Toshiba 32RL858B £399.99
1st Feb 2012 | 15:00
A 32-inch Toshiba TV that's more than good enough for the price
Overview and features
The more time goes by, the cannier Toshiba seems to get at understanding the needs of specific sections of the UK TV market. The Toshiba 46TL868 tested recently did a great job of catering for people wanting a good-sized active 3D screen on the cheap.
And now there's the Toshiba 32RL858, a 32-inch TV that manages to combine a strikingly affordable price point with just the sort of features and looks a savvy budget 32-inch TV buyer would be crying out for.
It's remarkably slim for a budget television, for a start, with both a tiny bezel and a trim rear that will help it fit into a potentially much snugger space than your average 32-inch TV. It's also got a built-in Freeview HD tuner, and uses Edge LED lighting rather than an old-school CCFL system.
It also rather excellently fits into modern lifestyles by supporting playback of multimedia files from either a networked (ideally Windows 7) PC or a USB storage device.
As if this wasn't already more than enough for a 32-inch TV costing under £400, the Toshiba 32RL858 even carries the brand's new online platform, Toshiba Places, which provides access to various video, music and information services.
In fact, so strong is the Toshiba 32RL858's feature list for its £399 UK price, it can't help but make you wonder if Toshiba has had to compromise on the TV's performance somewhere along the way.
Most cheap and cheerful 32-inch TVs are cut from more or less the same aesthetic cloth. They're almost universally fairly chunky bits of kit with wide bezels that are usually finished in some glossy but plasticky black colour. Toshiba appears to have recognised this lack of variety, and so has come up with something completely different with the 32RL858.
For starters, it's a muted silver colour rather than black. Second, its bezel is exceptionally slim - not much wider, in fact, than the once-groundbreaking width of the bezels on the high-end Samsung 7000 Series TVs. Third, its rear is the absolute opposite of chunky, measuring only around 30mm deep.
In short, the Toshiba 32RL858 is a perfect option for fitting either 'invisibly' into a main living room, or slipping into a potentially space-limited second room.
Despite its slimness, though, the Toshiba 32RL858 has managed to cram a more than adequate number of connections onto its rear. These include three HDMIs, a USB port -through which you can play a solid mix of video (including DivX HD), photo and music file formats, a D-Sub PC port so the TV can double as a computer monitor and an Ethernet port - through which you can stream files from a networked PC or go online with Toshiba's Places system.
If wiring your TV up to your router sounds like hassle, you can add Wi-Fi via a USB dongle. This dongle is an optional extra rather than being included free, but this is fair enough with such a cheap TV.
The only bum note with the Toshiba 32RL858's connections is that most of them face straight out of the screen's rear, rather than permitting side access. This could clearly create a few problems for anyone wanting to wall-hang the set, and thus flies in the face of the ultra-slim bodywork.
Casting an eagle eye down the Toshiba 32RL858's specification list, it's gratifying to discover that its screen is a Full HD one, despite its price, and that it has a Freeview HD tuner when it wouldn't have been surprising to find only a standard definition one.
The TV set's slenderness is only possible, of course, because the screen is driven by Edge LED lighting. And, as usual, this has helped the Toshiba 32RL858 to deliver a startlingly high claimed contrast ratio - 3,000,000:1, to be precise. Or to be imprecise, given how large a pinch of salt such manufacturer figures need to be taken with.
As if the use of Edge LED lighting wasn't surprising enough on a big-brand budget TV, Toshiba has also managed to include 100Hz processing on the set, which should hopefully mean it suffers less with motion blur than your average budget telly.
And still this isn't the end of the surprises. For tucked away in the TV's on-screen menus is a suite of unexpectedly advanced picture adjustments. These include an adequate colour management system, complete with fine-tuning for the brightness and saturation of the six key colour components.
