The Toshiba Places platform, as we’ve had cause to say many times over the past couple of years, is very much in the second division of online TV services. Its presentation is great, with large, richly coloured and well-organised content ‘places’, but it’s way off the pace in content terms.
The only highlights at the time of writing are Twitter, Facebook, the BBC iPlayer, the Cartoon Network, HiT Entertainment, Box Office 365, Acetrax, Viewser, YouTube and iConcerts. Quite a percentage of these apps require subscriptions, and in the overall content level is miles behind that of Panasonic, Sony and, especially, LG and Samsung.
Toshiba is pretty good at providing plenty of picture set up tools, and this proves true of the 42VL963 too. There’s a reasonably fulsome colour management system, for instance, as well as various settings for the TV’s active backlight control, noise reduction and motion processing engines. Though as we’ll see, a few more options where the motion processing is concerned might not have been a bad idea.
With normal TV fodder the 42VL963’s pictures look terrific. Colours, for instance, look bold, punchy, and eye-catching, yet also possess both plenty of blend subtlety and some surprisingly natural tones. Skin tones can look a touch over-wrought using some of the provided presets, but this is easily rectified by a couple of minutes with the colour management tools.
HD broadcast channels also look impeccably crisp and detailed on the 42VL963, leaving you in no doubt as to why HD became so popular so fast.
Another surprising strength of the 42VL963 noted while testing out broadcast fare is the set’s upscaling. It manages to make even quite low-quality sources look much sharper than they are naturally, yet at the same time it manages to keep noise levels respectably low. So long, at least, as you don’t use the over-aggressive Dynamic picture setting.
We were also very impressed while watching broadcast fare on the 42VL963 by the apparent contrast of its images. As noted already, colours look very bright and punchy, but peak whites a;sp look pure and bold and, best of all, there also seems to be a very respectable black level response sitting in opposition to the bright stuff.
Black level investigated
With memories of numerous past Toshiba black level failings still fresh in our minds, though, we clearly have to push the 42VL963’s performance with dark material a bit harder - namely by feeding it Blu-rays of a couple of our favourite dark films, Alien and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Pt II. And perhaps predictably these tough-to-show movies did reveal a few shortcomings.
The most obvious one is that while watching 21:9-ratio films - which are very common in the blockbuster movie world - with the Active backlight system set to our preferred Low mode, we frequently spotted in the black bars above and below the picture ‘chunks’ of extra greyness in the sections of predominantly dark pictures that contain bright elements. At times this issue was definitely obvious enough to be considered distracting.
Fortunately you don’t tend to feel nearly as aware of these backlight blocks when watching 16:9 sources that fill the screen - though you can occasionally see greyish blocks of light in really high-contrast sequences, such as where Voldemort’s face fills the centre of the screen against a nearly completely black backdrop, near the start of Chapter 12 of the Harry Potter Blu-ray.
Turning the active backlight control off removes the light blocking issue, but it also greatly reduces the image’s black level depth - as well as revealing a little backlight inconsistency in the corners. Pushing the active backlight feature up to high, meanwhile, increases the general brightness and shadow detail of the picture, and possibly slightly reduces the impact of the light ‘blocking’ in the process. But it also makes black colours look greyer.