TCL 5 Series 2018 TV REVIEW

Usage Ratings - Version 1.3
7.5
Mixed Usage
Value for price beaten by
: Hisense H8F
7.1
Movies
7.5
TV Shows
7.1
Sports
8.1
Video Games
7.1
HDR Movies
7.8
HDR Gaming
7.9
PC Monitor
This TV was replaced by the TCL 5 Series/S525 2019

Type : LED
Sub-Type
:
VA
Resolution : 4k

The TCL 5 Series (S515/S517) is a 4k TV with decent picture quality. It has a VA-type panel which can produce deep dark scenes, but doesn't support more advanced features such as local dimming to improve the performance further. It also supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and can produce great vivid colors but can't produce bright highlights. For gamers, it has a low input lag which is excellent.

The TCL 5 Series is also known as the S515 or S517 depending on the retailer's variant.

Pros
  • Low input lag for gaming
  • Wide color gamut for HDR
  • High native contrast ratio
Cons
  • Image degrades when viewed at an angle
  • Can't produce bright HDR highlights

Test Results
Design 7.0
Picture Quality 7.4
Motion 7.3
Inputs 9.1
Sound Quality 6.0
Smart Features 7.7
  1. Update 2/28/2019: Converted to Test Bench 1.3. Learn more about our versioned test bench system here.
  2. Update 1/9/2019: We retested the DTS passthrough with the new firmware and now it works properly. The corresponding review section has been updated.
  3. Update 5/24/2018: We have received reports that the 43" and 49" models do not support motion interpolation and lack an option to remove judder.

Check Price

7.0

Design

Curved : No

The design of the TCL 5 Series is quite basic. It has a sleek look due to its thin borders and elegant base, but from a closer perspective, it looks less premium. Overall it is a decent, typical TCL design.

Stand

The stand of the TCL 5 Series is plastic and relatively wide. It is certainly narrower than the new TCL 6-Series R615/617, but provides the same stability to the TV.

It resembles last years S405 stand, without the silver finish.

Footprint of the 55" TV stand: 38.6" x 11.7"

Back
Wall Mount : VESA 200x200

The rear of the TV is made of the metal panel section and the plastic electronics compartment. It looks simple and clean, but lacks any planning for cable management.

Borders
Borders : 0.35" (0.9 cm)

The TCL 5-series has very thin borders that give it a sleek look. There is, however, a pretty obvious gap between the border bezel and the first line of pixels on the screen.

Thickness
Max Thickness : 2.91" (7.4 cm)

The TCL 5 Series would be a very thin TV if it not for the lower bottom part where the LEDs are hosted, along with a big vent to dissipate the generated heat.

Because of this, the TCL 5-Series will protrude a little if you wall mount it.

Temperature
Maximum Temperature
:
111 °F (44 °C)
Average Temperature
:
90 °F (32 °C)

The TCL 5 Series gets a little warm at the bottom where the LEDs are located. However, this should not cause any issues as the TV has two big vents one at the bottom and one midway up the back of the TV, that dissipate the heat well.

6.5 Build Quality

The build quality of the TCL 5 Series is okay with no loose panels or gaps. It has a solid construction, and although it does not look premium it is at par with the built quality of Vizio E Series 2017 and the rest of the TCL TVs.

7.4

Picture Quality

The TCL 5 Series has a decent picture quality. It has an excellent native contrast ratio, great black uniformity and although it lacks local dimming, blacks in movies look good. Because the TV can't get very bright, especially in HDR, the TV performs better in dimmer viewing environments. Gray uniformity is okay with little dirty screen effect to worry sports fans. The TV can show great colors that can be calibrated close to perfection. Although reflections are handled well, it is not recommended for a wide room since viewing angles are not good.

