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.
Decent TV for mixed usage. It is well suited for use for gaming or as a PC monitor. HDR is supported and the TV has a wide color gamut but it doesn't add much. The viewing experience is decent for movies and TV shows, but it doesn't get bright enough to overcome glare and the viewing angle is poor.
Decent TV for watching movies in a dark room. It isn't very bright, and while it does support HDR, there isn't much advantage to using it. There is no local dimming feature, but the native contrast ratio is excellent. Good response time, so fast movies don't have much motion trail.
Okay TV for watching TV Shows in a bright room. Reflection handling is decent but it can't get very bright to overcome glare. Unfortunately, the image quality degrades rapidly when viewing off-angle, so it isn't as good for people that like to watch TV while doing other things around the house.
This is a decent TV for watching sports. There are no serious uniformity issues, but there is some dirty screen effect that is especially noticeable when watching sports with large areas of uniform color; like hockey or football. Decent reflection handling, but the viewing angle is poor, so some people might not have a great view when watching the big game with a large group of friends.
Great TV for playing video games. The exceptional low input lag and good response time makes for very fluid motion that responds to every button press, but make sure Game mode is on.
This is an okay TV for watching HDR movies, but it doesn't add much. HDR peak brightness is disappointing, and uniform regardless of input size. This means that bright highlights won't stand out at all in HDR, which is one of the main points. Overall, the picture quality is good but using HDR doesn't add much.
Good TV for HDR gaming, mainly due to the excellent input lag and good response time. There isn't much advantage to gaming in HDR on this TV, as it isn't very bright in HDR. Overall, it is a great TV for gaming but HDR doesn't add much.
Good TV for use as a PC monitor. Chroma 4:4:4 is supported without issue as long as the input label is set to Computer and Game mode is used. The response time is good, so there is very little motion trail. Input lag is very low, and using a mouse feels responsive. The main limitation is the poor viewing angle, and you will want to be seated far enough away, otherwise the edges of the screen will fade.
We tested the 55" (55S517). For the most part, we expect our review to be valid for the 43" (43S517), 49" (49S517), and 65" versions (65S517) as well.
We have received reports that the 43" and 49" models do not support motion interpolation and are not able to remove judder, as they lack the Natural Cinema option.
If someone comes across a different type of panel or if their TCL 5 Series doesn't correspond to our review, let us know and we will update the review.
Bestbuy sells a different model number (S515). It is the same TV, but it has a simpler IR remote that requires line-of-sight and does not have the voice control feature. The remote can be upgraded, but the smart app has the same functionality as the advanced remote.
In Europe, the TCL models are completely different and do not directly correspond with the U.S. models.
The TCL 5 Series is a decent budget TV with decent picture quality and motion handling. It is available in a variety of sizes and is well priced for its performance. See our recommendations for the best smart TVs and the best cheap TVs.
The TCL R617 (6 series) is significantly better than the TCL S517 (5 series). The TCL R617 incorporates local dimming support to improve blacks in a dark room, and at the same time, it can get brighter which is great for a bright room with glare. The TCL R617 has better response time so only a small blur trails the image when you watch sports and has an optional black frame insertion to introduce flicker and make the image crisper. Finally, the TCL R617 has much better HDR performance.
The TCL 5 Series S517 2018 is nearly identical to the TCL S525. The S517 has better gray uniformity and better reflection handling, but one less HDMI port. The S525 has less input lag, but this likely isn't a noticeable difference.
The TCL 5 Series S517 and the Vizio D Series 4k 2018 have very similar performance. The Vizio D Series 4k 2018 has better reflection handling and better response time that make it a better choice for sports watching, whereas the TCL S517 is better for movies since it supports motion interpolation. The TCL also has lower input lag which makes it more responsive, and this is important when gaming.
