Toshiba 37RL853B £500
22nd Aug 2011 | 13:00
A decent mid-range 37-inch LCD TV with Freeview HD and a bucketful of picture adjustment options
The Toshiba 37RL853B offers a little bit of everything - it's a contemporary looking LCD TV with an LED edge-lit Full HD panel, decent connectivity, Freeview HD, plenty of user-adjustable tweaks and smattering of multi-media features including access to iPlayer and YouTube. Not bad really for what is after all, a budget TV.
The 37RL853 sits slap bang in the middle of Toshiba's RL series, with the 32-inch 32RL853 and 42-inch 42RL853 offering the same specification for around £50 less and £100 more respectively.
The RL series itself is more or less in the middle of Toshiba's 2011 range of flatscreens, adding a terrestrial HD tuner to the basic standard definition Freeview tuner found on the HL series (which only comes in 32-inch and 42-inch sizes).
Above the RL series is the step-up SL series, comprising the 32SL853, 37SL853 and 42SL853. These add Toshiba's ActiveVision image processing engine and an eco-friendly panel to the mix, plus Toshiba Places, which is a platform designed for people who like to conduct social relationships through online means.
Want more? Looking for USB recording? Head for the UL series. 3D you say? That will be the VL and WL designer models (but neither of the latter two come in 37-inch size. At this end of the scale were talking big bucks of course.
As for rivals, consider Panasonic's TX-L37E30B with excellent networking or the Samsung UE37D5000, which lacks a Freeview HD tuner but if you're a Sky HD or Virgin Media customer could be considered an irrelevance.
As previously mentioned the Toshiba 37RL853B has a Full HD panel with a Freeview HD tuner. It also has a generous four HDMI inputs (including one with an audio return channel), which should satisfy most users' HD habits (say for a games console, PVR and Blu-ray deck or home cinema system) and Resolution+, which upscales standard definition sources to 1920 x 1080 resolution.
There are also a broad set of tools that give you every chance possible of optimising the picture. You get the regular picture modes – Standard, Autoview, Dynamic, Game, PC and a brace of movie modes, which are called Hollywood 1 and Hollywood 2. It's quite likely that none of these will suit your tastes, even Autoview, which automatically adjusts the picture depending on ambient light conditions.
Naturally, it's a simple process to tinker with the contrast, brightness, colour, sharpness and backlight for each mode and any changes you make are saved for each mode. Further than that though is a surprisingly diverse range of adjustments.
But delving in to the Advanced Picture Settings menu to find such options as Colour Master, Base Colour, Colour Temperature, Backlight Adjustment Pro, White Balance, Black/White Level and Static Gamma, to name but seven, can all seem rather daunting.
And when you get down to the nitty gritty of tweaking the hue, saturation and brightness of red, green, blue, yellow, magenta and cyan you start to wonder if it's ever possible to find the right combination of settings that are just right for your preference. Even more so, when you consider that different sources need different settings, as do different times of day when the ambient light changes.
And just to complicate matters even further there's an 'Expert' sub-menu that has an RGB filter for adjusting each colour in isolation, plus a white balance tool and a test pattern to aid image adjustment. There's also a Control Visualisation graph which puts a brightness histogram and control curve up on screen and makes you feel as if you're wearing a white lab coat doing GCSE physics experiments.
And with no way of saving settings to different presets it makes you wonder how often any of these parameters will be used by the vast majority of owners. It's not as if Toshiba offers a cheaper model of the same size that includes a Freeview HD tuner and some multimedia capability but excludes the calibration toolset.
Talking of multimedia, Toshiba has not exactly blazed the trail when it comes to internet-based TV entertainment and the 37RL853 doesn't do a lot to change that perception. Other brands, such as Sony and Samsung, are offering a much broader selection of IPTV portals on their budget TVs than just YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Flickr, which you get here once you've hooked up to a router using Ethernet (or an optional extra wi-fi dongle). On the plus side though, at least iPlayer allows access to HD shows (and is a cinch to use).
If you're not using the USB socket for a Wi-Fi dongle you can enjoy multi-media playback from a flash drive. The ethernet socket can also be used for hooking up to a Windows 7 computer for the purposes of DLNA networking.
Other socketry includes a Scart, component video and composite video for any legacy analogue kit, plus a 15-pin PC input and a digital optical audio output. Finally, a CI slot will accept a CAM module if you want access to ESPN using TopUp TV's subscription service.
The 37RL853 can also act as a giant photo frame. Choose one of your favourite snaps from a USB drive or networked computer and copy it to the TV's own flash memory. It can be displayed with or without the date and time.
Some of last year's Toshiba screens suffered badly from excessive MPEG noise but the 37RL853B is significantly better in this respect.
