- Very pretty, space-saving design
- Pictures are sharp, bright and colourful
- 3D is relaxing and crosstalk-free
- Assorted backlight problems
- Relatively impoverished online service
- Rather high input lag
- Review Price: £1160.00
- 55in LCD with edge LED lighting
- passive 3D with four pairs of glasses
- Toshiba Places online service
- Active Vision 400 motion processing
- Multimedia playback via USB or LAN/optional wi-fi
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.
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.
After much experimentation we settled on a combination of the Standard picture preset (we didn’t like either of the Hollywood presets), keeping the backlight set to around half way, and the Active Backlight Control set to High. We would have expected the Low setting to work better, but the light ‘blocking’ problem was actually more obvious in Low than High.
Turning finally to 3D, it’s here that the 55VL963 is arguably at its best. For instance, we were really struck by just how natural and untiring the passive 3D images look. We were able to watch two 3D films back to back without any fatigue setting in, despite the 55VL963 consistently delivered an eye-catchingly deep 3D space.
The 55VL963 also delivers on passive 3D’s promise of practically no crosstalk double ghosting noise, provided you keep your vertical viewing angle less than 13 degrees (not as difficult as it sounds). This freedom from ghosting noise gives 3D pictures a pleasingly crisp, natural look that few active sets can match.
There’s zero sense of the flicker you can get with active 3D TVs either, even if you’re watching in a bright room, and 3D pictures look only marginally less bright and colour-rich than 2D ones – another positive comparison with active 3D, where the shuttering effect of the glasses can take quite a chunk of brightness and colour punch out of 3D images.
Passive 3D downsides
There are, though, two significant flaws with the 55VL963’s 3D images. First, it’s really quite easy to see horizontal line structure in 3D images, especially over bright objects. Second, there are markedly more jagged edges in the 55VL963‘s 3D pictures than you get on most active 3D TVs. This is especially obvious over small objects, but can be seen to some extent over almost any edge, especially if it’s curved.
As noted with previous reviews of large passive 3D TVs, the 55VL963’s 55in screen size makes these flaws easier to see than they are on smaller screens. However, active 3D has its own distractions too, so if you’re a fan of 3D you’ll have to decide if you prefer the convenience, naturalism, brightness and affordability (given you get four glasses for nothing) of passive, or the smooth, full HD, more detailed pictures you get with active 3D.
The 55VL963’s size, price and 3D capabilities clearly make it a potential winner as a gaming monitor. So it’s rather disappointing to measure a below average input lag figure for the TV – even using its game picture mode – of 64ms. This is almost twice as high as many rivals, and it did seem to have a small but noticeable impact on our usually pretty solid gaming skills.
Considering what a slender frame it’s got, the 55VL963 doesn’t sound too bad. There’s inevitably a rather ‘trapped’ tone to the sound, due to the speakers not having enough space to delineate any extreme treble or bass extensions. But vocals remain clear, detail levels are good, and the soundstage seldom sounds painfully harsh. This is hardly a ringing audio endorsement we’ll grant you, but by affordable ultra-thin TV standards, it’s probably as good as you could reasonably expect.
Toshiba certainly hasn’t served up perfection with the 55VL963. Its multimedia features are rather half hearted, its input lag will trouble serious gamers, and really dark scenes reveal some occasionally distracting backlight problems.
However, while these issues could and possibly should deter enthusiasts and people with deep pockets from buying a 55VL963, its price saves the day, enabling cash-strapped AV fans to get their hands on a much bigger hunk of decent telly action than they probably expected they’d be able to for £1200.
Score in detail
3D Quality 8
2D Quality 8
Sound Quality 7
|Max. Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Full HD 1080p||Yes|
|Refresh Rate (Hertz)||'400'Hz|
|Digital Audio Out||1 (optical)|
|WiFi||Yes (via optional dongle)|