TCL P series Roku TV (2017) review – CNET

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.

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.


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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.


Sarah Tew/CNET

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.


Sarah Tew/CNET

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.


Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Unfortunately Roku's signature remote feature, a headphone jack on the remote for private listening, didn't work flawlessly. The first time I connected headphones to the remote, it muted the TV's audio as planned, and lip sync was fine (not quite perfect, but good enough), but the audio broke up, rendering it unlistenable. Every other time I tested it, it worked well, however, so I'm willing to chalk it up as a blip. Switching from a 5GHz network to 2.4GHz seemed to help, but your mileage may vary.

If you don't care about those remote extras the 55P605 is a bit cheaper. It comes with a standard remote -- no headphone jack, remote finder or voice search. It also used infrared (IR) technology so you have to aim it at the TV, while the enhanced remote's radio frequency (RF) technology allows you to point it anywhere.

Streaming suggestions, Antenna pause

Roku TV's latest new feature is called "More Ways to Watch." It uses automatic content recognition (ACR) to suggest TV shows from streaming sources based on what's playing via cable box, satellite box, antenna or connected video device, like a Blu-ray player.

I tested it with a cable box and it seemed to work. During an episode of "NCIS," a popup briefly appeared and asked if I wanted to stream the episode, and clicking through allowed just that. I also saw the popups when watching a couple of Blu-ray discs, namely "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" and the 4K version of "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk."


Sarah Tew/CNET

The feature might be useful for some people, especially channel surfers who come across a favorite episode midway through and want to watch the whole thing, but personally, I'd turn it off. 

Roku TVs like the P series also offer the cool ability to pause live TV from an antenna source (not cable). When I connected a 16GB USB stick and tuned to an antenna channel, the TV started creating a "buffer" that allowed me to pause, rewind (to when I first turned to that channel) and fast-forward through ads before catching up to live time. The buffer can be up to 90 minutes long.

The competing Amazon Fire TV Edition sets can also pause live TV, and offer a far superior antenna experience, with a full program guide, thumbnail images for shows and results integrated into search. In contrast Roku TV lacks a real guide, and only recently added the option to create a favorite channels list.

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