Standard def images also look extremely bright, and the ‘Standard’ Active Vision motion processing works surprisingly effectively, noticeably reducing blurring and smearing without causing nasty side effects (so long as you avoid the processing's 'High' mode).
The bad news is that standard definition pictures also look rather noisy. Little effort seems to be made by the main upscaling engine to take source noise - especially MPEG compression artefacts - out of the image, leaving pictures looking a bit blocky, stripey and flickery.
You can smooth these issues away to some extent via the noise reduction routines, but these soften the picture more than we'd like.
To be fair, the sheer extravagant size of the 55VL963 doesn't help where standard def is concerned, as it leaves no hiding place for any unaddressed noise. But that doesn't alter the fact that if you go for the 55VL963, you should try and feed it as much HD as possible.
After all, with HD the extent to which the picture improves is startling. In fact, detail levels become so high (so long as you leave all the noise reduction systems off) that they're almost forensic. So much so that the TV is pretty merciless when it comes to revealing source problems, such as the curious noise reduction system that seems to have been applied to the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt II Blu-ray transfer. But it's hardly fair to blame the TV for highlighting weaknesses in HD sources.
The 55VL963's talent with colours is more obvious with HD too. The tonal range it achieves is impressively wide for a relatively affordable TV, and there's almost infinite subtlety in its palette, so that colour blends almost always appear without any noticeable striping or banding.
The contrast range evident in HD films is startling too, with ferocious bright whites and ultra-rich colours able to share a frame with reasonably deep blacks. Motion is mostly good too; certainly there's surprisingly little blurring, even without the Active Vision circuitry in play. The Active Vision circuitry works well enough to warrant at least a bit of experimentation, though our personal feeling was that with Blu-ray movies, at least, Active Vision was best left off.
The 55VL963's mostly fine handling of HD does stumble during very dark scenes, though. For in keeping with many of this year’s large edge-LED LCD TVs, despite Toshiba providing a number of different backlight settings and options it's impossible to settle on a combination that leaves dark scenes looking completely convincing.
For instance, if you leave the 55VL963's Active Backlight Control feature off, its pictures really do lack black level response. Dark scenes look excessively greyed over, leaving some colours looking muted and large amounts of shadow detail crushed out of the picture. There are also some disturbing backlight uniformity issues, with the corners of the image in particular looking unnaturally brighter than the rest of the image.
Turning the Active Backlight on has an instant and emphatically positive effect on the greyness and general backlight uniformity problems. However, the system creates problems of its own in the shape of some at times over-obvious light 'blocking' around bright parts of dark images. The rectangles and squares of light are caused by the TV applying different light outputs to various segments of its LED lights in a bid to boost contrast.
Sony has proved with its HX853 series that this sort of local dimming really can work outstandingly well with edge LED technology, but Sony’s successes merely underline the sense that the 55VL963's local dimming efforts are relatively primitive, and can certainly prove distracting during dark movie scenes.
It seems to us, too, that the backlight issues are slightly more noticeable on this 55in model than they were on the set's smaller 42in sibling, the 42VL963.