This TV surprised us, and we’re going to get to why it did in a second, but first we need to mention that this review is slightly different than others we’ve done. Usually we have three different price ranges and then test different products in each tier, but with TVs, that wouldn’t work for various reasons. A 55” TCL television, for example, costs the same as a 43” Samsung, which would put them in the same price category even though they are quite different. To give you more accurate results, we need to get some information out of the way. So let’s jump to some facts.
Flat-Screen TV Facts: TVs (as well as computer monitors, etc.) are measured diagonally from one corner to the opposite corner. And that number may not necessarily be what the big bold type on the advertisement says it is. For example, a TV that measures 54.6 inches diagonally will still be placed in the 55-inch “class” of TVs. They’re not trying to trick you (well, maybe a little) — it’s just easier if they round the numbers up.
Also, many TVs are made in a “series” by a single manufacturer, with the basic screen technology remaining the same while only the size varies. This means the price goes up or down depending on how big it is, but the quality of the picture doesn’t substantially change. So a Samsung Q Series 65-inch TV will typically have a picture that’s the same quality as the Samsung Q Series 55-inch version, but the smaller the screen, the lower the price. And both of them might be totally different from the Samsung P Series.
For this test, we looked at the most common 55-inch classes and series made by different brands. The one that immediately jumped out was our top pick for the $ category, the TCL 5 Series. This model has consistently been at the top of many “best budget TV” lists, and when we started testing it, we could see why. To begin with, the LED screen delivers a sharp, vivid image that puts it miles ahead of other lower-priced models. The blacks were dark and inky, allowing the brighter areas to shine through in gorgeous 4K detail with brilliant colors.
In addition to a true high dynamic range (HDR) picture, the 5 Series comes with Roku built in, letting you stream content straight to your TV and even use the mobile app to control it. For gamers, the input lag hovered around 18 milliseconds, depending on certain options. That was similar to higher-priced models and better than every other television we tested in this category. The TCL maintained a fairly wide viewing angle, meaning it looked great whether you were sitting directly in front of it or off to the side. This makes it a solid option for families, viewing parties with a lot of people, or even just oddly shaped rooms, because it will still provide a good picture no matter where you sit. Other cheaper models lost quite a bit of brightness and color saturation due to off-angle viewing, but the TCL’s LED screen held up.
So what’s the catch? Where did they cut the corners to offer such a great TV for less than 500 bucks? We’re not gonna lie: the speakers were… not great. The two 8-watt main speakers just didn’t have the power to shake the walls, but with the money you’re saving, you could easily find a decent speaker option. Also, much of the casing is plastic, especially on the back — but that’s not where the picture is, so does it really matter? The short answer is no — not for us, anyway. The only thing that might make your decision harder is the screen’s brightness. If you’re planning to put this TV in a bright room, you might want to move up to the next price band because, while the TCL delivers a rich, detailed image, the peak brightness of the screen can’t compete with tons of sunlight. This was a consistent issue with ALL of the models in this price range, but, y’know, curtains exist. There’s always that option.
If you have a gigantic living room, you’re probably going to want something a little higher up the food chain, but for small apartments or spare rooms, the TCL 5 Series delivers a surprisingly vibrant 4K picture with plenty of features for under $500. But you don’t have to take our word for it.