The TCL 5 Series/S546 2021 QLED is a 4k LED TV. It's a new TV in TCL's 2021 lineup, and although it's meant as an upgrade from the TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED, it's not a direct replacement because they're both still available as part of the 5 Series lineup. It uses Google TV, which is a fairly user-friendly smart interface with many apps available to download through the Google Play Store. You have access to Google Assistant through the built-in mic on the TV. There are a few more gaming features like variable refresh rate (VRR) support to reduce screen tearing, but it's still limited to HDMI 2.0 inputs. It has a VA panel that displays deep blacks, and there's a local dimming feature, but it's not that effective at improving the picture quality in dark scenes. Also, our unit has bad out-of-the-box accuracy, giving everything a reddish tint, but this can also vary between units, so your experience may vary.
The TCL 5 Series is a good TV for most uses. It's great for gaming because it has VRR support, a quick response time, and low input lag for responsive gaming. It's very good for watching movies in SDR or HDR because it displays deep blacks and has a full-array local dimming feature, but the local dimming isn't anything special. It's good for watching sports and decent for TV shows because it gets bright and has decent reflection handling. However, it has narrow viewing angles and doesn't properly upscale 480p content like from DVDs.
The TCL S546 is very good for watching movies in dark rooms. It has a VA panel with a high native contrast ratio for deep blacks and excellent black uniformity. It has a full-array local dimming feature that isn't bad, but it causes blooming around bright objects and seems to raise the black levels. This TV doesn't have trouble displaying 1080p or 4k content, but it has problems properly upscaling 480p content, so it's not a good choice for watching DVDs.
The TCL S546 is decent for watching TV shows in a bright room. It has decent reflection handling, and it gets bright enough to fight glare in most well-lit rooms. It displays 720p content like from cable boxes well, but it has trouble with 480p content if you watch standard definition TV shows or DVDs. It also has narrow viewing angles, so the image appears washed out from the sides.
The TCL 5 Series 2021 is good for watching sports. Motion looks smooth thanks to the quick response time, and it performs well in bright rooms because it gets bright enough to fight glare and has decent reflection handling. Unfortunately, our unit has signs of dirty screen effect in the center, which could be noticeable during sports. Its viewing angles are also narrow, so it's not a good choice for watching sports with a large group of friends.
The TCL S546 is great for gaming. It has a quick response time and low input lag for a smooth and responsive gaming experience. It has a few extra gaming features like FreeSync and ALLM support, but it's limited to HDMI 2.0, so you can't take full advantage of the PS5 or Xbox Series X. It's great for dark room gaming as it has a high contrast ratio, but the local dimming feature isn't anything special.
The TCL 5 Series is very good for watching HDR movies. It delivers deep and uniform blacks thanks to its fantastic contrast and excellent uniformity. It has a full-array local dimming feature, but it doesn't do much to improve the picture quality in dark scenes as there's blooming around bright objects. It supports both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision and displays a wide color gamut, but doesn't get bright enough to make highlights pop.
The TCL S546 is very good for HDR gaming. It has great gaming features like a great response time, low input lag, and VRR support. However, it has a 60Hz panel and HDMI 2.0 inputs, so you're limited to 4k @ 60 fps games. HDR content also looks good because it displays deep blacks and has a wide color gamut, but it doesn't get very bright in HDR, and its local dimming feature causes blooming around bright objects.
The TCL 5 Series is very good to use as a PC monitor. It has low input lag for a responsive desktop experience, and motion looks good thanks to the quick response time. It displays chroma 4:4:4 with 1080p and 4k signals, which is important for reading text. However, our unit has gray uniformity issues noticeable with web pages or documents and has narrow viewing angles, meaning the image looks inaccurate at the edges if you sit too close.
The TCL 5 Series is a newer model of the TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED, although the 2020 model is still available because it uses a different smart platform. It sits below the TCL 6 Series/R646 2021 QLED in the 2021 TCL lineup. It competes with other entry-level quantum dot TVs like the Samsung Q60/Q60A QLED, Hisense U6G, and Vizio M7 Series Quantum 2021.