Hitchcock's To Catch A Thief stored on our Sky+ HD box in standard definition features a scene where Cary Grant chases a thief across some rooftops at night. The pitch black skies are a great test of a how solid a picture a panel can muster. The results are not perfect, as part of the picture can clearly be seen to break up, but it's not the overwhelmingly disastrous distraction we've seen before. And the same scene in HD is completely solid.
The same HD recording also shows the 37RL853's talent for serving up finely detailed static images. A shot of the watching crowd in their fancy dress features some interesting characters and you can clearly see every detail and nuance of their sun-withered faces. Their costumes also show how well the screen renders a diverse colour palette with accurate well-contained hues.
When watching a movie it pays to experiment with the various modes. In a bright room it's better to stick with the Standard mode than either of the Hollywood modes, which reduce the backlight and contrast such that the picture seems limp and dull.
The Autoview mode is worth trying but can't be relied upon, for example when watching cricket the green grass is far too bright.
Blu-rays serve to reiterate the panel's strengths and weaknesses. No Country For Old Men has some vast desert skies that are served up with a high level of noise and DNR seems to have little effect. There are also plenty of dark scenes that show that shadow detail is not the best but at least the detail in well-lit scenes is very good.
Avatar looks superb: the level of detail in Sully's face at the first Pandora briefing is astonishing. Overall there's very little motion judder and colours remain true.
The Freeview picture is generally very good, especially the three HD channels. The standard definition picture is about par for the course and engaging Resolution+ certainly sharpens things up. Finally, viewing angles are very good.
Sound, vale and ease of use
Don't expect to get calls from angry neighbours complaining about the sound coming from the 37RL853's speakers. They're ok for regular daytime telly but are seriously underpowered for watching more involving material such as TV dramas and movies.
The presence of Surround settings in the menu should be taken with a rock of salt; according to the manual "Stereo Extension and Voice Enhancement help to create an enhanced surround sound experience. Your TV's audio will sound fuller, richer, and wider." Voice Enhancement does give dialogue a small lift but it's bordering on egregious to claim the 37RL853 can generate a surround soundfield.
Priced at only £50 more than its 32-inch 32RL853 stablemate the 37-inch 37RL853 looks like something of a bargain.
It may lack a few niceties such as USB recording, 100Hz processing and a broader Smart TV selection but it gives other 37-inch screens a good run for their money. Samsung's UE37D5000 for example doesn't have a Freeview HD tuner.
Ease of use
Setting up the screen is no more taxing than making tea and toast. The operating system is substance over style, the latter of which it really doesn't have a lot of. But it is easy and uncomplicated to navigate the menus and the remote control has the right number of important command buttons on it.
The Quick button is especially useful for accessing features such as Picture mode, Picture size, connected TV and channel options (adding to favourites, locking, etc). Some of the buttons on the remote are fiddly, which seems odd when there's a fair bit of unused real estate that would have allowed for a more user-friendly layout. But overall it's a decent effort.
It's annoying that the full instruction manual is only available as a PDF that you have to download, and a bit cheeky of Toshiba to shift the printing cost to its customers. And surprising as it may seem, not everyone has access to a computer.
The Freeview EPG is one of the best around in that it displays 13 channels over 2.5 or 1.25 hours and uses black text on a white background. It also has a handy genre guide and search facility but it can be slow to load sometimes.
The networking and online features are mercifully simple to set-up but the file handling is clunky and laboured. Loading photos and videos on a Toshiba netbook took ages and the folders are displayed in a boring grid structure with no visual information. Unsurprisingly, file compatibility is far from comprehensive and certainly not consistent.
The 37RL853 is a solid middle-of-the-range Freeview HD screen with few frills and not many thrills either. What it lacks in built-in picture enhancements it makes up for with a surprising degree of user adjustment features. It dabbles its toes in the Smart TV waters with a trio of online services and is prepared to have a go at home networking, albeit with mixed results.
Greater than average panel noise can't hide the fact that the 37RL853's pictures are generally very good, especially with HD sources.
The pre-set picture modes are easily tweakable to find the optimum setting and Resolution+ is one of the finest built-in upscalers around. Access to iPlayer is certainly welcome as is the ability to show multimedia files from a flash drive or computer.
The 37RL853's sound is just about acceptable for daytime TV watching but is seriously underpowered for more involving soundtracks.
The graphics and font used for the onscreen menus are rather uninspiring, the Smart TV offering is teasingly small and the networking is rather hit and miss.
The remote control, user interface, networking features and even the ability to make so many picture adjustments give you the feeling that the 37RL853 feels more like an engineering sample rather than the polished article.
Overall though, such versatility should be welcomed in a TV that is capable of delivering good-quality pictures, and for the money looks like a fairly solid proposition.
Follow TechRadar Reviews on Twitter: http://twitter.com/techradarreview