Toshiba 32RL853B £450
7th Jun 2011 | 11:20
An affordable 32-inch LCD with plenty of fine-tuning options
Toshiba 32RL853: Overview
The 32RL853 is one of the first of Toshiba's 2011 range to hit the market. It's at the budget end, with a price tag of around £450, but is one of the better specified sets from Toshiba until its 3D screens arrive later this summer.
The design is neat enough, with a 40mm depth, gloss black bezel and some silver trim along the bottom giving it an air of class. Everything is angular, though, including the supplied desktop stand - Toshiba's designers obviously haven't caught the curve bug yet.
This 32-inch set is the smallest of the RL series. Those looking for something larger can check out the 37-inch 37RL853 (available for as little as £500) and the £600 42-inch 42RL853.
Toshiba 32RL853: Features
The feature set of the 32RL853 serves up a handful of surprises, as well as a few disappointments.
The main shortfall is with online access, which is limited to YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Flickr from this new breed. Shoppers who want to get VOD content on a budget may well be seduced by Sony's KDL-32CX523 with its Lovefilm and Qriocity features.
At least the BBC iPlayer interface is simple to use and offers HD content - picture quality is subjectively as good as the original broadcasts. The YouTube platform, on the other hand, suffers from a bland interface and text so small it will make you squint. Compare it with, say, the integration of YouTube on Virgin Media's new TiVo-powered set-top box and it falls short.
Making up for this rather rudimentary set of net TV offerings is the 32RL853's media player prowess. The set can slot into your network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi (the latter requires an optional dongle, though), and suck down music, video and photo content from DLNA-certified servers. This worked smoothly with a networked PC but, as usual, some test video files refused to play.
Those who don't want to set up the 32RL853 on their home network can also play media files stored on a USB device.
Connectivity is excellent, considering the set's budget nature. There are four HDMI v1.4 inputs (one side-mounted and one offering support for the Audio Return Channel, enabling you to plumb in an all-in-one system with minimum fuss), plus jacks for Ethernet, USB, Scart, component and composite.
There's also a 15-pin PC input and a digital audio output. The only gripe is that if you do use the USB input for a Wi-Fi adaptor, you don't have anywhere else to hook up your external memory for playing media files not on your network. Also, you can't use the USB port to timeshift, which is an option some other manufacturers are offering, and which has appeal if you were to use this TV as a second-room set.
It's when you delve into the 32RL853's picture menu that it throws up some surprises. Toshiba has endowed this TV with a range of picture adjustments beyond what you'd expect to find on a £450 32-incher.
Firstly, there are seven picture presets - Standard, Dynamic, Game, PC, Autoview, Hollywood 1 and Hollywood 2. The Hollywood modes are Toshiba's own pro-level presets, which should, theoretically, offer the most accurate picture quality. Autoview automatically adjusts the picture depending on ambient light conditions, but this sort of thing often looks better on the spec sheet than it does in practice.
Adjustments in the picture quality menu include backlight, colour, brightness, tint and sharpness, but step into the Advanced menu and there are more. It's here you'll find a 10-step colour temperature slider, and 'pro' backlight adjustment, plus black/white level, static gamma and more.
It goes further. Below the Advanced menu is an Expert sub-menu that contains an RGB filter for better adjusting individual colour levels, white balance tweaks and Toshiba's own test pattern, which offers various contrast and colour samples to help you maximise the image. Finally, there's a Control Visualisation graph that can be laid over the image you are watching. Toshiba says this displays the 'brightness histogram and control curve of the current video signal'. Exactly what you're supposed to get out of it anyone's guess.
Other standout specs of the 32RL853 are its full HD 1,920 x 1,080-pixel panel, Resolution+ upscaling and built-in Freeview HD tuner.
Toshiba 32RL853: Picture quality
Image quality with HD material is pleasing, with a few caveats. The Standard preset produces healthy looking colours with a natural reproduction of reds and greens. This is helped by the level of brightness; the colourful, well-lit interiors of a news studio offer a decent visual pop. Test patterns hint at a lack of tonal subtlety with very bright colours, but it's nothing major.
Standard-definition viewing from the TV tuner revealed a picture that seemed somewhat soft, but not overly noisy. Even calling upon Toshiba's Resolution+ sharpening tool did little to crisp up the image.
Thankfully, the HD tuner means a good proportion of your everyday viewing will be of better quality. Switching to Blu-rays and the Hollywood modes is rewarded with sharp, realistic images.
The Russell Crowe thriller, The Next Three Days, set in the tonally conservative suburbs of Pittsburgh, benefits from the improved colour fidelity of the Hollywood 1 setting. This fine-tuned preset lacks a little brightness, but presents a truer image, and black levels are improved considerably (though still not to premium grade). Shadow detailing is good.
