Toshiba 46TL868B £699
10th Jan 2012 | 11:40
Toshiba once again delivers a non-budget TV for a budget price
Overview and features
Few TV brands have had as busy a 12 months as Toshiba. Not content with launching its biggest television range for years last April, Toshiba even managed to squeeze in a 'round two' of telly launches right at the end of 2011. And heading up this second raft of TVs is the TL868 series, as represented here by the 46-inch Toshiba 46TL868B.
Toshiba has got very clever in recent years at figuring out ways of offering sought-after features for cheaper prices than any other mainstream brands. The 46TL868B fits into this trend perfectly, managing to deliver Full HD active 3D, Edge LED lighting and an astoundingly slender form wrapped around the large 46-inch screen all for under £700 - the sort of money you'd normally expect to spend on a fairly bog-standard 42-inch TV.
Chuck a Freeview HD tuner into the mix, and there's a very good chance indeed that undecided TV buyers wandering around their local electronics store will have their attention and ultimately cash grabbed by Toshiba's almost shameless attempt to, um, give punters exactly what they want.
But is the Toshiba 46TL868B really the bargain it first appears? You don't get any free 3D glasses with it, after all. And there have been a number of Edge LED TVs from Toshiba this year that have suffered with some pretty serious picture flaws. So could it be that the ultimate impulse buy will turn into a nasty case of tears before bedtime?
The first feature anyone will notice about the Toshiba 46TL868B is how slender it its. For a start, it sticks out only a fraction as far around the back as your average budget LCD TV.
Even better, its bezel is almost non-existent by budget TV standards - only a touch more than 1cm across. This means that the TV will fit into the sort of space usually only occupied by a 42-inch TV. Also, experience suggests that the smaller a bezel is, the easier it is to get lost in the image on the screen. Especially if that image happens to be a 3D one.
And yes, despite costing less than £700, the images on the Toshiba 46TL868B really can be 3D as well as 2D. In fact, the TV even uses the Full HD active system that all the main brands bar LG still tend to consider the premium 3D format for picture quality enthusiasts.
However, there is a catch with this. While even the most affordable passive 3D TVs usually ship with loads of free glasses included in the price, the expense of making active shutter glasses for 3D TVs means you don't get any at all for free with the Toshiba 46TL868B.
Presumably Toshiba thinks - not unreasonably - that there's something to be said for tempting cash-strapped AV fans to the 3D table with a lower up-front price, then allowing them a simple upgrade path to 3D as further funds for pairs of active shutter glasses become available.
To be fair, while the Toshiba 46TL868B doesn't ship with free 3D glasses, you certainly can't accuse it of lacking features and ambition in other areas. Its connections, for instance, are prodigious, with highlights of four HDMIs, a D-Sub PC input, two USB ports and even a LAN port.
This LAN port is there in part to support the Toshiba 46TL868B's Freeview HD tuner (a tuner that itself might not necessarily have been expected on such a cheap TV). But much more impressively, it can also be used for hooking up to a DLNA-capable (and ideally Windows 7) PC for streaming in video, music and photo files. Or it can be used to take the TV online, via Toshiba's Places service.
There will be more on Places in a moment, but first there are a couple more things to discuss about the two USB ports. Namely that as well as enabling you to play a good variety of multimedia file types - including DivX HD - stored on USB storage devices, they enable you to add an optional USB dongle to make the TV Wi-Fi capable.
The Toshiba 46TL868B's Full HD screen is driven by Edge LED lighting rather than the normal CCFL system you might have expected on such an affordable set. And even more surprisingly, there's 100Hz processing to boost the image's stability, richness and motion clarity.
Heading into the on-screen menus, the Toshiba 46TL868B continues the theme of offering more than you've any right to expect. Pretty much every aspect of the TV's pictures can be adjusted across a prodigious range of settings, thanks to tricks such as a surprisingly well-realised colour management system, a backlight adjustment and a black/white level slider that proves to be a rather nifty tool for enabling you to balance brightness against black level response and shadow detail.
The Toshiba Places online system initially seems hugely promising, thanks to what is arguably the most attractive and 'personable' on-screen interface of any smart TV system to date. It's also clear that Toshiba has managed to sneak a bit more content on there than has been the case before.
The key options available now include BBC iPlayer, Box Office 365 (subscription), the Cartoon Network (subscription), HiT Entertainment (subscription), Viewster, Daily Motion, YouTube, Woomi, Flickr, the Aupeo internet radio site and two significant recent additions: Facebook and the Acetrax on-demand movie service.
