It may have show-off TVs like no other – such as the Toshiba 55ZL2 glasses-free 3D TV, which also happens to have an Ultra HD resolution, too – but Toshiba is a brand that likes to concentrate almost entirely on good value at low prices.
There’s consistently an extra HDMI slot, a third USB or £100 knocked off most Toshiba televisions, and in many ways this 46-inch set from its new TL968 Series continues that trend.
Priced at £749 (around AU$1,139/US$1,199) but spotted for closer to £600 (around AU$912/US$960) online, this Edge LED-backlit TV nevertheless has a few shortcomings. It’s also a glasses-free 3D TV, though not in the way we would like; although fitted with active shutter 3D tech, there are no 3D specs included in the box. They’ll cost you £50+ extra.
Elsewhere, the 46TL968B is your regular Toshiba package. Outed by the brand in September and only just going on sale now, Toshiba’s unique habit of releasing TVs mid-cycle (most new TVs appear in March and remain there for 12 months) has paid off, with a bounty of features for relatively small spend.
The most attractive is probably smart TV, though BBC iPlayer and Acetrax remain the highlights on the otherwise relatively scant Toshiba Places portal.
The hardware is more impressive, with integrated Wi-Fi, four HDMI inputs and two USB slots provided. A 100Hz panel, the Toshiba 46TL968B also includes Clear Scan for introducing hyper-real images from Blu-ray.
On the outside, the 46TL968B is pure Toshiba, with a slim 9mm bezel around the panel that looks like brushed metal, but is in fact fake plastic. A glassy stand adds to the illusion nicely, and confirms that the TV is punching above its weight.
Accompanying this 46-incher in the TL968 Series is the 40-inch Toshiba 40TL968, which costs around £600. It also features Wi-Fi, Toshiba Places, active shutter 3D and a plastic-metallic slim bezel.
These last two features differentiate the TL968 from Toshiba’s other new series for the beginning of 2013, the RL968. The Toshiba RL968 Series is a little smaller in stature, comprising just the 32-inch Toshiba 32RL968 and the 40-inch 40RL968.
These two Full HD LED-backlit LCD TVs are standard 50Hz TVs and have a slightly less powerful form of what Toshiba calls AMR (Active Motion Resolution), an anti-blur frame interpolation technology. Both RL968 televisions have three HDMI inputs.
Toshiba has recently experimented with Passive 3D TVs, but here it’s active shutter 3D all the way. Using the slightly more advanced, though long-winded quasi-dimensional tech automatically means pricier 3D glasses that need to be recharged (though only every 100 hours or so).
Toshiba sent us its new FPT-AG02G active shutter specs to compile this review, which cost around £60 online.
Although comfy and lighter than in previous years, they’re style over substance, designed with gaps around the lenses on each side. Cue reflected and ambient light, which can badly affect the 3D picture if watched during the day. Still, they’re fine for a blackout home cinema environment.
The Toshiba 46TL968 also has a smart TV dimension. You can find a complete run-down of every app in the Toshiba Places smart TV portal in our recent review of the 32-inch Toshiba 32RL958.
But it’s worth pointing out that it remains a sturdy, if sparkle-free choice if all you’re after is BBC iPlayer, and perhaps the odd video on YouTube, downloaded movie from Acetrax, and access to Skype (though you’ll need to buy the optional Freetalk Conference II Skype camera, which costs about £85).
For a budget big screen TV, the Toshiba 46TL968 certainly has plenty going for it, in it, and out of it. A jack-pack on the TV’s left-hand side (as you view it) sports a Common Interface slot, an HDMI input, headphones slot, and some centrally placed manual controls – a standby button, volume rockers and an input changer that together navigate the main GUI. Below them is a USB slot.
The rear connections panel isn’t down-facing, so anything you hook up here will jut out of the back of the TV.
This bad news for wall-mounters is good news for anyone wanting to attach multiple hi-def gadgets, though – adorning the back are three more HDMI inputs (one of them ARC-compatible), a digital optical audio output and a wired LAN (though there’s a Wi-Fi module inside, too).
There’s also a D-sub 15-pin PC input (fast becoming defunct, with laptops using either HDMI or WiDi – which the Toshiba 46TL968 is compatible with) next to the second USB slot, and a full RGB Scart (which are increasingly rare on TVs).
Also back here is an RF aerial plug-in for fuelling Freeview HD, and a set of component video inputs complete with left/right phonos.
If we had any gripes at all about any of that, we’d wish for a third USB slot, preferably on the side. Those USB ports are capable of making recordings from Freeview HD to a hooked-up hard disk, with recordings accessed from within a library on the TV’s user interface.
