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Lifewire / Yoona Wagener
Great 4K picture quality
Remote lags at times
Remote buttons are loud
Flashing LED indicator can be distracting
The TCL 50S425 50-inch Roku TV (2019) is an affordable smart 4K TV, but it doesn’t skimp on quality.
Shopping for an inexpensive but high-quality 4K TV under $1,000 that won’t take up too much space? The TCL 50S425 50-inch Roku TV (2019) ticks all those boxes. Despite its low price, this Roku TV is rich with features that rival more expensive options.
We tested the TCL 50S425 and were impressed by the ease of setup, picture quality, and user-friendliness of this smart TV.
Smart TVs range in size, typically starting from 32 inches and reaching all the way up to 85 inches and beyond. If you can’t accommodate or don’t want a really large television, the TCL 50-inch Roku TV offers a decent middle ground that will appeal to shoppers who want an apartment or dorm-friendly TV without sacrificing quality.
In appearance, the TCL 50S425 doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s black, rectangular, and slim. It comes with the option of wall-mounting or setting it up on a media console or other surface with the enclosed stand. With the legs attached, the set measures 44 inches wide, 28 inches tall, and 8 inches deep and weighs only 23.6 pounds. While the screen is categorized in the 50-inch class the size of the display is 49.5 inches on a diagonal. This lack of bulky bezels surrounding the screen contributes to the slim profile of this TV.
Simplicity and quality are two of the greatest strengths of this TV.
The Roku remote complements the streamlined design of the screen. In the style of other Roku remotes, it’s a compact and almost weightless wand-like infrared device with a simple and straightforward layout. We found it easy to hold in one hand and easily access all 20 buttons without having to make any grip adjustments. There are also a handful of shortcut buttons for quick access to Netflix, Hulu, the Roku Channel, and ESPN. As long as you point it directly toward the TV, you shouldn’t have any problems with remote performance, but we did notice an occasional lag here or there when the remote seemed to hang and then perform multiple actions in quick succession.
There are some unfortunate design quirks. The remote’s directional buttons are quite loud. They don’t require a hard press to activate, but they make an audible clicking sound. This is slightly jarring since the other buttons are nearly silent when pressed. Another drawback is the LED status indicator located in the bottom center of the display. By default this light is always on. You can turn this indicator off, but it will continue to blink and flash during other operations, which we sometimes found distracting.
Setting up the 50-inch TCL Roku TV is a breeze. We opted to forego mounting the television, but the user manual indicates that this model is compatible with a VESA 200 x 200 wall mount with M6 x 12mm screws.
As directed, we placed the monitor face down on a plush surface and attached the two stand legs using the four MS x 25mm screws. After situating the television on a shelf, we plugged the unit into a wall outlet using the enclosed AC power cord. Once the TV was plugged in, it powered on immediately and displayed the guided setup process. These steps were very straightforward and included first setting a language preference, a network connection, and activating the device. The other critical step with setup involves either signing up for or logging into an existing Roku account.
Since we already had a Roku account, all of our previously selected channels and apps downloaded to the TV, which just took a few minutes, and then we were free to begin exploring. The amount of additional setup is pretty minimal. By default, you’ll see an HDR notification when you’re viewing HDR-enabled content, but you can turn this off from the settings panel if you like.
Additionally, if you plan to use a set-top cable box or antenna, the user manual offers straightforward instructions for doing so. You also have the option of enabling the Smart TV experience when you use antenna TV mode. This setting uses automatic content recognition (ACR) to make viewing recommendations based on what you view through your antenna or connected HDMI devices.
One of the biggest draws of a 4K TV is the 4K resolution, which offers four times the resolution quality of a standard high definition TV. This pixel resolution is also commonly referred to as Ultra HD (UHD). This Roku TV also comes with HDR, or High Dynamic Range, which is commonly bundled with 4K resolution in the newest smart TVs. HDR improves image quality by intensifying the contrast between white and black areas on the screen while achieving a solid balance, so nothing looks too dark or too bright. It also broadens the palette of available colors, especially in combination with Wide Color Gamut (WCG).
One thing we noticed right out of the gate is how vivid 4K content looks. To test the 4K image quality, we started by exploring the 4K Spotlight content. This section includes links to 4K movies, TV, and videos. We found a couple of nature-themed 4K videos on YouTube and were really impressed with what we saw. A video touring Zion National Park looked almost 3D and we practically felt like we were there. The colors pop in a vivid but not artificial way and yield realistic, even pristine, image quality.
Apart from 4K nature videos, we also browsed 4K movies and TV shows through the Amazon Prime app. We found the same appealing mix of crisp picture quality, vibrant colors, and contrast. Even standard high definition shows and movies on Netflix, Hulu, and Prime looked quite good on screen. Though it’s hard to say if there’s a considerable difference, TCL is eager to boast about the power of their 4K Creative Pro upscaling feature which renders regular HD content into 4K-like quality. The bottom line is that HD content looks great across the board, upscaled or not.