Wrapping up the Toshiba 32RL858's remarkably long list of features is its Places online system. This remains one of the most attractively presented of all the smart TV interfaces, and is also to be admired for the unusual effort it puts into personalising the smart TV experience.
You can set up different front ends for different users, with individual favourites lists and such like. It's no surprise to find that other brands are starting to deliver similar personalisation traits with their upcoming 2012 smart TVs.
It's good to find, too, that Toshiba has recently added the Acetrax film streaming platform and Facebook to Toshiba Places - especially because prior to that, the platform's 'Social' Place was more or less empty.
However, despite these new additions, the Places service remains rather behind the online services of its major rivals in raw content terms.
Yes, there's BBC iPlayer and YouTube, plus a bunch of subscription-only services. But overall there isn't nearly as much going on in terms of free video streams or gaming/utility apps as there probably ought to be. Hopefully Toshiba will cram lots more content onto Places in the coming months.
For the sake of completeness, it should probably be stressed here that the Toshiba 32RL858 doesn't carry any 3D support. But as well as 3D being of questionable value on a 32-inch TV unless it's going to be used predominantly as a gaming monitor, it's not really realistic to expect to find 3D on a budget TV.
Even the occasional budget TV that has carried 3D has tended to make a mess of it.
And so to the moment of truth. Has the Toshiba 32RL858's almost slavish bid to be all things to all men with its features led to some nasty picture compromises?
Actually, no. While its pictures are never going to challenge those of the leading lights in the TV world, they are certainly far better than those of the vast majority of budget 32-inch TVs.
So this review can finish on a deserved high note, let's get the bad news out of the way first. This is largely centred around the appearance of some backlight consistency problems. While watching very dark material on the Toshiba 32RL858, there are some parts of the picture that look unnaturally brighter than others, thanks to the difficulties associated with spreading Edge LED lighting evenly across the entire screen.
However - and this is a pretty big however - the backlight problems are generally very subtle, particularly if you do the sensible thing and rein in the Toshiba 32RL858's backlight level to somewhere around 60%. Certainly at this point the issues are far less overt than they are on some of Toshiba's larger and more expensive TVs.
Obviously having to calm the backlight down to fight the lighting consistency problems means you have to accept something of a hit with the image's overall brightness. But the Toshiba 32RL858's innate brightness is actually so high that pictures still have plenty of punch and dynamism even after backlight taming is complete.
Getting back to the negatives, the Toshiba 32RL858 is a merely adequate standard definition performer, since its processing doesn't prove quite as astute at suppressing source noise as the best TVs around.
That said, standard definition images do at least look reasonably sharp, and colours hold up passably well - something that certainly can't be said of the standard definition performance of many other cheap TVs.
It probably hasn't escaped your notice so far that even the negatives raised with the Toshiba 32RL858 have tended to come with some sort of positive qualification. There really isn't anything irredeemably wrong with the TV's pictures at all. And there are lots of things right.
Colours, for instance, are much more natural, vibrant but also subtle than those of almost any other sub-£400 32-inch TV around. With HD, in particular, the Toshiba 32RL858's colours look like they belong to a mid-range rather than a budget TV - there's none of that 'PC' (rather than video) flavour so common with cheap sets.
Part of the reason colours look so good is that the set is also miles better than most budget TVs where black level response is concerned. Dark corners are only very marginally affected by the sort of grey mist effect so common at the cheap end of the TV market. And as noted earlier, there are also no serious problems with backlight inconsistency - so long as you don't try to run the backlight at its highest levels.
Dark scenes lack a little shadow detailing and colour punch compared with more expensive TVs, but again, for the money there's really nothing to complain about.
The Toshiba 32RL858's sharpness is very good for its price, too, mostly because the 100Hz engine and a seemingly fast-response core panel means that there's much less motion blur and resolution loss than you get with the vast majority of budget LCD TVs.
There's also the Toshiba 32RL858's input lag to consider. After all, as a 32-inch TV there's a good chance it will be used at some point as a gaming monitor. So it was pleasing to measure a satisfactory average lag figure of around 35ms - low enough not to significantly damage your gaming performance.