9.1 Contrast
Native Contrast
:
6000 : 1
Contrast with local dimming
:
N/A

The TCL 5 Series has a superb native contrast ratio. It is in line with some of the best high-end LED TVs we have tested and certainly better than rivals Samsung NU7100 and Vizio E Series 2017. It displays very deep blacks and that enhances dark scenes when viewed in low-light environments.

0 Local Dimming
Local Dimming
:
No
Backlight
:
Edge

The TCL 5 Series does not have Local Dimming. It has a Micro Contrast option in the menu, however, this only adjusts the contrast of different areas of the screen and isn't actually a local dimming feature so we leave it off.

The above video is provided for reference only.

7.4 SDR Peak Brightness
SDR Real Scene Peak Brightness
:
281 cd/m²
SDR Peak 2% Window
:
297 cd/m²
SDR Peak 10% Window
:
297 cd/m²
SDR Peak 25% Window
:
298 cd/m²
SDR Peak 50% Window
:
298 cd/m²
SDR Peak 100% Window
:
299 cd/m²
SDR Sustained 2% Window
:
297 cd/m²
SDR Sustained 10% Window
:
297 cd/m²
SDR Sustained 25% Window
:
298 cd/m²
SDR Sustained 50% Window
:
298 cd/m²
SDR Sustained 100% Window
:
298 cd/m²
SDR ABL
:
0.000

The TCL 5 Series is a definite improvement from last year's S405 since it has a decent peak brightness which is good enough for a dimly lit room. Although it performs better than Vizio E Series 2017 and similarly to Samsung NU7100, the TV doesn't even come close to the brightness of the TCL R617 6-series, or the Sony X720E. It just won't get bright enough to overcome glare.

5.9 HDR Peak Brightness
HDR Real Scene Peak Brightness
:
273 cd/m²
HDR Peak 2% Window
:
298 cd/m²
HDR Peak 10% Window
:
299 cd/m²
HDR Peak 25% Window
:
299 cd/m²
HDR Peak 50% Window
:
300 cd/m²
HDR Peak 100% Window
:
300 cd/m²
HDR Sustained 2% Window
:
298 cd/m²
HDR Sustained 10% Window
:
299 cd/m²
HDR Sustained 25% Window
:
299 cd/m²
HDR Sustained 50% Window
:
300 cd/m²
HDR Sustained 100% Window
:
300 cd/m²
HDR ABL
:
0.000

The results in our HDR Peak Brightness test were disappointing, albeit better than last year's TCL S405. The luminance is very similar across all input windows and thus small highlights in dark scenes will not stand out and could be missed.

Again the TV is overshadowed by this years TCL 6-series R617 scores in HDR, but still manages to outperform the Vizio E Series 2017 and perform at par with Samsung NU7100.

7.1 Gray Uniformity
50% Std. Dev.
:
3.140 %
50% DSE
:
0.197 %
5% Std. Dev.
:
1.550 %
5% DSE
:
0.122 %

The TV has the same decent performance in gray uniformity as last year's S405. Both at 50% and at 5% gray, the image shows slightly darker along the edges and some clouding is visible. Therefore we expect some dirty screen effect to be present when watching sports.

The TV has better gray uniformity than the TCL R617 we tested. This is expected as edge-lit TVs typically have less uniformity issues than full array TVs.

5.1 Viewing Angle
Color Washout
:
22 °
Color Shift
:
37 °
Brightness Loss
:
28 °
Black Level Raise
:
13 °
Gamma Shift
:
13 °

The viewing angle is bad. This is typical with a VA panels, but this TV is also at the lower end of the scale. Even slight deviations from the middle and blacks become gray and colors shift, while brightness decreases a little more gradually as viewing angle increases. The TV is not a good choice for a wide room where people will be often viewing the TV from the side.

7.5 Black Uniformity
Native Std. Dev.
:
1.020 %
Std. Dev. w/ L.D.
:
N/A

The native black uniformity of the TCL 5 Series is very good. We can see some slight clouding near the top and again closer to the test cross. However, this is faint and will not show up in dark scenes while looking at regular video content.