The colors pop in a vivid but not artificial way and yield realistic, even pristine, image quality.
With the handy multi-purpose asterisk button you can alter a number of display settings, and you can access this options menu in the middle of viewing content. Adjusting picture settings doesn’t require exiting an app or pausing whatever you’re watching, which lets you make adjustments and immediately see the result. You can add more vibrancy and contrast to whatever you’re watching, or enable modes like Movie when you’re viewing a film in the evening or with the lights dimmed.
You can control everything from backlighting to brightness, contrast, and dynamic contrast. This last setting is particularly relevant to HDR content because it helps balance the light and dark settings on your screen so that there’s no excess in either direction. The online user manual does a fine job of explaining some of the advanced picture settings, and even just toggling through the menu on the TV brings up a description of what you’re changing.
Regular picture mode and the predefined 4K HDR picture settings were on point, which made viewing right out of the box extremely easy and pleasant. We were also pleased by the picture quality from all angles. Getting too close or too far out to the right or left did reveal some shadows and distortion, but only at fairly extreme angles.
While the TCL Roku TV offers impressive picture quality, the sound is less noteworthy. The two built-in 8-watt speakers offer decent volume levels, but there’s no advanced audio settings menu in this model. You do have control over aspects like sound mode and volume mode. The default sound mode is “normal,” which is appropriate for everyday viewing. But you can also select options for higher treble, more bass, movie, or music mode. As for volume modes, you can either turn on leveling, to balance the contrast between lows and highs in audio, or enable night mode, which sets a threshold for how high the volume can go.
We did notice some issues with what sounded like crackling and extreme lows and highs in dialog and music, though we were able to smooth these issues out by tweaking a few settings.
In our testing experience in a small room, the internal speakers were more than adequate without the need for additional speakers. If you do want another layer of dimension to your audio, you might consider opting for the Roku wireless speakers designed specifically for Roku TV sets.
Simplicity and quality are two of the greatest strengths of this TV and a big part of the equation is the operating system. The TCL 50S425 operates on Roku OS 9.1, and it’s extremely user-friendly. Updates are automatic so there’s no manual effort required on your part, and the interface is laid out in a clear and uncomplicated manner.
The Home screen features all of your apps, which you can arrange and delete with the click of the asterisk button. All the other menus are easy to identify as well. There’s a search page, a streaming channels section, and the settings menu. This clean and straightforward layout may not be the most sophisticated, but it’s easy to use and simplicity is the beauty of this system.
While the remote doesn’t come with a built-in speaker, the free Roku app does offer a voice-assistant feature. It’s best when completing a general search for a show or actor or for launching a particular app. If you have a Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa enabled device, this Roku TV will support them, and they offer a generally better experience than using the Roku app voice remote function.
If you don’t want to spend a fortune on a 4K TV, but you want to get as much value as possible, the TCL 50S425 50-inch Roku TV is a compelling option. It retails for $350, which situates it in the growing and competitive class of 4K TVs under $500. In the TCL 4-Series alone you have several other models to consider that all share the same specifications except for size. The larger 55-inch TCL Roku TV retails for just $30 more than the 50-inch version and features a larger screen size of 54.6 inches. It may not seem considerable, but if you’re limited with space, the extra width and height (five and two inches, respectively) can actually feel like a pretty massive difference. And if you opt for a smaller display and a lower price tag, the 43-inch TCL Roku TV retails for about $280, but you’re sacrificing 7 inches of display.
The TCL 50-inch Roku TV is not without external competitors either. The Toshiba 55LF711U20 55-inch Fire TV Edition retails for about $100 more and runs on the Fire OS, which stands toe-to-toe with the Roku platform with access to over 500,000 shows and movies. The Toshiba Fire TV comes with an Alexa-enabled remote, an edge for shoppers who want the ease of a voice assistant built right into the remote. But the Roku TV supports both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa as well as voice control through the Roku mobile app.
While the Toshiba TV is in the 55-inch class, the screen size is actually the same as the Roku TV. The former, however is visibly taller, wider, and bulkier. The Toshiba Fire TV does havea slight advantage when it comes to audio quality. The sound can get quite loud and full-bodied, thanks to two 10-watt speakers and DTS Studio Sound/DTS TruSurround. On the other hand, the picture quality may not be as impressive as the Roku TV, which really doesn’t require a lot of tweaking to enjoy. And if you’re a fan of the simple Roku interface, you may find the Fire OS dashboard to be a bit cluttered.
Browse our other recommendations on the best smart TVs and best TVs under $500.
A budget-friendly 4K TV that offers impressive picture and overall value.
The TCL 50S425 50-inch Roku TV is a smart 4K TV that possesses many merits: an appealing price point, excellent 4K HDR picture quality, a size profile that won’t overwhelm small rooms or apartments, and an easy-to-use interface that requires little fuss. You may find better 4K picture and audio quality in a higher-end model, but this TV offers a welcome smart TV upgrade at a price that won’t empty your pockets.