This Black Friday and holiday season you can buy any number of dirt-cheap TVs, and many of them might even cost a few bucks less than Roku TVs made by TCL. The 32-inch version sells for an almost unbelievably inexpensive $125 at Walmart, for example, but some Black Friday deals are even cheaper.
I'd still take the Roku TV, however. To stream Netflix and other stuff to one of those other TVs you'll probably have to connect an external device like a Chromecast or Roku Express, and eat into the savings by at least $30. Even if you have a streamer already (like a game console), you'll have to juggle a second remote. The whole arrangement can't match the simplicity and range of apps offered by a Roku TV.
The fact that you don't have to connect an external streaming device, combined with their dirt-cheap prices, makes TCL's Roku TVs our go-to ultrabudget budget pick at modest screen sizes this year.
Their main competition, as I see it, comes from Vizio's entry-level E series. It offers the equivalent of a Chromecast built in, comes in larger screen sizes and, most important, has a better overall picture in its local dimming models (40 inches and up). The downside? It's more expensive in general, and built-in Roku beats built-in Chromecast hands-down.
If you want a better picture in a cheap TV, then by all means grab one of Vizio's local dimming sets, or an even nicer TV, and maybe connect a Roku streamer to it. But if you just want a simple, no-frills smart TV with "good enough" image quality for as little cash as possible, TCL's Roku TVs win.
Update June 30, 2017: For 2017 we have updated weighting system we use to figure the overall ratings in TV reviews. As a result the rating of the 2015/2016 TCL S3750/FP110 series (Roku TV) series has been increased from 8.0 to 7.7. The review has not otherwise been changed.
Editors' note: The video above was shot with another 2015 series of Roku TVs, but it applies to the models reviewed here in every important way beyond styling.
Series, pricing and alternate model information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 32-inch TCL 32S3750 and the 55-inch TCL 55FS3750, but this review also applies to the 28-inch, 40-inch and 48-inch, members of the FS3750 series, as well as the 43-inch TCL 43FP110 and the 49-inch 49FP110. All sizes have identical specs, aside from the 720p resolution and motion specification on the 28-inch and 32-inch sizes (see below for details). Technically the S3750 is a 2015 model (TCL says it remains current, however) and the FP110 is a 2016 model, but according to TCL all of these TVs should provide similar picture quality -- their only difference is in design.
Here's how they stack up. Prices are from Amazon and, in the case of the 32-inch and 55-inch models, Walmart. They're current as of press time November 17, 2016, but don't be surprised if they're different when you check. For example, that $125 price on the 32-inch set will also be available from Amazon for Black Friday.
TCL S3750 and FS110 series Roku TVs
Last year I reviewed the FS3800 series along with Roku TVs from Insignia and Sharp, and all delivered very similar image quality to the FS3750. Earlier this year I reviewed 4K Roku TV models from TCL and Insignia, and again image quality was similar -- and not much better than the non-4K versions. TCL's 4K US5800 series, however, might be even cheaper at 55 inches than the 1080p sets reviewed here. If that's the case, I recommend the 4K models.
Smart TV meets simple TV
You're not paying extra for fancy metal finish or glass accents here. TCL's sets are bare-bones, with a thin, glossy black frame and prominent logos, including one for HDMI and another for Roku along the bottom.
All of the S3750 and FS110 sets have the two-legged stand design that supposedly helps prevent toppling. The two are "cosmetically differentiated" according to Roku, but they look almost identical. The main difference is in the stand legs, which are more rounded on the FS110 models.
I remain a huge fan of Roku's simple remote for TVs. It's tiny, with just a few buttons, and unless you dial in channel numbers from an antenna you probably won't miss the absent ones. I especially like the side-mounted volume control/mute and the shortcut buttons.
One issue with buying an S3750 from 2015? One of the remote shortcuts keys goes to Rdio, a music service that shut down last year. Roku's messaging is (as usual) clear and helpful, however, directing you to other music services on the platform.
Simplicity reigns with Roku's menu design. The main difference between its streaming devices and its TVs is the handful of icons along the top of the main home screen, like "Antenna TV," "DVR," "Blu-Ray player" and "HDMI 3." You'll choose a name for your connected gadget during the setup process, and you can easily change it later or hide unused inputs.
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.