We've tested and reviewed a lot of inexpensive TVs here at Tom's Guide, but TCL has consistently risen to the top of the heap when it comes to getting great value in an inexpensive 4K smart TV. These affordable TVs aren't just low-priced, there also consistently the best TVs you can get for the money.
The TCL 43S517 43-Inch Roku Smart 4K TV ($349), part of TCL's 2018 5-Series, continues this tradition by offering not only a great price and solid quality, but by adding unexpectedly premium features – like Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos sound, and a better-than-average version of Roku TV – to this value-packed budget TV.
TCL 43S517 43-Inch Roku Smart 4K TV Specs
|Screen Size||43 inches|
|Resolution||3840 x 2160|
|HDR||HDR10, Dolby Vision|
|Ports||3 HDMI, 1 USB|
|Audio||2 channel 8-watt, with Dolby Atmos support|
|Smart TV Software||Roku TV|
|Size||37.8 x 22.1 x 2.9 inches [w/o stand]|
|Weight||18.5 pounds [w/o stand]|
The TCL Roku TV is better-looking than most lower-priced TVs, thanks in large part to very narrow 0.35-inch bezels around the display. The display cabinet is also surprisingly thin, with most of the panel housing measuring a scant 0.38-inch thick, though the portion that contains the internal components does thicken to 2.9 inches at the base.
The included feet are glossy black plastic, but they are fairly sturdy. The rear panel is metal, rather than plastic, which is a small but welcome change from the all-plastic construction seen on most TVs in this size and price range.
The TCL 43S517 measures 37.8 x 22.1 x 2.9 inches, and weighs 18.5 pounds. The smaller, lighter size makes it a great choice for smaller apartments or single folks who may not have a second person around to help them with assembling or moving the TV – frequently a two-person job on larger sets.
This TV will accommodate a 200mm x 200mm VESA mount, but the design, with its slim panel and bulky base, won't mount flush with a wall, instead leaving a gap of an inch or two.
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A collection of ports sits on the back of the TV several inches from the right-hand side. There you will find three HDMI ports (one with ARC support), one USB port, an RF connector for connecting cable or antenna, a digital optical port, a headphone jack for audio output and an Ethernet port for wired connectivity. The TV also has built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi, so you can skip the Ethernet cable.
While we might wish for a second USB port, or even a fourth HDMI connection, the port selection is comparable to other sets in this price range.
Shopping for smaller TVs in this price range, you'll quickly see that 4K resolution is not a given, yet the 43-inch TCL delivers all the Ultra-HD goodness you want, as well as HDR support and a 60Hz refresh rate.
Watching scenes from Spider-Man: Homecoming, the color quality, sharp detail and Dolby Vision HDR support made for a surprisingly great viewing experience. The bright colors of Spidey's suit looked great, the glowing blasts from alien weaponry looked vibrant, and the fast action looked pretty great for a 60Hz display.
Resolution is crisp and clear, bringing out details like stubble on a face, and the 43S517 managed to do well with small densely packed details, which would normally suffer from a significant moire effect, like we've seen on other inexpensive TVs.
The 43S517 offers great color reproduction. In our testing, the 43S517 reproduced 99.8 percent of the colors available in the sRGB color space. This is better than other inexpensive sets, like the Toshiba 55-Inch 4K Fire TV Edition (98.2 percent) and our favorite sub-$500 TV, the TCL Roku 49-inch 49S405 (98.1 percent).
It also has excellent color accuracy, with a Delta-E rating of 1.7 (closer to zero is better). This is not only better than plainly bad displays, like the Toshiba 55-Inch 4K Fire TV Edition (5.05), it's also better than solid performers like the Sony XBR-43X800E 4K TV (2.2) and last years TCL 49S405 (2.1).
When we watched scenes from Blade Runner 2049, we saw that in addition to very good color quality, the TV did surprisingly well transitioning among subtle color gradients. Shots of clouds and fog offer realistic colors, while many budget-friendly TVs struggle to show these color variations without noticeable banding.