The TCL 5 Series looks like a simple yet stylish TV. It has thin borders on three sides, and you can place the stand in two different positions. There's a Google speaker underneath the bottom bezel. Overall, it looks like a nice TV and should look good in any setup.
The plastic feet do a good job at holding the screen in place, and there's minimal wobble. They don't raise the TV much off the table as there are 1.77 inches from the table to the speaker and 2.71 inches to the bottom of the screen. However, the remote functions still work if you place a soundbar in front. You can put the feet in two different positions.
Footprint of the 65 inch TV:
The TV itself isn't too thick, but it's not the thinnest either. There are clips on the back that you can remove when wall-mounting it, so it doesn't stick out too much.
The TCL S546 has a decent build quality. It's a mix of metal and plastic, and it feels solid overall. The plastic feet are sturdy, but they don't feel as premium as metal feet. The bottom bezel is brushed plastic meant to mimic aluminum, but it feels a bit cheap. The back panel has a bit of flex on the metal part, and there's more on the plastic, but it's not that concerning.
The TCL 5 Series has a VA panel with a remarkable contrast ratio. It displays deep blacks, and the local dimming feature further improves the contrast with our checkerboard pattern, but it seems to raise the black levels in real content. Keep in mind that contrast can vary between units.
Note: Our unit has bad out-of-the-box accuracy, giving it a warm color tone. We couldn't fix the color temperature in calibration without introducing other inaccuracies, which explains the red tint in the photo.
The SDR peak brightness is great and it's a significant improvement over the TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED. It gets bright enough to fight glare in most rooms, but small highlights aren't as bright due to aggressive frame dimming.
We tested it after calibration in the 'Movie' Picture Mode with the Local Contrast set to 'High', Color Temperature on 'Warm -5', Gamma on '2.2', and Contrast and Brightness at their max. We reached the highest luminance with these settings as other picture modes weren't brighter.
The full-array local dimming feature on the TCL 5 Series isn't bad, but it's not anything special either. It performs similarly to the TCL 6 Series/R646 2021 QLED as it seems to raise the black level in real content, causing scenes like a star field to look more gray than black. There's more blooming around bright objects and around subtitles, which could bleed into the black borders at the top and bottom of the screen. As it raises the black levels, there isn't much black crush, and the screen looks fairly uniform. Sadly, it doesn't handle fast-moving objects well, and there are trails when an object transitions between the dimming zones because the zones are slow to turn on and off.
We tested it with Local Contrast on 'High'. The 65 inch model has 45 dimming zones, and TCL advertises the 75 inch model to have 60 zones, but they don't specify how many the 50 and 55 inch models have.
Note: Our unit has bad out-of-the-box accuracy, giving it a warm color tone. We couldn't fix the color temperature in calibration without introducing other inaccuracies. You notice this the most with the test pattern, but not as much in the real content videos.
The local dimming feature performs the same in Game Mode as outside of it.
The HDR brightness is alright. It's an improvement from the TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED, but it may still not be enough to make highlights pop in HDR. Like in SDR, it doesn't maintain its brightness consistent across different scenes, and small highlights are the most dim. The EOTF follows the target PQ curve nearly perfectly until the slow roll-off at its peak brightness.
We tested it before calibration in the 'Movie' HDR Picture Mode with the Local Contrast set to 'High', Color Temperature on 'Warm -5', and Contrast and Brightness at their max. We got the brightest image with these settings, as seen in the 25% peak window, but if you still find the image too dim, enable Dynamic Tone Mapping and set the Gamma to '1.8'. This makes the image appear brighter, as you can see in this EOTF, but it doesn't change the peak brightness.
The HDR peak brightness is okay, as it's very similar to how it is outside of Game Mode. We tested it using the same settings, and even though there are some minor differences in the testing results, it looks the same in Game Mode.
