Toshiba 65L9363DB £4499
12th Nov 2013 | 12:28
Toshiba ditches its usual value focus to pursue a slice of the suddenly exploding 4K TV market
Despite being associated in the UK with the relatively affordable end of the TV market, Toshiba's decision to leap early into the new, premium 4K TV sector isn't as surprising as it might initially seem.
For if you've got a good memory/not enough else going on your life, you might remember that Toshiba launched a TV with a 4K pixel count a full 18 months ago: the 55ZL2.
In the case of that 55-inch set, though, the 4K resolution was a function of Toshiba's well-meant but ultimately unsuccessful stab at delivering a watchable glasses-free 3D experience.
With the new 65L9363DB 4K TV filling our field of vision today, the 4K resolution is all about, well, 4K resolution.
The 8,294,400 pixels are there predominantly so you can enjoy the maximum picture resolution from the upcoming 4K sources we expect to start appearing next year.
Though with a bit of luck, the 65L9363DB's new CEVO 4K processing engine might also be clever enough to deliver a quality boost to your existing HD and even standard definition sources.
The extra resolution it carries should also bolster the 65L9363DB's passive 3D system, enabling you to enjoy a genuine full HD 3D experience rather than the reduced-resolution experience passive 3D gives on normal HD TVs.
Also standing out on the 65L9363DB's spec sheet is Toshiba's Cloud TV smart system of DLNA streaming and online applications, and an extremely extensive set of picture calibration tools in keeping with the set's ambition to curry favour with really serious AV fans.
The 65L9363DB is joined in Toshiba's 4K ranks by a 58-inch model, the 58L9363DB, which has the distinction of being the cheapest - at £2,999 - 4K TV currently on sale in the UK. Naturally, we'll be testing this too as soon as we can get hold of one.
If 4K doesn't interest you or, more likely, you just can't stretch your budget to 4K levels, Toshiba's highest-level HD LCD TVs are the L7 series, comprising the 58-inch 58L7365, the 50-inch 50L7355 and the 40-inch 40L7355.
The 65L9363DB's design is more 'smart casual' than 'black tie'. Its skinny frame is suitably on trend and gains extra fashion kudos for making you wonder how such a large expanse of screen can be supported by apparently so little bodywork.
The silver areas of its finish look a bit cheap compared to the metallic or glass-like finishes sported by some high-end rivals though, and while the open-framed table stand you get with the TV is attractive and robustly built, it doesn't hold the screen quite as rigidly as we might like.
Toshiba's entry-level screens are often justly praised for the amount of connections and features they carry, so it's no surprise to find this flagship model packing plenty of feature heat beyond its main attraction of a 3840x2160 native pixel count.
For starters it sports Toshiba's new Cloud TV online system, complete with a revamped interface and access to a selection of online applications and video-streaming services.
It doesn't take too long to discover, though, that this online service is pretty low on content versus the Smart TV platforms now offered by some rivals - most noticeably LG and Samsung. The only video-streaming services of note, for instance, are the BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube and KnowHow Movies. Which means there's no LoveFilm, no ITV Player, no 4oD and no Demand 5 - to name but four.
There are signs of genuine innovation in Toshiba's Cloud TV platform, though. Its inclusion of a Twitter feed showing posts associated with the top three trending programmes is clever, if ultimately ruined by the distinctly un-family-friendly language of so many of Twitter's users, and we genuinely liked the little group of onscreen avatars who recommend upcoming programmes from different genres - despite the avatars' rather low-res appearance.
Apparently, Toshiba will at some point add another avatar able to make recommendations based on an analysis of your viewing history, but as yet we don't have a confirmed date for this.
We also appreciate Toshiba's efforts when it comes to providing search tools to help you track down content across the set's many different source options, and the ability to sync the TV listings to a MediaGuide app on your iOS or Android smart device so that you can browse channels on your portable screen without interrupting what's showing on the main TV.
Ultimately, though, there's no disguising that Toshiba needs to add more video services before it can start to mix it with the best the Smart TV world has to offer.
As you would expect, the online services we've just been talking about are delivered by both a LAN port and built-in Wi-Fi - and just as predictably, these connections also permit streaming of video, photo and music files from networked DLNA-enabled PCs.
You've also got both USB and SD card ports for direct playback of media from those storage devices, while other key connections include four HDMI ports.
These HDMIs are not built to the 4K-friendly HDMI 2.0 spec, but they can currently play 4K signals up to 30FPS, and Toshiba assures us that a firmware update at some point will enable them to support 4K up to 60P - though almost certainly only at an 8-bit, 10.2MB or so data rate with 4:2:0 colour sampling.
