Focusing in more detail on the colours first, their potency owes a considerable debt of gratitude to the set’s combination of a strong brightness output and surprisingly respectable black level response. Plus, of course, the set’s natural colour range and saturation levels are a clear cut above the budget norm, ensuring that as well as being punchy, the 32RL858’s colours are engagingly natural for most of the time. There’s even surprisingly good subtlety when it comes to showing colour blends, so that skin tones avoid the patchy, striped, or plasticky look you often get with cheap TVs.
The sharpness mentioned earlier, meanwhile, does a fine job of revealing how much better the 32RL858’s core picture processing engine is than that of the vast majority of similarly-priced rivals. It’s noticeable, too, how the clarity holds up well when there’s a lot of motion in the frame, with precious little of the motion ‘blur’ that troubles most LCD TVs to some extent - especially budget ones. Presumably a combination of the 100Hz engine and a fast native response time are to thank for this.
While the strengths already described are enough in themselves to make the 32RL858 a superior affordable set, though, its pictures are inevitably not perfect. For starters, while we were very impressed by its black level response in terms of how dark and ‘grey-free’ its black colours look, very dark scenes do reveal a few backlight consistency issues; as in, areas where the picture looks unnaturally brighter than it does elsewhere.
Crucially, though, if you make sure you keep the backlight to around its 60 setting at the highest, you will find that the overtness of the backlight consistency reduces exponentially.
The other issue is that the screen isn’t a particularly great friend of standard definition sources. There’s a degree of flexibility over how standard definition images look, but overall the impression is that the screen does a good job of adding sharpness to standard definition sources, but a less impressive job of suppressing source noise, especially the sort of MPEG blocking you get with many standard definition Freeview channels.
Affordable, manageably sized screens like the 32RL858 obviously have potential as gaming monitors. With this in mind it was pleasing to find the set offering an average input lag of only around 28ms, fluctuating between up to 40ms and just 7ms.
Shifting from the 32RL858’s overall much better than expected picture quality to its audio, we were hardly startled to find its speakers struggling not to sound distorted and muddy when put under any serious duress by either a loud volume setting or a heavy bass line. Though to be fair, the mid-range is slightly more open and detailed under most viewing conditions than might reasonably have been expected given the puny dimensions of both the 32RL858’s bezel and price.
Although it’s not perfect, the Toshiba 32RL858 performs better and offers more features than you’ve any right to expect for its money - especially if you’re able to feed it a fairly HD-rich diet.