A Review of the Surprisingly Excellent TCL 5 Series 2019 4K UHD HDR LCD TV (43S525, 50S525, 55S525, 65S525)
Stephan Jukic – December 30, 2019
The TCL 5 Series 2019 S525 4K HDR TV mostly doesn’t get exceptional, but it is one very strong budget TV for the price it has, and for the generally decent to good performance it offers. This mid-range TCL television delivers superb gaming performance, an excellent response time for smooth content motion and delivers really strong overall picture quality in both a dark room and a well-lit space due to its decent brightness and excellent contrast ratio. Its color performance is also good, which makes the S525’s HDR quality surprisingly vibrant.
• Wonderful gaming performance
• Good motion handling
• Great black level and contrast performance
• Robust color delivery and surprising color volume
• Surprisingly good native audio
• Excellent content upscaling for all video sources
• No local dimming
• Weak overall HDR brightness
• Motion handling issues
Aside from a few not too serious defects, the S525 is one impressively good 4K HDR TV for the price it retails at. Its gaming performance and certain key display specs are particularly great for a model this affordable and overall we definitely recommend it if you’re looking for surprisingly good quality on a budget.
Our comprehensive review of the best IPS TV we’ve ever reviewed, LG’s powerful new SM9000 4K HDR edition
What We Liked about the TCL 5 Series
The TCL S525 is surprisingly, remarkably good in a number of specific ways. All of them, combined with its price, make this particular budget 4K TV all the more attractive as a starter edition or extra television for your home. Let’s get down to some specific points:
The TCL S525 is an excellent 4K TV for console gaming and PC use. While its display panel only offers a 60Hz refresh rate and thus doesn’t allow for high frame rate gaming in the 120Hz range, the TV delivers superbly good performance as long as you keep this general gaming limitation in mind. Input lag is wonderfully low for most resolution, frame rate, HDR and color settings and the S525 offers great connectivity when coupled with a PC monitor. As a budget gaming TV with solid support for HDR visuals it’s a good choice.
Great black level and contrast performance
Unlike its cousin the S425, the 5 Series delivers exceptionally good black uniformity. This TV’s contrast ratio and black levels are also both really strong, allowing for strong HDR enhancements and generally good picture performance in which color rendering looks more vibrant. The TV is also perfectly usable even in bright spaces because of its black rendering performance.
Robust color delivery and surprising color volume
In terms of color output, the 5 Series is excellent considering its price tag. We loved it and can’t recommend the HDR color and ordinary SDR color quality of this TV enough at the budget price it sells for. Wide color gamut is well represented, 10-bit HDR color support is smooth and the 5 Series offers surprisingly strong color volume when set to view content at high brightness or during dim scenes. There are many much pricier 4K HDR TVs that can’t pull this off quite as well as this affordable model. One other cool thing about the 5 Series is that its out-of-the-box color performance is simply great. This too is rare in the vast majority of non-premium UHD TVs.
Excellent content upscaling for all video sources
Most 4K UHD TVs sold these days upscale content really well even if it’s native formatting is in 1080p, 720p or even 480p resolutions. The 5 Series TV is no exception. As long as a given piece of content is well-mastered, it should nicely render it. This applies especially to content sources such as DVDs, streaming media and Blu-ray disc movies.
Smart TV platform
All of TCL’s 4K HDR TVs run the Roku TV 2019 smart OS and it’s generally excellent. The 5 Series comes with this smart interface. Roku TV is extremely user-friendly, smooth-running and comes absolutely crammed with thousands of media apps of all kinds which, combined together offer several hundred thousand different content options. You’re unlikely to need an external streaming media box or even a cable TV subscription with the 5 Series native smart TV system and its app landscape.