There are some gray uniformity issues with our unit. There are some minor vertical bands that you can see, and there's dirty screen effect in the center, which could get distracting during sports. You can see the red tint from the warm color temperature here. Uniformity is better in near-dark scenes, but the bands are still there, and there's backlight bleed in the corner. Note that uniformity can vary between units.
The TCL S546 has excellent black uniformity. Without local dimming, the screen looks blue, and there's clouding throughout. The image is a lot more black with local dimming enabled, but there's more blooming around the center cross. Note that uniformity can vary between units.
As with other VA panel TVs, the TCL 5 Series has narrow viewing angles, so the image looks inaccurate when viewing from the sides.
Note: Our unit has bad out-of-the-box accuracy, giving it a warm color tone. We couldn't fix the color temperature in calibration without introducing other inaccuracies, which explains the red tint in the video.
The TCL 5 Series Google TV has decent reflection handling. It handles a moderate amount of light well, but it reflects light directly back, like a mirror, which could get distracting.
The out-of-the-box accuracy is bad. All colors are inaccurate, and the white balance is the worst we've seen on any TV so far, so shades of gray and white look awful. The color temperature is also warm, giving the image a red tint. On the plus side, gamma is great as it follows the 2.2 target well for the most part, but some scenes are either a bit too dark or too bright. Out-of-the-box accuracy can vary between units; let us know if yours performs the same.
The accuracy after calibration is okay, but it's not as accurate as most other TVs after calibration. At first, we aggressively calibrated the TV with much better results with the color temperature and white balance, but it resulted in color fringing. We had to recalibrate it in a less aggressive way, which explains why the colors and white balance are still off. You can see the original results here:
You can see our recommended settings here.
Like the TCL 6 Series/R646 2021 QLED, the TCL 5 Series QLED doesn't properly display 480p content. It would scale to 576p instead, and the image looked bad. We tried changing the Aspect Ratio settings, but it didn't fix anything. The photo above is a custom crop, and you can see a 16:9 crop when setting the Aspect Ratio to '4:3' here. All this to say, this TV isn't good for watching 480p content like DVDs.
Note: Our unit has bad out-of-the-box accuracy, giving it a warm color tone. We couldn't fix the color temperature in calibration without introducing other inaccuracies, which explains the red tint in the photo. Also, this made the following upscaling photos appear darker than they normally are when we set the brightness to 100 nits.
Luckily, the TCL S546 doesn't have any trouble upscaling 720p content from cable boxes.
1080p content like from Blu-rays looks almost as good as native 4k content.
The TCL 5 Series 2021 uses a BGR subpixel layout, which can affect the way text is displayed when using the TV as a PC monitor. You can read about it here.
The TCL 5 Series QLED has an excellent color gamut. It's very similar to the TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED because it has fantastic coverage of the DCI P3 color space, and even though its Rec. 2020 is more limited, it's still decent.
The color volume is good. Thanks to its wide color gamut and fantastic contrast, it displays colors at a wide range of luminance levels.
The gradient handling is good, but it's a downgrade compared to the TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED. There's banding with most dark colors, especially with the grays. The Gradation Clear setting helps clean up banding in the test pattern and real content, but it's still not the best and causes the loss of fine details.
Note: Our unit has bad out-of-the-box accuracy, giving it a warm color tone. We couldn't fix the color temperature in calibration without introducing other inaccuracies, which explains the red tint in the photo.
This TV shows no signs of temporary image retention, but this may vary between units. You can see the vertical bands that we talk about in the Gray Uniformity section.
We don't expect VA panels to experience permanent image retention, as the VA panel in our long-term test appears immune.
The TCL 5 Series Google TV has a quick response time. Motion looks great for the most part, but the response time in dark transitions is slow, leading to black smearing in dark scenes, which is typical of VA panels.
The TCL S546 uses pulse width modulation (PWM) to dim its backlight. It flickers at 960Hz with all settings and backlight levels. Luckily, it's such a higher frequency that most people shouldn't notice it.
There's an optional backlight strobing feature, commonly known as black frame insertion. It flickers at 60Hz, but the timing is off, leading to image duplication. Keep in mind that the scoring is based on the flicker frequency and not the actual performance.