Even with these new additions, there's no disguising the fact that Places is currently lagging behind the online systems of its big-name smart TV rivals, such as Samsung's Smart Hub and Sony's Bravia Internet Video services, as seen on the Samsung PS51D8000 and Sony KDL-46HX923, and other excellent smart TVs.
So here's hoping 2012 will bring a flurry of Places activity to rival the flurry of hardware activity Toshiba managed in 2011.
So far the Toshiba 46TL868B has done nothing but over-achieve for its price point. And happily this trend largely continues with its picture performance.
Starting with 3D (having secured a pair of Toshiba's impressively light and rechargeable new active shutter 3D glasses, sold as extras), the Toshiba 46TL868B hits the right note immediately, by delivering an impressive amount of brightness and colour richness with its 3D images.
Sure, wearing the active 3D glasses does lead to a drop off in brightness, but it's nothing like as extreme as it tends to be with some active shutter 3D TVs - especially the more affordable ones.
The decent brightness helps 3D colours look likably natural, as well as bringing out a reasonable amount of tonal subtlety in dark parts of 3D images.
The Full HD nature of the Toshiba 46TL868B's active 3D images is clearly apparent, too, in the strikingly high detail you can see when watching Full HD 3D Blu-rays. Even when there's a lot of motion in the frame, the Toshiba 46TL868B manages to keep things looking crisp and textured - something that cheap TVs usually struggle to do even in 2D mode, never mind 3D.
Also contributing to the clarity of the Toshiba 46TL868B's 3D images is the fact that they're surprisingly little affected by crosstalk noise. The ghosting problem certainly doesn't appear routinely like it can on so many active 3D TVs - even some that cost considerably more than this one. It's still visible around bright or colour-rich objects during quite deep shots, but for the most part it's only a minor and occasional irritation rather than the really destructive force we might have expected.
In fact, it's the 3D image's clarity that sticks in the mind much more than any crosstalk issues.
Although mostly much better than they've any right to be for under £700, the Toshiba 46TL868B's 3D pictures do suffer with a bit of a problem during very dark scenes. During these you can sometimes see clear evidence of backlight inconsistency in the TV's top left and right corners. What's more, the fact that the areas of extra brightness are essentially a 2D artefact lying across the surface of a 3D image tends to make them look more obvious.
It's no surprise whatsoever to find backlight consistency issues also playing a part in the Toshiba 46TL868B's 2D performance. However, thankfully the problem is much easier to control with 2D than 3D, because there's no need to feed the picture with as much brightness once you don't have to contend with the dimming effect of the 3D glasses.
Take the backlight down to a sensible level - certainly below 70 and ideally between 55 and 60 if your room isn't very bright - and the backlight consistency issues become so minor that you'll only even be vaguely aware of them during a tiny fraction of your overall viewing time.
Dark scenes in 2D mode reveal the Toshiba 46TL868B to have a rather good black level response by the standards of similarly affordable TVs too. Admittedly the backlight, brightness and contrast settings you will probably end up with in your quest for the best black level performance will leave dark scenes sometimes looking a bit short of shadow detail. But this is a relatively small contrast problem by the standards of the affordable TV market at large.
The sharpness and detail evident with HD 2D pictures, meanwhile, handsomely picks up the baton from the clarity noted with HD 3D images, and again goes comfortably beyond the level you might expect at the Toshiba 46TL868B's price point.
The motion clarity noted in 3D mode is even more striking in 2D too. Indeed, it's arguably in this performance aspect more than any other that the Toshiba 46TL868B most rises above its price point.
That said, the set also humbles the vast majority of other affordable TVs with its colours. Their vibrancy and range is even more obvious in 2D mode than in 3D, avoiding both the washed out and off-key looks that are quite common at the more affordable end of the TV market.
In fact, there are a few considerably more expensive TVs we can think of that can't match the Toshiba 46TL868B's colour vibrancy.
While HD TV pictures look startlingly good, aside from the occasional minor backlight flaw, though, the Toshiba 46TL868B does reveal its relative affordability a little more with standard definition sources - or weak quality ones, at least. With these, the set tends to exaggerate whatever noise (MPEG or otherwise) they might contain to a sometimes quite distracting degree.
To be fair, the set does carry noise reduction circuitry, but this tends to leave pictures looking a little soft and laggy.