Our comprehensive review of the best IPS TV we’ve ever reviewed, LG’s powerful new SM9000 4K HDR edition
What We Didn’t Like
The TCL 5 Series 4K HDR TV is a budget model, so obviously it’s not going to offer a whole list of premium display specs and high-end technologies at their absolute best. As long as you keep this in mind, it gives some perspective to this television’s flaws. With that said though, the S525 does indeed come with a few notable defects, though we don’t consider any of them to be too bad considering this model’s price tag. Here are the most important problems with the 5 Series:
HDR Brightness and lack of local dimming
As we mentioned above, the TCL 5 Series offers great black level/uniformity performance and contrast ratio specs. What makes this surprising though is that this 4K HDR TV pulls these off despite having no local dimming technology to speak of. What local dimming does is selectively shut off backlight LEDs behind specific sections of the screen for better darkness and contrast. Usually, it offers at least some picture quality improvement and better black uniformity.
Another problem with the S525 TV that relates to its backlight issues with local dimming is that this 4K TV’s peak display luminosity when it’s set to HDR brightness mode is really weak. Unlike many other budget UHD TVs from major brands we’ve covered, the S525 can barely manage 300 bits when set to HDR mode. The odd thing about this is that the TV’s SDR settings create superior luminosity for when you’re watching normal non HDR video sources.
Motion handling deficiencies
This TV does deliver superbly good motion blur due to its high pixel responsiveness but it suffers from some flaws when it comes to motion interpolation for content. The TV’s native display only reaches 60Hz and thus when motion handling is activated for content that plays at less than 60fps, the resulting quality isn’t the best we’ve seen among 2019 4K HDR TVs. On the other hand, judder control for 24p content is great in the TCL 5 Series.
Value for Price & Bottom Line
We sincerely recommend the TCL 5 Series 4K HDR TV lineup. The basic reason why is that this particular 4K HDR TV comes priced extremely affordably while still delivering good to great performance for most playback uses. Its HDR color performance and gaming capabilities make the S525 more than worth its budget-friendly price tag. This is the TV’s biggest selling point in our view.
Key TCL 5 Series Specs
• Screen sizes: 43 inch 43S525, 50 inch 50S525, 55 inch 55S525, 65 inch 65S525, (TV being reviewed is 55 inches)
• Smart TV: Roku TV 2019 Edition
• HEVC (H.265) Included: Yes
• VP9 Included. Yes
• HD to UHD to 4K upscaling: Yes
• HDCP 2.2 Compliance: Yes
• HDR Support: Yes, HDR10, Dolby Vision, Hybrid Log Gamma
• Refresh Rate: 60Hz native refresh rate
• Screen Lighting: LCD Display with edge-lit backlighting, no local dimming
• Resolution: 3840 × 2160 pixels 4K UHD
• Wireless Connectivity: Yes, includes both built-in WiFi and Ethernet port
• Remotes: Roku TV remote with voice control
• Connectivity: 3 HDMI ports (all of them 2.0a and with HDCP 2.2, 1 USB port, 1 Ethernet port, WiFi, 1 Digital Audio Out
• Contrast Ratio: 6,120:1 (native, real maximum contrast)
• Absolute Maximum Peak Brightness: 332 nits (cd/m2)
• 3D Technology: N/A
Display Performance Metrics
The following sections and sub-sections deal with the core performance metrics that make this or any 4K TV of any kind perform well or badly. This is where we cover their measurements as exactly as possible and explain why they’re good or weak. They cover the essentials of brightness, color, motion handling, and other specs for using this particular UHD TV for movies, TV shows, broadcast content, gaming and even as a PC monitor if you prefer. We cut out all the fluff and marketing jargon that doesn’t really explain genuine quality anyhow.
The following are based on metrics from one or two reviewed units but their accuracy is exact enough to reflect what they should be like for any normally functioning editions of the TCL 5 Series. Slight variations for some of the specs in the sections below might be the case with editions of different sizes.
