As 3D-capable 55in TVs go, Toshiba's 55VL963 looks excitingly good value. With a price tag of £1,160, it actually costs less than many current 46in TVs.
While this would have us looking for compromises with most brands, though, with Toshiba such aggressive pricing is increasingly par for the course. The brand has for the past two or three years delivered ultra-affordable TVs that regularly outperform their price points. So hopefully rather than looking for budget-induced problems, we'll just be able to embrace the 55VL963 as yet another fine salvo in Toshiba's quest for world budget TV domination.
Hey good looking
Aesthetically Toshiba’s big boy certainly doesn't look cheap. Its bezel is fashionably slim; barely a cm across around the top, left and right sides of the screen, and only slightly wider along the bottom. The blackness of the frame is pleasingly softened, meanwhile, by a swathe of shiny silver metal protruding jauntily from the set's underside.
Despite its affordability relative to the 55in 3D TV market generally, the 55VL963 actually sits quite high up Toshiba's current TV range. So it's got more features than you might think.
For starters, since its 3D talents are of the passive variety Toshiba has felt able to include four pairs of 3D glasses for free with the TV. The set does 2D to 3D conversion as well as ‘true’ 3D playback - though while Toshiba's conversion system is no worse than most, it's hard to imagine many people wanting to use it often, as its results tend to be very restrained versus true 3D sources.
The 55VL963 is also on paper quite multimedia-savvy. Its USB ports play a fair (though not comprehensive) selection of music, video and photo file formats, and there's a LAN port for hooking the TV up to either a networked, DLNA-capable PC or Toshiba's Places online platform.
Trying to set up the PC streaming soon reveals that the system isn't well suited to anything less than a Windows 7 model, though. Also, while there are many things we like about Places, such as its colourful, well-divided menus and attempts at offering a personalised approach for different users, it doesn't have enough content right now to be serious competition for the online services of Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic.
No Wi-Fi built in
There's another disappointment in store for people interested in the 55VL963's online capabilities, too. Namely that the set doesn’t sport built-in Wi-Fi. If you don't want to hardwire the TV into your router, you'll therefore need to invest in an optional extra USB wi-fi dongle.
Other connections on the 55VL963 are up to snuff, though. There are four HDMIs, all built to the 3D-friendly v1.4 standard, along with two USBs and both terrestrial and satellite tuner inputs. However, while the terrestrial RF jack feeds a Freeview HD tuner, the satellite LNB jack doesn't feed a Freesat HD tuner. Instead it's a generic satellite TV tuner that brings in just free-to-air unpackaged satellite channels, most of which aren't English language.
Going on a feature hunt via Toshiba's elegant icon-driven, concentric circle onscreen menus uncovers a decent selection of tweaks. These include a colour management system, white balance adjustment, various noise reduction settings, multiple strengths for the TV's active backlight (dynamic contrast/local dimming) system, and various levels for Toshiba's Active Vision processing. This is a relatively high-end '400Hz' motion processing system designed to combat LCD’s common motion blurring and judder issues
Kicking off our tests with standard definition sources, the 55VL963's efforts are solid rather than inspiring. On the upside the TV does a better job of retaining the intensity and tonal naturalism of colours with standard def than many budget LCD TVs.