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No frills and no fuss with a budget 4K display

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4K and HDR support for a good price • Smooth menu navigation • Did I mention it’s cheap?

Missing a couple of ports • It’s best to avoid using the remote whenever possible • Not as many features as more expensive TVs

TCL’s 4K TVs are cheaper than the competition, and in this case, you won’t miss out on much by opting for the less expensive option.

We’re still in a weird transitionary phase with 4K smart TVs: Not everyone has one, but they’re getting cheaper, and it’s hard to buy anything else. 

You might be tempted to break the bank on a fancy new set from a brand like Samsung or Vizio, but TCL is here to tell you it’s fine if you don’t.

Having messed with TCL’s 43-inch 4-Series model both in the office and at home, I can say it’s a quality option for those who want all the modern bells and whistles of a new TV without going broke. Whether you’re into streaming, gaming, or both, the 4-Series does its job. 

That might sound like criticism, but it doesn’t have to be. Modern TVs come jam-packed with features that you might not even want. Tons of streaming apps? Cool, but you might already have a set-top box, streaming stick, or game console. 

With a noticeably cheap MSRP of $279.99, TCL has produced a no-frills display that’s perfect for small living rooms and bedrooms. There isn’t much to it, but it checks enough boxes to be worth checking out if you can’t afford a fancier TV, or you simply don’t want to.

All four Ks are here

Let’s get some boring stuff out of the way first: In terms of things you look for on the back of the box, the TCL 4-Series has most of what you’d expect out of a contemporary TV. The 3840×2160 4K display looks crisp even when you situate yourself closer to it than you probably should, while the HDR support is satisfactory. 

I’ve mostly tried HDR with a handful of video games that support it. Aside from game-specific quirks, I don’t have any complaints. HDR is the kind of thing that is noticeable even to the layman, in a way 4K resolution isn’t. The only potential concern here is that it supports HDR10 but not other standards, like Dolby Vision, which might not matter to most people.

TCL 43-inch Roku TV review: No frills and no fuss with a budget 4K display

Port-wise, the 4-Series gives you roughly what you’re paying for. It has one USB 2.0 port, an ethernet port for streaming purposes, three HDMI ports, and so on. What it doesn’t have are RCA or VGA ports, but again, large swaths of people might not notice. 

While we can never get enough HDMI ports, three is a solid number to have. Unless you’re some sort of freak like me who has several different video game consoles hooked up to their TV, that’ll probably be enough for you. For a sub-$300 4K TV, it’s tough to ask for much more than what the 4-Series provides.

Roku TV is straightforward, which is a good thing

Roku took care of the streaming side of this TV, so there's a wide selection of services to choose from.

Roku took care of the streaming side of this TV, so there’s a wide selection of services to choose from.

Image: zlata ivleva/mashable

TV specifications are cool, but they don’t matter without things to actually watch. TCL made the wise decision to get on the Roku TV bandwagon for its built-in streaming apps.

Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, and pretty much every other mainstream service are represented here. It’s all fine and dandy, but very straightforward. Everything is presented in a fairly elegant manner, though the interface loses points for prominent advertising on the home screen.

There are also Fandango-fueled TV and movie store pages where you can purchase things to watch. You can “follow” shows, movies, actors, or directors, after which they’ll be added to your feed. Once there, you’ll get notified when they or their work appear on streaming services. That feature has been around for a bit, but it works as intended here.

The TV and movie storefronts both look like this. Simple enough.

The TV and movie storefronts both look like this. Simple enough.

Image: zlata ivleva/mashable

Whether or not you prefer what TCL offers over something a little more fleshed out is going to be a matter of personal taste. Vizio’s latest TVs have significantly more going on in the menu department, but they’re more expensive and the one I tested ran like molasses. TCL’s 4-Series might look a little more stripped down by comparison, but there’s still plenty to chew on and navigating it is a whole lot smoother.

Of course, I would recommend against relying on smart TV wizardry at all.

You might still want to rely on a streaming device

Everything I went over earlier is well and good, but I’d still suggest you use one of those three HDMI ports for a dedicated streaming box. While I haven’t noticed too many problems with streaming using the 4-Series’ native apps, you’re generally going to have a better experience using something like a Roku Stick or an Apple TV.

It’s the only way to guarantee you’ll get the best playback out of apps like YouTube and ESPN, for example. The most practical benefit I can think of for circumventing TCL’s built-in apps, though, is being able to use a different remote.

Not much going on there.

Not much going on there.

Image: zlata ivleva/mashable

The remote that comes with the 4-Series is good for turning the TV on and off, and not much else. You can scroll around the TV’s various menus with it well enough, but when it comes time to search for something, it’s a little painful. A lack of voice control or any other way to make the process of finding things easier is a real downer.

It’s about as basic as remotes get. Your streaming experience will be much, much better with any of the remotes that come with Roku, Amazon, or Apple streaming boxes.

For the price, it’s hard to beat

Chintzy remote aside, TCL’s 4-Series should work for people who want 4K and HDR support without going broke. Its image quality is probably going to be more than good enough for a large majority of its intended audience and it scales all the way up to 75 inches.

Of course, that comes with a significant price increase.

Even so, setup only takes a few minutes. It’s really simple to get up and running, especially if you already own a streaming device. It’s not the shiniest or fanciest 4K TV, but TCL’s 4-Series does a good job for a reasonable price.

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