Black Level, uniformity, Local Dimming and Contrast:
The overall black level of the TCL S525 4K HDR TV is excellent and black uniformity is also wonderfully, surprisingly good. There is some light bleed along the edges and a bit of clouding is visible in a dark room when the TV shows all dark content but both are impressively minimal for a budget 4K TV that doesn’t come with any local dimming technology. Furthermore, the S525 creates a very good native contrast ratio of 6,120:1 despite this TV’s very low peak brightness in HDR or SDR mode. Overall, the blacks in this UHD HDR TV are great and make its color rendering stand out all the more vibrantly because of this quality.
In terms of peak and sustained display brightness the TCL 5 Series 4K HDR TV comes with a bit of duality: When the TV is set to SDR mode for the playback of the vast majority of TV, cable, streaming and disc media content available today, it delivers perfectly acceptable luminosity that’s about average for mid-range UHD TVs. On the other hand, if set to play back HDR content and thus put into HDR mode, the S525 underperforms.
This TV’s average SDR brightness is in fact higher than its average or peak HDR brightness, which is really disappointing. Thus, what you get is a peak SDR brightness that hits a reasonably good 332 nits and a peak HDR brightness that only goes up to 290, which is pretty dismal and ruins the whole point of having and HDR brightness mode (it’s supposed to be better higher than SDR!). The brightness specs for SDR and HDR modes below demonstrate our point. They measure both for different-sized windows of lit-up space on the screen, up to 100%.
TCL 5 Series SDR Brightness
- Overall SDR peak brightness for normal content: 304 nits
- Peak 2% display area display SDR brightness: 324 nits
- Peak 10% display area SDR brightness: 332 nits
- Peak 100% display area SDR brightness: 332 nits
- Sustained 10% SDR brightness: 331 nits
- Sustained 100% SDR brightness: 331 nits
TCL 5 Series TV HDR Brightness
- Overall HDR peak brightness for normal content: 243 nits
- Peak 2% display area display HDR brightness: 291 nits
- Peak 10% display area HDR brightness: 289 nits
- Peak 100% display area HDR brightness: 289 nits
- Sustained 10% HDR brightness: 289 nits
- Sustained 100% HDR brightness: 289 nits
The TCL S525 offers up superbly good color performance for its price tag. This TV not only manages full-blown HDR color really well, it also generally delivers excellent color accuracy and overall color vibrancy when used for any well-mastered content from any media source.
First of all, the S525 delivers very smooth, nice 10-bit color gradation of 1.07 billion variations of the RGB spectrum (red, green blue) that’s essential for all other color blends. Secondly, the 5 Series delivers full WCG wide color gamut support to the tune of 92.5% of the WCG color space. This means rich, vibrant color hues during HDR content playback.
In addition to this, its support for color volume is pretty good even during playback of content at high levels of brightness and during dark, shadowy scenes. Not all 4K TVs manage this and it’s especially uncommon in budget HDR 4K televisions with prices similar to those of the S525. On a final note, the 5 Series delivers very good color accuracy for both HDR and SDR content right out of the box even before any calibration. This becomes downright excellent after a bit of color settings calibration in the TV’s picture settings menu.
The bottom line for the S525’s color performance is that most content color will reproduce richly, vibrantly and fully despite this TV’s lack of high brightness. The deep contrast ratio helps things out further.
Here are the TCL S525’s main color accuracy settings before and after calibration. These cover the key metrics for accurate color and the lower the numbers, the better. In post-calibration readings, they’re very good:
- Pre-calibration White Balance delta-E: 2.48
- Pre-calibration Color delta-E: 1.89
- Pre-calibration Gamma: 2.15
- Post-calibration White Balance delta-E: 0.46
- Post-calibration Color delta-E: 0.8
- Post-calibration Gamma: 2.02
- Wide Color Gamut: 87.8%
Motion Handling & Upscaling:
The TCL 5 Series 4K HDR TV edition is good at motion handling even though it offers a native 60Hz display refresh rate. Most importantly, it manages an excellent pixel response time for reduced motion blur during playback of fast-paced content from movies, TV shows, games or sportscasts. This is great, and it compensates for this TV’s somewhat weaker motion interpolation technology, which handles frame rate interpolation only for content up to 60fps. That said, the S525’s judder control for 24p movie content (the formatting for most movies on disc, streaming or hard media) is good, being available for all types of sources, including DVDs, Blu-rays, external HDMI-connected media boxes, cable TV and media from native apps.