The TCL 5 Series has a motion interpolation feature to interpolate 30 fps content up to 60 fps. It looks okay with slow scenes, like when there's dialogue, but there are noticeable artifacts with fast-moving objects that could get distracting.
Due to the quick response time, lower-frame rate content may appear to stutter as each frame is held on longer. Enabling the motion interpolation feature can help reduce this issue.
The TCL 5 Series TV removes 24p judder from native sources like apps or Blu-ray players, but it can't properly remove judder from 60Hz sources. It can't do it at all from 60i sources, and from 60p when we set the Judder Reduction setting between '5-10', it can't properly remove judder as you can see in this photo.
The TCL 5 Series supports variable refresh rate technology to reduce screen tearing, which is a nice addition compared to the TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED. The VRR range is limited because it has HDMI 2.0 inputs and a 60Hz panel. TCL doesn't advertise which formats it supports, but we confirmed it has native FreeSync support with our Radeon RX 580 graphics card. Since the Xbox Series X supports both FreeSync and HDMI Forum VRR, we don't know which one is actively working, so there's no way to tell if it supports HDMI Forum VRR.
The TCL 5 Series has low input lag for a responsive gaming experience. The amount of lag is inconsistent depending on the signal because it's surprisingly lower with VRR enabled than not, but most people won't notice any difference.
The TCL 5 Series 2021 displays most common signals up to 60Hz, including 1440p if you create a custom resolution through your PC. It displays chroma 4:4:4 in either 'PC' or 'Game' Picture Mode with 1080p and 4k signals, and text looks a bit sharper in PC Mode.
The TCL 5 Series supports 60Hz signals from the Xbox Series X and PS5, but since it's a 60Hz panel, it can't do any 120 fps games. Like with the TCL 6 Series/R646 2021 QLED, no prompt pops up on the TV when VRR is active, but we confirmed that VRR works without any tearing. However, Dolby Vision isn't available with VRR enabled.
Unlike the TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED, this TV supports both HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. It's because Google TVs support both, but Roku doesn't support HDR10+.
The TCL 5 Series has eARC support for Dolby Atmos via TrueHD signals, but we ran into some issues during testing. When we tried playing a Dolby Atmos signal, the Dolby Atmos logo would pop up on the TV, but the receiver said it was playing Dolby Audio surround sound. We experienced the same thing with the TCL 6 Series/R646 2021 QLED, so it's likely an issue with our testing, and we're leaving the test result as 'Yes' since it should support it. If you experience the same issue, let us know.
Similarly, the DTS via ARC and Optical signals had the same problem where the TV said the signal was DTS, but the receiver didn't. We're leaving the DTS support as 'Yes' for both ARC and Optical.
Despite having a dedicated speaker below the bottom bezel, the frequency response is mediocre. It gets fairly loud and has a somewhat well-balanced sound profile, but it doesn't produce much bass, if any at all.
The distortion performance is mediocre. There's distortion even when listening at a moderate level, and it gets much worse at the max volume. However, this depends on the content, and not everyone may hear.
The TCL 5 Series is part of TCL's new Google TVs, which has a fairly user-friendly interface, and menu navigation is great. Google TVs are advertised to support the new Basic Mode, which strips the TV of all its smart features, so you can focus on just using the inputs and antenna.
As with other Google TVs, there are ads and suggested content on the home page, and there's no way to disable them.
The Google Play Store has a wide selection of apps available to download.
The included remote is simple and has a few shortcut buttons to popular streaming services. The circular pad functions as the navigation buttons. There's a built-in mic that you can ask to change inputs, open apps, and search for content, but you can't ask it to change settings like the backlight. There's also a mic in the TV itself, which you can use with the Google Assistant feature; the TV has to be on for it to work.
The power button is on the back of the TV on the right, and you can change inputs with it too. There's a switch next to it to disable the built-in mic.
