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Toshiba 46TL963 46″ 3D LED Backlit TV Expert Review

Toshiba 46TL963

Rating: ★★★★☆

Although Toshiba isn’t afraid to dabble with seriously fancy stuff at the very top of its TV range – including the remarkably cutting-edge Toshiba 55ZL2, with its 4K resolution and glasses-free 3D – it knows better than to muck about when it comes to the mainstream heart of its business.

Take this Toshiba 46TL963, for example. On paper, at least, this new 46-inch TV looks as if someone has taken all of the most important points on our TV wish list and assembled them together into a single, potentially irresistible product.

For starters, there’s its design, which serves up the ultra-slim bezel and rear everyone seems to crave these days.

The television also delivers multimedia playback from USB flash drives or DLNA PCs, and has reasonably potent-sounding picture processing, complete with a 200Hz-like picture engine.

Its drive to tick every possible box even extends to both an online ‘smart TV’ system and active 3D playback.

Best of all, though, there’s its price. With most TV buyers on the hunt for a bargain as the hard times show little chance of receding, you can pick up a Toshiba 46TL963 from the exceptionally small sum of around £700 (around AU$1,097/US$1,121). This is a potential steal for a 46-inch TV with so much going on. Provided it turns out to be any good, that is.

If by some miracle the almost made to order Toshiba 46TL963 doesn’t fit your needs, then there are other options you could consider in Toshiba’s TV range.

For instance, there’s also a 40-inch version available, the Toshiba 40TL963B.

The recently launched Toshiba VL963 range introduces a passive 3D option, as well as upping the picture processing to ’400Hz’. This range is available in 55-inch (Toshiba 55VL963), 47-inch (Toshiba 47VL963) and 42-inch (Toshiba 42VL963) options.

If you feel like spending even less on a TV than the Toshiba 46TL963′s bargain price, and can live without 3D pictures, there’s the RL953 series, comprising the 40-inch Toshiba 40RL953 and 32-inch Toshiba 32RL953.

Rivals from outside Toshiba’s television range include the LG 47LM670T, Panasonic TX-P42UT50 and Samsung UE46E5500, which we’ll discuss in more detail on the Verdict page of this review.

For now, though, let’s assume the Toshiba 46TL963 had you at hello, and find out if it’s really as excellent an all-rounder as we hope it is.

Features

The first thing to say here is that there are far more features in the Toshiba 46TL963 than you’ve any right to expect from a 46-inch TV with such a low price.

For starters, there’s the fact that it doesn’t actually look like a 46-inch TV. Rather, because of its exceptionally slim, barely-there 1cm bezel, it takes up barely as much precious living room space as a typical 40-inch set.

Its relatively light grey finish is likely to appeal to many people too. Partly just because it’s different from the dark finishes so common in the TV world; partly because its matt rather than gloss finish soaks up reflections from your living room lights; and partly because it stops the TV dominating whatever part of your room it sits in.

The bezel’s finish is a touch plasticky, perhaps. But for the price, most people will surely be more than happy with how the Toshiba 46TL963 looks.

Most people will also be fairly happy with the Toshiba 46TL963′s connections. Its four HDMIs put the set on the same level as – or better than – almost all premium TVs this year.

And modern multimedia types will appreciate the provision of two USBs for both recording to USB HDD from the TV’s Freeview HD tuner and playing back a solid selection of multimedia file types from USB storage devices.

Then there’s the television’s LAN socket, via which you can either stream in material from a connected DLNA PC or else take the TV online with Toshiba’s Places system.

It’s disappointing, however, to find that the Toshiba 46TL963 doesn’t sport built-in Wi-Fi. This has become a standard feature on almost all other mid-range and higher TVs this year, so its absence on the Toshiba 46TL963 is keenly felt.

You can add Wi-Fi by stumping up extra cash for one of Toshiba’s USB Wi-Fi dongles – an investment made more appealing by the fact that this dongle also enables the TV to support the Intel WiDi PC desktop sharing system. But it would of course still be much better if the Wi-Fi/WiDi was built-in.

The Toshiba 46TL963′s DLNA situation is frustrating too. It’s much harder to get working than most DLNA systems – unless you happen to have a PC running Windows 7, at any rate.

The run of niggles continues, moreover, when you delve into the ‘Places’ online service. This starts off very nicely, thanks to the bright, colourful, well-organised ‘folders’ the on-screen menus provide for sorting different types of content.

But as soon as you head into these folders, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s very little in any of them.

Really the only services worth mentioning are Twitter, Facebook, BBC iPlayer, Cartoon Network, HiT Entertainment, Box Office 365, Acetrax, Viewser, YouTube and iConcerts.

Hardly an earth-shattering list in these days where rival online TV systems from the likes of Sony, Samsung and LG offer apps by the hundred.

At the very least, it would be good to see such online video ‘big hitters’ as Netflix and Lovefilm on Places. Fingers crossed Toshiba will considerably up its online offering sooner rather than later.

