- Review Price: £1199.99
As John pointed out in his review of the Toshiba Regza 42XF505DB a little while ago, last year’s range of HDTVs from Toshiba were inconsistent to say the least. It appeared that not only did different models in the range exhibit wildly different picture quality, but even identical models had a habit of behaving like chalk and cheese. Both John and myself talked with Toshiba at length about these issues and we’re both hoping that this year’s range of sets can exorcise those inconsistency demons once and for all.
Last year also saw the introduction of the XF range, which wrapped decent size panels in cases with unbelievably slim bezels. The result was a 40in LCD TV with a physical size that was considerably smaller than many rival 37in models. On paper this was great, but the reality left a lot to be desired. You see inconsistency wasn’t the only problem with last year’s range, Toshiba’s sets also suffered from quite poor black level response. The disappointing black levels were something that I was willing to let slip slightly back in May 2007, when I reviewed the Regza 42X3030D, but by the end of last year Toshiba was still putting out sets with very disappointing black levels that simply couldn’t compete with rival models – the Regza 40XF355D highlighted this problem when I reviewed it.
Another problem with the XF range was that it injected a degree of schizophrenia into the Toshiba range – while the XF looked like it was the flagship model, with its slim bezel and catwalk looks, it lacked the features of the Z series, which sported 100Hz processing and 5:5 pulldown for 1080p 24Hz playback. The result was that many consumers wanted the features of the Z series, but in the chassis of the XF series; an option that simply wasn’t available to them. So, it was with some trepidation that I unboxed the new 40ZF355D, which is set to pick up where the 40XF355D left off. The good news is that before I’d even switched on the 40ZF355D, the specification sticker informed me that some of the problems with its predecessor had been addressed.
Let’s start with the basics – the 40ZF355D is a great looking television, and I can tell just from looking at it that it’s smaller than the 37in Panasonic plasma that I have at home. As with the 40XF355D before it, the 40ZF355D doesn’t actually look like a 40in TV, despite the fact that it is. The super slim bezel actually makes it look like it’s a 37in model, so if you’re looking for a TV that’s going to dominate your room and impress your mates, then this isn’t the set for you. However, if you previously thought you could only squeeze a 37in screen into your living room, you’ll be glad to hear that you can have a few more inches than you first thought. And let’s face it, as the endless amount of spam email that hits my inbox keeps telling me, a few more inches can make all the difference!
As I hinted earlier, that case of schizophrenia that was haunting the upper echelons of Toshiba’s range last year has been addressed with this TV. Not only does the 40ZF355D offer that super slim bezel that consumers crave, but Toshiba has also squeezed in all the features from last year’s Z series – hence the ZF branding for this year. This means that you get Toshiba’s ActiveVision M100HD 100Hz processing, along with the ability to accept a 1080p 24Hz source signal and display it using 5:5 pulldown, effectively delivering a 120Hz image using nothing but the original source frames. The last sentence gives away that this is a Full HD TV with a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, but then pretty much any LCD TV worth its salt has a Full HD panel these days. Full HD isn’t the be all and end all of picture quality mind, especially on a 40in screen size, as anyone who has an HD Ready Pioneer Kuro will tell you, but it’s never going to hurt to have it.
In its effort to combat plasma’s major advantage, LCD TVs are hitting the market sporting more and more outlandish contrast ratios. For example, Toshiba is quoting a 30,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio for the 40ZF355D – the important thing to remember is that word ‘dynamic’. This basically means that the contrast ratio is achieved by raising and lowering the intensity of the backlight, depending on the type of scene you’re watching. In the most part this system works well, but if you happen to be watching a scene with bright and low light, one or the other is going to suffer – until we start to see LCD screens with local dimming backlights of course. The problem with dynamic backlighting is that if it’s implemented in an over aggressive way, the change in intensity is discernible by the viewer, which can be very distracting.
Despite the constant fear of manufacturers using over aggressive dynamic backlighting to ensure headline grabbing contrast ratio figures, Toshiba has done a good job with this TV. I’m still not convinced that the quoted 30,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio is a true indication of the black level response offered by the Regza 40ZF355D, but I will concede that the black levels on this set herald a massive improvement over the previous model’s. It’s still a given that a decent plasma is going to reward you with far deeper blacks, and consequently more vibrant colours, but in the LCD world, the 40ZF355D isn’t bad.
Despite the slim design, Toshiba has squeezed a fair bit of connectivity into the 40ZF355D. There’s a total of three CEC compliant HDMI 1.3 ports, allowing for playback of Deep Colour high bit-depth material – there aren’t any commercial Deep Colour discs yet, but camcorders are appearing that shoot using the standard. There’s a component video input for analogue HD or progressive SD sources and a D-Sub input for hooking your PC up. If you’re still keen on using interlaced SD sources, you’ve got two SCART sockets, S-Video and even composite, along with analogue audio inputs.
