TCL P-Series 4K TV Review
By Chris Heinonen on
I’ve been recommending TCL Roku TVs for friends for a while now because they’ve always offered fine picture quality with the ease of integrated Roku streaming. I even have two of them around my house for secondary displays because they just work well. With the new P-Series displays, TCL has gone from offering “good enough” picture quality to offering an image that is just outstanding for the price. At $600, the 55” TCL P-Series is easily the best value in a TV today, and should be at the top of your viewing list.
Huge Specs for $600
While the TCL P-Series will be available in 50” and 65” sizes later this year, for now, you only have the option of a $600 55” model. Compared to the TCL models from last year, the P-Series is a completely different beast. You get 72-zones of full array local dimming, HDR10 and Dolby Vision support, a Roku remote with voice control, a far faster processor for the Roku interface, and three HDMI inputs along with Ethernet. All this for not much more than a TCL would have cost last year that was only 1080p.
When compared to more expensive displays, the only feature missing from the TCL that I would want to see is a true 120Hz refresh rate. If you want a display that can do HDR in a 55” size with a 120Hz refresh rate, you’re looking at the Sony X900E which is $1,500. We had the 65” version of the X900E around to compare to the TCL, so we will be able to see how it performs, but it is a large price increase for that.
TCL P-Series Performance
Since the TCL P-Series main improvements look to be in how it handles HDR, that is what I tested first. The TCL offers three different HDR modes, but the only difference is that they use different color temperatures. HDR Dark uses the Warm preset, which is the most accurate. In this mode, you can get around 590 nits from the TCL, which isn’t amazing but is very good for the price. There is a single HDR10 EOTF curve, and it works to show more detail at the expense of some peak light output. Since it also supports Dolby Vision, when playing Dolby content it will use the Dolby EOTF and apply different tone mapping.
With John Wick 2 on UHD Blu-ray, the local dimming and HDR work very well. Much of the film takes place at night and the TCL does a very good job showing those bright highlights while still keeping shadow details in place. During the Harry Potter hill sequence in the final film, you can easily see the details in the darkness while the bright lights and explosions with Voldermort and minions attack Hogwarts really stand out.
Pan is mastered at 4000 nits and has some very bright peak highlights, and can test what a TV can do with HDR. The scenes around 18:30 in show where the TCL falls a bit short of what displays like the Sony X900E can do. The skies are not quite as blue, and there is less detail around the sun. When placed side-by-side with a superior display you can see the differences, but otherwise you are unlikely to know what you are missing.
Watching some streaming Dolby Vision titles off Vudu (UltraHD Blu-ray titles with Dolby Vision are still 48 hours away when I write this), the TCL looks fantastic. Dark nighttime scenes in Pacific Rim make all the details visible, with bright peak highlights and rich colors. The Magnificent Seven looks beautiful over streaming, close to matching what the UHD Blu-ray is capable of.
The Roku functionality of the TCL P-Series is much better than prior TCL TVs. While the interface and features are exactly the same, the P-Series is much faster than before. Even when compared to the Roku Premiere+ that I usually use in my main system, the TCL P-Series seems to be even faster. Streaming UHD and HDR content from Netflix, Amazon, and Vudu all work perfectly, and even over WiFi instead of Ethernet the times to load and buffer are very short.
With SDR the TCL performs just as well. Black levels are much better than they were with my other TCL models at home, and local dimming improves upon that. With a 4×4 ANSI test pattern, we see an average contrast ratio of 6849:1 which is very impressive. The local dimming works very well overall, but I do recommend setting it to Medium instead of High. With it set to High, I could notice it in action during that Harry Potter scene, but on medium, it was much less noticeable. With other content, I never noticed it in action, and most viewers would never notice it even on the Harry Potter scenes.
I rarely found myself noticing the 60Hz refresh rate in daily use either. Watching House of Cards and other streaming content, I never saw it impact the image. The only time I actually noticed it was during a single panning scene off Planet Earth II on UHD, but no one else noticed it. Watching some recorded basketball, the motion quality was fine and most people will find nothing to complain about.
Compared to Sony X900E
The Sony X900E is the most affordable display you can get in a 55” size that also offers HDR, full array local dimming with a VA panel. The Sony has the advantage of a 120Hz panel but has fewer local dimming zones than the TCL. The Sony can get much brighter, with peaks around 850 nits instead of 590, but at a significant cost premium.
Compared to the TCL in HDR content, you can see differences in many situations. The Sony has far more vivid colors when used for HDR highlights. Reds and Greens in particular shine on the Sony, while looking comparably muted on the TCL. Watching a clip of demo scenes from Amazon, the Sony shows more detail on bright scenes with clouds, where you can see more details on the Sony.
