Toshiba 47WL968 £1099
3rd Sep 2012 | 09:00
Great upscaling and 3D star on this flagship TV with BBC iPlayer
There was a time when the passive 3D TV system, which most of us are familiar with from the cinema, was seen as a cheap, less effective technology best used on second-rung TVs.
That all changed in 2012 when LG - the company that came up with the technology and called it Cinema 3D - went to great lengths to make sure all of its flagship LED-backlit TVs had the passive flavour of 3D.
Fuel is aded to that fire by the 47WL968, Toshiba's high-end LED TV, though here it's called 3D Natural.
Arriving in our test labs with four pairs of 3D glasses, the 47WL968 confirms Toshiba as the only brand that offers all three flavours of 3D - though at £7,000 (around AU$10,670/US$11,214) its auto-stereoscopic, glasses-free Toshiba 55ZL2 is arguably little more than a curio.
On the Toshiba 47WL968, using the passive, polarised tech does mean a drop in 3D detail, which some will miss on this Full HD panel, though Toshiba does offer a 100Hz panel to lessen motion blur.
This Edge LED-backlit set adds four HDMI ports, Wi-Fi, home networking, PC mirroring via Intel's WiDi system, two USB inputs (that can record from its Freeview HD tuner) and, of course, a bevy of smart TV apps - including BBC iPlayer and Acetrax - on its Toshiba Places portal.
As befits a flagship TV, the Toshiba 47WL968's design is the work of a professional, Jacob Jensen, who's crafted a super-slim bezel in brushed aluminium.
The bezel itself is tiny, at a mere 10mm wide, though there is a further 7mm between where the bezel ends and the image begins.
The 47-inch Toshiba 47WL968 costs £1,099 (around AU$1,675/US$1,760). It and the 55-inch Toshiba 55WL968 (£1,499, or around AU$2,285/US$2,400) make up Toshiba's WL968 Series, its flagship attempt at Edge LED-backlit TVs.
Elsewhere there's a great value big screen TV - also with 3D Natural - in the shape of the 55-inch Toshiba 55VL963, though it hasn't got Wi-Fi.
If you're after something a little smaller, there are few better second-screen options than the 32-inch Toshiba 32RL958, which presents Toshiba Places apps complete with Wi-Fi for a bargain £399.
A 1920 x 1080 pixel Full HD resolution, Edge LED-backlit LCD panel (manufactured by LG) is the centrepiece of the Toshiba 47WL968, and there's plenty more advanced TV tech inside.
The key reason to buy this over another Toshiba TV is its advanced treatment of what Toshiba calls '3D Natural'. Using the cheaper polarised 3D glasses, the same as in cinemas, means four pairs in the box; beat that, active shutter nemesis.
If you're unsure about the two competing flavours of 3D and what's best for you, see our Active Shutter vs Passive 3D TV: which is best? guide.
Though firmly a 2D-only technology, the Toshiba 47WL968's 400 AMR deserves some explaining. It stands for Active Motion Resolution, and is a frame interpolation technology that's trying to up the frame rate of what you see.
On the Toshiba 47WL968 it combines a 200Hz-capable panel (which should lessen motion blur) with a blinking backlight that inserts guessed-at frames of video, principally to remove judder from Blu-ray.
The end result is what The Hobbit'shigh frame rate achieves naturally - an increase in the frames your eye sees each second. And like The Hobbit, it has a hyper-real effect, though on the TV's interface this feature is called ClearScan.
Toshiba Places is the 47WL968's smart TV platform, and though it's nowhere near as slick or expansive as some efforts, it does manage the likes of YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Acetrax movies, Twitter, Facebook and Skype (though only if you buy a clip-on £85 Freetalk Conference II HD camera) - and wirelessly, at that.
Staying on the wireless theme, the Toshiba 47WL968 deals in Intel Wireless Display, WiDi for short, whereby WiDi-capable laptops and netbooks can be displayed without cables.
The Toshiba 47WL968 also makes for a versatile digital TV. It's fitted with a Freeview HD tuner, of course, but there's a choice to be had here between having the TV schedules delivered either over-the-air from the broadcasters, or from the web.
The latter necessitates the Toshiba 47WL968 being attached to a broadband router and consists of MediaGuide, a stylish and fast-working electronic programme guide supplied by Rovi. The Toshiba 47WL968 has its own EPG, too, but MediaGuide is in a different league, and fully integrates with the TV's other functions - though both include the ability to set recordings to a hard disk hooked up via one of the TV's two USB slots.
There's also a Toshiba MediaGuide app available for Android-powered tablets and smartphones, which enables you to browse and control the EPG; it works a bit like the new Virgin Tivo app.
We'll end on a high with the highlights of the ins and outs on the rear of the Toshiba 47WL968. Four HDMI inputs lead the charge, with two USB slots, a full RGB Scart, wired LAN, optical audio, component video and headphones slots also supplied. That's plenty for living rooms and home cinemas alike.
Despite all the 3D goodness and hi-definition detail, it's the Resolution+ feature that once again impresses us.
Seemingly more powerful than ever, a broadcast of This Morning looks so much sharper - particularly backgrounds - with Resolution+ switched on, though even with it deactivated images from Freeview HD are clean and contrast-heavy.
That doesn't apply to all channels, but even low quality adverts retain a togetherness that's rare on all but top-end TVs.
ClearScan doesn't make much difference while watching broadcast TV, the exception being vertical camera pans, which do look smoother.