We tested the 65 inch TCL 5 Series 2021, and for the most part, we expect our review to be valid for the 50, 55, and 75 inch models. This model is a 4k TV with Google as its smart platform, and it's part of the 5 Series lineup that includes the TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED, which is a 2020 model with Roku TV that's still available in 2021.
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If someone comes across a different type of panel or if their TCL S546 doesn't correspond to our review, let us know, and we'll update it. Note that some tests, like gray uniformity, may vary between units.
The TCL 5 Series is a good mid-range TV with gaming features like VRR support, but nothing stands out against the competition. It gets brighter than the TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED, which is great, but it also worsens with local dimming. You can get similarly-priced or cheaper options with better local dimming and/or HDMI 2.1 inputs, like the Hisense U7G or Hisense U6G.
The Hisense U6G is better for most uses than the TCL 5 Series/S546 2021 QLED. They both have VA panels with a high contrast ratio, but the local dimming feature is better on the Hisense because there's less blooming. The Hisense also has slightly better reflection handling, making it a better choice for bright rooms, and it doesn't have trouble upscaling 480p content if you want to watch DVDs. The main advantage the TCL has over the Hisense is VRR support to reduce screen tearing in games, which the Hisense doesn't have. They have similar operating systems as the Hisense uses Android TV, and the TCL has Google TV, which is simply an upgraded version, but there are only a few minor differences between each.
The TCL 6 Series/R646 2021 QLED sits higher up in the lineup than the TCL 5 Series/S546 2021 QLED, so it has more features and better performance. The main differences are that the R646 has Mini LED backlighting and has HDMI 2.1 inputs, allowing you to play higher frame rate games than the S546. The local dimming features perform similarly as they raise the black level in real content, but there's less blooming on the R646. The R646 also gets brighter and has much better reflection handling, so it's a better choice for well-lit rooms. The built-in speakers are also much better on the R646, but that won't make a difference if you get a soundbar or receiver anyways.
The LG C1 OLED and the TCL 5 Series/S546 2021 QLED are two different types of TVs. The LG is a high-end OLED that delivers deep blacks thanks to its near-infinite contrast, and it has wider viewing angles. The LG also has HDMI 2.1 inputs, allowing you to play 4k games up to 120 fps, and it has lower input lag, while the TCL has HDMI 2.0 inputs. On the other hand, the TCL is an entry-level quantum dot LED TV that gets brighter and doesn't have the risk of permanent burn-in like OLEDs.
The TCL 5 Series/S535 2020 QLED and the TCL 5 Series/S546 2021 QLED are both good TVs. The S546 is an upgraded version of the S535, and while it gets better in some areas, it gets worse in others. The S546 gets brighter, making it a better choice for daytime viewing, and it has VRR support, which the S535 doesn't have. The S546 also supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10+, while the S535 only supports Dolby Vision. One area where the S535 is better is with the local dimming because the one on the S546 causes more blooming. Another main difference is that the S535 uses Roku TV as its smart OS while the S546 has Google TV, and while they have some differences, both OS are great.
The Hisense U7G is better overall than the TCL 5 Series/S546 2021 QLED. The Hisense is more well-rounded and has a few more gaming features like a 120Hz panel and HDMI 2.1 inputs, while the TCL is limited to a 60Hz panel. The Hisense also delivers a better HDR experience because it gets brighter, and although its local dimming is just decent, it performs better than the one on the TCL. The Hisense doesn't have any trouble upscaling 480p content from DVDs the same way the TCL has. The TCL uses Google TV, which is essentially a slightly upgraded version of the Android TV the Hisense has, but the two operating systems are equally great.
The TCL 5 Series/S546 2021 QLED and the TCL 6 Series/R635 2020 QLED are both very good TVs. The R635 is a higher-end than the TCL, so it has a 120Hz panel with a quicker response time, but both TVs have HDMI 2.0 inputs. The R635 also gets brighter and doesn't have issues upscaling lower-resolution content from DVDs, so it's a better choice for watching shows. The R635 uses Roku TV as its smart system, which is user-friendly, while the S546 has Android TV, which has a bigger app store.