On other content, the difference is not as apparent. During the scene where Voldemort attacks Hogwarts, more detail is visible on the TCL than on the Sony. The Sony makes the choice with its EOTF to clip more detail above what it can display in order to show brighter highlights. The TCL chooses to show more details at the expense of peak brightness, so certain objects will not be as bright as they could be, but details past the 590 nits peak output of the TCL will be more visible.
Watching a Sony demo clip of a camping trip, the Sun has more detail visible on the Sony, but some people found it to be too strange. The Sony was able to show the content with a red halo around the sun, information that is present in the content, but the TCL had to show it without the red because of the peak brightness. So while the TCL is less accurate here, some people may wind up preferring it.
Overall the TCL is much more accurate that previous models, and the Roku app for iOS lets you have access to expert controls to adjust the gamma, CMS, and 11-point white balance. We recommend leaving the CMS alone, it helps in some areas but introduces others, but the white balance controls did help to bring the HDR and SDR RGB balance in check. SDR and HDR share white balance controls, so be aware of this and calibrate the one you plan to watch most often.
As mentioned earlier, the only noticeable difference in the TCL HDR modes is the white balance preset. Since Warm is the most accurate, we used HDR Dark as it uses it by default. In this mode there is a bit of a lack of Red, but overall the RGB balance is good. For these initial charts, we are using a 1000 nits target for our HDR10 metadata.
As you can see from the chart, the balance goes out of alignment when you get to the knee on the EOTF function for HDR. Looking at the EOTF chart below, you can see how the TCL P-Series rolls off the metadata. Below 50 IRE (100 nits), the TCL is slightly bright while above that, it is slightly dim. So 65 IRE should be 385 nits, which the TCL can display, but the TCL only displays that at 282 nits. The reason is to try to show more data past the ~590 nits that is the peak output of the TCL. This is intentional on the part of TCL, so some highlights won’t be as bright, but really bright areas of HDR will show more detail.
Looking at the color checker, we see an average dE2000 error of 1.7, with very few colors being an error of 3.0 or higher (aside from 100% white). The DCI/P3 saturation sweeps show that errors are at 3.0 or below across all the saturations. I used the CMS to reduce the color errors and while it helped, it introduced a large error at 80% blue, so I chose to not do it. I’d rather have slightly higher errors that were still below 3.0 than to have a large error or two introduced since that can be indicative of larger CMS issues.
The newest measurement we are using is Color Volume. There are many ways to measure this, as we discussed in our article about it, so we tried multiple approaches. We measured at 1000 nits and 4000 nits targets with 10% windows, testing DCI/P3 and Rec.2020 coverage, as well as the Dolby Millions of Distinguishable Colors method. Compared to a couple of TVs we have data on, the TCL does as well as the Vizio P65 but it comes up short of the Sony X900E. We certain did see this in practice, as the Sony X900E has brighter, richer HDR highlights.
We measured the TCL to have 267 MDC using the Dolby method, 40.45% coverage of DCI/P3 at 1000 nits and 27.39% of Rec.2020 at 1000 nits. Going to 4000 nits, the MDC rises to 281 while DCI coverage falls to 9.37% and Rec.2020 to 6.34%. The Sony X900E can do 356 MDC at 1000 nits and 351 MDC at 4000 nits. It has 67.94% coverage of the DCI colorspace at 1000 nits with 45.95% coverage of Rec.2020. Going to 4000 nits causes DCI coverage to fall to 15.39% and Rec.2020 to 10.42%. We don’t have numbers for everything, but the Vizio P65 does 257 MDC at 1000 nits while the Sony A1E OLED does 346 MDC at 1000 nits.
|Display||MDC 1000 nits||DCI 1000 Nits||Rec.2020 1000 nits|
|Sony A1E OLED||346.40||—||—|
|LG C8 OLED||358.114||76.95%||51.59%|
We still have SDR calibration to cover, and input lag. We also will have the first Dolby Vision UHD discs out this week that we want to test on the TCL but you cannot calibrate Dolby Vision on it yet. This extra data will come on Monday evening or Tuesday.
If you’re looking to spend $600 on a TV, you should get the TCL P-Series. If the 65” model was available today, I’d be out there buying it for myself. Unless you exclusively watch HDR content, you’re going to have to spend a lot more money to get a better image than the TCL, and it represents the best value in a TV you can get today. I spent a week worried I was runnings test incorrectly or doing something wrong until I had other sets of eyes come over and verify what I was seeing. It isn’t a perfect TV by any means, but for most people, it’s a fantastic value and comes highly recommended.
HDR10 and Dolby Vision support, 72 zones of local dimming, fantastic image quality, Roku interface is much more responsive than before.
Only a 60Hz panel.
The TCL P-Series isn't perfect, but at $600 for a 55" model, it's the best value in a TV that we have ever tested. Unless you are willing to spend much more, you really should look at the TCL before anything else.