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TCL Roku 43-inch 43S403 Review: 4K and HDR on the Cheap

The TCL Roku 43S403 delivers 4K, HDR and Roku's Smart TV interface for a very good price, but not a lot of frills.

Our Verdict

The TCL Roku 43S403 delivers 4K, HDR and Roku's Smart TV interface for a very good price, but not a lot of frills.

For

  • Smart and simple Roku interface
  • 4K resolution
  • HDR support
  • Short lag times
  • Affordable price

Against

  • Skimpy port selection
  • Backlighting has some flaws
  • Audio left us wanting a soundbar

Trying to get all the features you want in a TV can be a little like playing bingo, looking at one set after another until the right boxes are checked. The TCL Roku 43S403 checks off some of the big ones, with 4k resolution, HDR support and Roku's popular smart TV interface.

But don't celebrate just yet. It delivers these premium features in their most basic form, with only one HDR format supported, a lackluster selection of ports and less-than-perfect audio. But the value of this set keeps coming back to the low sub-$400 price, and that might be enough have you shouting bingo right in the middle of the store.

See our Best Cheap 4K TVs to see where this set stacks up.

TCL Roku 43-inch 43S403 Specs

Price$369.99
Screen Size 43 inches
Resolution3840 x 2160
HDRHDR10
Refresh Rate60Hz
Ports3x HDMI, 1x USB 2.0
Audio2x 8W
Smart TV SoftwareRoku
Size38.3 x 22.2 x 2.9 inches
Weight16.6 pounds

Design

The S-Series Roku sets all have the same basic design, with black plastic construction that pairs matte black texturing on the back with a glossy bezel around the display panel.

Without the included stand, the set measures 38.3 x 22.2 x 2.9 inches and weighs 16.8 pounds. It's compatible with a 100 millimeter VESA mount, but even with the feet attached it's not too big, measuring just 7.5 inches deep.

Ports

Most of the TCL Roku 43S403's connection ports are conveniently located on the left-hand side of the TV chassis. You get three HDMI ports (including one with ARC for use with soundbars and other audio), a single USB 2.0 port, an RF connector for antenna and coaxial connections and a digital audio port. With many TVs in this range offering a fourth HDMI and multiple USB ports, the selection feels a bit skimpy, but it will still do the trick for most users.

On the rear-facing panel you'll find Composite Video inputs and Left and Right audio jacks, along with an Ethernet port for wired network connectivity. If you don't want to run yet another cable to your TV, the set has 802.11ac Wi-Fi built in.

Performance

The TCL Roku 43S403 has a 43-inch display panel with a basic 60Hz refresh rate, which is boosted to an effective rate of 120Hz with some extra processing. The 4K panel delivers 3840 x 2160 resolution, with automatic upscaling for any content at lower resolutions.

The TCL Roku 43S403 offered a more robust array of colors than some competitors. It reproduced just 97.3 percent of the Rec 709 colorspace in Cinema mode, but stepped up to 99.7 percent in Standard mode, which is close enough to 100 percent for our liking. It's also better than we saw on either the Hisense 43H6D (98.7 percent) or the Insignia NS-55DR620NA18 (96.2 percent).

MORE: Our Favorite 4K (Ultra HD) TVs Available Now

In Mad Max, we saw bright blue skies, vibrant scarlet flares and scorching orange flames, but we also noticed some unwanted shadows in the corners of the screen. We confirmed this with a handful of single-color test screens, which all showed the same problem – backlighting wasn’t quite as bright in the four corners of the display.

In Deadpool, a shadowy laboratory was punctuated with glowing lights and bright orange flames, thanks to the set's HDR capabilities. While it does offer HDR support, the S403 only supports the HDR10 format, and not other popular HDR options like Dolby Vision.

Color accuracy on the Roku 43S403 was good, but not great. In our lab testing, we saw an average Delta-E rating of 2.8 (closer to 0 is better), which is fairly accurate overall. But it isn't quite as true-to-life as the Hisense 43H6D (2.4), the 49-inch TCL S405 (2.1) or the Insignia NS-55DR620NA18 (2.0).

