- Review Price: £2195.00
As I mentioned a few days ago when I reviewed the smallest LED-backlit TV yet, Sharp’s 32LE600E, most brands right now are seeing LED as a large-screen technology. Cue Toshiba’s colossal 55in, direct LED 55SV685DB. But will this screen prove that bigger is always better with LED, or will it be a case of the bigger they come, the harder they fall?
Before we get into the review proper, there are a couple of interesting little contexts I think it’s worthwhile introducing. First, the 55SV685DB isn’t the first 55in LED-lit TV we’ve tested. The first, Sony’s ‘luxury’ 55X4500, used direct LED lighting with RGB dimming to good effect but at a hefty price. Samsung’s recent UE55B7020, meanwhile, used edge-LED lighting and managed to be reasonably affordable, yet it frankly struggled to make edge-based LED technology work at the 55in size, with marked light pooling in each corner.
So if the 55SV685DB can make its white dimming direct LED approach work at its Sony-drubbing £2,149 price (the cheapest we’ve found the now aging Sony 55X4500 is £2,800), then Toshiba could be ideally positioned to snap up a hefty chunk of the mammoth-screen marketplace.
The other point of context comes from the fact that I’ve already reviewed the 55SV685DB’s smaller sibling, the 46SV685D, and found myself having to mark it down heavily on account of its price. So it’s rather startling to find the 55SV685DB actually looking reasonably priced for such a huge LED-lit screen. In fact, we’ve found it going for the best part of £200 less than the 46in model did when we reviewed it back in November!
Clearly Toshiba has listened to my moans about how absurdly expensive the 46SV685D looked. Either that, or they realised that they weren’t selling any at the original SV685 price level! At any rate, the simple fact is that Toshiba has absolutely slashed the 55SV685DB’s price from its opening gambit, and in doing so has instantly overcome what was likely to be a huge bone of contention throughout this review.
Fitting a 55in screen into your living room is, of course, quite a commitment. And it has to be said that in the 55SV685DB’s case, this level of commitment is added to by the rather hefty chunk of bezel that sticks out for around three inches on each of the screen’s sides. Oh well – at least this bezel is reasonably attractive with its glass-like finish and cute ‘fade to grey’ effect at its extremities.
As usual with Toshiba’s current range, there’s a love-it-or-loathe-it luminous brand logo in the centre of the TV’s bottom edge. Though please note that if you fall into the ‘loathe it’ camp, you can turn the illumination off.
The 55SV685DB is pretty much as well connected as you would hope for a TV that is, after all, comfortably Toshiba’s flagship model. Highlights include four HDMIs (three to the rear, one down the side), a USB port able to play DivX video, JPEG photo and MP3 audio files, an SD slot able to play JPEGs, and an Ethernet port for streaming stuff off your PC. It’s a touch disappointing that such a highly specified TV doesn’t also let you go ‘online’ via the Ethernet port, but there you go. Maybe Toshiba will be making some moves in that direction with its upcoming new generation of LCD TVs.
The 55SV685DB’s spec sheet makes for some promising reading. Its quoted contrast ratio is predictably insane, at 2,000,000:1, and it is, of course, a full HD model. It also employs 200Hz processing to tackle LCD’s motion blur and judder issues, and carries a respectable 128 individually controllable LED light clusters to illuminate its pictures.
The fact that the screen can control its LED clusters separately means, of course, that it has local dimming, whereby LEDs in dark parts of the picture can be switched off at the same time as the LEDs in the bright parts of the picture can be left blazing on full. With all the impact on contrast that you would expect such a dynamic lighting situation to deliver.
Toshiba was making a big song and dance at last year’s IFA in Berlin about the lengths it had gone to to calibrate the SV685 range’s pictures so that they’re ideal for video. But just to be safe, they’ve also done the sensible thing and provided a pretty healthy selection of user adjustments for you to play with, including a pretty flexible and intuitive colour management system (with the facility to turn off the red, green and blue colour elements individually), a sliding bar for adjusting the balance between the picture’s black and white content, a static gamma adjustment, the option to deactivate the 200Hz engine if it doesn’t react well with something you’re watching, and the option to adjust the strength of Toshiba’s Resolution+ engine.