7.4 Reflections
Screen Finish
:
Semi-gloss
Total Reflections
:
5.9 %
Indirect Reflections
:
0.8 %

As all TCL TVs, the TCL 5-series has a semi-gloss finish for diffusing reflections across the screen. It does a great job in dimmer environments, but when viewed in a bright room the reflections can be somewhat distracting. This is especially apparent when the source is facing the TV.

The S405 performs slightly better with reflections, as there are fewer halos visible around bright reflections.

6.9 Pre Calibration
White Balance dE
:
4.15
Color dE
:
2.61
Gamma
:
2.21
Color Temperature
:
5815 K
Picture Mode
:
Movie
Color Temp Setting
:
Warm
Gamma Setting
:
2.2

The TV has decent out of the box color accuracy, when picture mode is set to Movie. Red/Yellow are a slightly dominant because of the warm color temperature and this results in an elevated white Balance dE. However, since color dE is low enough, this gray inaccuracy might go unnoticed to most people. Gamma already follows our target well.

9.8 Post Calibration
White Balance dE
:
0.17
Color dE
:
0.43
Gamma
:
2.20
Color Temperature
:
6493 K
White Balance Calibration
:
11 point
Color Calibration
:
Yes
Auto-Calibration Function
:
No

The TCL 5 Series is easy to calibrate, like other TCL TVs we've tested. As a result, it is possible to get a very accurate result and it is very hard to notice any imperfections with regard to color representation.

Like other TCL TVs, the calibration is only possible via the mobile app (Android or iOS) and is one of the easiest methods available from all the major TV brands. The 11 points white balance control and the color space control are fairly responsive result in an easy way to do the calibration.

You can see our recommended settings here.

8.0 480p Input

Upscaling of low-quality content such as DVDs is good. As with other TCL TVs, the image isn't too soft and details are preserved.

8.0 720p Input

720p sources such as cable TV are upscaled well. Details remains clear.

9.0 1080p Input

Full HD content such as Blu-rays look good. The image remains clear.

9.5 4k Input

With some 4k images (such as for PC monitor use) the sub-pixel dimming algorithm results in some strange artifacts when viewed from up close (see here). This isn't an issue for most content. This type of dithering is uncommon, and is only seen on some TCL TVs, including the S517 and R617. Most people won't notice it much, but occasionally it causes artifacts when it interferes with spatial dithering in games such as this green or purple shadow.

Update 29/05/2018: We have received a report that the 49" S515/S517 has similar crosshatching to the S405, as seen here. This will bother some people especially when used as a PC Monitor.

8.0 Color Gamut
Wide Color Gamut
:
Yes
DCI P3 xy
:
90.13 %
DCI P3 uv
:
94.08 %
Rec 2020 xy
:
66.14 %
Rec 2020 uv
:
71.23 %

The TCL 5 Series supports a wide color gamut. Coverage of the smaller P3 color space is great, comparable to many high end TVs. Coverage of the wider Rec 2020 color space is decent, HDR content will look good.

The PQ curve follows our curve well, and rolls off gradually at the TV's peak brightness. We had to use a 50% stimulus as the 75% input looks bad. The PC and Game EOTFs also follow the curve well, which is good. These were tested with the 'dark' picture brightness, but the 'normal' setting looks almost identical.

The S515 supports a wider color gamut than the TCL R617 and last year's S405.

6.8 Color Volume
Normalized DCI P3 Coverage ITP
:
72.5 %
10,000 cd/m² DCI P3 Coverage ITP
:
28.4 %
Normalized Rec 2020 Coverage ITP
:
64.3 %
10,000 cd/m² Rec 2020 Coverage ITP
:
25.1 %

Decent color volume. The TCL 55S515/55S517 doesn't produce deep dark colors or bright saturated colors very well. Most of its color gamut is displayed well across most brightness levels.