Viewing angles were somewhat limited, with noticeable color shifting when viewed for more than about 20 degrees off. Vertical angles were just as limited. However, unlike some less expensive sets that experience severe color distortion, the skewed color was less severe than most. Our primary test screen is purple, which generally shifts to a lighter pink but in this case shifted to a reddish hue that still looked mostly purple. The result is noticeable color shifting, but it will maintain viewability better than most inexpensive LCD TVs.
Elevated grays are an issue on the display, but that's not unexpected on an inexpensive LCD panel like this. We were also disappointed to see some inconsistent backlighting, particularly some unwanted brightness in the corners of the screen. This was an unexpected problem, given that LCD panels generally have the opposite issue, with shadows in the corners.
The edge-lit backlight also meant that high contrast images, such as black silhouettes against bright backgrounds, or brightly lit windows in dark environments were prone to haloing. Large sections of the display suffered from boosted brightness, due to edge lighting being unable to differentiate the brightness in specific sections of the screen.
When we connected our Xbox 360 X, we were able to jump right in with 4K gaming at 60Hz refresh rate. But we noticed less impressive support for color depth and HDR. The TV didn't offer HDR10 support for gaming, and was unable to display 10-bit color. Still, for the price, it's one of the best 4K gaming TVs around.
When watching Blade Runner 2049, the synth-heavy tracks of the soundtrack came through strong and clear. Dialogue was easy to understand, whether it was a whispered argument or a normal conversation.
The only disappointment was the lack of bass. Even taking into account the TV's lack of a subwoofer, low-end audio was muted. Gunshots seemed muffled, and explosions lacked the rich booming sound quality we've heard from other sets.
We heard the same issues in music. When we listened to Radiohead's "Man of War," Thom York's vocals came through clearly alongside the pounding piano and crushing guitar licks, but the bass was mostly gone.
This is one set one where you'll definitely want to get a soundbar for better audio. And because the TV supports Dolby Atmos, you will not only get better audio, but you will get a richer sound experience overall when using an Atmos-compatible option.
Roku TV can be found on many brands, becoming the standard platform for inexpensive smart TVs across several manufacturers. The interface is uncluttered and easy to navigate, with big square tiles for all your apps and streaming services.
The app selection is quite broad, including support for popular services such as Netflix and Hulu. There are also apps or channels for major broadcasters, major league sports and premium channels like HBO and Showtime. Of special interest to cord-cutters will be support for Sling TV, which provides a cable-TV-like experience without the expense of a cable subscription.
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About the only problem with Roku TV is the simplicity of the settings and feature menus. Compared to the proprietary Smart TV operating systems found on more premium models from Samsung, LG and Sony, the ability to tweak and optimize your viewing experience is limited.
The consistency of that experience has become a strong selling point for the platform, yet TCL has taken steps to enhance the Roku experience on its new TVs. Significantly, where other low-priced TVs offload voice-search features to the Roku smartphone app, TCL integrates it, offering a remote with built in-mic.
The TCL comes with Roku's small rounded remote. It's virtually identical to the remotes we've seen on past TCL Roku TVs, and it's just like the remotes included with Roku TVs from Element and RCA, but with the TCL logo on it.
A large purple directional pad lets you navigate with ease through app icons and menu settings, and a collection of function buttons lets you control media playback, navigate to and from the home screen and more. There are also dedicated buttons for Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV and DirecTV Now, all popular apps that you are likely to use. While we wish that these buttons could be reprogrammed to your actual favorite apps, it's not overly intrusive.
Although some Roku TVs, including models offered by TCL, will offer the remote with a built-in headphone jack, this model does not. It does, however, have a built-in microphone for voice interaction, such as searching for content. This is an unexpected surprise at this price, since most budget-friendly Roku TVs don't offer the microphone. If you want private listening even without the headphone jack, you can do so through the Roku app on your smartphone.
On the whole, we are impressed with the TCL 43S517 43-Inch Roku Smart 4K TV, which not only has an attractive price, but also brings premium features to the table, like Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos sound and Roku voice search.
Compared with the 43-inch Sony XBR-43X800E, the TCL 43S517 offers better color quality, better HDR support and doesn’t have the Sony's awkward power-adapter brick to deal with. The fact that the TCL costs $250 less than Sony's similar smart TV just makes it a fantastic bargain besides being a better TV.
Credit: Tom's Guide