The TCL S305 1080p Roku TV is a passable budget LED TV. It has decent picture quality, and it sports some of the best smart features available. Unfortunately, it cannot get very bright, and its handling of motion could be better. Note that the 28" and 32" models are 720. For the 4k model of TCL S Series, see our review here.
The TCL S305 is being gradually replaced by the S325/321 models. Other than minor cosmetic differences, we don't expect there to be any difference between them. The model available may vary depending on your specific region and retailer.
The design of the S305 is very basic. From the front it looks similar to the TCL FS3750 of last year, but with slightly nicer looking feet. The plastic feet are almost as wide as the TV, so a fairly wide table is required. The borders have an average thickness and the TV will stick out from the wall a bit if mounted.
Update 3-19-2019: The design of the S325/321 models might have some cosmetic differences but we can not provide you with more detail until we review them.
The TCL S325 / S305 TV has a decent picture quality. The native contrast and black uniformity are great and should provide a passable movie experience, especially when set in a dark room. When set in a bright room though, the picture quality won't be as good since the peak brightness is not that high. As a result, the TV won't be able to overtake the glare from a bright light of a sunny window, unfortunately. The viewing angle and gray uniformity are below average and wouldn't make this TV the best option to watch a sporting event with a large group of people since when sitting off center, the picture quality will be diminished.
Sub-par peak brightness. The TV never gets brighter than 182 cd/m², which makes it fairly dim when viewed in a bright room, and still not very bright when viewed in a dark room. The peak brightness does not change depending on the content shown, as all the tests show roughly the same brightness (the real scene brightness is measured at the edge of the TV, which is not as bright as the middle).
A plot of peak brightness over time is shown here.
HDR is not supported.
The gray uniformity of the TCL S Series / 3 Series could be better. Looking at the 50% gray test picture, it is really easy to see that the 4 corners are darker than the center. There is also a dark arc going from the top corner to the bottom one and this from each side. The center of the screen is a bit brighter than the rest of the screen, but at least it is fairly homogeneous and the dirty screen effect is not be too bad since it is most noticeable at the center.
As for the 5% gray uniformity, beside the edges of the screen being a bit brighter, nothing really stands out.
Sub-par viewing angle. People sitting to the side of the TV will not have as good picture quality as people viewing from in front. Blacks start to look grey when the TV is viewed from a small angle, and at a larger angle colors degrade and brightness decreases.
Out of the box, the TCL S325 / S305 has a great accuracy. Overall the screen is a bit warmer than what we aim for and the white balance dE is a bit high, but both the Color dE and the gamma are well under what an enthusiast would notice. So for a normal home use, This TV could be used 'as is' without any problems.
There is no calibration menu on the TCL S305 so it is not possible to make the S305 a bit more accurate, but luckily this TV is good enough out of the box for most people.
Our settings for calibration can be found here.
Poor color volume. The TV has only a standard color gamut, and is unable to make dark colors dark enough because it lacks local dimming.
The TCL S Series / 3 Series does show 8-bit gradation when displaying our gradient test image. Even though it is 8 bit, the gradient is fairly smooth and there is not too much tint problem in all 3 color shade.
After running our image retention test on this TCL TV, we did not notice any image retention. This is in line with most VA TV we have tested before.
We don't expect VA panels to experience permanent image retention, as the VA panel in our long-term test appears immune.
The horizontal VA pixel structure looks very similar to the Sony W650D we tested in 2016.
The motion handling of the TCL S Series / 3 Series is below average. Some motion blur is present when displaying fast paced content, and unfortunately the TV lacks a flicker feature to reduce visible blur. Movies played from a Blu-ray player are smooth, but some minor judder is present when watching movies via cable or a HTPC. This minor judder isn't noticeable to most people. The TV has a 60Hz panel which doesn't have options to interpolate lower frame rate content.
The S305, like all the other TCL TVs we have reviewed so far, can only play movies without judder from 24p sources. This means movies playing over cable or satellite boxes will have a small judder. Note that few people notice judder, so this is not be a deal breaker for most people.
The S305 can only properly display simple input resolutions such as 1080p @ 60 Hz @ 4:2:2. This lack of chroma subsampling support is only really noticeable for PC use and not an issue for watching movies. On the bright side, the TV has fairly low input lag in all picture modes, low enough to please most gamers.
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.
This TV has the same low input lag in all picture modes. Surprisingly the 'Game mode' setting does not change the input lag.
Only basic resolutions are supported, such as 1080p @ 60 Hz @ 4:2:2. While the TV can accept a chroma 4:4:4 input it is unable to show chroma 4:4:4 properly; however this is only an issue when using the TV as a PC monitor (text may have colored artifacts around the letters).
To enable 5.1 passthrough, the 'S/PDIF and ARC' audio option must be changed from 'Auto Detect' to 'Dolby D+, DTS' or one of the other Dolby Digital options.
DTS passthrough does not work, even though the TV lists DTS support. This may be fixed in a future software update.