The TCL 5 Series (S517) is slightly better than the TCL 4 Series (S405). The TCL S517 has deeper blacks due to the better contrast, and this is great if you watch movies in a dark room. Also, the TCL S517 can get brighter, and its image will look better in a bright room, and it incorporates motion interpolation for the fans of the soap opera effect. On the other hand, the TCL S405 has a lower input lag which is great if you play video games, and better reflection handling if your room has many small light sources.
The TCL 5 Series S517 is a bit better than the TCL 4 Series S425. The S517 can get brighter and is more suitable if you have a bright room; it can display a wider color gamut, which helps HDR performance. Also, the S517 has a motion interpolation feature to please the soap opera effect fans and can display judder-free movies. The TCL S425 has somewhat lower input lag, which is great for video games, and delivers a little crisper motion thanks to the faster response time.
The Vizio E Series 2018 4k TV is a bit better than the TCL 5 Series S517. The Vizio E Series has better dark room performance thanks to the better black uniformity and the local dimming feature. The Vizio also has better reflection handling and better black frame insertion feature that can help clear blur. The TCL S517 has an optional motion interpolation feature, which is great if you enjoy the soap opera effect.
The TCL 5 Series/S517 2018 is a bit better than the Vizio V Series 2019. The TCL can remove judder from any source and has better upscaling capabilities for lower resolution content. The TCL also has a motion interpolation feature to please the soap opera effect fans. The Vizio has better black uniformity, better reflection handling, and the image remains accurate for wider angles.
The TCL S517 and the Samsung NU7100 both have very similar performance. The Samsung NU7100 has better black uniformity and a lower input lag, which is great if you play video games. The NU7100 also has a better gray uniformity, which is great if you watch a lot of sports. The TCL S517 can remove 24p judder from older content and has a wide color gamut that helps it display vivid colors.
The TCL 5 Series S517 is better than the Toshiba Fire TV 2018. The TCL S517 has a much better input lag, which is great for gamers and better color gamut and color volume that are important for better HDR performance. Also, the TCL S517 has better reflection handling, and this is great if you like to watch TV shows in a bright room. On the other hand, the Toshiba Fire TV 2018 can get brighter to fight ambient glare and has better black uniformity which improves the picture quality of dark scenes in a dark room.
The TCL 5 Series S517 and the Samsung NU6900 both have very similar performance. The TCL S517 is a better choice for watching movies as it has better motion handling and can remove 24p judder from movies. On the other hand, the Samsung NU6900 has better black frame insertion performance and can make the image crisper, which is important if you watch a lot of fast action sports.
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 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 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.
720p sources such as cable TV are upscaled well. Details remains clear.
Full HD content such as Blu-rays look good. The image remains clear.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The TCL TV has an above-average distortion performance. The overall amount of harmonic distortion is decent at 80dB SPL. At maximum volume, there's not a big jump in THD, which is good. But this TV doesn't get very loud.
The interface of the TCL 5 Series is very straightforward and easy to use. There are no frame drops and very little lag. Apps are responsive and open quickly.
Like the TCL R617, there are ads on the main interface page. The ads are quite large and varied. There is also a separate 'Featured' tab. The ads cannot be disabled and there is no opt-out option.
The TV has a wide selection of apps built-in on the Roku smart interface. The default apps are limited, but work well. There are hundreds of streaming channels available, many of them free. Apps can also be installed through the companion smart phone app.
The included remote is basic, with a very limited number of buttons. All settings are accessible only through the settings menu or the companion app. There is voice control, but it is very basic. It can be used to change inputs or search for content, but does not understand contextual questions or random questions such as weather or even telling time.
The remote included with the S517 doesn't require line of sight with the TV. The S515 sold at Best Buy does.
There is a small cluster of three buttons on the bottom center of the screen. Functionality is very similar to the R617. The center button brings up a menu on the TV with all of the inputs and an option to turn the TV off. Unlike the R617, there are two side buttons used to scroll through this menu.
The buttons are a little difficult to access, as they are placed behind the plastic IR receiver.