Toshiba 46YL863 £1299
29th Feb 2012 | 10:16
Toshiba adds design panache to its Cevo technology in an almost brilliant 46-inch 3D TV
If you live in the UK, chances are your main impression of Toshiba these days is of a value-driven brand that successfully sells mostly good TVs for less money than you'd expect.
If you live in Japan, though, your impression will be very different. There the brand is at the cutting edge of high-end innovation, thanks to the way it integrates its 'Cell' PC technology into its TVs to deliver extreme feature counts and class-leading picture quality.
Now, happily, Toshiba has finally deigned to let at least a bit of its Japanese power filter through to the UK, in the extremely pretty shape of the 46YL863: a designer 46-inch TV equipped with at least a smidgen of Cell power, known as the Cevo Engine.
This should make its presence felt in the television's general picture quality, thanks to more advanced, faster processing. It should also have a particularly strong impact on 3D playback, as it powers a 3D version of Toshiba's 'Resolution +' sharpness enhancement.
It even has the potency to tidy up the notorious crud-fests you tend to get with video streamed from internet sources such as YouTube.
The Cevo Engine even enables the Toshiba 46YL863 to provide an intriguing auto-calibration system, provided you're willing to pay extra for it. We'll explore this later.
Add to these 'premium' features, elements such as active 3D playback support, built-in smart TV functionality and a reasonably well developed set of multimedia playback tools, and you've got a TV with the potential to take on big boys such as the Samsung UE46D8000 and the Panasonic P50VT30.
Alongside the YL863 series in Toshiba's range is the WL863 series, which is essentially the same TV, only finished in black.
Stepping down the range, you get to the VL863 series, which offers a passive 3D solution and doesn't use the Cevo Engine. There's also a cheaper active shutter 3D option in the shape of the TL868 range.
For now, though, we've got our flagship goggles on with the Toshiba 46YL863. So for the next couple of thousand words or so, only the very best will do.
The Toshiba 46YL863's first big feature hits you as soon as you've lifted it from its box - its beautiful looks. The TV enjoys a superbly heavy duty, brushed aluminium finish and looks distinctive and gorgeously sleek with its ultra-slim silver bezel and emphatically thin rear.
Its aluminium stand is unusually sturdy and pretty too, if you're not thinking of hanging the television from a wall.
The Toshiba 46YL863's gorgeous looks are no accident, of course. Toshiba has employed the services of the world-renowned Jacob Jensen Design, whose past clients include Bang & Olufsen, and the resulting combination of industrial and ergonomic design is a triumph.
Despite its slenderness, the Toshiba 46YL863 packs a full suite of connections, including four v1.4 HDMIs, two USBs for playback of video, music and photo multimedia files, and an Ethernet port for streaming files from DLNA PCs or taking you online with Toshiba's Places smart TV platform.
Fittingly for a flagship TV, the Toshiba 46YL863 also includes integrated Wi-Fi, thereby removing one of the most common hurdles to households actually using their new TV's fancy online features.
Setting your Toshiba 46YL863 up is as easy or as sophisticated as you want it to be. On a shallow level, there's a decent selection of presets (though none that can't be improved at least a little by some manual tinkering). For more confident/demanding users, the TV set sports gamma correction and a pretty good colour management system, among other things.
Plus, of course, there's the swanky auto-calibration system made possible by the TV's Cevo Engine processing power.
However, the auto-calibration kit isn't included free in the box. Instead, the TPA-1 kit is an optional extra, costing a rather hefty £250 - a price that buys you a meter for measuring light and colour from the screen. This hooks into one of the TV's USB ports, so that the TV can be fed the information it needs to automatically calibrate its own colour, gamma and other settings.
The auto-calibration system is actually quite easy to use, but unfortunately the post-calibration images it produces probably won't be to many people's tastes.
They look a little flat and muted for most 'mainstream' sensibilities, and more surprisingly they don't look entirely natural, with some colours - especially reds - appearing a touch stronger than they should.
Cevo plays an important part in enhancing numerous aspects of the Toshiba 46YL863's picture quality.
Particularly intriguing - as we'll detail in the Picture quality section of this review - are its tools for sharpening 3D pictures and cleaning up video streamed from the internet. Boosting signals as data-intensive as HD 3D or as ropey as some heavily compressed internet video streams requires more processing power than most TVs can give you.
The Toshiba 46YL863's 3D capabilities are of the active, Full HD flavour, with a single pair of 3D glasses included for free. It's a shame Toshiba couldn't run to adding at least two pairs, but then the TV is pretty decent value, so maybe finding another £50-£80 for each extra pair of glasses you need isn't too heinous.
