TCL P series Roku TV (2017) CNET Review
The Good The affordable TCL P series has excellent overall image quality, with deep black levels, rich contrast and accurate color. Its Roku Smart TV platform is the best available, with a simple interface and extensive streaming app support. The TV handles both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range sources.
The Bad TCL cancelled the 50- and 65-inch sizes, so now it will only be available in the 55-inch size.
The Bottom Line With excellent picture quality and all the latest features for a rock-bottom price, the TCL P series is one of the best TV values of the year. Too bad it only comes in one size.
CNET Editors' Rating
For years one feature has consistently propelled TVs to the upper levels of CNET's Best LED LCDs list: local dimming. It allows the screen to dim and brighten in different areas independently, and TVs that have it almost always perform better than TVs that don't. Of course, other aspects of image quality are important too, but good local dimming forms the basis of high contrast in LCD TVs, and contrast is king. It's the main reason why OLED TVs look so good.
The TCL P series is no OLED, but it also costs about one third as much. And its local dimming-powered picture puts it in contention for the best TV value of the year, a major threat to the Vizio M series and P series. I haven't reviewed the newest versions of those Vizios yet, but the TCL competed very well in side-by-side comparisons against the 2016 Vizios. It also earned a higher picture-quality score than the much more expensive Samsung Q7 QLED TV.
TCL P series Roku TV 2017
My favorite Smart TV system is Roku TV, with its thousands of apps and dead-simple interface. Roku also offers the most 4K and HDR streaming apps you can get, and makes those high-quality streams easier to find than other systems.
Roku TV runs circles around Vizio's wonky Chromecast built-in system, but of course, you could always hook an $80 Roku Premiere+ up to your Vizio to get the same functionality. That would bring the price up even higher, however, and Vizio already charges more for its M and P models than this TCL.
In short, the TCL P series is great. The downside? It's only available in one size: 55-inches.
Two flavors of P, both in 55-inch only
The P series is only available in the 55-inch size I reviewed.
TCL originally announced it would also come in 50-inch and 65-inch later in 2017, but in August it cancelled those plans. It hasn't provided an explanation beyond "shifting our focus from the remaining 2017 P-Series models (50" and 65") to the next-generation P-Series portfolio," according to a spokesperson.
Meanwhile another 55-inch TCL P series Roku TV, model 55P605, is available exclusively from Best Buy. It lacks the 607's enhanced remote (see below), but it's $50 cheaper and has otherwise identical features and picture quality. In other words, it's an even better bargain than the 55P607 as long as you don't care about that remote.
Shiny feet, Roku's a treat
It ain't ugly by any means, but neither will the P series be known for dashing good looks. Sure, the bendy chrome-colored legs provide a modicum of panache, and the same goes for the matching edges, but otherwise this is a ho-hum TV design: thick(er) cabinet, minimal glossy black plastic borders, TCL and Roku logos.
I'm a fan of Roku TV's well-traveled menus, especially their grouping of inputs (cable TV, PlayStation, etc.) on the main home screen, right alongside Netflix and Hulu. You can choose from a bunch of preset names and icons for connected devices, or name them whatever you want. You can also shuffle them around the screen or remove them entirely, and the same goes for the apps: everything is on the same footing and easy to customize, sort of like your phone. If only one-third of the screen wasn't occupied by an ad.
Roku TVs have access to all the thousands of apps found on Roku's platform, which still offers better coverage than any competitor, smart TV or otherwise. Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, Plex, HBO Now, Showtime, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, Vudu, Google Play Movies and TV, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Now, FX Now, Comedy Central, Starz, PBS Kids... if there's a video app that isn't iTunes, Roku almost certainly has it.
And if that app streams in 4K, HDR and/or Dolby Vision, the P series can deliver those streams, too. I especially like the "4K spotlight" app that surfaces individual 4K and HDR TV shows and movies across a few providers, although unfortunately Netflix isn't one of them. I also like the "4K content available" list on the app store, which shows all of the 4K apps available on Roku.
All of the Roku TVs I've tested respond quickly and serve up videos with minimal delays. Search is the best in the business overall, and in general the interface is as friendly and simple as it gets. For more info, check out my review of my favorite 4K Roku device, the Roku Premiere+.
Triple-threat 'enhanced' remote
The clicker has very few buttons, trading direct access to channels and "wide" modes, for example, for big keys that zip ably around the menus. "Enhanced" in Roku parlance means the P607 gets three important clicker extras: a headphone jack, a remote finder and the ability to search with your voice.
The remote finder lets you easily locate a misplaced clicker, for example from within the couch cushions or a kid's toy box (true story). To make the remote emit a noise, you can use the control buttons on the rear of the TV. When I tried it, the sound was plenty loud. So far so good.
Roku's voice function is not nearly as robust as Amazon Alexa, found on Fire Edition TVs for example, but it worked fine for searches. Roku's cross-platform search trawls more than 300 different apps and channels, and when I used the remote for voice searches, its recognition was accurate and quick. As always, I loved Roku's up-front presentation of comparison prices for pay-per-view TV episodes and movies.
Features and connections
Display technology LED LCD
LED backlight Full array with local dimming
HDR compatible HDR10 and Dolby Vision
Screen shape Flat
Smart TV: Roku
Full array local dimming sets the P series apart from many competitors, and puts it in the same conversation as Vizio's better televisions. TCL calls it "Contrast Control Zone" technology, but it means the same thing, and claims 72 dimming zones outdoing Vizio's M series (32 zones). More zones generally means better image quality.
Local dimming is especially important for HDR image quality. Like Vizio, LG and others (with the notable exception of Samsung), the P series supports both current types of HDR video: Dolby Vision and HDR10.
