Review: TCL 50″ Class 5-Series 4K QLED Dolby Vision HDR Smart Roku TV – Model 50S535-CA

Early this week my 43″ TCL Roku TV decided to misbehave. Specifically, half the backlight decided to die. Since the TV in question is 4 years old, I wasn’t surprised. So I took it out of service and I’m reaching out to TCL to see where I can get it looked at and how much it would cost to repair. Assuming of course it can be repaired. But due to the fact that I don’t know how long that will take, I decided to just replace it. And if it cannot be repaired, I will dispose of it responsibly. My requirements were simple, I wanted a Roku TV as my wife and I like what that platform offers. Plus I wanted some form of HDR beyond the edge lit HDR that the 43″ TCL TV had. So after looking around for a bit and a trip to Walmart, I got this:

This is the TCL 50″ Class 5-Series 4K QLED Dolby Vision HDR Smart Roku TV – Model 50S535-CA. That’s a mouthful. And in case you’re wondering what you’re looking at, I was watching a race bike build video when I took this picture. You can watch the video in question here if you’re interested as I find these bike build videos oddly satisfying to watch. This is a 50″ TV with a full array local dimming LCD panel. That’s important because on paper, it should give you a decent level of HDR because it can adjust the light levels of specific zones of the LCD panel to display darker blacks and brighter colours. More on that later. This TV is advertised as an “edge to edge” panel. But as you can see from the picture, it isn’t “edge to edge” as there are clearly bezels that you can’t miss. What I think TCL has done to make the “edge to edge” argument is extended the display glass to the edge of the display and is using that to call the display “edge to edge”. Which is a #fail as there are some people who will expect an “edge to edge” display, and get this home and be disappointed when they see it for the first time. I say that because there are TVs that can legitimately say that they are “edge to edge” and this is clearly not one of them. Thus I would suggest that TCL should yank those words from their marketing for this TV for that reason.

Let’s look at the connectivity that you get:

You get four HDMI ports. The fourth one is a eARC port which is where I plugged my TCL soundbar into. I plugged my computer that I use for Zwift into port number one and have two HDMI ports left over. You an Ethernet port, a cable/antenna port, a USB port, a analog AV in port for devices that connect using composite connectors. It does require a 3.5mm cable that was included in previous TCL TV’s, but is not included on this one for some reason. Finally you also get a headphone jack and a SPDIF digital audio optical cable connection. In terms of mounting options, it supports 200mm x 200mm VESA mounting options which is what I use. And there are additional screws for that in the box (though I used the one that came with my stand as they are longer). You can also use the included feet if VESA mounting isn’t an option for you. In terms of connectivity beyond Ethernet, it also comes with WiFi 5 (802.11ac) which is a shame because WiFi 6 (802.11ax) is the new hotness and all devices in 2022 should have WiFi 6 as far as I am concerned and it would future proof this TV to a degree. Having said that, WiFi 5 still works just fine for this TV for your streaming purposes. I’ll also note that there’s a Roku remote in the box. But you can also pair it with a Roku voice remote as well to give yourself some extra functionality. But keep the remote that comes with the TV as you’ll need it if you reset the TV back to factory defaults.

In terms of audio, this TV supports Dolby Digital Plus and has two built in speakers that utilize that. However while the built in speakers have decent audio quality, I will say that they’re really intended for those who want to make do with them until they get a soundbar or surround sound system as that will give the best possible audio. Speaking of which, this TV is able to route Dolby Digital Plus through my my TCL soundbar and I got great audio that way.

The real star of the show is the display. This is a 4K full array local dimming panel that supports a wide colour gamut (1.07 billion colours) which results in the panel having HDR10 (meaning it can hit 1000 nits of brightness) and Dolby Vision certification. The big difference between Dolby Vision and the HDR10 standard is that Dolby Vision uses dynamic metadata to tone-map the image on a per-scene or per-frame basis. This means that Dolby Vision content can adjust the brightness, color, and sharpness to better conform with the capabilities of the display. This results in a more “accurate” image that better preserves the creator’s intent compared with competing technologies like HDR10. Dolby Vision has a few other benefits, like support for up to 12-bit video at a peak brightness of up to 10,000 nits, although no displays are currently capable of such levels of brightness.

