- Exceptional value
- Good all-round picture performance
- Nice design for its money
- Toshiba Places still malnourished
- Some backlight consistency issues
- Occasional 3D crosstalk
- Review Price: £715.99
- 46in LCD TV with edge LED lighting
- active 3D support built in
- Toshiba Places online service
- Thin frame design
- Freeview HD tuner
Having hit upon such a winning formula it was inevitable Toshiba would continue with it. So it is that we find ourselves faced today with the 46TL963: the official sequel to the TL868 series.
Given that the 46TL963 has emerged only a few months after the TL868 series, we can’t help but wonder if Toshiba has really had the chance to make any significant changes. So let’s start by playing a game of ‘spot the difference’.
Aesthetically there’s not much between the sets. Both feature similarly slender grey bezels that stretch less than a couple of cm out from the screen, and both sport an unusual (though we’ve also seen it on some recent Finlux sets!) ‘grain’ effect to try and disguise the fact that essentially the bezel is made out of a fairly inexpensive plastic.
The main aesthetic difference is that the 46TL963’s bezel is a slightly lighter grey – which seems a sensible move to us, as it allows the TV to blend more subtly with a modern room environment and draws your attention to the frame less while you’re watching TV – something that’s particularly important when viewing 3D.
Connections on the 46TL963 are broadly in line with those of its predecessor too, and are thus for the most part more than acceptable for a 46in 3D-capable TV costing just £716.
The increasingly inevitable four HDMIs get the ball rolling, while the increasingly essential multimedia support comes courtesy of a LAN port (for streaming from the Internet or DLNA PCs), a D-Sub PC port and a pair of USBs capable of playing back a pretty wide variety of music, photo and video file formats. Unlike the TL868s, moreover, you can also record from the built-in Freeview HD tuner to USB hard drives.
Another difference in the 46TL963’s favour is its support for WiDi (Wireless Display). This Intel technology allows you to connect compatible PCs to the TV wirelessly, as an alternative and more user-friendly way of sharing the content on your PC with the TV.
The one disappointment with the 46TL963’s connectivity is that it doesn’t include built-in Wi-Fi. So if you want to network the TV wirelessly you’ll have to stump up extra money for an optional USB Wi-Fi dongle. Given how difficult it can be in many people’s homes to hardwire a TV to a network, the lack of Wi-Fi out of the box is a shame and could very well prevent a lot of people from experiencing all the features the TV has to offer.
New 2D to 3D upscaling
The 46TL963’s panel is driven by Toshiba’s AMR200 technology, which is essentially a combination of a 100Hz panel with a blinking backlight. The processing inside the set has allegedly been ‘tweaked’ in a few unspecified ways versus that of the 46TL868, with perhaps the biggest feature change being the inclusion on the 46TL963 of 2D to 3D conversion – a feature surprisingly absent from the TL868s.
The 46TL963 also gets a new remote control design – but unfortunately, this new remote isn’t very pleasant at all, managing to look and feel cluttered despite the fact that it’s one of the biggest remotes we’ve seen. Some of the buttons are far too small for comfort too, and the top-heavy wedge shape feels like it’s being deliberately designed to ensure that you drop it more often!
The 46TL963‘s onscreen menus are much more ergonomical than its remote. They use Toshiba’s ‘double wheel’ approach, which puts the main menu headers in a rotatable inner half circle, and sub-menus leading off from the main ones in a rotatable outer circle, with you able to jump easily between the two. The icons for this logical system are nicely presented too.
Once you get into the ‘meat’ of a particular submenu the presentation perhaps disappointingly reverts to a more standard text list approach. But this does at least keep the business end of the operating system clear and straightforward.
As usual with a Toshiba TV, despite the 46TL963 being extremely affordable for its level of spec, its picture menus contain a startling amount of setup flexibility. There’s a colour management system, a gamma control engine, a black/white balance control, a multi-level active backlight control, both standard and block noise reduction, and off/Standard/High settings for the set’s Active Vision motion processing system.
Rather less comprehensive is Toshiba’s ‘Places’ online service. Things start out OK, thanks to what remains arguably the best-presented online TV interface in town, which separates different types of content into separate places – like the TV place, the Video Place, the Music place, the Social place and so on.
The problem is that there’s nothing very much in most of these places. For instance, the TV place just has the BBC iPlayer, the Cartoon Network, Box Office 365, and Hit Entertainment – the last three of which are subscription only. The Video place, meanwhile, has Acetrax, Viewster, YouTube, Dailymotion, and Woomi – hardly a comprehensive selection in these days where LoveFilm and Netflix apps are found on almost every other online TV platform.
And so the paucity of content continues across all the various places, ultimately making Toshiba’s on-paper sensible way of organising things actually just emphasise how little content there is relative to what’s available on rival platforms right now.
Kicking off our test phase with HD footage from Blu-ray and a Sky HD receiver, the 46TL963 immediately impresses. Detail levels, for instance, are startling for such an affordable TV, as the screen effortlessly renders such HD delights as pore details on closeups, or a sense of individual blades of grass on exterior shots. What’s more, this detail remains largely intact when there’s a lot of motion in the picture, especially if you leave the AMR system set to Standard. Just be warned, though, that the AMR system can cause pictures to look over-processed if you try and use its High setting.
