The TCL 50S434 (4-Series, 2021) demonstrates that 4K is mainstream now and you don’t have to spend a fortune to access it in your living room. For an affordable price, it packs respectable picture quality and the very convenient Android TV smart interface.
- Excellent value-priced 4K
- Good color fidelity
- Built-in Android TV software
- Middling HDR performance
- Narrow viewing angles
If you’re looking for a 4K TV that delivers respectable performance at an affordable price, you’re in luck. There are lots of exciting options these days than ever before. Ether the TCL 50S434 (4-Series, 2021), an incredibly affordable but ably kitted-out Android TV, that while not perfect, still punches above its price to deliver an impressive user experience.
Starting with a 43-inch model, the TCL is available in various, affordable versions as it is flexible. This series covers the screen size gamut from 43 to 85 inches and even comes in various software variants: Roku TV, Google TV, and Android TV (the version we’re reviewing) smart platforms depending upon retailer and region.
But no matter which model or platform you buy, you’re getting 4K resolution, HDR compatibility, and solid general picture quality. There are reasons why you might want to splurge more, though. This is an entry-level 4K TV that, despite being HDR compatible, is simply not bright and colorful enough for the best HDR performance.
Nonetheless, it delivers solid basic picture but is not equipped to be a great choice like the Sony A80J for next-gen consoles and its contrast isn’t that powerful, especially in bright rooms. But if you just need a big-screen TV for a movie night with 4K resolution and don’t want to spend a fortune, the TCL 50S434 is a winner.
Just keep in mind that the 4-Series are not the cheapest TVs on the block by any means, but they are simply more affordable than the average 4K/HDR TV from brands like Sony, LG, and Samsung (the 50-inch Samsung AU8000 is almost $120 more expensive).
Price and Availability
TCL has been releasing at least a version of the 4-Series for the last several years, and the TCL 50S434 we’re reviewing is a 2021 release. When we reviewed the TCL 55S425 last year, we were impressed by its solid performance, solid picture quality, and overall value and gave it an Editor’s Choice award.
Since then, we’ve reviewed over six TCL 4-Series models, and all of them have been Roku TV versions. We’re excited to review the Android Tv version of our favorite budget 4K TVs, and we expect the design and picture quality metrics to apply across the board.
Regardless of whether you’re getting Roku, Google, or Android TV smart, the screen sizes and prices remain the same – and so are the core specifications across the series:
- Resolution: 4K (3,840 x 2,160)
- LED backlight type: Direct LED, full array
- HDR format support: HDR10, HLG
- Dolby Atmos: Yes, via HDMI ARC over DD+ (no native decoding)
- eARC: Not supported
- Native refresh rate: 60Hz
- Color depth: 10-bit
- Variable Refresh Rate (VRR): No
- Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM): No
- Other features: Android TV smart platform
Our review focuses on the Android version, indicated by the S434 model number. Android-equipped panels are identified by the S434 model number, but the hardware used on all versions of the 4-Series is identical. (Just to note, though, there is no 85-inch Android TV model).
Since our review looks at both hardware performance and user experience which can be influenced by software and app selection, we won’t be discussing Roku TV and Google TV models in this review.
Having said that, across all the TCL 4-series models, we expect to see almost the same level of performance on all models. From port selection to features like HDR support and display technology, our recommendations should carry over from one model to the next.
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Design and Features
Dressed in basic black, the TCL 50S434 shares the same style and design footprint as the 50-inch TCL 50S435 we reviewed last year. A simple design with splayed legs on either end to support it on any standard tabletop. The V-shaped legs are steady enough to keep the panel from galling over, but it doesn’t take too much support a set that weighs less than 16 pounds. Should you want to wall mount it, you should purchase a standard VESA 200 X 200 millimeter, check out some of the best TV mounts.
The screen is surrounded by what we consider to be average-sized bezels. The bezels are about half an inch thick on the top and sides, and slightly wider along the bottom. The bezels don’t affect your viewing experience, although the TCL badging on the bottom of the frame is a little distracting given the size of this set. And with most LCD sets, while the display itself is thin, the supporting electronics, connections, and rear-mounted speakers make it thicker, bringing it to almost 3.5 inches at its widest point.
A power connector can be found on the left side of the back of the TV, facing left. All other connections are on the right side of the back panel, facing right. They include three HDMI ports, a USB port, an Ethernet port, a 3.5mm composite video port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, an optical audio output, and an antenna/cable connector.
Image Quality and Performance
The TCL 50 Inch TV boasts a 4K display, firing full 3840 x 2160 resolution, with direct backlighting and HDR (high dynamic range) support. The result is a relatively good (if basic) viewing experience, and a better viewing experience than you might expect at this price range.
