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Reviewed on May 31, 2019

TCL 3 Series 2019 TV REVIEW

Usage Ratings - Version 1.3
6.4
Mixed Usage
Value for price beaten by
: none
5.6
Movies
6.9
TV Shows
7.2
Sports
7.6
Video Games
4.5
HDR Movies
4.3
HDR Gaming
7.3
PC Monitor
Type : LED
Sub-Type
:
VA
Resolution : 1080p (except 32")

The TCL 3 Series S325 is an entry-level 1080p LED TV with mediocre picture quality. It has a very good contrast ratio but lacks a local dimming feature to deliver a great dark room performance. It can't get very bright to fight glare and is more suitable for a dim or an average-lit room where blacks will also look better. The TV doesn't support HDR, but on the upside, its SDR image accuracy is excellent. The gray uniformity is mediocre and some dirty screen effect is evident. Motion handling is decent and the input lag is very low for the highest supported resolution of 1080p @ 60Hz. The TV's Roku smart interface is the same as higher-end models, but it's not as smooth.

Test Results
Design 6.5
Picture Quality 6.4
Motion 6.6
Inputs 8.7
Sound Quality 5.5
Smart Features 7.1
Pros
  • Very low input lag.
  • Excellent pre-calibration image accuracy.
Cons
  • No HDR support.
  • Cannot get bright.
  • Doesn't support 4k.

Check Price

Market Context

The TCL 3 Series S325 is a budget VA panel TV. It sits below the TCL 4 Series S425 and it is the replacement of 2017's TCL S Series S305. The S325's main competitor is the entry-level Samsung N5300, as most of the other budget models from other manufacturers are quite different TVs.

6.5

Design

Curved : No

The TCL 3 Series S325 has a decent design. It has a plastic stand that supports the TV well but allows a little wobbling if you accidentally nudge the TV. The back has two distinct parts. The lower compartment houses most of the electronics, whereas the upper part is thinner and is made of metal. Unfortunately, there is no provision for cable management. The build quality is decent, and you should have no issues with the TV.

Stand

The stand is made of plastic; it supports the TV well, but allows a little wobbling if the TV is nudged. It's almost as wide as the TV.

The footprint of the 40" model is 30.5" x 7.3".

Back
Wall Mount : VESA 100x100

The back of the TV has two distinct parts: the top part, which is made of metal, and the lower part, which houses most of the electronics and is made of plastic. There is no provision for any cable management. The back resembles the S425 a lot.

Borders
Borders : 0.55" (1.4 cm)

The borders are plastic and are not distracting in any way.

Thickness
Max Thickness : 2.95" (7.5 cm)

The TV is an average thickness, but is thinner than the 2017's S305. It will protrude slightly if you wall-mount it, but the inputs are facing sideways so you can reach them with ease.

Temperature
Maximum Temperature
:
99 °F (37 °C)
Average Temperature
:
93 °F (34 °C)
6.5 Build Quality

The build quality of the TCL 3 Series is decent. The TV feels solid with no gaps or loose ends, and it's very similar to the S425. You should have no issues with it.

6.4

Picture Quality

The picture quality is mediocre. The TV can't get very bright to overcome glare, so it's more suitable for an average-lit room. The very good contrast ratio delivers fairly deep blacks, but there is no local dimming feature to improve dark room performance. Movie fans will be disappointed for the lack of support for HDR, whereas sports fans might find the amount of dirty screen effect annoying. On the upside, this TV has great pre-calibration accuracy and can handle reflections well, so lights in the room don't become distracting.

8.1 Contrast
Native Contrast
:
3426 : 1
Contrast with local dimming
:
N/A

The TCL 40S325 has a great native contrast ratio. Blacks look good in a dark room, but not as a good as on the S425. It is very similar to 2017's S305. Unfortunately, the TV doesn't have a local dimming feature to improve the appearance of blacks further.

0 Local Dimming
Local Dimming
:
No
Backlight
:
Direct

The TCL 40S325 does not have a local dimming feature. The video is for reference only.

