It’s easy to get caught up in all the hype and excitement of newer television technologies like 4K Ultra HD and high dynamic range (HDR), but the fact of the matter is to enjoy those benefits in their more representative form you are going to need to shell out close to $1,000 or more for a good performing set measuring 50-inches and larger.
Understandably, that’s out of the price range of a lot of people, especially if the set is only going to be used in a secondary viewing location like a bedroom, kitchen or dorm. Fortunately, there are a few very good and very affordable options still out there, and TCL has one of them in its 50-inch 50UP130 4K Ultra HDTV with built-in Roku smart TV functionality. This model can be found now for prices of around $499.99 offering surprisingly good resolution, color and sound quality. Better yet, the Roku streaming App system is one of the best in the business, offering the easiest graphical user interface we found with the greatest selection of apps and services. It’s so easy to use that it makes the perfect set for older consumers who tend to get easily overwhelmed by technology.
As a model in TCL’s P-series, the 50UP130 packs in all the benefits of the company’s popular Roku Full HD TVs with the added benefit of 4K Ultra HD resolution. Sorry, this model does not get bright enough to support high dynamic range (HDR) of any form, and that is something you are going to want to see for yourself before you buy a TV of any kind today, but the picture quality is nevertheless rich, colorful and realistic, without being overly saturated or exaggerated.
In short, it looks as good as many of the better-performing 60 Hz native refresh rate Full HDTVs that were offered two or three years ago – before 4K Ultra HDTV started to take over the higher-end mix – at a price that’s not going to take you to the cleaners, but at this price you’ll have to consider if you’d rather have a really good smart TV with 4K resolution or an average smart TV with 4K resolution and HDR support, like you find in some competitive models from Hisense.
Read more of our review of TCL’s 50UP130 50-inch 4K Roku TV after the jump:
The 2016 TCL UP130 series features three models and screen sizes, and each of the them has essentially the same feature and performance package. The top attributes are 3840 x 2160 4K Ultra HD resolution, built-in Roku smart TV platform and diminutive Roku remote with built-in headphone port, direct LED backlighting, native 60 Hz refresh rate, and a surprisingly nice on-board sound system. Screen sizes include 43-inches ($399.99), 50-inches ($499.99), and 55-inches ($569.99).
Roku also offers in the 2016 lineup a UP120 series of 4K Ultra HD Roku TVs in the same screen sizes with nearly the same feature package, except that assortment includes a basic Roku remote without the on-board headphone jack. If you don’t plan to do much TV listening on earbuds at night, you can save between $50 and $100 going with the UP120 versions.
As LED LCD TVs go these days the TCL 50UP130 is pretty basic vanilla, although there’s nothing wrong with vanilla. The TV is attractive. You don’t get an ultra-thin panel or a curved screen, but you do get a thin panel, flat-screen set with a black bezel border trim measuring just under a half-inch thick, accented with a chrome trim that caps the side-facing edges of the frame. The base bezel trim measures just under an inch thick and is solid gloss black. Total panel depth measures about 2.5 inches in the middle, although it starts out much thinner at the top of the frame, getting fatter moving down the set where most of the electronics and inputs are housed. The black plastic backing is nicely rounded so that the set doesn’t look cheap.
The base is comprised of two rounded arch-shaped feet positioned six inches in from the left and right sides of the screen. These were remarkable easy to attach to the base of the screen with the supplied screws. The television feels sturdy and is not easily tipped forward or backward.
One big plus for the 50UP130 is the generous amount of HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 supporting inputs it has – four to be exact, with input No. 1 also supporting audio return channel (ARC). Each input has settings for HDMI 1.4, HDMI 2.0 and Auto, so if you are connecting native 4K Ultra HD source material you’ll want to make sure the input used is properly set. Curiously, I found that when set to “Auto” the input didn’t recognize a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray signal coming from the new Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray player, requiring me to manually force the setting into HDMI 2.0.
Other inputs include one USB port, an optical audio output, composite video inputs, headphone jack, cable/antenna input, and Ethernet port.