Update 01/19/2018: There is a problem with how the Xbox One, Xbox One S and Xbox One X detect the audio passthrough capabilities of TCL TVs; a workaround is detailed in the Additional Review Notes.
Update 01/09/2019: We retested the DTS passthrough with the new firmware and now it works properly.
The sound produced by the TCL 3 Series / S Series isn't good. It's comparable to competing TVs, but that isn't saying much. Most sound bars will probably be a nice upgrade over the internal speakers.
Subpar frequency response. Higher frequencies are very poorly represented, and some compression artifacts are noticeable at higher volumes. It does get pretty loud though.
The TCL S305 runs Roku TV, which is simpler and easier to navigate than some other smart OS's but still has all the features users expect in a smart TV. It has access to all the popular apps via the Roku 'Streaming Channels' store. Content can be cast to the TV from a smartphone or tablet, or played from a USB drive plugged into the TV's USB port. The included remote is fairly basic, but the Roku smartphone and tablet app has a lot of useful features for controlling the TV, and can even play the TV's audio through the phone or tablet.
This TV has no ads in its main interface, but third party apps may have ads. You can opt out of personalized advertising for these ads by enabling the 'Limit Ad Tracking' option. The home screen has a large section for showing suggested content, which is a little annoying and cannot be disabled.
Roku TV calls its apps 'Streaming Channels', but they work like normal apps. Most of the popular apps are available, such as Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Video.
The S305's remote is fairly basic, only providing basic buttons such as volume control, navigation and opening a few apps. However there is also a Roku app for smartphones and tablets that can act as the TV's remote, change between its apps and inputs, and can even play the TV's sound through the phone or tablet.
We tested the 40" (40S305). For the most part, we expect our review to be valid for the 43" (43S305) and 49" (49S305) versions. The 32 inch (32S305) and 28 inch (28S305) versions have a 720p resolution.
Our review should also apply to the 43S305 found at Costco and other retailers, with only a few cosmetic differences.
If someone comes across a different type of panel or if their TCL S305 doesn't correspond to our review, let us know and we will update the review.
Update 10/24/2018: The S305 is gradually being replaced by the S325. There are only cosmetic differences between the old and new models.
Update 11/05/2018: TCL has released the 32S327. It appears to be identical to the 32S325 and 32S305, but with a 1080p resolution.
The S305 is a decent budget TV. It's so cheap that most of its competition is usually quite bad, and you rarely find TVs equipped with good smart features at this price (see our recommendations for the best cheap TVs and the best TVs under $300).
The TCL 3 Series S325 is slightly better than the 2017 TCL S Series S305. The S325 has a faster response time, and fast-moving content has less blur trail and a much lower input lag that will please gamers. The S305, on the other hand, has less stutter and can remove judder from its native apps.
The TCL 4 Series (S405) is significantly better than the TCL S305. The TCL S405 has better HDR performance due to the better HDR peak brightness and better color volume. It can also deliver better blacks due to the higher native contrast ratio and better black uniformity, and this is great if you watch movies in a dark room. The S405 is also better for gaming as it has lower input lag which makes it very responsive. Finally, it has significantly better inputs for use as a PC monitor.
The Vizio D Series 1080p 2017 has an IPS panel that makes it more suitable for wide viewing arrangements, whereas the TCL 3 Series S305 has a VA panel and is more suitable for darker environments. The TCL S305 has significantly better contrast ratio and better black uniformity so blacks are deep and uniform. This is great if you watch HDR movies. On the other hand, the Vizio D Series 1080p 2017 has slightly better viewing angles which can be good if you use it as a PC monitor and slightly better input lag for those who play video games.
The TCL 3 Series S305 and the Samsung N5300 both have very similar performance. The TCL S305 has a higher native contrast ratio that delivers better dark room performance. The S305 also has a lower input lag that will please gamers. The Samsung N5300 can display proper chroma 4:4:4 which is great if you plan to use it as a PC monitor, it can get slightly brighter and has better viewing angles due to its IPS panel.
The TCL S305 is much better than the Samsung M4500. The S305 has a higher resolution 1080p display and has lower input lag for gaming. The 305 is able to remove judder from most sources. The Samsung M4500 is a bit brighter than the TCL S305, and has an optional motion interpolation feature that can help motion appear smoother.
The TCL 3 Series (S305) is marginally better than the TCL 1 Series (D100). The TCL S305 runs the Roku TV smart platform whereas the TCL D100 does not have a smart feature platform. If you wish to use it as a smart TV, you need to use an external box or dongle. The TCL S305 can remove 24p judder from movies whereas the TCL D100 can display crisp text when used as a monitor.
For those with bright rooms and wide seating arrangements, the LG LJ5500 is a better choice than the TCL 3 Series (S305) due to its wide viewing angles and higher brightness. However, if you will be sitting right in front and enjoy watching movies in a dark room, then the TCL S305 is a better choice as it has better blacks due to the higher native contrast ratio and better black uniformity.