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TCL P series Roku TV (2017) review:

Roku smarts, robust picture, ridiculously good 55-inch TV

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The Good The affordable TCL P series has excellent overall image quality, with deep black levels, rich contrast and accurate color. Its Roku smart TV platform is the best available, with a simple interface and extensive streaming app support. The TV handles both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range sources.

The Bad It's only available in the 55-inch size.

The Bottom Line With excellent picture quality and all the latest features for a rock-bottom price, the TCL P series is the TV to get at 55 inches.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.6 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Value 10.0

Late 2017 update

If you want a 55-inch TV and don't want to pay $1,500 for an OLED, the TCL P series is the one to get.

Simply put, no other TV offers this level of picture quality for this cheap a price. At just $650, or $600 for the Best Buy variant (see below), the TCL P costs hundreds less than the 55-inch Sony XBR-X900E, for example, but its picture is just as good -- and in many ways, it's better. It also earned a higher picture-quality score than the much more expensive Samsung Q7 QLED TV.

You read that right. I reviewed the TCL 55P607 when it came out in June, and have compared it to numerous televisions since. It's better than just about all of them, no matter how well known their brand names.

The key is its full-array local dimming. It allows the screen to dim and brighten in different areas independently, and TVs that have it almost always perform better than TVs that don't. Of course, other aspects of image quality are important too, but good local dimming forms the basis of high contrast in LCD TVs, and contrast is king. It's the main reason why OLED TVs look so good.

You'll notice I said "just about all." The biggest exception, and the TCL P series' biggest competitor in terms of image quality for the money, is Vizio's M series. It has essentially the same level of picture quality as the TCL, and its 55-inch size costs $700 right now. I liked the M series so much that I gave it Editors' Choice award for 2017, over this TCL, for the simple fact that the Vizio is available in multiple sizes, from 50 all the way up to 75 inches.

Like I said at the top, however, if you want a 55-inch set, get this TCL instead of the Vizio. Beyond the fact that the TCL is cheaper, its Roku TV operating system is far superior to what Vizio offers. Roku has dead-simple menus and thousands of apps, including the most 4K and HDR streaming apps you can get. It's also constantly updated, the latest including a new program guide for over-the-air antenna that makes the P series much more friendly to cord cutters. The Vizio doesn't even have an over-the-air TV tuner.

Of course you could (and should!) add a $70 Roku Streaming Stick Plus to a Vizio and get most of the same functionality, but that wouldn't be as elegant as built-in Roku, and it would increase the price difference even further.

In short, both sets are excellent, and both earned the same overall rating, but at this size, TCL P is greater than Vizio M.

Update, Dec. 8: The text of this review has been updated throughout, except for the picture quality section, to reflect the latest software updates as well as comparisons to other products, chiefly the Vizio M series. Its ratings remain the same.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Two flavors of P, both in 55-inch only

The P series is only available in the 55-inch size I reviewed. 

TCL originally announced it would ship 50- and 65-inch sizes too, but in August it canceled those plans. It hasn't provided an explanation beyond "shifting our focus from the remaining 2017 P series models (50- and 65-inch) to the next-generation P series portfolio," according to a spokesperson. Translation: Wait till 2018 for bigger Ps.

Meanwhile, another 55-inch TCL P series Roku TV, model 55P605, is available exclusively from Best Buy. It lacks the 607's enhanced remote (see below), but it's $50 cheaper and has otherwise identical features and picture quality. So yes, it's an even better bargain than the 55P607, as long as you don't care about that remote.

Shiny feet, Roku's a treat

It ain't ugly by any means, but neither will the P series be known for its dashing good looks. Sure, the bendy chrome-colored legs provide a modicum of panache, and the same goes for the matching edges, but otherwise this is a ho-hum TV design: thick(er) cabinet, minimal glossy black plastic borders, TCL and Roku logos.