Getting back to the good news about the Toshiba 46TL963, it’s truly startling to find such an affordable set boasting an active (as opposed to passive) full HD 3D system inside.

Admittedly Toshiba hasn’t been able to include any active shutter 3D glasses for free with the TV while keeping to the low price, but unlike the Wi-Fi dongle, we can at least understand this decision.

Not least because 3D isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so it arguably wouldn’t make sense on such a price-conscious TV to have upped the price just so 3D glasses could have been included.

The Toshiba 46TL963 also carries more picture set up aids than you’d expect, given its price.

Particularly handy are a surprisingly fulsome colour management system, a simple black/white shift bar, adjustments for the TV’s gamma setting, two types of noise reduction, and a selection of settings for the TV’s dynamic backlight control system.

And then there’s Toshiba’s Active Vision 200 processing system. This combines a native 100Hz panel with a blinking backlight to deliver a 200Hz-like effect, in a bid to reduce the sort of resolution loss and blurring issues when showing motion that plague almost all LCD TVs to some extent.

The last feature worth pointing out before finding out how the Toshiba 46TL963 performs is its 2D-to-3D conversion system.

This isn’t actually a feature most people will likely use more than a couple of times, since such converted 3D material never looks as convincing as the real 3D deal. But it’s a notable feature here because it wasn’t available on the Toshiba 46TL963′s predecessor, the Toshiba 46TL868B.

Picture quality

Although they’re certainly not perfect, the Toshiba 46TL963′s pictures are better – much better, for much of the time – than its cheap price would lead you to expect.

A selection of HD feeds quickly reveals, for instance, much more detail and crispness in the Toshiba 46TL963′s pictures than you commonly get at the set’s price level.

Playing a crucial part in this is the lack of blurring over motion, even if you don’t bother with the Active Vision 200 motion processing system. In fact, this processing can actually make pictures look worse, at least on its highest power setting.

Also contributing to the image’s sense of clarity is the Toshiba 46TL963′s surprisingly astute colour rendering.

There’s both a wider colour range and more subtlety in the reproduction of colour blends than you get with the vast majority of similarly affordable TVs. This proves particularly helpful when it comes to skin tones, which look much more nuanced and thus less mannequin-like than they usually do on affordable TVs.

The Toshiba 46TL963′s colours impress, too, with their vibrancy. Relatively artificial, colour-rich HD material such as the animated Rio film on Blu-ray, a Sky News HD studio feed or the brilliant Borderlands 2 game positively explode off the screen.

They capture and hold your attention far more successfully than the rather muted, low-contrast colour schemes deployed by many budget TVs.

Colours as potent as those of the Toshiba 46TL963 are seldom seen unless a screen can also deliver a strong black level response. And so it proves here, where images with a mix of bright and dark material contain strikingly deep black colours, miles away from the washed-out blacks commonly witnessed at the cheaper end of the TV market.

Even better, the Toshiba 46TL963 seems able to produce its good black levels without compromising the intensity of bright parts of mixed images nearly as much as might have been expected.

The only source content that can seriously catch the Toshiba 46TL963 out is extremely dark footage, such as night-time movie scenes. While the set’s general black levels remain quite strong, having darkness dominating the screen can reveal some unevenness in the TV’s backlighting.

In other words, parts of the screen show unnatural pools of light that are caused by the edge LED lighting system rather than being any part of the source image content.

These patches lose some of their intensity if you slam down the set’s backlight setting, but the only way to get rid of them so much that they cease to be a distraction is to use the TV’s Hollywood 1 picture preset.

However, it’s likely that most users won’t feel comfortable with this mode, since it leaves images looking far less rich and punchy than they do with most of the other presets.

It’s also worth throwing in here that while the colours look subtle versus most budget televisions, there is a touch more striping over colour blends than you get with more expensive TVs from the likes of Sony, Samsung and Panasonic.

Another less than brilliant performance area for the Toshiba 46TL963 is standard definition playback.

While it manages to remap non-HD Freeview broadcasts to its Full HD pixel count with good levels of sharpness and colour punch, the resulting images look a bit noisy at times, with MPEG noise and quite a lot of grain.

Toshiba’s noise reduction systems can soften away some of this noise, but they tend to leave pictures looking softer as well.

The Toshiba 46TL963 gets back to impressing us, though, with its handling of 3D.

Some previous Toshiba active 3D TVs have suffered quite heavily with crosstalk ghosting interference, but while this is still occasionally visible over background objects on the Toshiba 46TL963, it’s neither common nor aggressive enough to be considered a serious problem.

Also striking is how bright and punchy 3D images look, despite the dimming impact of the active shutter glasses. Detail levels are decent too (though not quite as high definition as those of some higher spec active 3D TVs), and 3D pictures don’t suffer at all badly with motion judder.

There are a couple of problems to be aware of, though, beside the slight crosstalk already mentioned.

First, because the Toshiba 46TL963 has to run very bright with 3D to combat the dimming of the glasses, you can sometimes be aware of the backlight inconsistency problems noted earlier.

