Toshiba 32UL863B £450
13th Oct 2011 | 15:38
A 32-inch TV with Smart features and solid pictures
The Toshiba Regza 32UL863B is an enticing proposition - a 32-inch Full HD LED TV with Toshiba's new Places smart TV portal, built-in Wi-Fi, full networking capabilities, 100Hz processing, Freeview HD tuner and in-depth picture calibration, all for as little as £400.
The UL range is one of Toshiba's more affordable smart TV offerings, and the 32UL863B is the smallest model - there are 37-inch (37UL863B), 42-inch (42UL863B) and 46-inch (46UL863B) options available too.
Below it are the SL models, in identical sizes. These miss out on certain features, including built-in Wi-Fi and recording to a USB device. Above the UL series is Toshiba's VL range, in 42-inch and 47-inch flavours, which introduces Passive 3D technology to the feature set.
Where the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B may struggle on the shop shelves is its design. Once assembled on its desktop stand (which, as with last year's models, involves laying the TV down face-first - at least Toshiba tells you to do this on a soft material) the TV looks a little non-descript.
It's thin, but not drastically so, with an angular bezel adorned by some blink-and-you'll-miss-it silver side trim. The good news is that its styling should blend into wherever you choose to stick it. And for a TV that's aimed just as much at the bedroom and kitchen as the living room, that's important.
Build quality seems fine, and the glass-topped stand feels sturdy, too. Connections are good for this price point, with four HDMI inputs, an Ethernet jack and twin USB ports the key offerings. One of these can be used to record footage from the TV's Freeview HD tuner to a storage device, giving you basic time-shifting functionality without the need for a dedicated PVR.
The Toshiba Regza 32UL863B offers both wired and wireless connection to your network. We'll admit that for our tests we stuck with the former, because we came a cropper getting it to pair with our Wi-Fi.
A combination of a new router, too many confusing acronyms (WPS, TKIP, PBC and so on) and the fact that we've been spoilt by painless, automatic setup on our PlayStation 3, Blu-ray player and laptop meant we gave up after 20 minutes and plumbed in our Ethernet cable. We were eager to play with Toshiba's Smart TV portal, after all.
This currently consists of three options - YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Toshiba Places. The YouTube interface (dubbed XL) looks a bit ropey, but we found it easier to use than the one integrated with Virgin Media's TiVo service. The BBC's VOD platform includes HD playback and the usual garish pink and black colour scheme.
As for Toshiba Places, it's certainly not up to speed with the Smart TV offerings from Samsung, Sony and Panasonic. VOD services run to Dailymotion, Viewster (which is packed with low-budget 1980s horror movies), Box Office 365, Cartoon Network, Hit Entertainment and Woomi, plus BBC iPlayer and YouTube again.
The Social Place offers Flickr - no sign of Twitter or Facebook - and the options of bookmarking videos or pictures as favourites.
App-based games and widgets are non-existent, and you can't continue to watch TV in a PiP window while you browse the service. So it's not brilliant, but it's obviously a work in progress - hopefully it will get more content soon.
Using the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B as a media player, we were able to pull JPEGs and MP3s off a NAS drive with no fuss, but ran into a "Media Playback Error" message with any video more exotic than an AVC HD file - support for DivX, DivX Plus HD, AVI and MKV formats is limited to USB devices.
Another heavily promoted feature of the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B is its built-in camera, which serves two functions.
First, it detects movement in the room and can, if you want, automatically switch the screen to standby to save energy if there's nobody there.
Secondly, it enables you to register your face and make use of Toshiba's Personal TV feature. The idea of this is that different family members can have different presets (preferred volume, channel favourites and so on) and the TV will recognise who is using the set and adjust itself accordingly.
In use, we had difficulty getting the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B to recognise our faces - it was only 30 minutes into Crank 2 on Blu-ray that it popped up a welcome message. We think the camera struggles with less-than-perfect lighting conditions (and possibly bald people). Either way, we can't see this feature getting much use.
Something that should do, however, is the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B's excellent picture adjustment suite. This uses a three tier approach, with settings other than the standard brightness, contrast and similar tucked away in the Advanced and Expert menus.
Everything a dedicated twiddler could want is on offer, from gamma, white balance and colour management to Toshiba's own test card. It's not what you might expect to find on such a well-priced TV.
The Toshiba Regza 32UL863B provides a picture performance that comfortably exceeded our expectations for a TV near the bottom of a manufacturer's range.
It's not perfect, of course, but a 32-inch TV is never going to offer a reference-grade image - and if it did it would cost a lot more than £450.
With no 3D to worry about, you can get straight down to plumbing in a Blu-ray player and enjoying its HD images. And, despite the breadth of the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B's calibration tools, you can enjoy them without having to spend too much time fiddling.
There are a number of preset modes, including Standard, Dynamic, Hollywood Day, Hollywood Night and PC.
Of these, we'd recommend either of the Hollywood options for lights-off movie-viewing. Here, you get subtle, natural colour gradations and a decent contrast, despite the backlighting system being toned down. You can get a brighter, punchier picture with the Dynamic mode, but this rips out the subtlety of the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B's colours.
In Avatar (still one of our go-to demo discs) the scene where Sully spends his first night alone on Pandora proved the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B's mettle. The mixture of bluish moonlight, lush green vegetation, orangey flames and the darkened corners of the forest came across exquisitely, with good shadow detailing.
