China-based TCL sells TVs hand over fist and is taking market share from Vizio and other major TV brands in the US. It hasAccording to market research firm NPD, Roku TVs have continued to dominate Amazon’s bestseller lists for the past two years.
At Tips Clear, our favorite TCL is thewith the best picture quality for the money of any TV we tested. However, the cheapest models remain, namely the TCL 3 and 4 series tested here.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: your image quality is mediocre. You can’t compete with more expensive sets for black level performance, contrast, or pop. If you want a home theater picture on a budget set, start with that– Remember, it is not available in sizes under 43 inches.
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Mediocre, on the other hand, might be good enough for you, especially if you’re buying a smaller device for secondary viewing or just want the cheapest smart TV you can get. As long as you don’t expect too much, you can be perfectly happy with a TCL 3 or 4 series, especially for the price. And if nothing else, then you’ll love the built-in Roku.
Sizes and models of the TCL 3 and 4 series
There are many different models in this series. Before we get into that, here’s how they break up.
TCL 3 and 4 series televisions (2017-2019)
S305 (2017, HD)
S325 (2019, HD)
S405 (2017, 4K HDR)
S425 (2018 and 2019, 4K HDR)
Although the oldest TVs are from 2017, TCL told Tips Clear that the only difference between them and the 2018/2019 models is in the cosmetic design. They have the same picture quality and properties. (These models are not available in the UK and Australia.)
We checked thatand In 2017 and for this test we compared them to two new test samples for 2019, the 43-inch 43S325 and the 50-inch 50S425. Yes, the cosmetics are a little different, with the newer sets having black legs instead of silver and slightly different frames around the picture. We also noticed some minor differences in image quality (see below for details). Overall, not much has changed in two years and Tips Clear ratings are the same for everyone.
In other words, you can buy the 2017 versions (S305 and S405) as long as they stay in the market. The TCL representative said they are slowly phasing out this year and will be replaced by the newer models (S325 and S425).
4K HDR in 40 and 43 inches: Not worth the extra money
Here I mention that the S305 and S325 models have 720p in the 32-inch size and 1080p resolution (also known as Full HD) in the 40- and 43-inch sizes and cannot. Meanwhile the models S405 and S425 and HDR capability.
As you can see in the table, there is no overlap for most sizes: the 32 and 40-inch sizes are HD only, while the 50, 55, and 65-inch sizes are 4K HDR only. Most people choose a TV size first and then worry about everything else, so these sizes don’t offer a wide range of choices.
When sizes overlap (43 and 49 inches) there is usually a $ 30 to $ 70 difference. For most buyers in this price range, I don’t think it makes sense to pay that difference. You better save money and get 1080p, HD and non-HDR versions instead of the 4K HDR versions. Yes, there was some improvement in image quality with 4K HDR footage, but it is marginal at best. See the Image Quality section for more information.
The best thing about the Series 3 and 4 TVs is the built-in Roku. You have easy access to almost every streaming app available, including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Sling TV, Pluto TV, and more.
Because the apps are built-in, you can reach them faster and easier than via an external streamer, which has to switch inputs and probably juggle a second remote control. Of course, you can hook up other devices (like game consoles or Blu-ray players) to these Roku TVs as well, and they have some cool features for people who use a wireless antenna to get free TV.
Roku TV’s main competitor is AmazonSets from Toshiba and Insignia. Amazon has its advantages, especially when it comes to voice control with Alexa. But I still like Roku better overall because its menu system is more neutral – it doesn’t force you to be force-fed to Amazon Prime TV shows and movies.