on a smart phone. In our own viewing tests, we determined that Normal rendered the most accurate picture for most material.

Still, the TCL 4-Series did a respectable job displaying most of the programming we threw at it. For "Those Who Wish Me Dead" in 4K we found Angelina Jolie as compelling as ever and colors in the thriller were rendered fairly accurately throughout. The opening raging forest fire was brilliant without excessive haloing around the flames. On the other hand, the green palm fronds in Florida looked appropriately verdant and bright isolated elements, like a fake gold badge, glinted clearly without a loss of focus. In a kitchen scene, the reflections and shine off a toaster looked crisp while yellow bananas next to oranges in a fruit bowl produced realistic hues.

(Image credit: TCL)

The TCL 4-Series does not have active localized dimming, which is arguably unnecessary in a 43-inch set. Be that as it may, in our go-to shady scenes from the Mandalorian in 4K we didn't detect any overt difficulties with contrast. Most of the shadings were good, with alien lizards clearly visible scurrying around inside a dim cavern. In Chapter 2: The Child, there also wasn't any really noticeable banding in color transitions, like what you might see in challenging scenes showing the sky at dusk.

If you're looking for a filmic quality, the TCL 4-Series also did well enough with visuals like those in Uncut Gems. Gold and blue tones jumped out without being overbearing, and a jewel-encrusted Furby was appropriately scintillating and garrish at the same time.

Without more sophisticated dimming technology, the black bands of letterboxing did not look as inky dark as they can be on more expensive sets, but we didn't find this excessively distracting. Screen uniformity was good and while off-axis viewing was less so, it should be much less of an issue with a set this size where you're more likely to be sitting up close.

TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) review: Test Results

Most 4K sets are able to reproduce most of the standard Rec 709 color spectrum and the TCL 4-Series was no exception. It was able to display 99.55% of the standard full color gamut, which is within a few tenths of a percent of most 4K models, including those like the 43-inch Insignia 4K Ultra HD Fire TV Edition (99.45%) and the 99.92% of the Vizio M-Series Quantum (M658-G1). Furthermore, the TCL 4-Series produced better overall color than the direct competitor from Vizio, the 50-inch V-Series (97.59%) which was about 2 percent back from the TCL set.

(Image credit: TCL)

The range of colors one can produce is critical to picture quality but color fidelity is just as important. The TCL 4-Series did a respectable job in this regard with Delta E result of 2.8. Although lower numbers mean better color accuracy–and we like to see Delta E numbers around 2.2 or lower–the TCL results actually bested the comparable aforementioned Insignia set (3.6) and the Vizio M-Series Quantum (3.1).

The one performance weakness was in terms of brightness. With a 10 percent pattern, the TCL 4-Series hit roughly 292 nits. That is not terrible for a bargain-priced TV but it is considerably less bright than many sets, which typically top over 600 nits.

Gamers, on the other hand, may want to consider this model for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its excellent responsiveness. In our tests, its lag times were 14.1ms, well below our 17 ms threshold for solid gaming. That's also comparable to the Vizio V-Series 50-inch (V505-H9) which turned in 13.1 ms in our tests, and it was much better than laggards like the inexpensive Insignia Amazon Fire TV (NS-43DF710NA19), which turned in a very slow 38.8 ms.

TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) review: Audio

To be honest, we didn't expect much from the sound on this set. It's size and price preclude any expensive internal speakers, and the TCL 4-Series doesn't support formats like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. But in many movies, we found the audio capabilities were good enough. The opening parachute scene of Those Who Wish Me Dead was still impressive with its rush of air and roaring brush fire.

(Image credit: TCL)

Of course, the set's sonic skills are limited. On a music video, like the 4K version of Aha's Take On Me, the drum beats sound hollow and the keyboards lack a certain brightness. Midrange bass tracks sound fine, but there's a decided lack of dynamic range and those famous high notes of Morten Harket never quite reach the top.

Still, this set can make lots of noise. We put it up to 90 percent of its stated volume and found it could fill a very large living room. Songs, like Steely Dan's Deacon Blues, are still missing the bottom end and the drums sound like they have plastic skins, but there's surprisingly little distortion. Once again, you cannot make adjustments to the sound profile of the TCL 4-Series, and there are no built-in DSP-created sound effects available.

TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) review: Smart TV features

Roku's interface hasn't changed much over the years and you won't find anything new here. For most people, that's a good thing. Click on the left side of the screen and all your favorite channels (and thousands of not so favorite channels) appear on the right in clearly legible square icons. True, Roku has of late been running into more disputes with content providers, which threatens to disrupt its universal appeal. Roku still hasn't reached an agreement with cable company Spectrum, for example, and it's recently been squabbling with Google over that company's demands for its YouTube TV (which should not be confused with the more popular YouTube app). Still, Roku remains the streaming interface to beat.

Viewers should also recognize, though, that while the easy-to-use Roku software is certainly admirable, what you gain in simplicity, you lose in terms of flexibility. As previously mentioned, there aren't any options for tweaking the picture or sound quality. That can be frustrating.

TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) review: Remote control

The 4-Series comes with the basic Roku remote control. There's the four-way directional pad with an entry "Ok" button in the center. There are also dedicated buttons for Netflix, Sling, Disney+ and Hulu. Volume controls are on the right side along with a mute button.

(Image credit: TCL)

There is no microphone built into the remote, yet TCL touts voice control for the 4-Series. The only way to make this work, however, is to use the associated Roku app for smartphones, or replace the included remote with the microphone-enabled Roku Voice remote. Alternatively, you can use a Google Assistant enabled or Alexa enabled smart device and download the TCL skills for it. It's a workaround for people who can't live with voice control, but not nearly as easy to use as when these services are built into the TV.

TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) review: Verdict

A fine set for a secondary TV or for use in a dorm room this fall, the TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) is a capable model that can handle 4K streaming content easily. It delivers a decent picture for the price, while eliminating features that many owners would probably find superfluous anyway. 

It also compares well against similarly priced sets from the likes of the 43-inch Insignia Amazon Fire TV and the Vizio 50-inch V-Series sets we've tested. In fact, to help you make your choice we've pitched it head-to-head with the Vizio in this TCL 4-Series vs. Vizio V-Series face-off.

If you want an even better and larger picture for just a little more money, consider the 50-inch version of the TCL 5-Series Roku TV (S535), which is about $40 more.

See where else the TCL 4-Series Roku TV (S435) is mentioned:

The best TVs under $1000 | The best TVs under $500 | Best TVs for gaming | Best TCL TVs | Best Roku TVs | The smallest smart TVs | Best 43-inch TVs | Best 50-inch TVs | Best 55-inch TVs | Best 65-inch TVs | Best 85-inch TVs 

John R. Quain
John R. Quain has been reviewing and testing video and audio equipment for more than 20 years. He is currently a contributor to The New York Times and the CBS News television program.