8.2 Gradient
Color Depth
:
10 Bit
Red (Std. Dev.)
:
0.114 dE
Green (Std. Dev.)
:
0.109 dE
Blue (Std. Dev.)
:
0.088 dE
Gray (Std. Dev.)
:
0.104 dE

The gradient is very good. Very little banding is visible, especially in darker shades of green and red, but nothing major. Overall it performs slightly worse than last years S405 and equally well to Samsung NU7100.

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 %

No image retention is present and this is in line with other TVs that use VA panels.

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

Like the TCL 6 Series and other TCL TVs we've tested, the way the panel dims sub-pixels results in some minor artifacts visible in the 4k input test.

7.3

Motion

The TCL 5 Series 4k LED TV has decent motion handling. It has a good response time, so motion appears relatively free of motion trail. With low backlight settings, there is visible flicker, and there is no option to reduce the flicker frequency from 180 Hz. It has a new motion interpolation feature, but it can only interpolate up to 60 fps. It is completely judder free, which is a great improvement from last year. It doesn't support any of the variable refresh rate technologies.

8.0 Response Time
80% Response Time
:
6.8 ms
100% Response Time
:
15.8 ms

Very good response time. There is no overshoot on any of the pixel transitions. Motion looks good without much trail. The blur in the photo is mainly due to persistence and backlight flicker.

The results are slightly worse than the R617 and last year's S405, but still good.

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

With a backlight setting of 14 or less, the TV uses PWM to dim the backlight which is noticeable as flicker. Higher settings directly adjust the amplitude of the backlight, and there is no flicker. The backlight setting of 14 is extremely dim, and most people won't see any flicker.

4.6 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
:
N/A
Min Flicker for 60 fps in Game Mode
:
180 Hz

The TCL 5 Series can't adjust the backlight flicker to lower frequencies to help motion appear smoother. At low backlight settings motion is helped by the PWM flicker, but at higher settings, there is no flicker and motion isn't as smooth.

7.0 Motion Interpolation
Motion Interpolation (30 fps)
:
Yes
Motion Interpolation (60 fps)
:
No

The TCL 5 Series has an optional motion interpolation feature that can increase the frame rate up to 60 fps. This is new this year on the TCL line. This helps motion appear smoother, but causes the so called Soap Opera Effect, which some people don't like.

In scenes with lots of motion, there are visible artifacts. If there is too much motion, the TV will stop interpolating frames and keep the source frame rate. This behavior is very similar to most TVs.

Update 05/24/2018: We have received reports that the 43" and 49" models do not have motion interpolation.

7.8 Stutter
Frame Hold Time @ 24 fps
:
25.9 ms
Frame Hold Time @ 60 fps
:
0.9 ms

There is some visible stutter with 24p content. This isn't too noticeable as the frame hold time is lower than most TVs. Some people will notice this, especially with wide-panning landscape shots.

10 24p Judder
Judder-Free 24p
:
Yes
Judder-Free 24p via 60p
:
Yes
Judder-Free 24p via 60i
:
Yes
Judder-Free 24p via Native Apps
:
Yes

The TV is able to remove judder from all sources. By default the option to do this is disabled, to enable it turn on Natural Cinema. This is an improvement over the 2017 TCL TVs.

Update 05/24/2018: We have received reports that the 43" and 49" models do not have this option. They will not be judder-free.

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 TV doesn't support any of the variable refresh rate technologies. This was tested on a PC with an AMD Radeon 580.

9.1

Inputs

The TCL 5 Series has excellent input handling. The input lag is very low on all supported resolutions, as long as Game mode is enabled. It supports most of the common resolutions and refresh rates without issue, but since it is a 60Hz panel it does not support 120 Hz input from an Xbox One. Chroma 4:4:4 is properly displayed and the S517 works well as a PC monitor thanks to the low input lag.

Update 01/09/2019: We retested the DTS passthrough with the new firmware and it works properly thus giving you more options regarding your external device connectivity.