The Panasonic L65WT600 with its cutting-edge HDMI 2.0 ports and proprietary data handling chips can handle up to 18MB 4:4:4 signals by comparison.
Inevitably, the 65L9363DB supports 3D playback, opting for LG's passive format and providing four pairs of glasses for instant family 3D action.
The screen is lit by an edge LED lighting system and driven by Toshiba's 800AMR processing engine, which combines a native 100Hz panel with backlight scanning and frame interpolation elements to give a claimed 800Hz-like motion effect.
If you're a die-hard tinkerer or fancy getting your TV professionally calibrated by an expert, the 65L9363DB's got your back thanks to a seriously extensive collection of picture calibration aids - including the key gamma, colour management and white balance fine tuning tools.
The current lack of readily available UHD content may mean it's a few months at least before you're able to make full use of the 65L9363DB's 3840x2160 pixel count.
But we're lucky enough to have a few UHD sources lying around the test room now, and Toshiba also supplied some demo content of its own on a high-spec laptop. So it's with this high-end content that we start our picture tests.
Almost inevitably, true UHD instantly looks sensational.
The 65-inch screen on the 65L9363DB is amply big enough to demonstrate the advantages of having four times as many pixels in what you're watching as you get with HD - advantages which chiefly comprise levels of detail so high the picture basically looks like reality; a sense of depth to large-scale shots much more extreme than you see with HD; and colours that look beautifully nuanced thanks to the way the extra resolution can remove colour blocking and striping artefacts.
It's also good to see that the 65L9363DB doesn't sell UHD content too short when there's motion to handle. Sony, and especially Samsung, handle motion with UHD sources slightly better - though to be fair the extent of resolution lost over moving objects by the 65L9363DB is seldom severe enough to be distracting.
To get the crispest motion you need to use Toshiba's motion processing options, which wouldn't normally be something we'd recommend. But thanks to the power of the CEVO processing engine you can apply motion processing on the 65L9363DB without having to worry about the twitching, stuttering issues noted with the motion processing on lower-level Toshiba TVs.
We mentioned the extreme subtlety of the 65L9363DB's colour performance back there, but also extremely impressive is the vibrancy of the colour palette.
There's more dynamism in the colour presentation than you get with Samsung's F9000 models, and actually the Toshiba's colour potency doesn't fall far short of the class-leading efforts of Sony's X9005A 4K TVs, with their new TriLuminos colour technology.
In fact, it's in this colour aspect of its performance that the 65L9363DB most demonstrates just how far it sits above Toshiba's normal TVs in terms of its innate panel quality and processing sophistication.
The 65L9363DB's contrast initially looks fantastic too. During sequences that combine a mix of bright and dark content, in fact, we'd say Toshiba's set delivers what looks like the starkest contrast performance we've seen from any UHD TV to date.
Oddly, though, this situation reverses when you're watching more uniformly dark content. For here both the Sony and, especially, the Samsung UHD TVs, produce comfortably deeper, richer black levels than the 65L9363DB.
What's more, dark scenes also uncover a flaw in the 65L9363DB's UHD make up; namely that the screen's apparent lack of native contrast means it struggles to produce detail in dark parts of the picture, creating a hollow feel that's emphasised by the outstanding detail on show with bright UHD images.
We guess it doesn't help that the 65L9363DB struggles with shadow detail and that, unlike Sony and Samsung's UHD TVs, it doesn't appear to support any form of local dimming technology.
It's not just with its black level performance that the 65L9363DB struggles against its Samsung and Sony rivals, either.
For while it upscales HD and even standard definition to its UHD pixel count perfectly pleasantly, with palpable extra pixel density and a retention of those pleasing colour standards noted with UHD, the results also look less crisp, less noise-free and less UHD-like than those of its two key rivals.
One other minor issue we noted with our review sample is the very occasional appearance of some extremely subtle vertical banding over bright pictures. This was so fleeting that it's entirely possible most people won't ever notice it, though, and it could be just an issue specific to our sample.
The last element of the 65L9363DB's picture performance to consider is its passive 3D playback. And in some ways this is the shiny star in the set's performance firmament.
The sheer clarity of the 3D images is breathtaking.
A number of factors contribute to this, including an almost complete absence of crosstalk ghosting noise (as long as your vertical viewing angle isn't too extreme), some unexpectedly assured motion handling, considering the problems Toshiba has in this area with its cheaper, non-UHD TVs, and lots of detail thanks to the ability of the UHD resolution to deliver full HD 3D Blu-ray images with none of the resolution loss you get with regular HD TVs.
