The Best Small TV

TCL 32S3800

PROS – Affordable. Roku TV platform has plenty of apps and services.

CONS – Inaccurate, undersaturated colors out of the box. 720p resolution misses out on fine details.

BOTTOM LINE – The 720p TCL 32S3800 is an incredibly affordable Roku TV that makes some compromises in picture quality to reach its low price.

We quite like TCL’s FS3800 series$249.99 at Amazon of budget HDTVs. They offer plenty of connected features thanks to the Roku TV platform, and have surprisingly accurate colors out of the box. The series has a little sibling, in the form of the 32-inch 32S3800. The missing F in its model name could stand for “Full HD”—the $169.99 television uses a 720p panel compared with the other models’ 1080p panels. Unfortunately, the 32S3800 doesn’t have the accurate colors of its larger siblings, and combined with mediocre contrast performance and a lower resolution, it just doesn’t have a very good picture, even for a budget television. You can step up to 1080p for just $10 more with the Insignia NS-32DR420NA16, our Editors’ Choice for budget HDTVs.

Design

The 32S3800$169.99 at Amazon is identical in design to the 40-inch 40FS3800 we tested last year, just scaled down. It’s a simple, unassuming budget television, with half-inch glossy black plastic bezels that taper slightly inward like a picture frame. The screen sits on two V-shaped plastic feet that keep it steady but, like all television stands that use curved feet, needs to be kept away from the edge of your table or cabinet to reduce the risk of it tumbling forward.

Editors’ Note: The photos used in this review and the slideshow above are of the 40FS3800, the 40-inch 1080p model in the series. The televisions are identical in design beside screen size.

A four-way navigation pad surrounding a central Power/Select button sits on the back of the 32S3800, on the lower right corner. The television’s three HDMI ports, antenna/cable connector, headphone jack, and power connector sit near the left side of the screen, facing down, while a composite video input, optical audio output, and USB port face left. It would have been more convenient to switch the composite and HDMI inputs, because the left-facing ports are more easily accessible.

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Like all other Roku TVs we’ve tested, the 32S3800 has a fairly standard Roku-style remote. It’s a short black wand, dominated by a purple navigation pad. Power, Home, and Back buttons sit above the pad, while playback controls and Option and Replay buttons sit below. Four dedicated service buttons rest under the playback controls, offering one-touch access to Amazon, Netflix, Rdio, and Vudu. The volume controls and Mute button sit on the right edge. This is an infrared remote, so it requires a line of sight with the 32S3800’s remote sensor, and doesn’t have a headphone jack for private listening like the Roku 3$79.99 at Best Buy and Roku 4$99.00 at Walmart.com remotes do.

Roku TV

The Roku TV platform offers access to hundreds of apps and streaming services, all available through the Roku Channel Store. The selection is identical to what you can find on a Roku Streaming Stick$49.99 at Amazon or other Roku media streamer. Big names like Amazon, Google, Hulu, Netflix, and Sling TV are all there, along with more specific interest- and network-based services like Crunchyroll, HBO Go, Twitch, and the WWE Network. If you have a preferred streaming service (and it isn’t iTunes, which is only available on the Apple TV$139.00 at Groupon), you can probably find it on Roku.

As a Roku TV, the 32S3800 supports the free Roku app for Android and iOS. The app lets you use your mobile device as a remote, input text with your touch screen, search for content using your voice, and even stream photos and videos from your device using Play On Roku. It isn’t quite as robust or open as Google Cast, but it’s a handy option.

Performance

We test televisions with a DVDO AVLab 4K test pattern generator, a Klein K-10A colorimeter, and SpectraCal’s CalMAN 5 software. After a basic dark room calibration, the 32S3800 displayed a black level of 0.05 cd/m2 and a peak brightness of 170.97 cd/m2 for a 3,419:1 contrast ratio. This is respectable performance for a budget television, though a bit lower than the 40FS3800’s 1080p panel, which displayed a slightly brighter 0.07 cd/m2 black level and a much brighter 273.84 cd/m2 peak brightness for a higher 3,912:1 contrast ratio. The aforementioned Insignia DR420NA16 series beats out both versions for contrast (4,453:1). And while markedly more expensive, the 4K Vizio Du series handily beats all three budget models with a 0.01 cd/m2 black level and a 25,787:1 contrast ratio.

The 32S3800 disappoints with its out-of-the-box color accuracy, as seen in the chart above. Blues are nearly perfect, but greens and reds are notably undersaturated, which can skew the picture. This is surprising, as the 40FS3800 showed excellent color accuracy for a budget television.

The mediocre contrast and poor color accuracy combine to produce a thoroughly underwhelming picture. Mad Max: Fury Road looks washed out, with the normally vivid, varied hues of the wasteland’s red sand and the deep puffs of fire appearing undersaturated. The picture looks a bit pale and lacks the dream-like color and contrast the film deserves.

Daredevil really suffers from both the poor black levels and lower resolution of the 32S3800. When Daredevil and the Punisher face off on a dark rooftop, nearly all shadow details are completely swallowed up by murky darkness. Objects that can be seen, like Daredevil’s costume as he’s tied up under a dim streetlight, show little if any fine texture; the red weave of his outfit looks downright blurry in 720p, in addition to appearing undersaturated even in low light. Daredevil is available in ultra high-definition (UHD, or 4K), but it can show satisfying amounts of fine detail even in 1080p.

Input Lag and Power Consumption

Input lag is the amount of time between when a display receives a signal and when it updates the screen. The 32S3800 showed a 29.3 millisecond input lag, which is satisfactory for a television. A Game mode option can shave that number down to 28.8 milliseconds, but it compromises the general picture quality and isn’t a good trade-off.

Under normal viewing conditions, the 32S3800 consumes 28 watts of power. A Low Power mode shaves that down to just 24 watts, dimming the screen slightly in the process. This is very little energy consumption for an HDTV, but considering its size and lower-resolution panel, it’s not surprising. The 40-inch, 1080p 40FS3800 consumes 63 watts under normal viewing conditions and 51 watts in Eco Save mode.

If you’re looking for a television and you’re on a shoestring budget, the TCL 32S3800 might look attractive. Its tiny price tag hides a disappointing picture, however, especially when the slightly larger, 1080p version of the same model can be found for not much more, and offers superior color accuracy. If you’re looking to stay under $200 and specifically want a 32-inch television, the $179.99 Insignia NS-32DR420NA16 remains your best bet, and our Editors’ Choice. It offers the same Roku TV features, but bumps things up to 1080p resolution, with better contrast and color accuracy.

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