5.7 SDR Peak Brightness
SDR Real Scene Peak Brightness
:
174 cd/m²
SDR Peak 2% Window
:
185 cd/m²
SDR Peak 10% Window
:
196 cd/m²
SDR Peak 25% Window
:
196 cd/m²
SDR Peak 50% Window
:
196 cd/m²
SDR Peak 100% Window
:
196 cd/m²
SDR Sustained 2% Window
:
184 cd/m²
SDR Sustained 10% Window
:
196 cd/m²
SDR Sustained 25% Window
:
196 cd/m²
SDR Sustained 50% Window
:
196 cd/m²
SDR Sustained 100% Window
:
196 cd/m²
SDR ABL
:
0.005

Disappointing SDR peak brightness for the TCL 3 Series. Although it's slightly better than the S425, the TV can't get bright enough for a bright room. It is more suitable for an average-lit or dim room.

We measured the peak brightness after calibration, using the 'Movie' Picture Mode and Color Temperature set to 'Warm.'

If you don't care about image accuracy, you can obtain higher brightness levels. We were able to reach 251 nits with the 'Vivid' Picture Mode, Contrast set to 'Max' and Color Temperature set to 'Cool.'

0 HDR Peak Brightness
HDR Real Scene Peak Brightness
:
N/A
HDR Peak 2% Window
:
N/A
HDR Peak 10% Window
:
N/A
HDR Peak 25% Window
:
N/A
HDR Peak 50% Window
:
N/A
HDR Peak 100% Window
:
N/A
HDR Sustained 2% Window
:
N/A
HDR Sustained 10% Window
:
N/A
HDR Sustained 25% Window
:
N/A
HDR Sustained 50% Window
:
N/A
HDR Sustained 100% Window
:
N/A
HDR ABL
:
N/A

HDR is not supported.

6.4 Gray Uniformity
50% Std. Dev.
:
3.809 %
50% DSE
:
0.221 %
5% Std. Dev.
:
2.359 %
5% DSE
:
0.126 %

The gray uniformity is mediocre. There is evident clouding all around the screen and a significant amount of dirty screen effect which will disappoint sports fans. In dark scenes, there are obvious uniformity issues at the sides of the screen, but the center is a little better.

6.2 Viewing Angle
Color Washout
:
41 °
Color Shift
:
43 °
Brightness Loss
:
43 °
Black Level Raise
:
39 °
Gamma Shift
:
9 °

The TCL 40S325 has mediocre viewing angles. Gamma shifts quickly as you move off center, and this affects the scene brightness. Although black levels don't rise quickly, all grays converge towards the same lightness, which causes the image to wash out and to look less lively. Those sitting from the side will not enjoy the same image accuracy. This is very similar behavior to the Vizio V Series. If you want a TV with better viewing angles, check out an IPS TV like the LG UK6300.

6.8 Black Uniformity
Native Std. Dev.
:
1.454 %
Std. Dev. w/ L.D.
:
N/A

The TCL 40S325 has decent black uniformity. Backlight bleed is evident throughout the screen, but it is most noticeable in very dark scenes when watched in a dark room. This performance is slightly worse than 2017's S305.

8.0 Reflections
Screen Finish
:
Semi-gloss
Total Reflections
:
4.9 %
Indirect Reflections
:
0.5 %

The reflection handling of the TCL 3 Series is very good. As long as you don't place the TV in front of a large window, you should have no issues with distracting reflections.

8.8 Pre Calibration
White Balance dE
:
1.16
Color dE
:
1.87
Gamma
:
2.20
Color Temperature
:
6869 K
Picture Mode
:
Movie
Color Temp Setting
:
Warm
Gamma Setting
:
N/A

The pre-calibration accuracy is excellent. There are a few inaccuracies both in the grays and in the colors, but even enthusiasts will have a hard time spotting them.

The gamma follows the curve relatively well, but some dark scenes are darker and other brighter scenes are brighter than they should be. The color temperature is a little cold, giving the screen a slightly bluish tint.

8.8 Post Calibration
White Balance dE
:
1.16
Color dE
:
1.87
Gamma
:
2.20
Color Temperature
:
6869 K
White Balance Calibration
:
No
Color Calibration
:
No
Auto-Calibration Function
:
No

The phone app that comes with this TV does not allow for calibration, so there is no way to calibrate this TV. This is a similar case to the S305 but very different from the higher-end TCL TVs.

You can see our recommended settings here.

8.0 480p Input

Upscaling of low-quality content such as DVDs is good.

8.0 720p Input

720p content such as cable looks good. The image isn't too soft and details are preserved.

10 1080p Input

Native 1080p content looks excellent.

Note: the 32" models of the S325 and S321 variants are 720p, as you can also see here.

0 4k Input

4k is not supported.