The picture was sharp, too. Anyone who says that HD doesn't make any difference on a 32-inch TV is an idiot.
A slightly weak spot of the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B is its motion handling. A collection of test patterns revealed some unhealthy stuttering with 24p material (but mainly with vertical pans), and fast-moving images losing clarity.
Normally, these can be cured by calling upon frame-interpolation, but Toshiba's Active Vision M100 engine doesn't make a massive amount of difference. Its Smooth setting is preferable to the Standard setting, though, which seems to make matters worse.
However, while stumbling with our torture tests, in the real world the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B is perfectly acceptable - Sully's frantic attempts to fight off the nocturnal nasties of Pandora weren't blighted by noticeable smearing or judder.
Nor does the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B suffer from a distracting backlight, which can be the case with edge LED TVs. With very dark scenes we spotted a gentle greying out in the bottom corners, but only really when viewed slightly off-axis - with most material we didn't notice any at all.
Considering it's likely to get a lot of use, it's handy that the standard-definition performance of the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B is decent, too. The strong colour performance carries over, and pictures from the built-in Freeview tuner lose none of the visual punch and contrast. SD channels are noticeably softer, but unspoilt by compression artefacts.
The HD channels, meanwhile, are gloriously sharp, although we did run into a few occasions where they refused to work due to low signal strength, which suggests the tuner isn't as sensitive as it could be - or that our aerial has fallen over.
All this adds up to a commendable picture performance that we'd be happy to live with.
Sound, value and ease of use
We're not sure we could live in perfect harmony with the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B's audio performance, though. It's functional, but nothing more. The size of the TV, and its slender depth, means the 2 x 10W speaker system is forced to use tiny drivers, and it shows.
Out of the box, the sound is thin - bereft of both low-end punch and breadth. Unfortunately, the sound menu doesn't offer much to improve it.
Curiously, there are no predefined user settings (such as Music, Speech and so on), so you're forced to adjust the five-band equaliser to suit your tastes - and the differences that can be achieved here are minimal.
Other tweaks that can be made are two surround sound modes - Cinema and Spatial - and calling on Dolby Volume to limit fluctuations in sound level when you switch sources.
The Toshiba Regza 32UL863B represents good value for money, providing you want all the features that if offers.
While you can get a more content-rich smart TV service from Sony's KDL-32CX523, and save £100, you have to do without built-in Wi-Fi, 100Hz processing and professional-grade calibration options. You'll also need to find room for its bulkier CCFL-backlit build.
Meanwhile, screens from the likes of Samsung and LG don't come close to offering the same features at this size and this cost.
However, if you're not fussed about some of the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B's bonus bits, you can find a 37-inch TV for a similar price - and you might just want those extra five inches.
Ease of use
Everyday use of the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B is aided enormously by the brilliant remote control, which represents a real design triumph by the Toshiba R&D boffins. This sleek handset has a brushed aluminium slider that means you can hide away buttons that you're not going to use, making it very intuitive.
We've tackled previous Toshiba remotes that looked like they should have fallen out of a Happy Meal, so this came as a pleasant surprise.
So too did the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B's interface. Toshiba's entry-level TV sets have bored us to tears with their somewhat bland user space, but this smart TV comes with a Mensa-certified menu to match.
The main screen features a semi-circular array of animated icons in two tiers (a bit like Sony's XrossMediaBar in that regard) that you'll soon be whizzing around in no time. It's responsive and a pleasure to browse through. The presentation is all a bit Apple-like - Toshiba will just have to hope that the iGiant is too busy suing every other AV brand to care.
It's not all plain sailing, though. Toshiba supplies the Regza 32UL863B with a laughably sparse user manual. So, for example, anyone wanting to know what the set's vast array of picture calibration options are for will have to boot up their computer and read the manual online. Yawn.
Also, while we like the new user interface, the icons are a bit small - you may find yourself squinting occasionally.
Toshiba's UL series should go down well with shoppers because it packs in plenty of worthwhile features but doesn't bother with any of that silly 3D TV nonsense.
This 32-inch model is perhaps too small for serious movie addicts, but will slot in as a kitchen/bedroom/office set without any problem - especially if you want to ping (certain) media around your home.
The smart portal isn't as advanced as some of the competition (Samsung and Sony, with their two different approaches, are definitely the market leaders here), but is neat and responsive - it'll be interesting to see how the Japanese brand develops it further.
Picture quality is commendable, and helped by an unobtrusive edge LED system and plenty of adjustments. Blu-rays come across as rich, sharp and detailed, and standard-definition TV from the built-in tuner doesn't fare too badly either.
The pictures of the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B are hard to criticise at this size and price point. HD viewing is a pleasure and standard-definition channels look stable.
The cute remote control and user interface also makes it a joy to use, and adds to the TV's overall appeal. The list of features is long and the connections on offer should be enough for everyone.
The most obvious problem with the Toshiba Regza 32UL863B is its very average audio, which will struggle to fill a decent-sized living room.
Our other complaints are less serious - the menu icons could do with being a tad larger, smartphone control needs extending to the Android platform and file support over DLNA isn't extensive.
Also, Toshiba's Places portal feels under-used - how about adding a net-radio service at least?
Toshiba's Regza 32UL863B is a great addition to the brand's range, with an enticing mix of cutting-edge features and performance. It will make a great second room set, and could cut it as the centrepiece of a living room setup if you can live with below-par sonics or have your own sound system.