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.
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.
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"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No image retention is present and this is in line with other TVs that use VA panels.
We don't expect VA panels to experience permanent image retention, as the VA panel in our long-term test appears immune.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The TV doesn't support any of the variable refresh rate technologies. This was tested on a PC with an AMD Radeon 580.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unlike the P607, there is no headphone jack on the side of the remote.
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.
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).
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.