There are two definite areas where the 32RL853 stumbles a bit. Its motion handling is only average. Even on some quite pedestrian test footage, there is noticeable judder and picture detail is clearly reduced when things get going. With no frame interpolation technology to call upon, you're stuck with what the 50Hz 32RL853 can do. It's not a disastrous performer with fast motion, by any means, but it will be an occasional distraction if you watch a lot of fluid material. It also limits its appeal as a dedicated gaming TV.
Another flaw with the 32RL853 is the implementation of its edge LED lighting system. As with many TVs that use side-firing LEDs to illuminate the panel, it has a detrimental effect on the viewing angle, with blacks becoming greyed out if you stray off-axis. While that may not be much of an issue depending on the seating arrangement in your living room, the visible pools of light in the lower corners of the screen when watching dark material are occasionally distracting.
Toshiba 32RL853: Sound, value and ease of use
The 32RL853 disappoints when it comes to its audio. The two 10W speakers struggle to deliver any warmth or mid-range to sonics; the overall sound is tinny, reedy, raspy and a million other adjectives ending in 'y', particularly if volume levels are high.
There's little in the way of tweaks for owners to improve things, either. There are two modes - Dual 1 and Dual 2 – though the difference between them seems marginal. Beyond that, you have to make do with treble and bass adjustment, voice enhancement and stereo extension. The latter does widen the soundstage a touch, but upping the bass level is definitely recommended.
Dolby Volume is present for those who hate the volume jumps between TV shows and advert breaks.
Anyone looking for a 32-inch TV has a smorgasbord from which to choose, particularly around the £450 mark. Judging the 32RL853's value is tricky, because it depends on how low you can find it selling for - a price reduction of as little as £50 may be enough to promote it to the top of your wishlist.
Secondly, Sony's KDL-32CX523 is definitely the TV to beat in this market and the value of Toshiba's 32RL853 will depend on which holds the greater attraction – the VOD content, smartphone control and USB recording of the Sony, or the potentially superior picture quality (if you have the patience to tweak it) of the Toshiba.
Ease of use
Setting up the 32RL853 is an easy, one-man job. The screen's 8.6kg weight means that you can practically lift it one-handed, and attaching it to its desktop stand took all of five minutes (two of which were spent trying to get the screws out of their dinky plastic bags), thanks to the supplied Allen key.
Once on, Toshiba's onscreen wizard guides you through basic setup, where you choose your location and language, home or store mode and whether you want the AutoView mode on. Finally, it scans for channels from the Freeview HD tuner.
All of this is done via the handset, which, while sensibly laid out, is far bigger than it needs to be and feels plasticky. Pressing some of the buttons results in an irritating clicking noise, which takes some getting used to.
Navigating the menus is straightforward, thanks to their distinctly unflashy approach (apart from some colour graphical icons that are far too small) and the fact that unavailable options are greyed out - for instance, if the 32RL853 isn't connected to your network, then iPlayer and YouTube icons aren't highlighted.
One thing hampering the 32RL853 in usability terms is its woefully sparse manual. Toshiba is persisting with its policy of supplying basic user manuals with its screens and making the more in-depth ones available online (www.toshiba-om.net) as part of a drive to reduce its CO2 footprint. That's great for the polar bears, but not ideal considering the wealth of picture tweaks this screen offers that may confuse owners.
Toshiba 32RL853: Verdict
Toshiba's 32RL853 is a curious TV, offering picture calibration tools that are far more advanced than most buyers of this set will probably ever need, plus some solid pre-defined user modes.
On the other hand, using the 32RL853 is a staid experience with little in the way of flair or panache. The remote control, menu system and styling could all do with a little love. Hopefully these flaws will be addressed on the forthcoming mid-range and high-end sets.
The 32RL853 offers an extensive level of picture calibration that will please tweakers, plus decent picture presets that are fine for movie viewing. Both the media player and BBC iPlayer elements work well, and it's an easy TV to get to grips with. HD sources are delivered with considerable aplomb.
The audio performance of the 32RL853 leaves much to be desired, even for a TV that may end up in a second room, and the menu system is hardly enticing. Backlight pooling is noticeable with some material. The clumsy YouTube feature is likely to be looked at once and then ignored.
Toshiba's 32RL853 puts its picture performance above everything else, and for that it should be applauded. However, the level of calibration it offers is arguably better suited to the 37-inch and 42-inch models in the range, where owners are more likely to want to get their (or a professional's) hands dirty.
At this size, a few more bells and whistles would have been a welcome trade for some of the excessively technical features.
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