9.3 Input Lag
1080p @ 60 Hz
:
17.9 ms
1080p @ 60 Hz Outside Game Mode
:
137.6 ms
1440p @ 60 Hz
:
17.7 ms
4k @ 60 Hz
:
20.4 ms
4k @ 60 Hz + 10 bit HDR
:
20.5 ms
4k @ 60 Hz @ 4:4:4
:
20.4 ms
4k @ 60 Hz Outside Game Mode
:
123.5 ms
4k @ 60 Hz With Interpolation
:
149.6 ms
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

Excellent low input lag, as long as Game mode is activated. Outside game mode the lag is very high. Input lag is almost identical regardless of input, there is only an extremely minor difference between 1080p and 4k content, great for classic gamers.

For use as a PC monitor, chroma 4:4:4 is only properly supported when the input label is set to Computer, or when the TV automatically detects that it is connected to a PC. Game mode must be used when connected to a PC for proper low input lag.

8.3 Supported Resolutions
1080p @ 60 Hz @ 4:4:4
:
Yes
1080p @ 120 Hz
:
No
1440p @ 60 Hz
:
Yes (forced resolution required)
1440p @ 120 Hz
:
No
4k @ 60 Hz
:
Yes
4k @ 60 Hz @ 4:4:4
:
Yes
4k @ 120 Hz
:
No
8k @ 30 Hz or 24 Hz
:
No
8k @ 60 Hz
:
No

The TCL 5 Series supports most common resolutions without issue. It supports a 1440p input from an Xbox One, which is great, but only at 60 Hz.

Chroma 4:4:4 is only properly support when the input label is set to Computer, or when the TV detects that it is connected to a PC. Like the R617, sharpness does nothing in PC mode.

For some devices, HDMI full bandwidth mode must be enabled from the TV inputs menu. It is enabled by default, but some older devices might not work properly when it is enabled.

Input Photos

Same inputs as the TCL R617. There is an included breakout cable for composite input, but no component input. Like the R617, there is no headphone output on the remote, but there is a headphone jack for connecting wireless headphones.

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 : 1
DisplayPort : 0
IR In : 0
SD/SDHC : 0

Unlike the P607, there is no headphone jack on the side of the remote.

Inputs Specifications
HDR10
:
Yes
HDR10+
:
No
Dolby Vision
:
Yes
HLG
:
No
3D
:
No
HDMI 2.0 Full Bandwidth
:
Yes (HDMI 1,2,3)
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)

For the audio return channel on HDMI 3 to work, CEC must be enabled in Settings -> System -> Control other devices (CEC) -> ARC(HDMI3)

DTS passthrough doesn't currently work on the TCL 5 Series, this will likely be fixed in future firmware updates. We will retest this in the future.

Update 01/09/2019: We retested the DTS passthrough with the new firmware and now it works properly.

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
6.0

Sound Quality

The TCL 5 Series gas a mediocre sound. This TV doesn't get very loud and doesn't produce much bass either. However, it produces clear and intelligible dialogs and has low distortion. For a better sound, dedicated speakers or a soundbar is recommended (see our recommendations for the best budget soundbars).

5.5 Frequency Response
Low-Frequency Extension
:
142.54 Hz
Std. Dev. @ 70
:
4.04 dB
Std. Dev. @ 80
:
4.32 dB
Std. Dev. @ Max
:
5.76 dB
Max
:
84.5 dB SPL
Dynamic Range Compression
:
3.94 dB

The frequency response is sub-par. LFE (low-frequency extension) is at 143Hz, which is inadequate. This meas that this TV doesn't produce any thump or rumble, and doesn't have much body and punch to its bass either. The response above the LFE point is decently balanced, suggesting clear and intelligible dialogs. However, this TV doesn't get very loud. Additionally, since it doesn't have a room correction system, it wasn't able to remove the mode of our test room around 200Hz.

7.4 Distortion
Weighted THD @ 80