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 S515/S517 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 S515/S517 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 S517 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 S517 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 S515 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.
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 5 Series 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 S517 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 S517, 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 S517 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.
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 TCL S Series has the same smart interface as the more expensive R617. While the interface is very basic, with a simplistic design and no advanced animations, it is very fluid and there are no frame drops. Most settings and inputs can be accessed within a couple of button presses. There are ads on the main page, and they cannot be disabled. The included remote is very basic, but the remote app is excellent and more than compensates for this limitation.
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.
The very good remote app works as well on the S517 as on the R617. It can completely replace the included remote and has all of the advanced functionality found on the more expensive remote included with the 517, great for owners of the S515.
It can be used to access most settings, and is the only way to access the calibration menu for the S517.
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.
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) 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 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 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 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 a bit better than the LeEco Super4. The TCL S517 is able to completely remove judder from all 24p sources, whereas the LeEco Super4 can't remove judder from any source. The S517 has much lower input lag, great for gaming or for use as a PC monitor.
The Sony X720E is a very similar TV and is a good IPS alternative to the TCL S517. Overall performance is similar, but the TCL is better adapted to dark room viewing and HDR content, while the X720E is better adapted for bright room viewing and has a much wider viewing angle. The TCL is a better buy for most people, but if you need the wider viewing angle, go with the Sony X720E.
The Samsung NU7100 is an entry-level premium LED TV released in 2018. It performs similarly to the TCL, but has a worse contrast ratio, making it a poorer choice for dark room viewing. It has excellent low input lag, but it isn't a noticeable improvement over the 5 Series. The NU7100 isn't an improvement over the S517 and isn't worth the price difference.