Colours are exceptionally vibrant. In fact, they’re too aggressive using many of the provided picture presets, with reds in particular looking a bit overpowering. The set provides all the tools you need to correct this problem, though, and it really doesn’t take long at all to calm the offending colour saturations down a notch. While you’re at it, we’d also recommend that you shift the contrast setting down from the 100 level used by some presets – including the Standard one – as this can make images look a bit noisy.
More good news for a set as affordable as the 46TL963 is how effective its screen is at soaking up any reflections or lights that might hit it from a normal living room environment. This, as you would expect, has a very beneficial impact on the screen’s perceived contrast performance.
In fact, with ‘typical’ HD viewing, which consistently contains shots combining a mixture of light and dark content, the 46TL963’s contrast range looks excellent for such a high-value set, with punchy whites at one of the spectrum and pleasingly deep blacks at the other. Also, there’s not the same overt grey ‘wash’ over predominantly dark scenes that’s all-too-common at the 46TL963’s price level.
Dark scenes on the Toshiba 46TL963 do, though, betray an aggravating but familiar flaw: backlight inconsistencies. These find patches of the picture looking slightly cloudy, especially – though not exclusively – near the edges of the screen. These clouds can be really quite distracting during really dark moments – and they they were still visible over such footage even if we pushed the backlight right down to its 30-40 level.
Hollywood or bust?
The only good news is that choosing the Hollywood 1 picture preset reduced the inconsistencies to such a low level that they no longer troubled us much. But there’s a downside here too, since we’d say that this preset is so dark that it’s almost certainly not going to appeal to anyone watching the TV in anything other than complete darkness.
One other smaller issue with the 46TL963’s HD pictures highlighted by the recent accomplishments of much more expensive TVs from, especially, Panasonic and Sony, is a slightly unsubtle look to colour blends, which sometimes appear with a slight striping effect rather than as pure, smooth transitions.
Turning to the 46TL963’s standard definition efforts, they’re… OK. As with the recently reviewed Toshiba 40RL953, Toshiba hasn’t included any version of its Resolution detail booster among the TV’s options. But the upscaling appears superior to that found in the RL953 model, leaving pictures looking sharper, more contrast-rich and more richly/believably coloured than they did on the cheaper Toshiba model.
Occasionally and inexplicably, certain HD and standard definition images can suddenly look rather grainy. But thankfully these moments only crop up very rarely.
The last bit of the 46TL963’s performance to check out is 3D. Having secured a pair of Toshiba’s latest 3D glasses (bear in mind that you don’t get any included for free with the TV), we went through a host of our favourite 3D test scenes and came away mostly very happy with what we witnessed.
Particularly surprising for the set’s money was how detailed, sharp and full of depth 3D images look. You’re never left in any doubt that 3D Blu-rays are delivering a full HD picture – especially as the image isn’t spoiled by major motion softness and only judders during tough camera pans, despite the set’s motion processing not being available when the TV is in 3D mode.
The 46TL963 handles contrast extremely confidently in 3D mode too, which greatly enhances the sense of depth in the image. Colours hold up in tone very nicely as well, despite the presence of Toshiba’s (rather thin) 3D glasses.
You can occasionally see evidence of crosstalk, but for the most part this is both gentle in nature and restricted to objects in the pretty far distance. In other words, it’s pretty well within spec for a 46in active 3D TV as affordable as the 46TL963.
Since the 46TL963 has to ramp up its backlight when showing 3D to counter the dimming effect of its active shutter glasses ), you can inevitably sometimes see signs of the backlight consistency problems noted with 2D. And it must be said that these are especially annoying in 3D mode since they’re essentially a 2D phenomenon, and so just sort of lie across the ‘surface’ of the deeper 3D image.
However, we wouldn’t say the backlight flaws are as aggressive on the 46TL963 as they were on the 46TL868, and as such the backlighting issues seldom spoil your enjoyment of what you’re watching.
The 46TL963’s 3D images aren’t the brightest we’ve ever seen, but so long as you can at least dim the lights, they’re arguably the best active 3D pictures we’ve seen on a sub-£800 46in TV.
Audio and input lag
Right, two more things left to cover: audio and input lag. Where audio is concerned, the 46TL963 really isn’t bad at all for such a slim and affordable set. It sounds a little subdued at low volumes, but crank up the volume and you’ll be surprised at how much the soundstage opens up in terms of both volume and dynamic range. There’s a passable attempt at injecting at least a sense of bass into action scenes, and only under the most extreme duress does the soundstage start to sound harsh and crushed.
Input lag, meanwhile, measured only around 36ms using the TV’s Game preset. This is a solid effort that should leave your console gaming skills unscathed.
The 46TL963 feels like only an incremental improvement on its predecessor overall, and its backlight consistency with 2D is arguably slightly worse than that of its predecessor.
However, for most of the time its pictures in 2D and 3D mode look overall slightly better than those of the TL868 series, and it’s also got one or two extra features up its sleeve too. Which means that as with its predecessor, it can be considered a pretty serious bargain.
Score in detail
3D Quality 8
2D Quality 8
Sound Quality 8
|Max. Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Full HD 1080p||Yes|
|Contrast Ratio||1,000,000:1 claimed|
|Refresh Rate (Hertz)||200Hz|
|Digital Audio Out||Yes|
|WiFi||Yes (via optional dongle)|