The 50UP130 is first and foremost a Roku TV. This is its primary distinctive factor and it’s a good one. This means that it is designed around the on-screen user interface Roku developed for its popular internet media players, offering clearly indicated function settings and app icons in addition to very responsive search tools. Best of all, Roku has a library of available apps with hundreds of different services from popular giants like Netflix and Amazon to more obscure special interest sites like ElliottWave TV and the Dictator Channel. Bigger brands like Samsung and LG offer their own proprietary smart TV platforms, which also do a lot of things and have very robust search tools, but none of them have a user interface that’s as basic and simple to use, yet as powerful as Roku. That goes for the Android TV platform designed for Google and used in Sony and Philips TVs among others. There were a few glitches I hadn’t experienced before on outboard Roku media players, including the TV occasionally freezing up and kicking me back to the home screen a few times while attempting to watch 4K streaming content on YouTube. But this was a rare occurrence.
Also, because I am a regular viewer of Roku devices, I found it took a long time (about 15 minutes) for the TV to load all of the personal apps in my library. Other than that, Roku operated just as I would expect it to. There are a few differences in the on-screen menu in the integrated Roku platform. This includes on the home screen in-menu function commands for TV settings as well as app selections for various source devices connected to the set, which appear just like another app on the Roku library.
Anyone familiar with Roku devices will immediately recognize the TCL 50UP130’s remote. It looks like the remote that was included with prior Roku 3 devices. As mentioned the remote includes an input for headphones or earbuds, so you can listen to the TV sound without disturbing others in the room. Like most Roku remotes, it also includes four go-to app buttons letting you press one button to immediately call up and start using the service. The TV remote includes Netflix, Sling TV, HBO Now and Amazon Instant Video for the app buttons, which is logical since they are all among the most popular streaming services on the internet today. The remote also includes a pinhole at the top for its built-in mic, which lets you speak in the name of various programs, or apps you would like the system to search for, without the need to hunt and peck in letters from an on-screen soft keypad. I found the voice search to be spotty in its accuracy, getting some things right but not others. To use it, the viewer needs to hold down the button with the magnifying glass icon and speak clearly toward the remote.
The remote is small, but with batteries installed it has a little heft that makes it comfortable to fit in the hand and use. All buttons can be reached by the thumb on the hand holding the unit. One drawback is that this is not a universal remote, so if you watch most of your programming from a cable or satellite box, you are going to be using the cable box remote to tune in channels.
Update: The TCL 50UP130 has only basic picture setting controls on-board, but you can get into more advanced settings by using the Roku mobile app on a smartphone or tablet. After setting up the app for the Roku TV, you’ll need to dig down into the settings tab and then select the “Expert Picture Settings” selection. Here you’ll find controls for Color Temperature, Gamma, Noise Reduction, and Color Management.
Before we attempted to get a meter on the set’s Rec. 709 color space performance, we gave it a run through on our HDR10 test patterns, just for comparison sake. As should be expected, the television’s brightness capabilities aren’t even close to the levels needed to produce discernible enhancement to specular highlights (bright objects that are actually brighter on screen than the background) needed for respectable HDR. We got a measurement of 167.3 nits measuring on a 10 percent D65 white window, 158.2 nits with a 25 percent window, 155.3 with a 50 percent window and 144.8 percent with a 100 percent window. The standard for premium LCD-based 4K UHD HDR TVs is 1,000 nits and higher. But, again, this isn’t an HDR TV, so no points off.
Measuring for color gamut coverage of the DCI-P3 color gamut recommendations for professional theaters, we found the set measured at a respectable (for a non HDR TV) 85.1 percent in Movie Mode with the color temperature set to “Warm.” Warm gave us a color temperature measurement of 7100 degrees Kelvin, somewhat above the desired 6500, but it was the closest setting to it in the menu.
When measuring for black level in Movie mode we got a very respectable measurement of 0.052 nits, which helps explain why the set has a dark overall look. The low black level helps to make colors look richer and more realistic. However, we also noticed that subtle details in dark areas disappeared in to the inky black surrounding.
Gray screen uniformity was lacking with noticeable darkened areas between LED zones in the direct backlit configuration. This is not a full-array set, and shadows in unlit segments of the screen make for a somewhat dirty appearance on a pallet of a plain gray pattern. This underlying smudging is sometimes noticeable in sweeping pans across uniformly colored backgrounds.
Measuring in the Rec. 709 space, the TV was fairly accurate in hitting most of the color points, although I found the picture to be unusually dark, and the contrast control was pinned at 100 percent in the default settings out of the box, giving virtually no room to correct it. Not surprisingly, peak white highlights exhibited occasional blooming in some images.