Now all of that sounds great, but let’s go into the weeds a bit with this specific TV. If you read this story on HDR panels, I said this about full array local dimming panels:

This is the next best option as this technology is much cheaper than OLED and produces great HDR visuals. It does that by having a number of “zones” for the backlighting system that can individually adjust to give you the level of light required to display the content as dark or bright as required. And the number of “zones” is what you need to pay attention to. I would say that if a display doesn’t have something north of 500 zones, you won’t get the same level of HDR quality as OLED. Or put another way, the more zones, the better the HDR performance. 

Now TCL on their website only mentions that this class of TV has “up to 80 zones” which I assume you get 80 zones if you spend the bucks to get their 75″ TV which is the top end model for this class of TV. Or put another way, there are less zones in play here on this 50″ TV. I am guessing that they don’t want to get called out on having less zones in their smaller TVs. Having said that, while this doesn’t reach anywhere near the levels of contrast of an OLED panel, it destroys edge lit panels rather easily and produces surprisingly good levels of contrast and brightness with minimal levels of blooming. By that I mean that you would have to find something like a space scene from a movie like Star Wars or something like that to find blooming, and you would have to look for it. But the bottom line is that anything that I tossed at it looked better than what I was expecting. Which given the fact that the panel has less than 80 zones to work with is impressive. For those of you who are control enthusiasts, you can download the Roku app and get into the settings of the TV to really tweak the picture the way you want. I’m not that guy so I didn’t do that.

Then there’s the motion clarity. Given that this is a 60Hz panel, it was surprisingly good as I couldn’t find any sort of tearing or motion blur. That’s likely due to TCL’s AiPQ Engine which “optimizes color, contrast, and stunning clarity for an unrivaled 4K HDR experience.” Thus movies and TV shows look great on this panel based on my testing. Having said that, even though this panel has a game mode, PS5 and Xbox One users should really look elsewhere as you want a 4K 120Hz panel with adaptive refresh rate support for the best possible game experience on those consoles. Ditto for PC gamers who care about high refresh rates.

Speaking of that game experience, my wife did an indoor ride on the Zwift platform to test that game experience out as this TV is connected to a Windows 10 PC with a Nvidia 1060 video card. She reported that the game looked even more realistic than before. So much so that on rolling hills within the game gave her video game related motion sickness much faster than with the old TV. A testament to the quality of the picture I suppose. For the record, we run Zwift at 1440p @ 60 Hz.

The TV uses the Roku platform and there’s really not much to say about it because it’s a relatively stable and easy to use smart TV platform that has a ton of streaming options including their own Roku Channel which has free watch on demand and live broadcast options. On top of that, this TV also supports HomeKit so that those of us in the Apple ecosystem like yours truly can leverage this within the home app to do things like turn off the TV automatically when everyone leaves home. There’s also AirPlay 2 support which my wife and I leverage to do Apple’s Fitness+. I will note that the implementation of HomeKit by Roku still has some rough edges around it. The most visible rough edge is that you can turn off the TV and it will show as “off” in the Home app. If you look at the Home app an hour or two later, the TV will show as on and being at the home screen. But the TV actually isn’t on if you physically look at it. In other words, the TV doesn’t always report its status to HomeKit properly. This issue has been around since Roku first rolled out HomeKit and they really need to clean that up as other TV’s with HomeKit support that I’ve seen don’t do that. Other than that setup was insanely easy as all your Roku selections are stored in the cloud, and HomeKit setup is just like any other HomeKit device. The total time for me to set this TV up was less than an hour which included mounting the VESA bracket for my stand to the TV.

Now, before I wrap things up, I’d like to point out one thing about TCL. Their support in my experience has tended to not be that good based on my previous interactions with them. Though that was about 18 months ago and maybe they have improved things since then. I guess I am about to find out as I have a request into them to get my old TV repaired. But the reason why I am pointing this out is that a company who makes a product adds value to it by having good support so that if you need it, they can help you. Conversely, if a company doesn’t provide good support, it detracts from the value of the product. And because of that, I feel I feel it is important to let you know how a company is going to treat you before you put down your hard earned money.

The TCL 50″ Class 5-Series 4K QLED Dolby Vision HDR Smart Roku TV – Model 50S535-CA goes for $589 CDN which is a good value given what you get. Sure it still isn’t as good as an OLED TV from a picture quality standard, but it beats anything it competes with. Thus keeping the quality of their support in mind, and a couple of the ways that this TV is marketed, I would consider this TV or one of its bigger siblings if you are in the market for a 4K TV with HDR support that doesn’t break the bank.

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