I'm a fan of Roku TVs' well-traveled menus, especially their grouping of inputs (cable TV, PlayStation and so on) on the main home screen, right alongside Netflix and Hulu. You can choose from a bunch of preset names and icons for connected devices, or name them whatever you want. You can also shuffle them around the screen or remove them entirely, and the same goes for the apps: everything is on the same footing and easy to customize, sort of like your phone. I just wish a third of the screen wasn't occupied by an ad.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku TVs have access to all the thousands of apps found on Roku's platform, which still offers better coverage than any competitor, smart TV or otherwise. Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, Plex, HBO Now, Showtime, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, Vudu, Google Play Movies and TV, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Now, FX Now, Comedy Central, Starz, PBS Kids... if there's a video app that isn't iTunes, Roku almost certainly has it. And thanks to Movies Anywhere, you can even watch your iTunes-purchased TV shows and movies on this TV.

And if that app streams in 4K, HDR and/or Dolby Vision, the P series can deliver those streams, too. I especially like the "4K spotlight" app that surfaces individual 4K and HDR (and Dolby Vision) TV shows and movies across a few providers, although unfortunately Netflix isn't one of them. I also like the "4K content available" list on the app store, which shows all of the 4K apps available on Roku.

roku-2017-screenshots-36

Sarah Tew/CNET

All of the Roku TVs I've tested respond quickly and serve up videos with minimal delays. Search is the best in the business overall, and in general the interface is as friendly and simple as it gets. For more info, check out my review of my favorite 4K Roku device, the Roku Streaming Stick Plus.

Triple-threat 'enhanced' remote

The clicker has very few buttons, trading direct access to channels and "wide" modes, for example, for big keys that zip ably around the menus. "Enhanced" in Roku parlance means the P607 gets three important clicker extras: a headphone jack, a remote finder and the ability to search with your voice. 

The remote finder lets you easily locate a misplaced clicker, for example from within the couch cushions or a kid's toy box (true story). To make the remote emit a noise, you can use the control buttons on the rear of the TV. When I tried it, the sound was plenty loud. So far so good.

tcl-p-series-roku-tv-2017

Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku's voice function is not nearly as robust as Amazon Alexa, found on Fire Edition TVs for example, but it worked fine for searches and, thanks to another new software update, for app launching, switching inputs and tuning to an antenna channel. If the TV is off, a voice command like "launch Netflix" will turn it on and launch the app. 

Roku's cross-platform search trawls more than 300 different apps and channels, and when I used the remote for voice searches, its recognition was accurate and quick. As always, I loved Roku's up-front presentation of comparison prices for pay-per-view TV episodes and movies.

Unfortunately Roku's signature remote feature, a headphone jack on the remote for private listening, didn't work flawlessly. The first time I connected headphones to the remote, it muted the TV's audio as planned, and lip sync was fine (not quite perfect, but good enough), but the audio broke up, rendering it unlistenable. Every other time I tested it, it worked well, however, so I'm willing to chalk it up as a blip. Switching from a 5GHz network to 2.4GHz seemed to help, but your mileage may vary.

If you don't care about those remote extras, Best Buy's 55P605 is a bit cheaper. It comes with a standard remote -- no headphone jack, remote finder or voice search. It also used infrared (IR) technology so you have to aim it at the TV, while the enhanced remote's radio frequency (RF) technology allows you to point it anywhere.

Streaming suggestions and antenna pause

Roku TV's latest new feature is called "More Ways to Watch." Its original implementation used automatic content recognition (ACR) to suggest TV shows from streaming sources based on what's playing via cable box, satellite box, antenna or connected video device, like a Blu-ray player. Unfortunately those suggestions take the form of popups, and they can be annoying. I switched them off (in Settings > Privacy > Smart TV experience).

roku-2017-screenshots-11

Purple asterisk in the antenna guide = stream now.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The newest implementation of MWTW is voluntary. It only works with TV from the over-the-air antenna, so it's useless for cable subscribers, but for antenna-savvy cord cutters it's pretty sweet. If an antenna show listed in the new grid-style electronic program guide has a purple asterisk next to it -- and many do -- you can hit the asterisk key on the remote and be shown ways to watch that episode, immediately and from the beginning, via a streaming service. 

I tried it with "Sesame Street," for example, and was able to choose from Spectrum's app, HBO Now or HBO Go. Clicking Now launched the app and took me directly to that show. In short, the over-the-air antenna guide on Roku TV is now another way to browse what you can stream. Here's an in-depth look.

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