A Review of the Ultra-Affordable TCL 4-Series 2019 4K UHD HDR LCD TV (43S425, 49S425, 50S425, 55S425, 65S425, 75S425)
Stephan Jukic – December 25, 2019
The TCL 4-Series 2019 S425 4K HDR TV is just about a standard issue ideal of a budget 4K TV that performs very decently, costs very little and delivers good enough but in no way spectacular capability. In other words, it’s a great choice as an ultra-budget 4K UHD TV for students, bedrooms, work spaces and anywhere else where you want 4K UHD resolution, placidly decent picture quality and some basic HDR on a tight budget. If these are your criteria for buying a new 4K TV, we recommend the S425 highly. It also happens to offer excellent response time as a gaming TV. On the other hand, this is definitely not a premium television with outstanding performance on most visual specs.
• Wonderful gaming performance
• Excellent picture response time
• Fantastic black level and contrast performance
• Decent color delivery
• Surprisingly good native audio
• Excellent content upscaling for all video sources
• No local dimming
• Very weak overall brightness
• Color performance issues
• Some serious motion handling defects
Except for having an outstanding gaming performance, the TCL S425 doesn’t offer anything special in terms of 4K HDR picture quality. It’s strictly decent and little more on picture quality. But that’s also part of its charm in a way. This TV doesn’t pretend to be spectacular and it’s price is just as decent as its quality. If you want perfectly okay for the essentials on a budget, this is a good enough choice. As a low-priced 4K TV we recommend it.
What We Liked about the TCL 4 Series
There is a surprisingly large number of good qualities to the TCL 4 Series 2019 edition. All of them make this particular budget 4K TV all the more attractive as a starter edition or extra television for the home.
The single most outstanding feature of the TCL 4-Series 2019 TV is its capacity for handling gaming connectivity to consoles. This TV is lightning fast at keeping to low input lag at all possible resolutions, frame rate settings and color settings when hooked up to a console. In other words, it’s a great low-priced gameplay 4K HDR TV. And while it lacks the 120Hz panel necessary for high frame-rate gaming, it handles all frame rates of 60fps or lower quite nicely and quickly. As long as you’re not bothered by these details or a lack of deep HDR brightness, the S425 is great.
Contrast & black rendering
The black level, contrast and black uniformity of the 2019 4-Series are all either decent or great. This TV’s black uniformity is decent enough considering that this edition lacks local dimming technology, but the contrast ratio of the S425 is downright great at well over 6000:1. The black level that the TV is capable of is also very good when concentrated on sections of darkness in content. It makes a big difference and definitely helps this TV out for HDR content.
Very good response time
While the S425 doesn’t deliver generally good motion handling, its pixel response time for low motion blur is superbly good. In other words, the individual pixels on the screen change color very quickly by 4K TV standards as content movement occurs. The resulting levels of motion blur are very low and this makes the S425 very good for playback of fast-paced action movies and sportscasts in particular.
Decent color delivery
As far as color delivery goes, the S425 2019 4 Series TV is a perfectly decent performer. It doesn’t deliver high level wide color gamut of over 90% of the WCG spectrum for HDR video, but it comes close, and its 10-bit color for smooth gradation of 1.07 billion colors is very strong. Furthermore, and surprisingly, the 4 Series handles colors very nicely during both dark and bright scenes. Many pricier 4K HDR TVs fail to pull this off.
Surprisingly good native audio
One of the most surprising things about the TCL 4 Series TV is that its audio works as well as it does. Over the years we have reviewed many, many 4K UHD TVs and only a scant few of them really deliver decent sound, the majority being premium Sony and LG OLED editions, so it’s surprising to see sound this decent in such a low-cost television. But there it is. For deep, robust sound the 4 Series will still need an external speaker system but if you’re casually watching a sitcom or news channel, it’s pretty great as far as its internal sound goes.
Smart TV platform
All of TCL’s 4K HDR TVs run the Roku TV 2019 smart OS and quite frankly, we love it. Roku TV is easy to use, smooth-running and comes absolutely crammed with thousands of media apps of all kinds. You’re unlikely to need an external streaming media box with the 4 Series native smart TV system.