The TCL 4K Android TV registers 97.4% of the Rec. 709 color gamut, which is better than the Vizio V505-G9 (96.65%), but not as wide as the 98.3% we saw on the Samsung 40-inch NU7100. However, while we prefer to see a 4K TV a measure somewhere near the 100% mark, the TCL is within the range we expect for a lower-cost model.
The TCL 50S434 doesn’t stand out when it comes to brightness, even in Bright (HDR) mode with the backlight turned up; it maxes out at 244.05cd/m2, which is half the 488. 01cd/m2 peak brightness on the 6-series. Again, it lacks local dimming that’s available on the 6-series, and its Dynamic Contrast settings can only brighten or dim the entire screen simultaneously.
When watching BBC’s Planet Earth II, the scenes look great though you can easily notice the TV’s dimmer screen and smaller color range as compared to the 6-Series or more expensive sets like the LG OLED55C1PUB or the Sony A80J. Still, the trees and blue greens on the “Islands” episode look clear and natural, though fine textures like fur and bark are crisp when well-lit. That said, shadows become a bit blurry and the fairly dim screen doesn’t look quite as lifelike as they do on brighter panels.
As mentioned above, the TCL S434 Series is an entry-level range of 4K TVs, so don’t expect blazing gaming performance. As such, the TCL 50S434 doesn’t offer any sort of automatic switching to game mode or detection of a game console, such as an Xbox One X. When you switch to game mode, it is a bit intuitive, since the mode is not offered in the regular selection of picture modes, and does require navigating into a separate menu of advanced picture settings to activate.
The 50S434 supports 4K gaming, and you can stream content with 10-bit color support at 24Hz. However, this panel does not support additional frame rates for streamed content, nor does it support HDR modes for either gaming or streaming. That’s fine if HDR content isn’t at the top of your list, but it doesn’t mean that games will appear less impressive than on other 4K sets.
And, while this TV doesn’t offer HDR support when gaming, it does deliver great response times, an indispensable feature in fast-paced games. If there’s an area where this set is lacking, it must be audio. With a pair of 8-watt speakers delivering the audio juice, the overall volume is underwhelming and relatively weak and isn’t well suited to rooms that have a lot of ambient noise.
Plus, it has Android TV smart platform
Powering the TCL S434 is Android TV, one of the richer TV operating systems. It brings a lot of features to the TV platform, but Android TV can tax some TVs, but on the 50S434 it is very responsive, menus load quickly, and apps launch in seconds.
The Home screen by default displays recommended shows, favorite apps, and shows that you’re currently watching. You can tweak the settings to your liking, customize the home screen to show personalized recommendations, and you can as well pick your favorite apps. Also, you can choose which apps will show you more detailed recommendations. For instance, you can have YouTube show the latest recommended documentary videos and music on the home screen instead of launching the app to see them.
Android TV offers just about every app you’d want, from basics like Netflix and Prime Video to the latest favs such as Disney+ and HBOMax, as well as Apple TV, Paramount+, Peacock, and many more. And if you have a missing app and need to share content from your phone, the U8G has built-in Google Chromecast. Simply put, this is one of the best smart TVs for streaming your favorite content.
In all honesty, we didn’t expect much from the sound on this set. Everything, from its size and price rule out the presence of any expensive internal speakers, and the TCL 4-Series doesn’t support fancy formats like Dolby Atmos or DTS: X. Still, for many movies the audio capabilities of this TV are good enough.
TCL 50S434 Review: Verdict
The TCL 50S434 4-Series (2021) isn’t the most spectacular TV you’ll find, or even the most affordable budget 4K TV you’ll find. However, the very simple premise of a budget TV that offers decent performance, nice design, and all the benefits of the Android TV smart platform makes for an attractive budget TV.
The main thing to understand before purchase is that the 4-Series falls short of its pricier competition in a few key areas: Like most budget sets, it has middling viewing angles, is fairly dim, and not equipped with highly saturated colors, meaning it’s not the best choice if you need stunning HDR performance.
We also like the Toshiba M550 Series (55M550KU) in this price range, which offers better picture quality and brings the extensive features and Alexa voice assistant of the Fire TV platform.
The TCL 6-Series is still our most enthusiastic budget recommendation for its excellent performance and price for 55-inches, and the 4-series doesn’t come close to matching its brightness or color range.
That said, if you only need a solid 4K TV that’s easy to use, has a nice design and looks good in most conditions, and won’t cost an arm and a leg, the TCL 50S434 4-Series is a great option.
Are TCL Android TVs any good?
TCL is a brand best known for its budget TV offerings, and it wowed us last year with its premium line, the Editor’s Choice TCL 6-Series. TCL still offers its 4-Series which is the company’s entry-level 4Kn line, that packs the feature-rich Roku TV and you also have variants with Android TV and Google TV smart platforms. But no matter which model or platform you buy, you’re getting 4K resolution, HDR compatibility, and solid general picture quality.
Last update on 2022-07-04 at 08:01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API