Even HD feeds from the Toshiba 40RL953's built-in Freeview HD tuner don’t look any thing special where detail and general sharpness are concerned. The main culprit again appears to be a lack of colour subtlety, which can still leave HD skin tones and backgrounds looking too ‘monotone’ for comfort. It’s also pretty apparent, though, when there’s any sort of significant motion going on, that the 40RL953 suffers from a little motion blur (or, more accurately, resolution loss).
A bit of perspective
To be fair to Toshiba, the 40RL953 arrived on our test benches right after the imperious Sony KDL-46HX853, with its near-perfect motion handling. So the Toshiba’s problems in this respect probably stood out more than they might have done otherwise. In the closer context of the affordable TV world, the motion blur isn’t actually that bad.
The 40RL953 also fares markedly better with HD sources coming in from both a connected Sky HD box and a Blu-ray player than it does those from its own tuner. These external HD images are for the most part purer and crisper at source than those you get from the Freeview HD tuner, a fact which seems to underline our previous thought that it’s the quality of the picture processing systems in the 40RL953 that let the side down rather than any innate inability of the panel to show HD well.
Here's the good news
With the 40RL953‘s sharpness issue reduced by using high quality external HD sources, it’s easy to appreciate other strengths of its pictures too. For instance, while colours lack subtlety, they are quite vibrant and bold, enabling pictures to mostly avoid that rather lifeless sepia look you get with some very affordable TVs. The set’s basic colour tones are natural and believable too - it’s just a shame the TV isn’t subtle enough to produce more of them.
The Toshiba 40RL953 delivers a notably deeper black level response than your average sub-£500 40in TV, giving dark scenes an authentic and reasonably satisfying look as well as providing a good foundation and contrast for the screen’s decently (though not extravagantly) vibrant colour palette.
Dark scenes do reveal a couple more problems as well, though. First, shadow detail is in short supply once you’ve calibrated the screen’s backlight, brightness and contrast settings to produce the most convincing black colour. Second, you can sometimes see areas of backlight inconsistency, especially in the top and bottom right corners. These areas aren’t particularly glaring though, especially if you’re watching the set in bright conditions.
Wrapping up our assessment of the 40RL953’s picture performance with its input lag, we measured a pretty excellent 25ms on average using the TV’s Game mode. This makes the screen a perfectly decent option for gamers.
The Toshiba 40RL953’s sound is decent so long as you accept the fact that it’s only happy up to a medium volume level. Stay within that and the TV will give you reasonably clean dialogue, relatively harshness-free trebles, and a punchy tone. But if you push things too far, the speakers start to distort and the whole soundstage starts to become sibilant and crushed.
In some ways and at certain times the Toshiba 40RL953 is another quality budget offering from Toshiba. It’s just a pity that for some reason it really doesn’t seem comfortable with the pictures from its own tuner.