To be clear about this, unlike Samsung's active 3D TVs, the 65L9363DB doesn't upscale images to produce a UHD-level of horizontal resolution. But there will doubtless be some, if not many, viewers who will prefer the beautiful naturalism and relaxed feel of the 65L9363DB's passive images.
The 65L9363DB's ability to combine really bright colours and whites with apparently deep black colours within the same frame also pays dividends with 3D, as it helps the set handle better the contrast-based depth cues used by all decent 3D transfers.
To top it all, the slight dimming effect of Toshiba's 3D glasses reduces the obviousness of the screen's contrast problems.
In short, the 65L9363DB produces one of the most convincing arguments in favour of 3D we've seen to date.
The 65L9363DB has some really helpful tricks up its sleeve. Particularly thoughtful is the MediaGuide app (for iOS and Android) you can use for surfing broadcast listings on your portable device so you don't have to interrupt your TV viewing while you browse.
There are some quite extensive and nicely presented search tools for finding content across the 65L9363DB's many sources too, and the multi-hub approach of the smart TV menus is effective, if left looking a bit repetitious at the moment by Toshiba's lack of online content.
Also effective is the use of four onscreen avatars with different 'interests' to recommend content from the upcoming channel listings. This is a less confusing and more friendly approach than Samsung's Recommendations engine - though Samsung's system is more sophisticated.
The Toshiba Smart TV menus are a bit bland and old-fashioned looking, though. And worst of all, both the smart and main menus are hamstrung by some painful sluggishness in their reaction times, leading to numerous accidental multiple button presses and wrong selections.
While not managing to reach the giddy audio heights of the magnetic fluid speakers found inside Sony's X9005A UHD/4K TVs, the 65L9363DB is certainly one of the better-sounding TVs in town.
Its speakers are sufficiently powerful to pump out a soundstage big enough and aggressive enough to do the huge scale of the 65-inch images proud, especially as the soundstage is also propelled a handy distance from the TV's sides without starting to sound incoherent.
There's even a decent amount of bass in the mix despite the set not sporting a dedicated subwoofer speaker.
The 65L9353DB's £5,500 price is perhaps its single biggest problem. For it's £500 higher than the current prices of the Samsung UE65F9000 and Sony KD-65X9005A - two 65-inch UHD rivals which both slightly outgun the Toshiba when it comes to getting the most from their ultra-high picture resolutions.
UPDATE: The price has now been reduced to £4,499 (Amazon UK).
Toshiba's arrival on the UHD TV scenes is perhaps unfortunately timed.
The 65-inch 65L9363DB comes on the heels of already-stellar UHD TVs from Sony and Samsung, putting pressure on the Toshiba's performance. While at £5,500 it's also markedly more expensive than its Sony and Samsung rivals now they've slashed a grand off their original prices.
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Despite all this, the 65L9363DB gives a good account of itself, both on the feature side thanks to its Smart TV services and powerful picture processing engine, and on the picture side - especially when it comes to native UHD and 3D playback.
Native UHD sources look as scintillating as ever, with the 65L9363DB's exceptionally rich colour handling adding to UHD's impact.
The set also excels with 3D, reinvigorating the ailing format, and there's plenty of audio power to partner the large, ultra-detailed pictures.
While the set's contrast looks good with mixed bright and dark content, dark scenes suffer a rather grey look and a lack of shadow detail.
The set doesn't upscale HD and standard def to its native UHD resolution quite as cleanly and crisply as rival models either, the online service needs more video feeds, and the £5,500 asking price seems at least £500 too high.
Toshiba has clearly worked immensely hard on the 65L9363DB, combining the normal thrills of UHD with extremely rich colours and some powerful processing that's especially at home, surprisingly, with motion handling. Its all-new operating system works well, too, in many ways.
However, some contrast problems and a sluggish, content-light smart TV system both conspire to make Toshiba's set look expensive compared with its current UHD rivals.
Hopefully Toshiba will be able to find its way to offering a significant price cut on the 65L9363DB sooner rather than later, for at the right price level it could become a seriously tempting proposition.
The Sony model is much larger than the Toshiba if that's a problem for you, but it uses its extra size to good effect by including an unprecedentedly powerful audio system.
The Sony also upscales HD slightly better than the Toshiba, and delivers an even richer colour palette. The Sony's smart TV interface isn't as sophisticated as the Toshiba's, but there is more video content on it.
The Samsung focuses on delivering a more potent sense of the sharpness and detail that's UHD's headlining calling card, and also does a better job handling dark scenes than the Toshiba. Plus it provides the most content-rich and sophisticated smart TV engine around right now. Toshiba outguns Samsung where colour saturations are concerned, though.
Both the Sony and Samsung TVs, meanwhile, also cost £500 less than the Toshiba model.