The TCL P series offers local dimming and high dynamic range for one of the best LCD pictures around. Add Roku smarts and a low price for a killer combination.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Roku TVs like the P series also offer the cool ability to pause live TV from an antenna source (not cable). When I connected a 16GB USB stick and tuned to an antenna channel, the TV started creating a "buffer" that allowed me to pause, rewind (to when I first turned to that channel) and fast-forward through ads before catching up to live time. The buffer can be up to 90 minutes long.
The competing Amazon Fire TV Edition sets can pause live TV too, and also include a full program guide, thumbnail images for shows and results integrated into search. It's pretty close to Roku overall for antenna awesomeness, but I still like Roku better, thanks to its streaming suggestions for antenna shows.
|Display technology||LED LCD|
|LED backlight||Full array with local dimming|
|HDR compatible||HDR10 and Dolby Vision|
Full array local dimming sets the P series apart from many competitors, and puts it in the same conversation as Vizio's better televisions. TCL calls it "Contrast Control Zone" technology, but it means the same thing, and claims 72 dimming zones outdoing Vizio's M series (32 zones). More zones generally means better image quality.
Local dimming is especially important for HDR image quality. Like Vizio, LG and others (with the notable exception of Samsung), the P series supports both current types of HDR video: Dolby Vision and HDR10.
TCL claims a "clear motion index" of 120Hz but, like so many other TV makers' claims, it's basically fake. This set has the motion performance of a 60Hz TV.
Around back you'll find a solid selection of inputs.
The HDMIs are state-of-the-art and worked fine with everything I threw at them, including Dolby Vision 4K Blu-ray from the Oppo UDP-203. The headphone jack is a nice touch, and unlike cheaper Roku sets, this one has Ethernet, too.
Editors' note: This section was written for the original Roku P series review in June and has not been updated. However, the P series has been used in numerous other TV reviews since, including the Vizio M series, Sony XBR-X900E, Samsung MU9000, Vizio E series and TCL S405. For additional comparisons using the TCL P, see those reviews.
In side-by-side comparisons the TCL P series performed as well overall as our favorite TV for the money, Vizio's M series. It fell a bit short of the Vizio's own more expensive P series, but beat the Samsung Q7 QLED, the 2017 Vizio E series and the Element Fire TV Edition sets in my comparison lineup.
Its main strength was deep black levels, which improved contrast and pop in all lighting situations, especially dark rooms and with HDR. Color accuracy was solid too. Other aspects of its image quality, were hardly flawless but evinced no major issues.
Click the image at the right to see my suggested picture settings and technical notes on HDR performance.
Dim lighting: In a dark home theater environment, the P series looked great, beating the Samsung QLED, the Vizio E series and the Amazon Fire TV Edition set by Element, although it wasn't quite as impressive as the other Vizios.
Watching dark scenes from "The Revenant" Blu-ray, like the late night conversation between Hugh and his son Hawk in Chapter 4, the TCL consistently got deeper and more realistic than any of the other sets aside from the Vizio M and P series. In some scenes the E looked a bit darker, but it showed a bit more blooming (stray illumination) in some areas than the TCL. Meanwhile, the TCL showed some blooming itself, for example with lighter areas in the bars above and below Hawk's face, while the Vizio M and P maintained the dark integrity of those areas better.
The TCL again held its own in one of my favorite dark scene torture tests, the attack on Hogwarts from Chapter 12 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2." Its darkest areas, like the letterbox bars and the shadows around the gathering of wizards on the hilltop, again didn't get quite as deep as on the Vizio P or M series, but they were very close, and deeper than the others. The TCL also maintained shadow detail and controlled blooming well in these scenes.
Bright lighting: The TCL P series can't get quite as bright as the Vizios, let alone the Samsung, but it's still plenty bright for most lighting situations. Here's how it stacked up:
|Light output in nits|
|TV||Mode (SDR)||10% window (SDR)||Full screen (SDR)||Mode (HDR)||10% window (HDR)|
|TCL 55P607||Vivid/dimming off||438||431||Brighter/Dark HDR||448|
To get peak light output from the TCL you have to disable local dimming by turning the Local Contrast control to Off. As usual, the set measured brightest in its least-accurate picture mode (Vivid), so if you care about color accuracy, I recommend using another mode like Normal for bright rooms. Check my settings (above) for more info.