The Places online service is a classic game of two halves. In the plus column, its interface is unusually attractive and logical, with strong use of graphics and a very approachable and logical way of ordering apps and services into 'social', 'video', and 'music' zones.
Also appreciated, given that TVs are used by your whole family, is the facility to set up personal settings for different users, with each preference suite able to save favourite services and different picture settings.
The TV even features a built-in camera with face-recognition software, so that it can automatically tell who's using the TV and select the correct user settings accordingly. Very clever.
Rather less clever, though, is the quality of the camera, which is so poor that it really struggles to recognise faces correctly if you've got any backlight or low light conditions in your room.
Also letting Places down is its lack of content. The situation was recently improved by the addition of the Acetrax movie rental/purchase platform and Facebook. But other useful services are restricted to the BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Aupeo, Viewster, Flickr, Daily Motion, Funspot and a trio of subscription only services: Box Office 365, the Cartoon Network, and HiT Entertainment.
With most rival brands massively improving their online offerings for 2012, we can only hope that Toshiba has similar improvements up its sleeve.
A few final tricks worth a quick name check are a very impressive claimed 7,000,000:1 contrast ratio from the locally dimming Edge LED backlighting, and the inclusion of a subwoofer among its speakers. This will hopefully stop the Toshiba 46YL863 from suffering from the inconsequential audio usually found on very slim TVs.
If there's one thing that's been consistent about Toshiba's picture quality with its latest range of TVs, it's their inconsistency. You really don't know what you're going to get from one television set to the next.
Thankfully, the Toshiba 46YL863 is definitely one of the brand's better moments. In fact, for most of the time its pictures are pretty spectacular, with the Cevo Engine giving pretty much everything a real sheen of extra quality.
HD pictures are hugely punchy for a start, as rich, vivid colours are driven off the screen with one of the most potent brightness performances around - even after images have been calibrated to deliver the optimum contrast performance.
It's not just the richness of the colour palette that impresses, either. Colour tones can also be nicely calibrated to deliver a well-balanced, natural-looking and ultra-nuanced range that gives images that subtle extra sense of accuracy and naturalism that we always look for in the very best TVs.
Further boosting the Toshiba 46YL863's colour performance is its mostly impressive black level response, which finds the screen able to produce a convincing - and evenly lit - performance with dark scenes.
Just make sure you tone down the backlight output to around its 60 level; if you don't, dark scenes can look a touch greyed over, and small inconsistencies appear in the image's corners.
The amount of detail in HD images is terrific, with every last pixel of picture information finding its way onto the screen in noise-free perfection - and without the image looking harsh or grainy.
Motion is handled very well too - the TV's claimed '400Hz' system (a 200Hz plus a 2x blinking backlight, presumably), as driven by the power of the Cevo Engine, really does cancel out pretty much all judder and blur, even at its lowest, most natural, setting.
If you're a purist who hates such processing systems on principal, though, fear not. Even in their 'nude' mode, the Toshiba 46YL863's pictures suffer with startlingly little motion resolution loss.
Cevo again proves its worth in 3D, if you engage the TV's Resolution+ system. Even when applied to a Full HD 3D Blu-ray, Resolution+ somehow manages to make the images look much sharper, richer, deeper, more precise and more detailed. It's like shifting a slightly out of focus projector back into focus. Phenomenal.
Yet more evidence of the Cevo Engine's potency can be seen in the way the Toshiba 46YL863 upscales standard definition pictures.
Normal Freeview broadcasts from the (HD-capable) tuner are presented with much more sharpness than they inherently contain. And yet this extra sharpness is delivered at the same time that the TV manages to smooth out any compression or other noise that might be in the image.
This is always a sure-fire sign of some superior video processing at work.
For all the Cevo Engine's sterling work, though, the Toshiba 46YL863 can't claim to be perfect. First, as noted earlier, dark scenes can expose a little backlight inconsistency, unless you tone down the backlight output setting quite considerably.
A much worse issue, though, is the crosstalk ghosting noise evident on the Toshiba 46YL863's 3D images. It shows up clearly on all the crosstalk-inducing scenes we exposed the TV too, such as the Golden Gate Bridge sequence in Monsters Vs Aliens. But it even crops up at times - especially when watching Sky 3D - where we wouldn't have expected it to.
What makes this especially disappointing is that it undermines so much good work with almost all other aspects of the Toshiba 46YL863's 3D images.
Usability, sound and value
Toshiba has long persevered with a rather drab and long-winded text-only menu system that's still found on some of its more affordable TVs.