A 100Hz screen, the Toshiba 46TL968 is otherwise light on heavyweight processing tech.
The picture settings menu’s Advanced menu includes processing modes such as ColourMaster, Auto Brightness Sensor and Active Backlight Control. With the exception of Resolution+ (which effectively upscales standard-definition footage) and ClearScan (a frame interpolation tech exclusively for Blu-ray), these are best left de-activated.
An Expert menu adds tweaks for white balance and gamma, while there’s a 2D to 3D conversion mode, too – though hopes for that aren’t particularly high.
It might be built for HD, but the Toshiba 46TL968B manages a decent performance with standard-definition content, too. Everybody Loves Raymond on Channel 4 is nicely upscaled, with Toshiba’s much-loved Resolution+ removing all but the occasional stain of mosquito noise.
With bright colours and plenty of contrast, a broadcast of MasterChef: The Professionals on the BBC HD channel adds sumptuous detail to that list of positive first impressions.
Switch the lights off and power up the Blu-ray player – in 2D, for now – and the Toshiba 46TL968 immediately shows us one flaw; LED light leakage. In our sample we could see it most clearly in the bottom right-hand corner, though such misting was evident to a lesser extent along both sides of the screen.
It’s distracting if you watch a murky sequence where black dominates; in our test disc Pacific, a close-up shot of a soldier waiting in his foxhole at night on Guadalcanal featured a misty patch on his shoulder.
However, switch the lights back on, or watch brighter fare, and you’ll never see it.
Aside from that, the Toshiba 46TL968 initially does very well indeed using the preset Hollywood Pro setting, which helps create a contrast-heavy image with muted yet realistic colour gradations.
We did notice slight glare around the glowing ammunition leaving the American guns in the dead of night, but black is dealt with reasonably well, with just enough shadow detail.
However, brighter sequences from Pacific, such as when the marines trawl the cadaver-strewn Alligator Creek for signs of life, are where the Toshiba 46TL968 shines, with excellent fine detailing and incredibly lifelike colour throughout this harrowing scene. There is, however, some image lag and a definite judder throughout.
Buried in the Toshiba 46TL968’s Advanced Picture Settings menu is ClearScan, which is available on four settings – complete de-activation, Standard, Middle and High power.
Once used it brings problems, because by upping the frame rate (by inserting guessed-at frames of video) this circuitry introduces a silky smooth look to video. It reduces the instance of motion blur and banishes judder altogether, so much so that it’s hard to go back to ‘normal’ Blu-ray.
However, it also brings problems. Set to its highest strength, Clear Scan makes a fast-moving sequence of the goodies engaging the baddies in paddy fields so much easier to watch in terms of movement, but causes distracting flicker around almost everything that moves.
The picture does look more detailed, however. Tone ClearScan down to middle power and the problem recedes, but not enough, while the standard setting is spotless, yet arguably doesn’t get anywhere the smooth, hyper-real look that ClearScan is there to create.
It may be problematic, but we do wish tech such as ClearScan was given a shortcut on the remote – we’re pretty sure most buyers of the Toshiba 46TL968 will never, ever even notice ClearScan as an option.
Another issue we noticed while testing the Toshiba 46TL968 was its relatively poor viewing angle; slip to off-centre and the colours and contrast begin to drain from the image.
Before engaging with 3D proper, we did put Pacific through the 3D conversion engine, though the results were confused. Depth and foreground weren’t always where they should have been, and movement was somewhat jerky, though the Toshiba 46TL968’s onscreen menu looked great.
This time ClearScan isn’t an option – it’s greyed-out in the Picture settings menus – and nor is it available with a bona fide 3D Blu-ray disc.
That’s a shame, because during the opening sequence of Hugo the Toshiba 46TL968 displayed some image lag, though detail and depth within still shots impressed amid barely a whiff of double-imaging/crosstalk.
There was also a tendency for some of the 3D shots – notably the clock towering above the train station – to look divorced from the picture, and rather fake. This isn’t something that the TV’s 3D depth adjuster can do much about; all that brings is crosstalk.
Usability, sound and value
The new Toshiba TV user interface is obviously a work in progress, or has been, because it’s been tweaked since we reviewed several TVs by the brand this summer.
Gone are the handy shortcuts to BBC iPlayer and YouTube apps, which means there’s no escaping the rather unfriendly Toshiba Places portal.
Nor did we like the Toshiba 46TL968’s remote control, which is scarred by tiny buttons and feels unnatural to hold.