The inaccuracy was most noticeable when viewing shades of purple and blue, which tended to be slightly oversaturated. Still, the TCL's result was much better than some of the sets we've seen in the sub-$500 range, like the Westinghouse Amazon Fire TV (5.5) and the LG 43UJ6300 (4.5)

This TCL set also had trouble with brightly lit objects in high-contrast situations. In the movie Arrival, as a group enters the dark shaft of the alien ship, the well-lit end of the tunnel was surrounded by an unwanted halo of light as the LCD backlight struggled to only illuminate the lit portion against the dark surroundings. Turning down the backlight helped with this, but caused its own problems with details disappearing in shadow.

In Deadpool, a shadowy laboratory was punctuated with glowing lights and bright orange flames, thanks to the set's HDR capabilities.

Unlike most inexpensive sets in this price range, the TCL Roku 43S403 handles tight, dense detail quite well, displaying things like a chain-link fence and patterned fabric without much of a moire effect. However, we would have liked better viewing angles. Although the color was all good when viewed head-on, looking at the screen from even 30 degrees off-center made colors  appear slightly washed out.

The low-priced set will also have some appeal for anyone who wants to game in 4k, as it offers not only UHD resolution but also a zippy lag time of just 14 milliseconds in game mode.

Audio

The TCL 43S403 is outfitted with a pair of 8-watt speakers, with Dolby Digital processing to provide cleaner, richer audio. At normal volumes, the audio quality was pretty good. But if you want the best sound at high volumes, you'll want to look into getting a soundbar.

MORE: Our Favorite Soundbars for Small and Big TVs

The 43S403 puts out very little bass at low volumes, but once you open it up, the bass thumps quite well for a TV sound system. The overall volume output was  impressive, reaching levels that I would consider loud at only half volume. Unfortunately, once this threshold was crossed, the audio suffered from some slight distortion;  at full volume, the speakers actually caused the set to buzz with vibration.

At normal volumes the audio quality was pretty good, but if you want the best sound at high volumes, you'll want to look into getting a soundbar.

This wouldn't be such an issue if the bass were better at lower volumes. Instead, you'll need to turn it up to get full bass sound, but go too high and you'll get that unwelcome rattle. The sweet spot seems to be somewhere between 35 and 50, with anything over 50 distorting slightly, and buzzing between 70 and 100.

Smart Features

TCL uses Roku's popular interface for its smart TV functions, and it's as good here as it is elsewhere. The simple tile layout is easy to understand and navigate, and supports a wide number of popular apps and services.

You'll have no problem getting your Netflix or Amazon streaming accounts set up, and Sling TV and a number of network-specific apps give cord-cutters a  good alternative to cable or satellite. Our only quibble with the operating system is Roku's reliance on Fandango for purchasing or renting movies and TV shows.

MORE: The Best Roku Channels - Movies, TV, Music, Kids, Sports

Setting up the TV is as simple as connecting to a network for internet connectivity and then activating the TV with your Roku account. If you don't have an account, it points you toward the appropriate web pages, and you can get up and running in just a few minutes.

Remote

The included Roku remote is compact and simple, with a rounded design that's comfortable for hands large and small. It's also fairly simple, with a prominent directional pad for navigation and dedicated buttons for Netflix, Amazon, CBS News and Sling TV. It has 20 buttons total, so you won't have to spend a lot of time trying to suss out which button does what.

If you've used one of TCL's more premium Roku TVs, you may bemoan the fact that the remote lacks the voice-control function and built-in audio jack we saw on the more expensive TCL 55P607. It's not a great loss, but it's a difference worth noting.

Bottom Line

The TCL Roku 43S403 delivers 4K resolution, basic HDR support, smart TV functions and an acceptable feature set for a pretty low price. We especially liked its mix of solid picture quality and short lag time, making it a smart pick for gamers or anyone who wants a 4K set without taking up a lot of room. You may want to pay more for a larger display or richer feature set, like those seen on the TCL Roku 55P607, But as smaller 4K sets go, this one offers great affordability, even if it lacks a few extras.

Credit: Tom's Guide