I wasn't quite sure how many stars to give this television. I decided on 5, because at the end of the day TCL has built a great television, with a caveat.
Firstly, I don't have cable and consume only streaming programming, so I can't comment on the limitations of the tv in regard to watching live tv, navigating dish or cable channels with the remote, etc.
Now about the tv itself. I found myself split between getting this television or a comparable one from the TCL P series, which has local dimming and other schmancy stuff. The P series was more expensive and was also unavailable in a 49" version, so I saved the money and the space by purchasing this 49" S series. That said, I love it. I understand that technically the P series has better colors and blacks, but the blacks on this set are pretty darn black and the colors are quite vivid. Maybe the P series would have been more impressive, but I'm very impressed with this set. Shows on Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube are clear, vibrant, and great to watch, and animation looks bonkers good. I also took some time to watch some HDR footage on Amazon and thought it looked amazing.
One exception to this has been a show called The Punisher on Netflix. It’s dark and gritty and was the series I was watching when I purchased the set, I was taken aback at how grainy the images seemed on this set (but warm, similar to older black and white photos), and sometimes the shadows would look blotchy in areas. I couldn't replicate these issues on almost any other shows though, and once I accepted that the show in question was going to look this way I decided that the graininess was fine by me and that it was a stylistic decision by the director. The blotchiness is noticeable, but it's also very occasional.
The app can be used to adjust the picture settings, but man is it overly complicated. There are rows of color options with different percentages and I don’t understand how to begin using it. I really wish the adjustments were simplified… contrast, vividness, dark, light, and more or less of the basic RBG would be fine to get me there. I suppose I will eventually figure this out, but yeesh.
I’m really happy with the options for connections on this thing. I’ve always run my televisions through an older analog stereo with really great speakers. With this tv I use a 3.5mm to RCA adapter and feed that to my stereo… as long as the stereo is turned on I can control the volume with the Roku remote! This probably sounds exceptionally old-school to you folks with digital receivers, but this is a fantastic option for me. Also, instead of pressing various buttons on the stereo if I want to watch the blu-ray player, I can get to it via the Roku menu. Brilliant! And once I choose the blu-ray player, the Roku remote controls the blur-ray player like the native remote! So. Dang. Cool. Now I can physically turn on the stereo or the blue-ray, and the Roku remote controls everything. I love this.
As for the caveat, the lack of a headphone jack on the remote is a total head-scratcher. My house isn't that large and I tend to stay up after the family has gone to sleep, and I've always been able to watch shows silently with the built-in headphone jack on my Roku 3. This tv's remote was made without the jack, so I need to use the Roku app on my phone to use the headphone option, which would be fine if it were worth a dang, but it's a truly lousy experience. Using the phone as a remote as already a limiting experience, as there is no tactile button pressing in the dark, and my phone goes to sleep after 10 second. So any remote usage through the app means I need to look at my phone, wake it up/unlock it, and visually search for the buttons. I acknowledge that it's very much a 1st world problem, but nobody should make a standalone remote for a tv out of a slab-- they have physical buttons for a reason.
My solution has been to use the Roku app for headphones and the Roku remote for navigation, which seems silly. Hey TCL: just charge me $10 more for the tv and include a headphone jack! But I digress. The app is glitchy as heck and the audio constantly cuts out or disconnects through it. The audio on the Roku 3 remote would cut out for a second from time to time, which was livable. But now if i'm forwarding through a YouTube video, either on the remote or the app, the audio through the app speeds up or slows down like an old reel to reel tape, or just stops. I know that this review is about the television itself, not the phone app, but the remote is limited and the app is touted as a selling point on the box. If customers don’t want the headphone option, then fine, the tv itself absolutely rocks. But for those of us who consider a headphone option a killer feature, this feels like a really dumb choice.
So there it is, 5 stars for the television, with a big caveat that if you rely on the beautiful, mind-blowingly simple option to plug your headphones into your remote you will definitely be disappointed.