Despite these limitations, the set does produce a very satisfying picture in the default settings with natural-looking colors most of the time. But at this price point you must balance this 4K-only set against models like the Hisense H8 series, which does accept and present HDR (albeit at peak brightness levels under 400 nits) and offers controls for motion blurring and judder to boot.
The 50UP130 lacks control to adjust the motion compensation system. The TV is listed with 120 Hz on some retail ecommerce sites, but this is clearly a native 60 Hz LCD panel using Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM) back-light flashing techniques to make the image appear smoother. The system does a fair job of smoothing over problem areas although there is some judder evident in content like pans in scenes from Blu-ray movies, with no adjustment control to improve it. But the issue shouldn’t be glaringly noticeable to most people.
Overall, I found the TCL 50UP130 did a decent job of upscaling non-native 4K Ultra HD content to fit the extra pixels on the screen. Full HD 1080p and 720p images were crisp, clear and colorful and the set didn’t overly embellish picture artifacts any more than they would appear when viewed in native form on a lower-resolution set. Even upconverted SD content wasn’t terrible, suffering primarily from the lack of digital information in the original signal. These 480i/480p pictures had the customary amount of background noise, but details in objects like faces weren’t overly soft and mushy looking.
Off-Axis Viewing Angle
This is an LCD with a VA panel, so the off-axis viewing is not great. If you move about three steps off dead center, you will start to notice a reduction in overall color and contrast performance. It’s also a problem looking at the screen from high and low angles. This should be taken into consideration if you plan to mount the TV on a wall. (Try to keep it as close to eye level at a seated position as possible).
The glossy screen surface has a fair amount of glare, even in a dim room with only one or two lights on in the background. The screen presents a mirrored effect. This generally isn’t an issue with bright pictures on the screen but it becomes more evident in darkened scenes, and as we mentioned, this set has a somewhat dark picture to begin with.
Without looking too hard for imperfections, the TCL 50UP130 has a very nice picture with realistic looking colors and nice dark black levels supporting a generally pleasing amount of color richness. Images are not overly saturated or unrealistically muted. 4K UHD images are nice and sharp, but without the color, brightness and contrast boost of HDR they seem a little flat compared to step-up 4K Ultra HDTVs with HDR.
If you don’t watch a lot of 4K Ultra HDTV on other people’s sets, this probably won’t bother you, but the market is moving rapidly to a 4K Ultra HD standard, so you’ll want to keep that in consideration for the future. TCL will release a new line of 4K Ultra HD Roku TVs with HDR, and that might be something to consider waiting for. 4K Ultra HD is nice to have, images look subtly sharper but at these screen sizes the difference between 4K and Full HD 1080p are going to be hard to discern unless you are right up close. That leaves HDR and a wide color gamut as the difference makers, and as we said, there’s no HDR in this set. As for the color gamut, the set does a nice job with better than 80 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut recommendation — 90+ percent is the benchmark for premium 4K Ultra HD performance, per the Ultra HD Alliance. However, you are going to be watching images on this TV that are primarily in the smaller Rec. 709 color space, which is the standard for high definition pictures and you’ve got more than enough coverage for that here.
The real reason to buy this set is the built-in Roku smart TV platform, which as we said, is very satisfying and intuitive to use. It’s great for novices and experts alike. The benefit of having Roku built into the TV instead of adding it on through an external adapter comes down to ease of use and speed. Instead of turning on the TV, hunting for the input source, and calling up the desired app, you go immediately to the Roku home screen, where you can find and select the app channel you want to watch or select an easy-to-find alternate source device, like a cable or satellite TV service, all from one screen. Alternatively, if you know you want to go immediately to Netflix, for example, all you do is press the Netflix button on the TCL Roku remote and the TV turns on, loads the Netflix app and the Netflix screen appears with a list of available programs waiting to select, all in about 10 seconds. Slick.
This is a nice inexpensive television. Whether it is good enough for you will depend on what is most important in the next TV you own. If a very good smart TV system and a respectable picture is what you’re after this might be what you’re looking for. If you want the most from your 4K Ultra HD experience, you will want to look for a television with decent HDR support in this price range, and there are a few of them out there, like the Hisense H8 series TVs. That will give you a very nice warm 4K HDR picture but lacks a bit on the smart TV functionality. If you want a much better HDR experience, you’ll need to step up in price and model class where you can get the brightness levels that make HDR images pop.
We therefore award the TCL 50UP130 Roku TV three out five hearts.
The TCL 50UP130 used for this review was a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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