Resolution+, for people who haven’t read previous recent Toshiba reviews, is Toshiba’s proprietary processing system (derived from the brand’s Cell processor division) for upscaling standard definition material. And I have to say that while some other reviewers have taken issue with it, I myself have generally been impressed. The only rider is that you have to be very careful how you use it – as in, never set it higher than its ‘three’ level unless you want to experience the grain and exaggerated noise some reviewers have noted.
Settling down to finally watch the 55SV685DB in action turns out to be a very enjoyable experience indeed. Particularly stunning is the extreme contrast the screen delivers. At one end of the spectrum you can get – after a little careful calibration – some really intense, deep and yet also natural and detailed black level response. While at the other extreme bright colours look rich, vibrant and luminous. And crucially, thanks to local dimming these extremes can be seen simultaneously within a single frame. For perfect examples of what I’m talking about, check out the section of ”Modern Warfare 2” that takes place inside Shepherd’s cave headquarters; the way lights in the caves or highlights on your weapon glint against the inky blackness of the darkest corners is a revelation by LCD TV standards.
Another subtler but in some ways more striking demonstration of the 55SV685DB’s extreme dynamism can be seen in the sequence in ”Casino Royale” where Bond first meets Vesper on a train. The dark suits look perfectly black, yet the screen also manages to render the muted colour palette of the rest of the image content with uncanny accuracy and insight, thanks partly to the amount of shadow detail it’s able to deliver, and partly to the extreme colour range made possible by the LED lighting. When even a rather muted sequence like this gets the videophile in you all hot and bothered, you know you’re onto a winner.
The 55SV685DB hits all the right notes with its fine detail reproduction, too. In fact, let me make this quite clear – it shows HD with just about as much sharpness, clarity and detail as any screen I’ve ever seen. What’s more, the impact of this sharpness is made all the greater by the sheer enormity of the picture.
Much of this sharpness is down to the screen’s simple ability to map HD pictures to its full HD resolution without letting processing get in the way. But the screen is also impressively free from LCD’s motion blur problem – thanks, presumably, to the efforts of its 200Hz engine. The only rider to this is that rather oddly the screen appears to need to warm up before it’s at its best, with noticeably more blur – especially when playing games – visible for the first five minutes after power up in a cold room than you see at any other time.
It feels to me at this point that my breakdown of the 55SV685DB‘s key picture strengths hasn’t really done justice to just how good pictures are capable of looking. So let me make this totally clear: once you’ve put the screen’s sharpness, intense and expansive colour palette, massive contrast range and enormous screen size together, you’ve got a picture that’s quite simply a joy to behold.
Which isn’t to say that it’s perfect. As noted when reviewing the 46SV685D in November, for instance, there’s a marginal green undercurrent to colours during some sequences that no amount of calibration managed to completely remove. Also, while the 200Hz engine removes almost all motion blur without generating serious artefacts, there is a little more residual judder than I might have expected.
Also, occasional shots with extreme contrasts of light and dark suffer a touch with the sort of blooming issue around the bright bits that’s so hard to completely control with local dimming LED screens. But the effect really is subtle, and in any case it seemed to occur sufficiently rarely not to become irritating.
As I mentioned right at the start of this review, the 55SV685DB is hardly a small TV – it even sticks out quite a distance round the back by the standards of today’s skinny boys. But this size does at least seem to aid it in producing a decent sound performance. At any rate, there’s clearly much more power, range, clarity and detail around than you get with the rather weedy speakers tucked inside Samsung’s ultra-skinny edge-lit LED models. The soundstage even has a little breathing room, so that it can shift up a gear to accommodate an action scene.
By murdering the price of the 55SV685DB ahead of this review (though oddly some sites are still carrying it for well in excess of £3,000!), Toshiba has turned an excellent TV that nobody could afford into, well, just an excellent TV.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9
Sound Quality 8