6.7 Color Gamut
Wide Color Gamut
:
No
DCI P3 xy
:
73.93 %
DCI P3 uv
:
81.50 %
Rec 2020 xy
:
53.39 %
Rec 2020 uv
:
60.88 %

The 3 Series does not have a wide color gamut, but rather a standard color gamut. It's only good enough for non-HDR content using the Rec 709 color space. When compared to the S305, the performance is just a bit better but not noticeable with the naked eye.

6.0 Color Volume
Normalized DCI P3 Coverage ITP
:
69.9 %
10,000 cd/m² DCI P3 Coverage ITP
:
17.5 %
Normalized Rec 2020 Coverage ITP
:
50.1 %
10,000 cd/m² Rec 2020 Coverage ITP
:
12.5 %

Mediocre color volume. The TV only has a standard color gamut and is unable to produce a full range of colors in the various luminosities.

6.0 Gradient
Color Depth
:
8 Bit
Red (Std. Dev.)
:
0.134 dE
Green (Std. Dev.)
:
0.194 dE
Blue (Std. Dev.)
:
0.136 dE
Gray (Std. Dev.)
:
0.476 dE

The TCL 40S325 has mediocre gradient performance. Banding is evident in all colors and the TV has no setting to improve this.

10 Temporary Image Retention
IR after 0 min recovery
:
0.00 %
IR after 2 min recovery
:
0.00 %
IR after 4 min recovery
:
0.00 %
IR after 6 min recovery
:
0.00 %
IR after 8 min recovery
:
0.00 %
IR after 10 min recovery
:
0.00 %

There is no temporary image retention on the TCL S325.

10 Permanent Burn-In Risk
Permanent Burn-In Risk
:
No

We don't expect VA panels to experience permanent image retention, as the VA panel in our long-term test appears immune.

Pixels
6.6

Motion

The motion handling is decent. The response time is fast but there is some blur trail behind fast-moving content. This response time is good for those who despise stutter, as it allows the TV to display movies without much stutter. The TV uses PWM to dim the backlight at lower brightness levels which can bother some people. Unfortunately, this TV has 24p judder except when it receives a 24p signal, like from a DVD or a Blu-ray.

8.4 Response Time
80% Response Time
:
5.2 ms
100% Response Time
:
15.4 ms

The response time is fast but not as fast as most modern TVs. It's a big improvement over 2017's S305, and only slightly slower than the S425. There is some overshoot in the 0-20% transition, which can cause some haloing in really dark scenes, but otherwise, it shouldn't be very noticeable.

4.7 Flicker-Free
Flicker-Free
:
No
PWM Dimming Frequency
:
180 Hz

The TCL 3 Series uses PWM to dim the backlight but only at lower (below 31/100) brightness levels. The flicker frequency is only 180Hz, and this might bother some people.

4.0 Black Frame Insertion (BFI)
Optional BFI
:
No
Min Flicker for 60 fps
:
180 Hz
60 Hz for 60 fps
:
No
120 Hz for 120 fps
:
No
Min Flicker for 60 fps in Game Mode
:
180 Hz

The TV doesn't have BFI option to make motion crisper. However, when you dim the backlight below a certain level (31/100) the TV introduces flicker. This acts as a BFI feature and makes motion look clearer.

0 Motion Interpolation
Motion Interpolation (30 fps)
:
No
Motion Interpolation (60 fps)
:
No

Just like in the higher-end model S425, there's no motion interpolation feature on the S325.

7.8 Stutter
Frame Hold Time @ 24 fps
:
26.3 ms
Frame Hold Time @ 60 fps
:
1.3 ms

You should not have serious issues with stutter on this TV. The TV's response time is such that each frame of a movie, or low fps content, does not stay on the screen for too long, and the transition looks smoother.

5.6 24p Judder
Judder-Free 24p
:
Yes
Judder-Free 24p via 60p
:
No
Judder-Free 24p via 60i
:
No
Judder-Free 24p via Native Apps
:
No

The TCL 3 Series can display judder-free movies only over a 24p signal like a DVD or a Blu-ray. In all other cases, including native apps, movies have judder. There is no specific feature to turn on to remove judder.

0 Variable Refresh Rate
Native Refresh Rate
:
60 Hz
Variable Refresh Rate
:
No
4k VRR Maximum
:
N/A
4k VRR Minimum
:
N/A
1080p VRR Maximum
:
N/A
1080p VRR Minimum
:
N/A
1440p VRR Maximum
:
N/A
1440p VRR Minimum
:
N/A
VRR Supported Connectors
:
N/A

The TCL 40S325 has a 60Hz panel and does not support more advanced features such as FreeSync.

