The TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV is an inexpensive entry into the world of 4K broadcasting, with quality appropriate to its price. If only there was some content to play on it.
TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV: On the plus side
The TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV is a budget 4K panel. It’s interesting to see quite how quickly 4K TVs have tumbled in price in the last twelve months, and it’s nice to have a “budget” category within this emerging space, if only because it keeps the larger brand names on their toes.
That’s a market observation, though, and not an appraisal of how well the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV actually performs.
For those who love specifications, it’s a 55 inch 4K (3840×2160) TV with inbuilt Smart TV and 3D functions. It has 3 HDMI 1.4 ports, 3 USB ports and inbuilt Wi-Fi as well as ethernet networking. The physical design is plain but fine, and it’s nice that it’s sporting a very thin bezel. As you might expect from a budget TV, there’s a bit of rattle and bend in the plastic rear panel when you’re installing it, but once set up it’s fine to use.
What it all comes down to with any TV is the quality of the picture, and here the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV is a mixed offering considering its asking price.
With test 4K loops the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV can look quite good, although you’ll need to tweak the brightness and backlighting quite a bit if my out of the box experience is any guide. Once that’s done and as long as you’re close enough — because 4K content loses a lot of clarity if you sit well back — the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV presents reasonably well, although with a bit more blur and screen softness than on competing 4K panels. Those panels do cost more to purchase in the first place, however. More on that in the conclusions.
The reality is that you’re not going to unpack the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV and start enjoying 4K content straight away, because there’s not a whole lot of 4K content available to anyone right now. Again, more on that in the conclusions, but for now 4K panels have to live and die on the quality of their upscaling from 1080p and lower quality sources. Here the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV is again a little mixed, with black levels that are fair but not spectacular, and a predictable downwards curve as you throw lesser quality material at it.
The TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV’s stand isn’t anything particularly special in design terms, but I’ll give it credit for being exceptionally easy to fit to the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV’ itself. Many stands ask you to balance an expensive and heavy TV seemingly upside down while dropping several screws into inaccessible places. The TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV doesn’t do that with nice solid screws and a base that simply slots into place. You’ll likely only have to do this once, but you’ll appreciate it while setting it up.
TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV: On the minus side
There are concessions to be made in every budget TV, and the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV has its fair share.
The TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV’s remote control is quite busy and intermittnently confusing. It has a nice curve that fits the hand well, but uses multiple buttons to perform the same kinds of tasks. In some menus you need to use the “menu” button to go back, while in others it’s the reversing arrow. In yet others the “exit” button is the one you want. There are dedicated buttons to enable YouTube, SmartTV and EPG guides, but these don’t always respond depending on your viewing source at the time.
It’s 3D capable, but using active shutter glasses. If you’re like me, active shutter glasses are a quick one way trip to vomitville. I’m not certain if the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV’s panel is in fact liquid projectile proof, and I’m not keen to find out.
The TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV is also Smart TV capable, but it’s “capable” in the way that a Smart TV circa 2011 was capable. There’s integrated YouTube and, in a nice nod to local content, SBS On Demand, but the rest of the included apps are rather lacklustre. Compared to the full price offerings from the likes of Samsung with its Foxtel tie-in, or LG with its smooth WebOS interface, the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV ends up just looking clunky.
The same is true of most of the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV’s onscreen menus. They’re essentially functional, but they’re slow and sometimes a little baffling if you’re trying to sort out one detail or another. As an example, the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV offers four preset picture modes — standard, dynamic, studio, and movie — as well as a configurable personal mode, but not a straight game mode, which you find on many TVs. It’s tucked away under advanced settings, but at least on my review model, is greyed out. No combination of other settings that I could find would unlock it, but in trying to do so I realised how cumbersome the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV’s menus are. At this price point I suspect many might do an initial calibration and nothing else, but it’s still annoying.
TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV: Pricing
TCL lists the RRP of the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV at $1999, but a quick bit of searching around online finds retailers selling it at around $1700 or so.
TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV: Fat Duck Verdict
That selling price is really the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV’s claim to fame… sort of.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll bring it up again. 4K TVs are the hot marketing gimmick of the day, in the same way that 3D or Smart TV has been in years prior. I do think there’s much more of a future in 4K than there is in 3D or Smart TV, but the simple fact remains that once you’ve burned through the few scant bits of 4K content that are readily and legally available in Australia, you’re stuck with an upscaling panel. Even if you do bypass geoblocks to access the 4K content that’s coming onstream in the US, it won’t take you that long to get through it all.
Every 4K TV manufacturer is telling the same story right now, and it’s one to do with upscaling and “futureproofing”. It’s worth mentioning that if you do sit a reasonable distance from your TV, the benefits of upscaling are quite likely to be negligible, although up close they can make a difference. The TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV’s upscaling isn’t the best in market — and you’d expect that from the asking price — in any case.
That leaves futureproofing as your other reason to invest heavily in 4K right now, and for that I can’t see the TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV as a great buy. There’s no inbuilt HDMI 2.0 compatibility, and it seems unlikely that it’ll be upgraded for that.
Panels are only going to get cheaper and better over time, and as such, unless you were dead keen on a monitor for, say, PC gaming where the kinds of resolutions 4K wants can be generated right now, there’s not a whole lot of point in 4K for most consumers. The TCL U55E5691FDS 4K 55″ TV might be cheaper than most, but its successor in 2015-2018, while we wait for a lot more actual available 4K content, will be even cheaper and better again. I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again — right now is a bad time to be buying a TV.