There’s also an optical audio output for passing through your HDMI audio to an external amp or receiver, while a dedicated subwoofer output allows you to add some extra bass effects to the TV’s sound without the need to invest in a whole external sound system. There’s a headphone socket in case you’re watching late at night and don’t want to wake up the family, while the CI slot will allow you to add premium channels to the buit-in Freeview tuner.
As I’ve already mentioned, the problem with the 40XF355D is that its picture quality simply couldn’t live up to its aesthetics. Thankfully, Toshiba has addressed this issue, and the 40ZF355D marks a significant improvement over its predecessor. The improved black level response is apparent both in dark scenes and those with vibrant colours. Firing up Blood Diamond on Blu-ray, pumping out at 1080p 24Hz showed just how much better this TV is than the previous model. The night time scenes looked genuinely convincing, with blacks that look black, rather than the pale grey that the 40XF355D managed – this is aided by the fact that there’s no discernable backlight bleed, leaving the bars accompanying any 2.35:1 movie dark enough not to distract the viewer. The daylight scenes in Blood Diamond were just as impressive, with a bright and vivid palette of colours painting the African jungle, giving it a real sense of life.
A more difficult test for any TV is the Blu-ray disc of The Crow. Not only is this one of the darkest and shadowy movies ever shot, but the MPEG 2 encode on Blu-ray is far from the best example of the format. Here the 40ZF355D took a bit of calibrating to get the best picture – there’s a fine balance between bringing out all the detail in the scene and making the overall image grey rather than black. Once I’d spent a bit of time tweaking the 40ZF355D is gave a pretty good account of itself while Eric Draven dished out his revenge on the thugs who murdered his fiancé. Given, the two year old Panasonic plasma that I have at home still does a better job with this type of material, but that’s to be expected, and by LCD standards this Toshiba can hold its head high.
Hooking up an Xbox 360 and sliding Gears of War into the drive confirmed the 40ZF355D’s improvement over its predecessor, striking a good balance of strong blacks without too much loss of detail in darker areas. Like watching The Crow, playing Gears of War is a tough test for any TV, with most of the game set in semi-darkness, but the 40ZF355D managed to maintain the tight, claustrophobic atmosphere thanks to very little greying over of the picture.
Like the last generation of Toshiba TVs, the 40ZF355D has 1:1 pixel mapping, which Toshiba calls ExactScan. The ExactScan setting isn’t under the main menu OSD though, instead you’ll find it under the aspect ratio menu, which is fine once you get used to it being there. Selecting ExactScan means that all your lovely 1080p sources will be displayed crisp and clear with no hint of overscanning, and although this feature is by no means unusual these days, it’s still always good to see it employed.
Standard definition sources are handled well too, with the DVD of The Bourne Identity holding up well, and looking clean and crisp despite being upscaled to Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. Likewise, results from the built-in Freeview tuner are also above average, even considering that some channels use woefully low bit rates. Even ropey old episodes of Minder were eminently watchable, and if you don’t want to watch in a 4:3 box, the zoom functions produce little in the way of artefacts. There’s no doubt that the 100Hz processing is weaving its magic on standard definition sources, with the news ticker running across the bottom of Sky Sports News retaining its resolution from edge to edge.
Sound is also surprisingly good on this TV, despite the fact that Toshiba has had to squeeze the speakers into such a slim chassis. Obviously the built-in sound can’t compete with a dedicated sound system, but the speakers do a good job of recreating the drama of a scene, even when the action kicks off. And, if you want to add a bit more oomph to proceedings, you can always hook up an active sub via the dedicated output.
So, the 40ZF355D is as slim as the 40XF355D allowing it to fit into rooms that otherwise wouldn’t be able to accommodate a 40in TV, while the aesthetic design is as stylish and attractive as it always was. But importantly Toshiba has improved the picture quality by an appreciable margin making this latest thin bezel model attractive in more ways than one. Add to that the inclusion of the high end features that were missing from the previous model like 100Hz processing and 5:5 pulldown for 1080p 24Hz sources, and the 40ZF355D makes a very good case for itself.
But if there’s one thing that still holds the 40ZF355D back, it’s the price. At around £1,200 on the street, this is a very expensive television, considering that 42in models can be had for considerably less. Given, those 42in models probably won’t have all the features offered by the 40ZF355D, and they certainly won’t have the svelte dimensions and stylish design. And ultimately, that’s the point – if you want a 40in TV that’s smaller than most 37in models and has pretty much every feature you could ask for, you’re going to have to pay a little extra for it.
The Toshiba 40ZF355D is everything that I’d wished the original 40XF355D was. The picture quality is greatly improved, with far deeper blacks than I expected and consequently more vivid colours. The 100Hz processing and especially the 5:5 pulldown 1080p 24Hz processing are great features to have, making the 40ZF355D a far more accomplished movie display than its predecessor. But the high asking price can’t be ignored, and you’re going to have to seriously want a small form factor, good looking, fully featured LCD TV to stump up the cash for the 40ZF355D. If you do buy one though, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
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Score in detail
Image Quality 9
Sound Quality 8