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What We Didn’t Like
Right off the bat we need to state that if you’re looking for premium display performance and special features like deep HDR or perfect motion handling, the 4 Series is not the TV to go for. This model is not premium and has no pretenses of being high-end. With that said, we can judge it more fairly. In other words, its decent performance isn’t a flaw by itself, but some aspects of it could definitely have been improved. Here they are.
HDR Brightness and lack of local dimming
As far as overall display luminosity goes, the TCL 4 Series 2019 edition is an almost abysmally poor performer. In both HDR and SDR modes, this 4K TV delivers subpar results even by the standards of budget 4K UHD TVs of any kind, and its HDR brightness in particular is almost laughably weak since it never even exceeds 210 nits. In SDR mode for normal content, the S425 doesn’t even break 200 nits. Brightness isn’t dynamic at all either and if you’re watching this TV in a bright room, it will give you viewability problems. The strong contrast ratio nonetheless saves the S425 from underperforming too much.
Color Performance details
The color delivery of the S425 isn’t actually all that bad overall. However, since most 4K HDR TVs these days offer wide color gamut regardless of price, the S425 could have raised its WCG bar a bit higher. This is our main complaint about its color delivery, because in terms of 10-bit color, the 4 Series performs pretty robustly.
Motion handling deficiencies
The second major defect of the TCL 4 Series is its general motion handling. This TV does deliver superbly good motion blur due to its high pixel responsiveness but this is the only part of its motion control that’s strong. The TV’s native display only reaches 60Hz but in any case there is no motion interpolation to speak of in this television. For people who prefer natural looking movement in their content, this won’t be a problem, but if you like the soap opera effect that motion interpolation inevitably creates, it’s not available. In addition to this, the S425 doesn’t offer judder control for 24p movies from any source except for DVDs or Blu-rays.
Value for Price & Bottom Line
On the whole, we actually do recommend the S425 despite its flaws and very modest 4K HDR TV performance qualities. The simple reason why is that this 4K TV doesn’t do anything too terribly while delivering a couple things exceptionally well, and costs very little (the 50 inch model retails for well below $300 and that’s great). What more could you want from an obvious budget TV from a recognized brand?
Key TCL 4 Series Specs
• Screen sizes: 43 inch 43S425, 49 inch 49S425, 50 inch 50S425, 55 inch 55S425, 65 inch 65S425, 75 inch 75S425 (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, 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 smart 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: 6,060:1 (native, real maximum contrast)
• Absolute Maximum Peak Brightness: 209 nits (cd/m2)
• 3D Technology: N/A
Display Performance Metrics
This is where we come to the more detailed measurements of performance quality that are the meat of our review. In the following sections and subsections, we’ll be going over the specific metrics that matter the most for judging how well this TV delivers on quality home theater handling. 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 4 Series. Slight variations for some of the specs in the sections below might be the case with editions of different sizes.
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Black Level, uniformity, Local Dimming and Contrast:
The overall black level of the TCL S425 4K HDR TV is good but not great. 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. Furthermore, the TV lacks the local dimming technology found in its pricier cousins the 6 Series and 5 Series, which would have heavily improved its black uniformity and black level. That said, the S425’s black level isn’t all that bad, since it gets deep enough to create a very good native contrast ratio of 6,090:1 despite this TV’s very low peak brightness in HDR or SDR mode.
Overall and peak display brightness is where the TCL 4 Series S425 most underperforms. This is one of the dimmest 4K HDR TVs we’ve reviewed in the last couple years and even in HDR mode it completely flops. When viewed in a dark room, the S425 still delivers decent luminosity that shouldn’t bother anyone who doesn’t mind this being a budget 4K TV but if you use the S425 in a well-lit space, expect some problems with clear viewing of content.
Even when outputting absolute peak brightness during playback of HDR content, the S425 underperforms badly with a peak reading of just 209 nits, which is downright crappy. When set to SDR content viewing mode, this TV does even worse and never outshines 200 nits or anything really close to it.