Second, Toshiba’s 3D glasses are a little too narrow for comfort, letting in more light around the lenses than we’d like.

The final picture performance point to cover is input lag. And, thankfully, the Toshiba 46TL963 does well here, producing a figure of just 36ms – low enough not to severely affect your gaming performance.

Usability, sound and value

Things start badly in this department, thanks to the Toshiba 46TL963′s remote. For starters it’s very uncomfortable to hold, thanks to a combination of its unusually large size, weird top-heaviness and slippery wedge shape.

But also unhelpful is its layout, because despite its extreme size, it still feels overcrowded, and doesn’t always put the most important buttons in the most easy to access places.

Usability

Happily the Toshiba 46TL963′s on-screen menus are much better. They employ an unusual concentric circle design where the bottom circle holds the main menu options and the upper circle shows the sub-menu options.

This approach feels intuitive to navigate, and enables you to see a clearer path to most options than the usual simple list menu approach.

Also laudable in principle is the presentation of Toshiba’s Places system, thanks to its colourful, friendly, customisable attempt to organise content into category folders.

Ironically, though, at present the sheer lack of content on the Places platform makes the use of so many themed content folders feel more like a barrier than a help.

Sound

Unusually for a super-slim TV, the Toshiba 46TL963 sounds its best when running loud. At quiet volumes, the speakers just don’t seem sensitive enough to deliver much detail or dynamism, yet driven harder the mid-range opens up nicely, good levels of treble detailing emerge, and there’s even a bit of bass around.

Value

Given how often during this review we’ve stated how much better the Toshiba 46TL963 is than the majority of its budget TV rivals, you can probably guess that we rate it very highly for value.

In fact, all things considered it’s quite possibly the best value 46-inch TV we’ve seen so far this year.

Final thoughts

Toshiba appears to have really done its homework with the Toshiba 46TL963, since it seems to tick almost all the current most popular TV boxes. First, its design is super-slim.

Second, its connections include plenty of multimedia support. Third, it carries online Smart TV features. Fourth, it costs remarkably little for a 46-inch TV.

We might also have added its 3D playback to this list, were it not for all the recent reports suggesting that most people don’t actually care about 3D.

Fortunately the Toshiba 46TL963 isn’t just about features, though. It also performs surprisingly well, with bright, colourful, sharp pictures in both 2D and 3D mode.

Its backlight has a few consistency issues that can distract you a bit during dark scenes, and its multimedia skills ultimately prove less wide-ranging than they should be. But the Toshiba 46TL963 still does more than enough overall to stand out as a serious bargain.

We liked

At about £699.99 (around AU$1,097/US$1,121) for a 46-inch TV, the Toshiba 46TL963 is brilliant value. It looks great too, with its ultra-slim, light-coloured bezel, and its feature count is unexpectedly high for such a cheap TV.

Best of all, though, it’s a much more accomplished picture performer than any other similarly affordable television set we can think of.

We disliked

Toshiba Places needs lots more apps and services, and the Toshiba 46TL963′s DLNA capabilities aren’t great unless you have a Windows 7 PC.

There’s some backlight inconsistency during dark scenes too, plus a little crosstalk with 3D and a rather noisy look to standard definition feeds. Finally, the remote control is poorly designed.

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Pros

  • Remarkably affordable
  • Slinky, space-saving design
  • Good pictures
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Insubstantial online service
  • Uneven backlighting
  • Some 3D crosstalk
  • No built-in Wi-Fi

Verdict

Although it’s not without its issues, there’s no doubt that Toshiba has delivered another cracking affordable TV in the Toshiba 46TL963.

Its slim design is as space-saving as it is attractive, and the fact that it offers both multimedia streaming/direct USB playback and online features is impressive for its price tag, even if both of these systems are limited in scope.

Where it really stands out from the similarly affordable 46-inch TV crowd, though, is with its picture quality. Yes, a few backlight consistency issues and some minor 3D crosstalk might deter enthusiasts. But then a 46-inch TV this cheap was never going to deliver perfection.

The best you could probably hope for at that price would be punchy colours, impressive sharpness, solid motion reproduction and good contrast. And with the Toshiba 46TL963, that’s exactly what you get.

Also consider

There’s not much serious direct competition for the Toshiba 46TL963, given how cheap it is.

If you can find an extra £300 (around AU$470/US$480), one alternative would be LG’s 47LM670T. This offers an even prettier design, along with a much more evolved online service and pictures that at times are even better than those of the Toshiba.

As well as being substantially more expensive, though, LG’s television does also suffer with a little backlight blocking during dark scenes.

A solid plasma TV option for around the same money would be Panasonic’s TX-P42UT50. Note, though, that as its name suggests, this set is 42-inches in size, not 46. And while its pictures are excellent if you’re in a darkened room, they can lack punch and colour accuracy in a bright room.

One final alternative might be Samsung’s UE46E5500, though we haven’t tested any TVs from this range yet. See, we told you it was hard to find anything to truly rival the Toshiba 46TL963.

Toshiba 46TL963 46

 


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