Input Performance for Gaming and PC:
The TCL S525 is absolutely excellent at how low it keeps its input lag for gaming via consoles like the Xbox or the PlayStation platform among others. While this TV can’t deliver more than 60Hz on its display and is thus unable to handle high frame-rate gaming at above 60fps, the input lag of the S525 is superbly low in game mode for gaming at 60Hz or less in 1080p, 1440p or 4K UHD resolution (2160p). This also applies to gaming in HDR mode, with 10-bit color, with 4:4:4 and so forth.
The resolutions and color settings supported by the 5 Series when hooked up to a PC are also great, with easy handling of 1080p and 4K resolutions at frame rates of up to the TV’s 60Hz limit. Unfortunately though, it doesn’t offer 1440p resolution at 60Hz when hooked up to a PC.
The metrics below bear out the 5 Series TV’s performance:
- 4k @ 60Hz: 11.8 ms
- 1080p @ 60Hz: 12.2 ms
- 1080p @ 120Hz: N/A
- 1080p @ 60Hz outside Game Mode: 47 ms
- 4k @ 60Hz + HDR: 12.5 ms
- 1440p @ 60Hz: N/A
- 4k @ 60Hz Outside Game Mode : 48.2 ms
- 4k @ 60Hz @ 4:4:4: 13.5 ms
- 4K @ 120Hz: N/A
- 1440p @ 120Hz: N/A
- 1080p with FreeSync: N/A
- 4K with interpolation activated: 69.7 ms
PC Gaming Input Support
- 1080p @ 120Hz: No
- 1080p @ 60Hz @ 4:4:4: Yes
- 4k @ 60Hz + 4:4:4: Yes
- 1440p @ 60Hz: No
- 4k @ 120Hz : No
- 4k @ 60Hz @ 4:4:4: Yes
- 1440p @ 120Hz: No
The TCL 5 Series TV offers all the essentials of functional, advanced ultra HD HDR TV connectivity. This means that it comes with full 4K HDR HDMI 2.0a connectivity in all ports, USB, WiFi (high-speed) and Ethernet connectivity. On the other hand, it falls a bit flat on the number of USB ports available. There is only 1 USB slot. Most 4K TVs even in the budget range offer at least 2 or 3 USB ports.
The following are the TCL S Series S525’s ports and their specifications:
- HDMI : 4 (HDCP 2.2 & full HDMI 2.0a capacity)
- HDMI 2.1 : N/A
- USB : 1 (USB 2.0)
- Digital Optical Audio Out : 1
- Analog Audio Out 3.5 mm : 1
- Tuner (Cable/Ant) : 1
- Ethernet : 1
- HDR10 support: Yes
- HDR10+ support: No
- Dolby Vision HDR support: No
- Hybrid Log Gamma HDR support: Yes
The TCL S525 5 Series TV models also offer audio connectivity in the following types.
- 1 Passthrough ARC Dolby Digital
- 1 Passthrough ARC
- 1 Passthrough Optical Dolby Digital
- 1 Passthrough DTS via ARC
- 1 Passthrough DTS via Optical
- 1 Passthrough eARC support
TCL is selling the 5 Series TVs in a wide range of sizes, which is great for any budget and spaces requirements. Thus, you have the choice of a really economical 43 inch edition, a 50 inch model and moving into more “big screen” territory, 55 and 65 inch editions are also available for a more deeply immersive home theater experience on a budget.
These editions all sell for the following prices, found in the link below at the time of this writing. Bear in mind that these are subject to sometimes frequent downward change and it’s a good idea to click the following Amazon links for real-time pricing and all available discounts on this model.