Operating Skype, using the clip-on Freetalk Conference II camera supplied with the our review unit, was a smooth experience, with both video and sound quality impressive.
The inputs list doesn’t include either the networking option or any of the two USB slots, all of which must be accessed from the carousel’s Media Player icon.
In our test with a USB flash drive we managed to play AVC HD, AVI, MKV (including chapters), MP4, MPEG, WMV and WMV HD video files, as well as MP3, M4A and WMA music, and both JPEG and BMP photos.
Over a network it wasn’t quite so expansive, with video streaming limited to MOV, AVI and MP4 files.
We’re happy, though having to choose between USB and networking, then between photo, video and music before we even get to find a file, is rather long-winded. Toshiba’s treatment of digital files isn’t a user interface at all, but a mere root file system.
The grid layout is nice in theory, but none of the thumbnail spaces ever actually fill up with pictures.
With Freeview HD, there’s also a choice between the bog-standard electronic programme guide supplied by Toshiba, and a web-powered platform called MediaGuide devised by Rovi.
The former includes schedules over two hours for 13 channels in what looks like a spreadsheet, though it’s perfectly functional and easily shows up preset recordings (if you attach an HDD) and reminders.
The latter, however, is better looking and more dynamic.
Though it’s fast enough and rarely (fiddly remote aside) gets frustrating, we did notice one or two niggles; while navigating the carousel the brightness often visibly changes suddenly for no apparent reason, and on one occasion the entire TV froze and reset itself from standby.
Audio is probably the Toshiba 46TL968’s main weak point. Armed with two 10W speakers and two special preset modes, Dual 1 and Dual 2, the Toshiba 46TL968 nevertheless fails to conjure enough in the way of low frequency audio to lend high-octane sequences of Pacific enough depth.
The width is nothing to get excited about, either, though for everyday TV watching it just about suffices.
The Toshiba 46TL968 may purport to be a 3D TV, but there are no 3D glasses in the box. That’s a huge shame for a TV costing this much, especially as the brand often supplies up to four pairs in its sets that sport the Easy 3D system. We’re disappointed by the remote control, too.
With a good price and heaving with HDMI and USB slots, the Toshiba 46TL968 is advanced enough to do a job in any living room. Equipped with smart TV apps and on its best behaviour with both SD and HD programmes, it excels with 2D Blu-ray.
Most of all, though, this Edge LED TV meets its brief by being a good value, mid-range television. Just don’t expect fireworks.
The detail, colour and contrast of 2D Blu-ray is where the Toshiba 46TL968 excels, though standard-definition stuff is nicely upscaled, too.
We also liked the unusual chance to choose between a built-in EPG or a web-powered version. Digital files are handled well, while we also liked ClearScan, its effort at creating hyper-real Blu-ray (though it’s not perfect).
Not having 3D glasses in the box says to us that the Toshiba 46TL968 isn’t a 3D TV at all. In practice, it’s with 3D that the Toshiba 46TL968 is at its most mediocre, though its speakers, remote control and its Toshiba Places smart TV platform fall into that category, too. In fact, as a user interface, the Toshiba 46TL968’s just doesn’t seem quite finished.
We also noticed some motion blur, and some light leakage from the LEDs along the panel’s edge that easily shows up in a blackout.
A good value package from Toshiba that performs at its best with 2D Blu-ray and upscales reasonably well, the Toshiba 46TL968 nevertheless misses a trick or two.
We love its four HDMI inputs and two USB slots, and its fake plastic brushed metal slim bezel, too, but without 3D glasses in the box how can the Toshiba 46TL968 call itself a 3D TV?
It makes up for that by including Freeview EPG choices and a fair selection of smart TV apps, though the remote control is poor, as are its speakers. Detail, colour and contrast impress, though there’s some motion blur and light leakage from the sides that are very noticeable in a blackout.
It’s a good effort that will suit the average living room, but the Toshiba 46TL968 contains few surprises considering its £749 (around AU$1,139/US$1,199) asking price.
If you want a step-up option from Toshiba, try the 47WL968, a 47-inch LED TV with a 200Hz panel, auto-calibration and passive 3D.
LG’s 47LM670T also deals in passive Cinema 3D, and adds a brilliant SmartShare networking feature that nicely integrates USB sticks and a networked PC into the TV’s user interface.
Other competitor TVs worth looking at include the Samsung UE46ES6300, which has both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners, and the Panasonic TX-L47ET50B, which features a Crystal Frame. Both offer active shutter 3D.
By Jamie Carter, TechRadar