TCL 4 Series SDR Brightness
- Overall SDR peak brightness for normal content: 171 nits
- Peak 2% display area display SDR brightness: 177 nits
- Peak 10% display area SDR brightness: 178 nits
- Peak 100% display area SDR brightness: 178 nits
- Sustained 10% SDR brightness: 178 nits
- Sustained 100% SDR brightness: 178 nits
TCL 4 Series 4K TV HDR Brightness
- Overall HDR peak brightness for normal content: 199 nits
- Peak 2% display area display HDR brightness: 195 nits
- Peak 10% display area HDR brightness: 209 nits
- Peak 100% display area HDR brightness: 208 nits
- Sustained 10% HDR brightness: 208 nits
- Sustained 100% HDR brightness: 207 nits
In terms of color delivery, the S425 is a good 4K HDR TV that doesn’t quite meet the level for minimal full HDR color performance. The reason why is that this television can’t quite reach the 90% coverage of DCI P3 Wide Color Gamut spectrum coverage necessary for that. Instead it falls a bit short at 87.5%. On the other hand, it does two things which keep color vibrant, rich and lovely on the screen during movies, TV shows, games and HDR content playback of any kind.
First, the S425 delivers very smooth, nice 10-bit color gradation of 1.07 billion tones of the RGB spectrum (red, green blue) essential for all other color blends. Secondly, the 4 Series delivers very good color accuracy for both HDR and SDR content after a bit of color settings calibration even though it’s inaccurate right out of the box.
The bottom line for the S425’s color performance is that it’s good even though it doesn’t quite match the levels created by most of the full HDR TVs of 2019. 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 S425’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: 3.48
- Pre-calibration Color delta-E: 5.18
- Pre-calibration Gamma: 2.45
- Post-calibration White Balance delta-E: 0.49
- Post-calibration Color delta-E: 1.9
- Post-calibration Gamma: 2.02
- Wide Color Gamut: 87.8%
Motion Handling & Upscaling:
The TCL S Series 4K HDR TV lineup delivers 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 complete lack of motion interpolation technology, which also serves to create minimal blur during playback of content at differing frame rates. That said, the TV has no motion interpolation, and if you want this for your sports or movies, you’re out of luck. On a further note, the S425’s judder control for 24p movie content (the formatting for most movies on disc, streaming or hard media) is poor, being available only for DVD or Blu-ray films.
Input Performance for Gaming and PC:
Where the TCL S425 absolutely excels is at how well it delivers low input lag for gaming purposes, especially with consoles. 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 S425 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 4 Series when hooked up to a PC are also great, with easy handling of 1080p, 1440p and 4K resolutions at frame rates of up to the TV’s 60Hz limit.
The metrics below bear out the 4 Series TV’s performance:
- 4k @ 60Hz: 12.8 ms
- 1080p @ 60Hz: 13.2 ms
- 1080p @ 120Hz: N/A
- 1080p @ 60Hz outside Game Mode: 45 ms
- 4k @ 60Hz + HDR: 12.4.5 ms
- 1440p @ 60Hz: 13.4 ms
- 4k @ 60Hz Outside Game Mode : 47.2 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: 68.7 ms
PC Gaming Input Support
- 1080p @ 120Hz: No
- 1080p @ 60Hz @ 4:4:4: Yes
- 4k @ 60Hz + 4:4:4: Yes
- 1440p @ 60Hz: Yes
- 4k @ 120Hz : No
- 4k @ 60Hz @ 4:4:4: Yes
- 1440p @ 120Hz: No
The TCL 4 Series TV offers all the essentials of functional, latest ultra HD HDR TV connectivity. This means that it comes with full 4K HDR HDMI 2.0a connection ports, USB, WiFi (high-speed) and Ethernet connectivity. On the other hand, it falls a bit flat on the number of ports available. There are only 3 HDMI ports and only 1 USB slot. Most 4K TVs even in the budget range offer 4 HDMI connections and at least 2 or 3 USB ports.
The following are the TCL S Series S425’s ports and their specifications:
- HDMI : 3 (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 S425 4 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 4 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 49 inch model, a 50 inch model and moving into more “big screen” territory; 55 and 65 inch editions are also available. There’s also a giant 75 inch version of the S425 for a more deeply immersive home theater experience eon 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.