8.7

Inputs

The TCL 3 Series has an outstanding low input lag for the 1080p @ 60Hz, which is the highest resolution it supports.

9.8 Input Lag
1080p @ 60 Hz
:
12.1 ms
1080p @ 60 Hz Outside Game Mode
:
40.1 ms
1440p @ 60 Hz
:
N/A
4k @ 60 Hz
:
N/A
4k @ 60 Hz + 10 bit HDR
:
N/A
4k @ 60 Hz @ 4:4:4
:
N/A
4k @ 60 Hz Outside Game Mode
:
N/A
4k @ 60 Hz With Interpolation
:
N/A
8k @ 60 Hz
:
N/A
1080p @ 120 Hz
:
N/A
1440p @ 120 Hz
:
N/A
4k @ 120 Hz
:
N/A
1080p with Variable Refresh Rate
:
N/A
1440p with VRR
:
N/A
4k with VRR
:
N/A
8k with VRR
:
N/A
Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM)
:
No

The TCL 3 Series has an outstanding low input lag when in 'Game' mode. If you want low input lag while in 'PC' mode you have to enable 'Game' mode. Chroma 4:4:4 is displayed properly only when in 'PC' mode.

We encountered the same issue as on the S425. During our test, there were times where we had to turn off the TV or disconnect and reconnect the HDMI to get the lowest input lag. We assume that this is an issue with the HDMI handshake. When we changed to 'Game Mode,' it went to an in-between state that had a higher input lag. This should not be a common issue for most users.

1.7 Supported Resolutions
1080p @ 60 Hz @ 4:4:4
:
Yes
1080p @ 120 Hz
:
No
1440p @ 60 Hz
:
No
1440p @ 120 Hz
:
No
4k @ 60 Hz
:
No
4k @ 60 Hz @ 4:4:4
:
No
4k @ 120 Hz
:
No
8k @ 30 Hz or 24 Hz
:
No
8k @ 60 Hz
:
No

The highest resolution this TV supports is 1080p @ 60Hz. When it detects a PC, it switches automatically to 'PC' mode and, unlike the S305, it can display chroma 4:4:4 properly. There is not practical way to use the TV with a PC and be outside of PC mode.

Note: the 32" models of the S325 and S321 variants are 720p as you can also see here.

Input Photos
Total Inputs
HDMI : 3
USB : 1
Digital Optical Audio Out : 1
Analog Audio Out 3.5mm : 1
Analog Audio Out RCA : 0
Component In : 0
Composite In : 1 (incl. adapter)
Tuner (Cable/Ant) : 1
Ethernet : 0
DisplayPort : 0
IR In : 0
SD/SDHC : 0
Inputs Specifications
HDR10
:
No
HDR10+
:
No
Dolby Vision
:
No
HLG
:
No
3D
:
No
HDMI 2.0 Full Bandwidth
:
No
HDMI 2.1
:
No
CEC : Yes
HDCP 2.2 : Yes (HDMI 1,2,3)
USB 3.0
:
No
Variable Analog Audio Out : Yes
Wi-Fi Support : Yes (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz)

The TCL 3 Series supports CEC, but it can only control volume and power on a receiver. The CEC did not work with our Blu-ray player.

Audio Passthrough
ARC
:
Yes (HDMI 3)
eARC support
:
No
Dolby Atmos via TrueHD via eARC
:
No
DTS:X via DTS-HD MA via eARC
:
No
5.1 Dolby Digital via ARC
:
Yes
5.1 DTS via ARC
:
Yes
5.1 Dolby Digital via Optical
:
Yes
5.1 DTS via Optical
:
Yes

If you wish to enable Dolby Digital, you must select the Dolby D/DTS setting for both optical and ARC.

5.5

Sound Quality

The sound quality of the TCL 3 Series S325 is disappointing. The TV can't produce much bass, and although it can get fairly loud it produces a large amount of distortion. It can, however, produce clear and intelligible dialog. For a better sound, a soundbar or dedicated speakers are recommended.

5.3 Frequency Response
Low-Frequency Extension
:
169.51 Hz
Std. Dev. @ 70
:
4.21 dB
Std. Dev. @ 80
:
4.57 dB
Std. Dev. @ Max