The TCL's matte screen didn't reduce reflections quite as well as the Vizios, but it was still very good. It preserved black levels about as well as the Vizios, but not as well as the superb Samsung.
Color accuracy: Before calibration the TCL's most accurate color temperature wasn't as precise as I'd like to see, tending toward red, but it wasn't terrible. Afterward it measured as accurately as any of the others and looked superb with program material, delivering excellent saturation and skin tones. The natural beauty of "The Revenant" was on full display, from the lush green of the forest leaves to the blue-green water, to the orange and red of the campfires and sunsets.
Video processing: The TCL P series handled 1080p/24 content properly, preserving the cadence of film. On the other hand, unlike the Samsung and the Vizio M and P series, there's no option to reduce motion blur. Like other 60Hz TVs, the TCL managed only 300 lines of motion resolution.
The TCL has the lowest (best) input lag I've measured this year at about 16ms with Game Mode engaged. Even with it turned off, lag was still very good at 35.
Uniformity: With test patterns, the TCL P series showed more uneven backlighting than any of the other sets, although the Element was almost as bad. The TCL's edges and center were darker than the rest of the screen, and faint vertical bars were visible. A hockey game is a good real-world uniformity torture test, and on the TCL the uneven lighting was more visible than on the others. It's not a deal-breaker for most viewers, however.
From off-angle, the TCL lost black-level fidelity and became discolored more noticeably than the others aside from the Element, but it wasn't terrible.
HDR and 4K video: My first test of 4K HDR involved slipping "Despicable Me 2" into the Oppo UDP-203 to compare the TCL's rendition of Dolby Vision to that of the two Dolby Vision-equipped Vizios, the M and the P series. The TCL was much better than the M. Its image popped with more life and vibrancy, due largely to the much deeper black levels combined with brighter whites. Colors also looked deeper and richer, and the TCL's color gamut appeared wider than the Vizio. Of course, the Vizio is much larger, but that was its only advantage.
The contest was much closer between Vizio's P series and TCL's, but the smaller TCL still looked better. Again, its main advantage was in depth and pop, supplied by slightly deeper black levels. Colors between the two were closer, however, and Vizio's P still looked superb.
I consider non-animated titles like "The Revanant" better test material, however, and with the HDR10 version of that film on 4K Blu-ray, the TCL still beat the M series, which again looked relatively washed out and lifeless, even compared to the cheaper E series. The P series looked better than the TCL, however, with highlights that popped more and slightly better definition in the clouds and other near-white objects. In dark scenes, the Vizio P got darker and controlled blooming better, as I saw with SDR. The two were still pretty close, however, and easily the best HDR in my lineup.
Side by side, I noticed the TCL appeared a bit sharper than the others, but not necessarily in a good way. On both discs it looked like it showed some edge enhancement, which made edges like faces in the foreground against blurry backgrounds, for example, look less natural than on the others. Test patterns didn't reveal any edge enhancement, however, although I did see some minor ghosting on some patterns that might explain it. Although the effect was subtle and I doubt most viewers will object, it might bother some purist videophiles.
I also noticed shimmer in fine patterns, for example the jackets of Gru from "Despicable Me 2" (8:28) and Albert from "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" (3:50). I'm not sure what caused the issue, but none of the other TVs showed it.
The P series delivered 4K and HDR streaming from Netflix, Amazon and Vudu with no issues, was able to pass the full resolution of 4K from YouTube and played through a suite of 4K test patterns from Florian Friedrich with no issues.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0206||Good|
|Peak white luminance (100%)||431||Average|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.34||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||0.840||Good|
|Dark gray error (20%)||0.397||Good|
|Bright gray error (70%)||0.448||Good|
|Avg. color error||0.822||Good|
|Avg. saturations error||2.18||Good|
|Avg. luminance error||1.27||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||2.08||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||300||Poor|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||N/A||Good|
|Input lag (Game mode)||15.7||Good|
|Peak white luminance (10% win)||323||Poor|
|Gamut % DCI/P3 (CIE 1976)||95||Good|
|Avg. saturations error||4.6||Average|
|Avg. color checker error||2.7||Good|