TCL 5 series (2018 Roku TV) review: Roku TV cleans up nice

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The Good The affordable TCL 5 series has a clean, minimalist look that outclasses most budget TVs. Roku TV delivers the simplest, most comprehensive smart TV experience on the market, with more apps than competitors, including support for 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision.

The Bad Vizio's E series has a superior picture for a similar price. Image quality with HDR sources isn't significantly better than non-HDR.

The Bottom Line The TCL 5 series is a solid choice if you want a Roku TV with sleeker styling, just don't expect a better picture.

6.9 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Value 7

TCL's Roku TVs have grown into some of CNET's high-value favorites. The 6 series is my 2018 Editors' Choice as the best TV for the money, period. The ridiculously affordable S405 series, meanwhile, is my go-to ultrabudget pick at 55 inches.

The 5 series reviewed here slots between the those TVs in price, so I figured it might represent the perfect middle ground. Now that I've tested it, however, it turns out to be the weakest of the bunch.

Yes, it still delivers that Roku TV goodness. It offers thousands of streaming apps in an interface a 5-year-old can master and puts Netflix and your cable box side by side. Roku TV is the main reason I recommend TCLs over Vizios to people who value integrated streaming and the simplicity of a single remote.

The TCL 5 series also wins on style. Its thin, minimalist metal cabinet looks way nicer than the blocky plastic of the equivalently priced Vizio E series, something that might make it an even easier sell for your family. I still like the Vizio better overall, however, because its picture quality roundly beats the TCL's.

TCL 5 series at a glance

  • Available in 43-, 49-, 55- and 65-inch sizes.
  • Uses Roku TV, CNET's favorite smart TV system.
  • Improves on the cheaper S405 series Roku TVs by adding Dolby Vision HDR, a wider color gamut, an enhanced remote and better design.
  • Lacks the full-array local dimming and overall image quality of the more expensive 6 series. See below for full image quality comparisons.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Why Roku TV rocks

I'm a fan of Roku TV, for reasons I've documented extensively in previous reviews. Here's the short version.

  • Frequent updates and feature improvements, such as Google Assistant
  • Simple menus with quick responses
  • Full customization, including input naming
  • Inputs on the same home page as TV apps
  • More apps (and 4K HDR apps) than any other smart TV system
  • 4K Spotlight and 4K apps category make finding 4K content easier
  • Cross-platform search covers many services, allows price comparisons
  • More Ways To Watch suggests streaming shows, including in the antenna program guide
  • Can pause live TV from an antenna source (and a USB stick)

For more info, check out my review of my favorite 4K Roku device, the Roku Streaming Stick Plus

Sarah Tew/CNET

Stepped-up style, midrange features

Along with the more expensive 6 series, the 5 series represents a real improvement in Roku TV design. The ribbon-thin frame around the TV is matte black metal, the same as most of the backside, and seen in profile the top two-thirds of the cabinet is ultraslim too, less than half an inch deep on my 55-inch review sample. The bottom third widens appreciably, to accommodate inputs, the power supply and other guts, but overall the look is modern and much nicer than the Vizio E.

The 5 series shares the 6's "enhanced" Roku TV remote. It keeps the standard simple design of other Roku TV clickers, adds a built-in mic for voice functions, and communicates with the TV without needing line of sight.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 5 series has a wide color gamut (WCG) thanks to fancy-sounding Nano Band Phosphor (NBP) Photon tech, but according to our measurements it's not as wide as many competing sets. It supports both high dynamic range formats, Dolby Vision and HDR10. It also touts a "120Hz clear motion index," but as usual, that's a made-up number. The 5 series has 60Hz native panel and can't match the motion performance of true 120Hz TVs.

Around back you'll find a solid selection of inputs.

  • 3x HDMI inputs (HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2)
  • 1x analog (composite) video input
  • 1x USB port (2.0)
  • Ethernet (wired internet)
  • 1x headphone jack
  • 1x optical digital audio output
  • 1x RF (antenna) input
Sarah Tew/CNET

The HDMIs are state-of-the-art and worked fine with everything I threw at them. The headphone jack is a nice touch, and unlike cheaper Roku sets, this one has Ethernet, too.

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