TCL claims a "clear motion index" of 120Hz but, like so many other TV makers' claims, it's basically fake. This set has the motion performance of a 60Hz TV.
Around back you'll find a solid selection of inputs.
• 3 HDMI inputs (HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2)
• 1 analog (composite) video input
• 1 USB port (2.0)
• Ethernet (wired internet)
• 1 headphone jack
• 1 optical digital audio output
• 1 RF (antenna) input
The HDMI are state-of-the-art and worked fine with everything I threw at them, including Dolby Vision 4K Blu-ray from the Oppo UDP-203. The headphone jack is a nice touch, and unlike cheaper Roku sets, this one has Ethernet, too.
In side-by-side comparisons the TCL P series performed as well overall as our favorite TV for the money last year, Vizio's M series. It fell a bit short of the Vizio's own more-expensive P series, but beat the Samsung Q7 QLED, the 2017 Vizio E series and the Element Fire TV Edition sets in my comparison lineup.
Its main strength was deep black levels, which improved contrast and pop in all lighting situations, especially dark rooms and with HDR. Color accuracy was solid too. Other aspects of its image quality, were hardly flawless but evinced no major issues.
Click the image at the right to see my suggested picture settings and technical notes on HDR performance.
• Element EL4KAMZ5517
• Samsung QN65Q7F
• Vizio M65-D0
• Vizio P65-C1
Dim lighting: In a dark home theater environment, the P series looked great, beating the Samsung QLED, the Vizio E series and the Amazon Fire TV Edition set by Element, although it wasn't quite as impressive as the other Vizios.
Watching dark scenes from "The Revenant" Blu-ray, like the late night conversation between Hugh and his son Hawk in Chapter 4, the TCL consistently got deeper and more realistic than any of the other sets aside from the Vizio M and P series. In some scenes the E looked a bit darker, but it showed a bit more blooming (stray illumination) in some areas than the TCL. Meanwhile, the TCL showed some blooming itself, for example with lighter areas in the bars above and below Hawk's face, while the Vizio M and P maintained the dark integrity of those areas better.
The TCL again held its own in one of my favorite dark scene torture tests, the attack on Hogwarts from Chapter 12 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2." Its darkest areas, like the letterbox bars and the shadows around the gathering of wizards on the hilltop, again didn't get quite as deep as on the Vizio P or M series, but they were very close, and deeper than the others. The TCL also maintained shadow detail and controlled blooming well in these scenes.
Bright lighting: The TCL P series can't get quite as bright as the Vizios, let alone the Samsung, but it's still plenty bright for most lighting situations. Here's how it stacked up:
Light output in nits
Light output in nits
TV Mode (SDR) 10% window (SDR) Full screen (SDR) Mode (HDR) 10% window (HDR)
Samsung QN65Q7F Dynamic 923 588 Dynamic 1,781
Vizio P65-C1 Vivid 572 582 Vivid 486
Vizio M65-D0 Calibrated 456 450 Vivid 507
TCL 55P607 Vivid/dimming off 438 431 Brighter/Dark HDR 448
LG OLED55C7P Vivid 433 145 Vivid 715
To get peak light output from the TCL you have to disable local dimming by turning the Local Contrast control to Off. As usual, the set measured brightest in its least-accurate picture mode (Vivid), so if you care about color accuracy, I recommend using another mode like Normal for bright rooms. Check my settings (above) for more info.
The TCL's matte screen didn't reduce reflections quite as well as the Vizios, but it was still very good. It preserved black levels about as well as the Vizios, but not as well as the superb Samsung.
Color accuracy: Before calibration the TCL's most accurate color temperature wasn't as precise as I'd like to see, tending toward red, but it wasn't terrible. Afterward it measured as accurately as any of the others and looked superb with program material, delivering excellent saturation and skin tones. The natural beauty of "The Revenant" was on full display, from the lush green of the forest leaves to the blue-green water, to the orange and red of the campfires and sunsets.
Video processing: The TCL P series handled 1080p/24 content properly, preserving the cadence of film. On the other hand, unlike the Samsung and the Vizio M and P series, there's no option to reduce motion blur. Like other 60Hz TVs, the TCL managed only 300 lines of motion resolution.
The TCL has the lowest (best) input lag I've measured this year at about 16ms with Game Mode engaged. Even with it turned off, lag was still very good at 35.
Uniformity: With test patterns, the TCL P series showed more uneven backlighting than any of the other sets, although the Element was almost as bad. The TCL's edges and center were darker than the rest of the screen, and faint vertical bars were visible. A hockey game is a good real-world uniformity torture test, and on the TCL the uneven lighting was more visible than on the others. It's not a deal-breaker for most viewers, however.
From off-angle, the TCL lost black-level fidelity and became discolored more noticeably than the others aside from the Element, but it wasn't terrible.
HDR and 4K video: My first test of 4K HDR involved slipping "Despicable Me 2" into the Oppo UDP-203 to compare the TCL's rendition of Dolby Vision to that of the two Dolby Vision-equipped Vizios, the M and the P series. The TCL was much better than the M. Its image popped with more life and vibrancy, due largely to the much deeper black levels combined with brighter whites. Colors also looked deeper and richer, and the TCL's color gamut appeared wider than the Vizio. Of course, the Vizio is much larger, but that was its only advantage.
The contest was much closer between Vizio's P series and TCL's, but the smaller TCL still looked better. Again, its main advantage was in depth and pop, supplied by slightly deeper black levels. Colors between the two were closer, however, and Vizio's P still looked superb.