Ease of use, sound and value
Ease of use
This is a fairly strong area for the Toshiba 32RL858. As hinted at in the Features section, for instance, the on-screen menus for its Places online service are really attractive - colourful, friendly and much less intimidating than those of most if not all other smart TV interfaces.
They should also provide a simple way of organising potentially lots of services - should lots of services ever materialise! And the attempt to personalise Toshiba Places for different users in your home is welcome, if not fully realised yet.
The normal TV menus initially disappoint by not following the graphics-rich, intuitive 'two-wheel' system found on higher-level Toshiba TVs. But while the Toshiba 32RL858's more straightforward text- rather than graphics-oriented menus might not be as attractive, they're reasonably logically organised and do a decent job of enabling different users to select the level of picture fine tuning that best suits their technical confidence.
Turning to the Toshiba 32RL858's remote control, it again is a cut above the budget TV norm, thanks to feeling less flimsily built, being better organised and responding more satisfactorily to button presses. It also doesn't have that rather odd and irksome sliding silver shield that lets down the remotes for Toshiba's high-end TVs.
Not surprisingly, given how slim it is, the Toshiba 32RL858 struggles to impress with its sound. The tiny speakers shoehorned into its svelte frame fail to deliver any sense of soundstage expansion when asked to try to portray an action scene, leaving such scenes sounding flat and overcrowded.
Bass is in severely short supply too. Before you get too despondent, though, it should be said that the set does cope adequately with the sort of undemanding, run-of-the-mill audio fodder that dominates the majority of a typical household's day-to-day viewing.
The Toshiba 32RL858's audio is only average, there's no getting round that. But it isn't as brittle and feeble-sounding as some budget TVs we've heard.
The Toshiba 32RL858 is pretty much off the scale in this department. Toshiba's TV offers far more in both feature and performance terms than pretty much anything else around in the sub-£400 segment of the 32-inch television marketplace.
The Toshiba 32RL858 is one of those TVs where you find yourself forever double checking that its price is really as low as you thought it was. After all, it offers online smart TV functionality, a Freeview HD tuner, a Full HD resolution, DLNA and USB file playback, Edge LED lighting and even 100HZ processing, despite costing under £400.
It's also remarkably attractive for what's ostensibly a budget TV, thanks to its extremely narrow bezel, unusual silver finish and slim rear end.
It even provides a surprising amount of adjustment options for getting pictures looking exactly how you want them to.
In short, the Toshiba 32RL858 feels like a mid-range TV at a budget price.
The amount of features the Toshiba 32RL858 carries for its money is outstanding. The Freeview HD tuner and network/multimedia features are particularly welcome, given the set's second-room potential.
The TV's extremely slender design is a great find at the sub-£400 price level too, as is the set's all-round impressive picture quality.
Dark scenes lack a little shadow detail versus some more expensive sets. There's some very minor evidence of backlight inconsistency, too. The set's audio is average to the extent that it struggles to convince during action films, and finally there's not as much content on Toshiba Places as there is on rival online platforms.
But then having any online functionality at all on the Toshiba 32RL858 is arguably a bonus. In fact, all of the TV's negatives are small within the context of its lowly price.
Toshiba has been quietly but surely making the budget end of the TV world its own in recent years, and the 32RL858 is a perfect example of just how much Toshiba has learned, and why the brand is now hard to beat for anyone on the hunt for a good TV for not much cash.
The TV looks much better than most budget models, with its unusual silver look, exceptionally narrow bezel and ultra-slim rear. It's also got way more features than most budget TVs - most notably a Freeview HD tuner, Full HD resolution, 100Hz motion processing, smart TV functionality and network multimedia playback capability.
Best of all, though, is its picture quality, which neatly sidesteps nearly all the usual problems associated with budget TVs.