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Some TVs are all about producing the best picture possible. The 50-inch TCL 50UP130 Roku TV is about offering the best online features available. Its main attraction: the built-in Roku TV connected system, which delivers thousands of internet streaming options in an easy-to-navigate interface. At around $500, this set costs as much as the larger 55-inch TCL US5800 Roku TV, primarily because the 50UP130 includes something the US5800 does not: a remote with voice search and a headphone jack. However, this display has trouble with color accuracy in its best preset video mode, making it less of a bargain than it seems.
Design: by the numbers
The 50-inch TCL 50UP130 Roku TV is supported by sturdy, silver, arched legs on both ends of the set. It's a basic flat-panel design with no exceptional details. For connecting the TV to other components, TCL includes four HDMI ports (all of which support 4K copy protection), a USB 2.0 port and built-in Wi-Fi for making the essential connection to support Roku's channels.
Performance: Some issues
The best preset video mode of the TCL 50UP130 Roku TV proved to be the so-called Darker setting. (The other options are Brighter, Normal and Dark.) Even in this mode (which I used for viewing tests), the TCL drifted into the blue end of the color spectrum, hurting its color accuracy.
While the TCL set delivered over 98 percent of the standard rec. 709 color space (100 percent is excellent), its color accuracy was skewed, with an 8.38 Delta-E score (numbers closer to 0 are better). The 50-inch Insignia Roku TV had much better color accuracy in our tests, with a Delta-E score of 1.12, while delivering just over 95 percent of the same color space.
The TCL Roku TV's lack of local dimming, which can turn off the backlight in some sections of an image while boosting it in others, also meant that details were lost in dark shadows and bright highlights. In 4K movies, such as Mad Max: Fury Road, there was some loss of detail in highlights, such as the flaming guitar, due to a lack of contrast. The wrinkles in Max's forehead and the ripped torsos of the half-life boys were also missing, thus making the picture look more cartoonish than the director intended. This issue was also apparent in The Martian, where some characters were completely obscured in the sandstorm scene.
On the other hand, the TCL 50UP130's color saturation was generally good. The set didn't have any obvious problems with color transitions, either, easily handling most of the challenging scenes in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
The TV did relatively well in upscaling HD content (which is most of what's available today) to 4K. It didn't generate any artificial halos around astronauts or streaking of stars in Gravity, for example. There was a preponderance of blue, making for darker oceans, and a lack of detail overall. I also noticed some screen flicker on particular scenes; this is a 60-Hz monitor, although some marketing materials refer to it as a 120-Hz set.
With a 50-inch set like this, most viewers at home will sit in the center sweet spot. If you do move off-axis or away from the center, however, you'll notice that the brightness and color saturation drop off quickly. Keep this in mind if you're planning to put it in a larger room with a variety of viewing positions.
Audio: quiet and narrow
The TCL 50UP130's audio reaches only moderate levels. (TCL rates it at 8 watts.) Consequently, it's only appropriate for smaller rooms, such as a den or a home office. The sound is also strictly aimed at the center position, with a very narrow sound stage. Music suffers when played on the TCL 50UP130, with virtually no bass or low end to speak of. Buyers may want to use some of the money saved on this bargain TV to purchase a soundbar.
Interface: Roku rocks
As with similarly equipped inexpensive sets, the best feature of this TCL TV is its Roku smart TV interface. It brings together thousands of online video and music sources — from HBO and Netflix to Pandora and iHeartRadio — in a simple design that's easy to follow. It's quick and efficient, and allows you to add new apps or "channels" without fuss.
Additional benefits include a 4K Roku channel for finding high-resolution content and the My Movie Watchlist, where you can add movies you'd like to see and have it automatically notify you when they become available.
To sort through all the programming, this TCL Roku TV has one of the best search functions available, and unlike the TCL US5800 Roku TV, this clicker replaces the Rdio button with a dedicated button for HBO Now. Better still, an audio-out jack is included on the remote so that you can plug in headphones for quiet late-night viewing. It's one of my favorite features — but know that if you use it a lot, you'll drain the batteries in the remote in just a few evenings.
Also notable is that you can use voice commands for searches on this model, which isn't possible with the TCL US5800 Roku TV. Roku's search is already better than the competition, and I found the voice recognition to be consistently good. You can perform a single search across roughly 30 different services at once. When you find something that interests you, Roku will show you all of the options, ranging from services you already subscribe to, such as Netflix or HBO Go, to on-demand options like Amazon.
For those who just want an easy-to-use 4K set in a world of confusingly configured high-end models, the 50-inch TCL 50UP130 may be a good choice. However, its picture performance doesn't match that of the comparably priced Insignia Roku TV. So if you appreciate the Roku TV feature of the TCL 50UP130, the main question you'll face is whether the voice search and headphone jack are worth it.
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John R. Quain has been reviewing and testing video and audio equipment for more than 20 years. For Tom's Guide, he has reviewed televisions, HDTV antennas, electric bikes, electric cars, as well as other outdoor equipment. He is currently a contributor to The New York Times and the CBS News television program.