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TCL UP130 series (Roku TV, 2016) review: Roku TVs add 4K resolution to the best smart TV system

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The Good Roku TV delivers the simplest, most comprehensive smart-TV experience on the market. A superb user interface puts its thousands of apps and streaming video on the same plane as regular TV. These TCLs are relatively inexpensive for 4K TVs, and offer more 4K apps than most others.

The Bad 4K resolution doesn't deliver a substantial improvement in image quality, making non-4K Roku TVs a superior value. Competing entry-level TVs from Vizio deliver better image quality for a similar price.

The Bottom Line Even though 4K resolution doesn't improve their image quality, these TCL TVs' Roku-powered apps and low prices heighten their appeal.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Value 8

The original Roku TVs, the non-4K ones, have been among my favorite go-to budget picks for the last few years. The new 4K ones are great too, but not as good of a value as their lower-resolution counterparts.

That's because 4K resolution by itself, as we at CNET have spent years documenting, does almost nothing to improve image quality on its own. There's very little difference in performance between these 4K sets and the cheaper non-4K versions, despite all those extra pixels.

Then again, if you want a 65-inch Roku TV, your only option is to go 4K, and the 65-inch TCL 65US5800 is a great value. But for the 50-, 55- and 43-inch sizes, the standard 1080p Roku TVs are better deals.

The best part about these TVs is that Roku's superb platform is baked right into the TV's operating system, offering the simplest interface and the most apps of any smart TV on the market. Like the Roku 4 streaming box, they have access to more 4K streaming services than any non-Roku device, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, YouTube, Vudu, FandangoNow (formerly M-Go) and more. The TVs aren't compatible with HDR, which unlike 4K actually does improve picture quality, but that's not a surprise at this price.

These sets' main competition, aside from other Roku TVs, comes from the 4K sizes in Vizio's D and E series. The pricing is comparable, but from what I've seen the Vizios deliver better picture quality largely thanks to their local dimming backlights. Of course the main reason to get a Roku TV is for its superior streaming and app experience, and if that's your aim, and you want 4K, these TCLs are just the ticket.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch 50UP130, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the UP130 series. The testing I did also applies to the two sizes in the US5800 series, although I did not perform a hands-on review of that series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. The only differences between the two series are the remote and styling; see below for details.

TCL US5800 and UP130 series 4K Roku TVs

Model Size Price Remote
55US5800 55 inches $549 Standard
65US5800 65 inches $999 Standard
43UP130 43 inches $449 Enhanced
50UP130 50 inches $549 Enhanced
55UP130 55 inches $648 Enhanced
Sarah Tew/CNET

Simpler TV remote with optional headphone jack, voice search

I've always liked that Roku TVs come with Roku's signature, ultra-simple remote. There's just a few buttons, all easily navigable by feel, and a handful of direct-access channels that always include Netflix and a couple of other popular services. On the TCL UP130 series I reviewed, they were Amazon, HBO Now and Sling TV.

Unless you use the number keys to select channels, you'll likely never miss the buttons Roku's clicker omits. That's because it has the best menu system on the market. It uses plain language and thorough explanations to make using the TV a piece of cake. I especially like that connected devices like cable boxes, game consoles and Blu-ray players are placed at the same level as apps like Netflix, and you can rename their tiles and move them around the home screen.

The main difference between these two series of 4K Roku TVs, aside from styling, is that the 5800 has a standard remote while the P130 gets the "enhanced" remote with voice search, a remote finder, and a headphone jack for private listening. Unlike the standard infrared clicker, the enhanced version uses wi-fi so you don't have to aim it at the TV.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I tested all of these features and they worked as well as on other devices, like the Roku 4 streamer. Voice recognition was very good, lip sync was solid on the headphone jack, and the ping sound emitted by the remote was plenty loud from between my couch cushions. I did find myself fumbling behind the TV to activate the remote finder -- a prominent, dedicated button would have been nice -- but otherwise no complaints. You can also use the Roku app on your phone activate the remote finder.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Roku you know and love, built into a 4K TV

A 4K Roku TV is largely the same as a regular Roku TV, and that's a good thing. There still isn't a whole lot of 4K TV shows and movies available, and to watch 4K streams you'll need a relatively fast Internet connection. In many case you'll also need to pay for the privilege; only Netflix's highest tier, for example, offers 4K streams.

Roku's interface does makes 4K easier to find than other systems. Its list of apps has a "4K UHD Content Available" section that only shows apps that can access 4K video. There's also a dedicated "4K Spotlight" channel that surfaces individual TV shows and movies from many of those apps, with the notable exception of Netflix.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As of this writing these TVs don't include the PlayStation Vue app found on Roku boxes. Roku says that app is coming in the next few weeks to Roku TVs. Otherwise every app found on Roku boxes and sticks is here. The selection runs circles around dedicated smart TV systems from Samsung and LG, and handily beats its next-closest competitor, Android TV (found on Sony sets). I also much prefer it to Vizio's SmartCast system since you don't need a phone to use it.

Roku TVs also get Roku's best-in-class search, which allows you to search from multiple services simultaneously (and via voice from the remote, if you have a UP130 series). It presents results from 30 different services, more than any other platform. Click on a result, a movie or TV show title for example, and you'll see pricing across all of the services Roku searches. The best part is that if you get the show "for free" as part of a subscription, it will be listed there too. One catch is that it doesn't search HBO Now, Showtime, or Showtime Anytime (it does search HBO Go, however), so if the movie is available there, Roku's search won't find it.

Roku is also the best at presenting TV shows and movies across the different services. The My Feed feature allows you to tag shows, films and even actors and receive notifications for when they're available to stream, and it shows the most popular TV shows and movies across all of the services Roku searches, updated four times a day. It's a great way to find new things to watch, although I do wish there were a "Show only stuff I can watch for free" option.

The menus and apps loaded quickly on the TCL TV, which behaved every bit as speedily as the Roku Streaming Stick. For more on Roku in general, check out that review.

Features and connectivity

Ket TV Features

Display technology: LED LCD
LED backlight: Full array
Resolution: 4K
HDR compatible: No
Screen shape: Flat
Smart TV: Roku TV
Remote: Enhanced
3D capable: No

Aside from 4K resolution the list of options is short. The TV lacks the HDR compatibility, local dimming, video processing options and high refresh rates found on higher-end sets (these are all 60Hz displays).

One feature missing from previous Roku TVs, but available on this one, is expert picture settings. They aren't found on Roku's normal menu -- which is just as simplistic and option-free as on other Roku TVs -- but instead within the Roku app. There you can choose gamma presets, noise reduction and even adjust a color management system and 11-point white balance.

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