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TCL 5 Series 2018 TV Review

Tested using Methodology v1.5
Updated May 23, 2018 at 09:56 am
TCL 5 Series 2018 Picture
6.9
Mixed Usage
Value for price beaten by
: TCL 6 Series 2018
6.9
Movies
7.1
TV Shows
6.8
Sports
7.1
Video Games
6.7
HDR Movies
6.8
HDR Gaming
7.1
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.

Our Verdict

6.9 Mixed Usage

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.

See our Mixed Usage recommendations
6.9 Movies

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.

See our Movies recommendations
7.1 TV Shows

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.

See our TV Shows recommendations
6.8 Sports

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.

See our Sports recommendations
7.1 Video Games

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.

See our Video Games recommendations
6.7 HDR Movies

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.

See our HDR Movies recommendations
6.8 HDR Gaming

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.

See our HDR Gaming recommendations
7.1 PC Monitor

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.

See our PC Monitor recommendations
  • 6.9 Mixed Usage
  • 6.9 Movies
  • 7.1 TV Shows
  • 6.8 Sports
  • 7.1 Video Games
  • 6.7 HDR Movies
  • 6.8 HDR Gaming
  • 7.1 PC Monitor
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
  1. Update 5/21/2020: Converted to Test Bench 1.5.
  2. Update 2/21/2020: Converted to Test Bench 1.4.
  3. Update 2/28/2019: Converted to Test Bench 1.3.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Video

Test Results

Design
7.0
Design
Style
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.

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"

Design
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.

Design
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.

Design
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.

6.5
Design
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.

Picture Quality
9.1
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
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.

6.5
Picture Quality
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.

5.2
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
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.

7.1
Picture Quality
Reflections
Screen Finish
Semi-gloss
Total Reflections
5.9 %
Indirect Reflections
0.8 %
Calculated Direct Reflections
5.1 %

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
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
720p Input

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

9.0
Picture Quality
1080p Input

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

9.5
Picture Quality
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.

0
Picture Quality
8k Input
Picture Quality
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.

8.0
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
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
Picture Quality
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.

Motion
6.9
Motion
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
Motion
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
Motion
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.

Motion
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
Motion
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
Motion
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
Motion
Variable Refresh Rate
Native Refresh Rate
60 Hz
Variable Refresh Rate
No
HDMI Forum VRR
No
FreeSync
No
G-SYNC Compatible
No
4k VRR Maximum
N/A
4k VRR Minimum
No VRR support
1080p VRR Maximum
N/A
1080p VRR Minimum
No VRR support
1440p VRR Maximum
N/A
1440p VRR Minimum
No VRR support
VRR Supported Connectors
No VRR support

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

Inputs
8.1
Inputs
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
Inputs
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.