TCL 32S305 32-Inch Roku TV (2017 Model) Review
For value hunters, TCL’s S305 Series of budget HDTVs is always a favorite choice. The sets offer plenty of connected features including built-in Wi-Fi and online features like Netflix and Hulu Plus. Now, the series has a little sibling, in the form of the 32-inch TCL 32S305. It is a Roku TV. Since last year, the best budget HDTVs we’ve reviewed have been Roku TVs, all sharing Roku’s platform, despite coming from different manufacturers.
Instead, it uses a 720p panel instead of a 1080p panels, which is expected for the budget category. Yes, it won’t have the accurate colors of its larger siblings, it does have a lower resolution, but it very affordable. Still, it has the same solid performance, great design and offers loads of streaming thanks to its Roku TV core. For that, it easily earns our Editors’ Choice for budget HDTVs.
If there’s one area TCL doesn’t over-emphasize, it must be the looks. The 32S305 is modestly designed, with a flat glossy black plastic bezel surrounding the screen (0.3 inches-sides; 1-inch at the bottom). The sides are lined with a slim-profile plastic piping (gunmetal color), that adds some flair to an otherwise simple looking TV. It is supported by two U-shaped legs, with the same gunmetal color as the pipes on the sides.
At the back of the TV, you’ll find all ports towards the left side. Here you have three HDMI ports, a single USB port, a standard antenna/cable connector, a 3.5mm composite video that can be used with the included adapter and an optical audio output. Others include a 3.5mm headphone jack and a reset button.
The location and positioning of the port towards the right facilitates hooking up the set, though the three HDMI ports might limit the number of devices you can connect before you can use a splitter. Instead of an Ethernet port for the Roku Smart features, it uses a dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi card.
Many sets we’ve reviewed previously come with four HDMI ports as standard, with a few going high as five. Three HDMI ports here is quite lean. It will only take a satellite box and two gaming systems and you’re done, but thanks to Roku TV you might not be using a media streamer that much. Sometimes, the remote can be misplaced and a cluster of buttons on the lower right corner behind the TV come handy for physical control.
Bundled with the 32S305 is the signature TCL remote: short, glossy, with a prominent directional pad. Just above the pad are Home, Back, and Power buttons, and right below it are playback and app buttons. The remote brings instant access to services like Hulu, Netflix and Sling TV, right to the palm of your hand. For each service, you have a dedicated button. Along the right edge are the volume controls and a mute button.
As with all Roku TVs, you have access to various apps and services, just like you’d get from a typical Roku media streamer. It is a hub for almost all media streaming services including: Amazon, Crunchyroll, Google Play Movies & TV, Hulu, Netflix, Sling TV, and YouTube. Roku is host to most channels (select apps) that you would find in the smart TV ecosystem, so you will be comfortable with the services (except Apple). You can also use the Roku TV app from your smartphone, and Roku TV support media streaming from your smartphone as well.
If you’ve been awed by the headphone-jack-on-remote and voice search of the Roku 3, you’ll be disappointed here as the TV set drops those features. Instead, you have a headphone output on the TV itself.
Let’s face it: the TCL 32S305 is an entry-level TV; and it remains that way. No extraordinary dimming. No high refresh rates. No fancy 3D either. In the 2017 S305 line-up, all the other models support 1080p, except for the TCL 28S305 (28-inch) and 32S305 (32-inch), both use 720p (1,366×768) panels. All sets in the series use direct-lit LED, which somewhat boosts the pictures. In the naming, ‘F’ is missing, signaling that the system isn’t “Full HD” – compared with other models.
The 28” and 32” models ae the only ones that use 60Hz refresh rate specifications, while the large siblings in the same series use 120Hz Clear Motion Index. Even with 60Hz panels, TCL claims that the higher refresh rate is due to backlight scanning. Ideally, the “120Hz” TCL models fall short of smoothing and they deliver the same motion resolution as the standard 60Hz TVs.
The TV behaves like a typical Roku box, and that’s something that will make many of us happy. Although not snappy as the Roku 2 or Roku 3, it is easy to navigate and launch apps. It is sleeker and more intuitive than most smart TV, such as Samsung and Vizio models. They are more connected and sleeker but, the Roku TV interface allowed me to get what I wanted –like I know it– streaming videos and TV shows; with little effort. And that is a good thing.
On the downside, the set’s out-of-the box color accuracy is wanting, but for a budget TV set, it isn’t much of a deal-breaker. Its other sibling, TCL 40S305 delivered excellent color accuracy that we’ve not seen before in a budget television. Still, the Vizio E Series remain my pick for stellar picture quality and excellent contrast.
Input Lag and Power Consumption
Input lag (time between display receiving signal and updating screen) isn’t bad at 29.3 milliseconds, which is quite good for a television set. Changing the mode, for instance into Game mode, will give you a reduced input lag but it eats on the general picture quality. Not a worthy trade-off.
Viewed under normal conditions, the 32-inch set will consume 28 watts of power. Adjusted for viewing in Low Power mode, it shaves the consumption down to a mere 24 watts, but the screen gets slightly dimmed in the process. This is quite good for an HDTV, but factoring its size and low-resolution panel, it isn’t surprising. The 40-inch model with a 1080p panel consumes 63 watts under normal conditions, but in Eco Save mode the consumption is scaled to 51 watts.
Affordable, Well Connected, Roku TV
If all you need is a television that perfectly matches your shoestring budget, the TCL 32S305 might look attractive. When the tiny price tag hides a few shadows like a not-so-good picture, there is reason to worry, but then they throw in Roku TV features, we forget everything. If you want to get both excellent picture and Roku TV functionality, the slightly larger TCL 40S305 offers a 1080p resolution, can be had for not much more, and benefits from superior picture accuracy. If you’re looking to stay within budget and specifically want a 32-inch television, the 32S305 remains your best bet, and the Roku TV features make it more appealing. It is our newest Top Pick for budget HDTVs.