Ease of use, sound, gaming and value
Ease of use
It's a little disappointing, if not really surprising, to find that the Toshiba 46TL868B's on-screen menus aren't the slick new 'radial wheel' affairs sported by Toshiba's latest flagship TV sets. Especially since the ones you get instead are rather drab and a little long-winded to negotiate your way around.
They are, though, perfectly legible, and once you've calibrated the TV for the first time, there's not that much need to delve back into them again very often.
Other frustrations include difficulties playing back some kinds of files from PCs that don't use Windows 7, and the fact that stupidly, neither the BBC iPlayer nor YouTube apps can be accessed directly from the Places menus. Instead, if you choose iPlayer or YouTube from there, you just get a message telling you to quit Places and access the apps via a different route.
The Places system is otherwise a great addition to the weird and occasionally wonderful array of smart TV interfaces that have emerged in recent times.
As well as looking colourful and inviting, and organising content in a logical way, there are also admirable attempts at personalising the Places system so that it can be adapted to suit different members of your household.
It's going to be really interesting to see where Toshiba takes this impressive start as 2012 plays out.
Turning to the remote control, we like the new design Toshiba has provided for the Toshiba 46TL868B. It's stylish and exceptionally weighty and robust for something that's partnering a budget set. Not all of the buttons have been given the appropriate level of prominence, perhaps, and there's a slight top-heaviness to its design that led us to nearly drop it a couple of times. But overall, it's a winner.
While very slim bodies like the one encasing the Toshiba 46TL868B might be easy on the eye, they don't tend to be compatible with great sound quality. There simply isn't enough room to squeeze in a good quality pair of speakers.
And the Toshiba 46TL868B does not, sadly, prove to be the exception to this rule.
While its audio is perfectly adequate - maybe even slightly better than that - for typical, undemanding TV shows, a good Hollywood action scene or two soon exposes a serious lack of deep bass, as well as an inability to expand the soundstage anywhere near wide enough to avoid sounding flat and thin.
The Toshiba 46TL868B's size and price could potentially make it a very popular gaming monitor. So it was pleasing to only measure an average input lag figure of around 38ms when using the TV's Game preset. This is by no means the best figure around, but it shouldn't be enough to be responsible for many of your gaming failings.
The Toshiba 46TL868B's features and design alone would more than justify its cost. So by the time you've added in its hugely engaging 2D and 3D pictures, you've got a set that's such great value for money it's almost silly.
Toshiba's eye for creating a bargain is arguably at its most effective yet with the Toshiba 46TL868B. It ticks the latest fashion box, for a start, by boasting an exceptionally slender bezel and an extremely trim rear.
Then it confounds expectations raised by its sub-£700 price by providing not only a Freeview HD tuner but also active 3D playback, DLNA network support, USB multimedia support, optional Wi-Fi and even smart TV services courtesy of Toshiba's Places platform.
It even manages to boost its picture credentials by including 100Hz processing, a surprisingly effective Edge LED lighting system and the sort of picture calibration options generally only reserved for much higher-grade TVs.
The fact that the Toshiba 46TL868B is routinely available for less than £700 is undoubtedly this TV's single most attractive point. But there are plenty of other cheap TVs in the world that are nowhere near as desirable.
So attention must also be given to how good the Toshiba 46TL868B's picture quality is - in 2D and 3D mode - for its low price. And to the amount of multimedia and online features it provides for its money. And to the slickness of the space saving design.
The Toshiba 46TL868B's audio is predictably rather flimsy, thanks to a fundamental shortage of bass and a predictable lack of raw power and range. But it's actually perfectly fine with the fairly undemanding stuff that makes up most of a typical TV's diet.
There are also minor issues with backlight consistency, especially during 3D viewing, and the Toshiba 46TL868B's standard definition pictures look a little rough around the edges at times.
Also, Places could benefit from a bit more content coming online.
For its money, the Toshiba 46TL868B is a really excellent TV. It cunningly ticks all of the key feature boxes right now - Freeview HD tuner, active 3D playback, USB and network multimedia playback, Edge LED lighting - and encases them in a fashionably thin chassis that wouldn't look out of place on a TV costing twice as much.
As if that wasn't enough, it also delivers HD 2D and 3D picture performances so clean, bright, colourful and sharp that they make the efforts of many other 'budget' LCD TVs seem positively grubby by comparison.
There are issues, for sure. Backlight inconsistency during very dark 3D scenes is one, and a pretty flimsy audio performance would be another. But taken as an overall package, with its price positioned to the front and centre of our thinking, the Toshiba 46TL868B is one of Toshiba's biggest bargains yet.