Happily, though, the brand has thought out of the box with the Toshiba 46YL863, producing an innovative and mostly effective on-screen menu system based around a neat and fluid 'concentric circles' design. Excellent.
The Places menus are very clean, colourful, logical and inviting for the most part, too, while the remote control is logically organised.
The auto-calibration kit is a bold attempt to make professional set up of a TV easier for normal folk to achieve too, even if its cost is prohibitive and its results not quite perfect.
There are one or two usability problems, though. First, while the remote control's buttons are effective, the sliding silver sheath on the remote control - intended to cover up a series of rarely used buttons - makes it feel a bit faffy to hold and use.
The other annoyance occurs if you try to access either YouTube or the BBC iPlayer from within the Places menu. Even though there are icons there for both services, selecting them just generates a message telling you that you first need to exit the Places menus and access the two services through a different route. Daft.
TVs as skinny as the Toshiba 46YL863 notoriously find it difficult to produce all but the most basic of audio performances. But Toshiba's television set is an impressive exception to the rule.
For a start, it's able to play louder without succumbing to vibration or harshness than most of its 'size zero' rivals - a situation not harmed by the impressive robustness of its metallic chassis.
Even better, it manages to produce a bit of something that's completely alien to 95% of super-skinny TVs: bass. The built-in subwoofer enables action scenes to enjoy at least a little rumble, which makes them sound hugely more satisfying and engaging than most 'wafer-thin' flatscreen TV sound stages.
Also, the Toshiba 46YL863 is able to open up its audio mix quite nicely when required, giving its sound performance at least a couple more gears than you usually get with flatscreen TVs.
Obviously you can't ignore the fact that £1,300 is a hefty price for a 46-inch TV these days. But the Toshiba 46YL863 is worthy of the money in most ways, delivering an excellent 2D picture performance and a strong feature count.
The only things that should give you pause for thought are its crosstalk problems with 3D and its currently limited online content.
For the vast majority of your viewing time, the Toshiba 46YL863 is an outstanding TV.
Its picture performance with HD, standard definition and even streamed video is exemplary, combining dynamic colours with the best black level response yet seen from a Toshiba Edge LED TV, plus immense amounts of sharpness and detail.
Best of all, it delivers the sort of colour nuance and shadow detailing that always distinguishes the very best TVs.
It's got a solid raft of multimedia tools too, is beautifully built and elegantly designed, and sounds better than most skinny TVs. Plus it leaves few stones unturned in its attempts to enable you to make pictures look exactly like you want them to look.
The only areas that take some shine off the Toshiba 46YL863 are the amount of crosstalk that sometimes appears over the TV set's (otherwise brilliant) 3D pictures, and a rather malnourished online platform.
The Toshiba 46YL863 hits the ground running with an elegant, distinctive silvery design and an outstanding metallic chassis construction, courtesy of the gurus at Jacob Jensen Design.
It also impresses with its user interface, and works hard to make what is ultimately a very sophisticated TV easy to use.
Its 2D pictures are uniformly great, so long as you're careful with the backlight settings, and many aspects of its 3D performance are gobsmacking too.
While 3D images are immensely bright, colourful and detailed, they also suffer from crosstalk noise to an aggravating degree.
There are minor backlight consistency flaws too, if you make the mistake of driving the panel too hard, and the set's Places online system needs more content.
The Toshiba 46YL863 is frustratingly close to perfection. Its 2D pictures, for instance, are easily the best Toshiba has produced from an Edge LED TV, propelling the brand right up there with the very best efforts of its rival brands.
Its distinctive design is elegant in the extreme, too, and its build quality is outstanding. There are welcome signs of innovation where the television's user interface is concerned, and even its audio is a cut above the super-skinny TV norm.
It's just a shame that 3D fans have to put up with too much crosstalk for comfort.
If you're a fan of 3D and have been put off by the Toshiba 46YL863's crosstalk problems, the most crosstalk-free 3D images can be found on Panasonic's plasmas. The 50-inch Panasonic P50GT30 suffers practically no crosstalk, making 3D images look more natural than they do on any other flatscreen TV.
The only catch is that colours look a little stripy in 3D mode, and dark scenes look rather short on shadow detail.
Another notable option would be the Samsung UE46D8000. These incredibly slim screens need to be calibrated carefully to get the best out of them, thanks to their rubbish factory presets. But once you've done that, they're capable of producing excellent 2D and good 3D pictures, and a much better developed online service. The UE46D8000 isn't immune to 3D crosstalk noise, though.
Check out our Best TV article for a constantly updated list of even more great TVs to give the Toshiba 46YL863 a run for its money.