Resolution+ again earns its corn during a run-through of Pacific on 2D Blu-ray, brightening detail and increasing the subtlety of colours. It's especially noticeable in close-ups, though during murky scenes it also wins out; raindrops glistening in moonlight on a car windscreen are carefully brightened with Resolution+ engaged. The resulting extra fine detail, within dark areas especially, borders on awesome.
There is a slight judder during camera pans, and a some loss of resolution when WWII gets going, and though it's not serious, you can turn to ClearScan.
What we're looking for here is a return to plasma-like fluidity, and that's almost exactly what ClearScan does. It creates a smooth, hyper-real picture, though it's only worth bothering with on either 'middle' or 'high' settings, both of which cause artefacts around moving elements of the picture (a by-product of ClearScan's inserting of new frames of video).
Perhaps it's best left alone on this TV, since the native panel doesn't need much help.
Active vs passive 3D
Elsewhere, the Toshiba 47WL968 impresses with its contrast. Black areas of the image contain just enough shadow detail, and there's no suggestion of light leakage from those LEDs.
Lastly in 2D, the viewing angle proves much wider than on budget LCD TVs.
With Hugo on 3D Blu-ray it's immediately obvious that the Toshiba 47WL968 is a bit special in this department. It is possible to see the horizontal lines in the panel - a trait of its polarised filter - but it's otherwise easy to watch.
Simple depth-effect shots such as when Maximilian the dog stares at the camera, and another of Claude's boots, are displayed with impressive clarity and depth of field.
We implore you to make sure that Resolution+ is engaged whenever you watch in 3D, since this fabulous feature unveils a new level of detail in the image, brightening parts of the background and generally increasing shadow detail in any dark areas.
Even a pedestrian sequence where Hugo and Isabelle bring Rene to the house benefits hugely from Resolution+, which adds a lot of detail to close-ups, and subtlety to colours.
However, it's not all good news. During Hugo we did notice some motion artefacts around characters as they moved their heads. It appears to be caused by Resolution+, which is a shame.
ClearScan, which would make sequences such as the opening panoramic shots of Hugo that bit more fluid, is unfortunately not available during 3D viewing.
Usability, sound and value
The Toshiba 47WL968 has a poor remote control. It's very lightweight, but the slight banana shape it's got makes it tricky to figure out in an instant if you're holding it up the right way or not.
The buttons on its curved, gloss black front are too small, so the directional keypad - though nicely placed in the centre under where the thumb naturally lays - is not as easy to operate as it should be.
Menus, Guide, Back and Exit - the four most commonly used buttons - are too small, while pressing the input changer means sliding the entire remote through your hand until you're just gripping it by the end.
These design faults aren't fatal, but on a flagship TV it's disappointing.
Most unusually for a smart TV, the open web browser is actually pretty good. Accessed via Toshiba Places, the Opera-based browser works quickly and, most crucially, scanning up and down with the remote control's navigational buttons is a cinch.
Still, actually clicking on links is harder; this is a browser for reading long web pages, but that's about it.
WiDi will appeal to anyone using new laptops, though otherwise networking is basic, but functional: we managed to get AVC HD, AVI, MKV, MP4, MPEG, WMV and WMV HD video files to play from a USB stick (though only MOV, AVI and MP4 from a networked PC).
We also managed to access JPEG and BMP photos, and MP3, M4A and WMA music.
Although it's not got many audio options as such, the Toshiba 47WL968 has Audyssey Premium going on in the background, which results in a slightly fuller and more detailed soundstage than on cheaper Toshiba TVs - but it's far from the highlight on the Toshiba 47WL968.
While the provision of four pairs of 3D specs is great when compared to the paltry one or two pairs supplied with active shutter 3D TVs, we're not sure it contributes to the Toshiba 47WL968 being good value per se; by now haven't most of us got at least two pairs of 3D specs brought home from the local multiplex?
Still, the 3D image itself is certainly good value, as is the inclusion of one of the finest picture processing technologies around, in the form of Resolution+. An attractive, high-end design is also here, though that doesn't extend to the remote control, which has no place operating this flagship TV.
Far from being a second-rate technology designed for budget TVs, 3D Natural - a polarised, passive 3D tech - here continues its journey towards being a premium TV feature.
It succeeds, but takes second place to Toshiba's upscaling processing, which in this era of mixed SD, HD and 3D sources makes another stab at being one of the TV world's most useful processing features.
Resolution+ brightens and sharpens with extraordinary consistency and precision, lifting 2D Blu-ray and standard definition TV fare alike. Contrast and colour also impress.
Meanwhile, the digital file support is extensive enough, and the outward design is attractive. The inclusion of four pairs of 3D specs further lifts our impression of the Toshiba 47WL968 as a good value big screen TV that hosts BBC iPlayer.
Although it's a smart TV, the Toshiba 47WL968 doesn't feature the most advanced interface or a comprehensive selection of apps.
Its key processing technologies, ClearScan (which sadly doesn't work on 3D) and Resolution+, both cause slight artefacts. Lastly, the remote control is poor; a flagship TV such as this deserves much better.
The Toshiba 47WL968 offers awesome 2D Blu-ray and a comfortable, convenient 3D mode, but more besides.
Those after a smart TV will find BBC iPlayer and the chance to stream some movies within an otherwise limited selection of apps. Four pairs of 3D specs, a fabulous design and the awesome Resolution+ upscaling tech make this a good value all-rounder for any living room.
Active vs passive 3D
If the high fashion of this Toshiba doesn't please your eyes, then cast them to the Samsung UE46ES7000, which has a bezel just as slim, and a classier desktop spider-stand, too.
Also clock the Sony KDL-46HX853, one of the finest LCD TVs ever produced.