Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified..
At the high end of the LCD TV cost spectrum sits models equipped with LED backlighting. Whether edge-lit or local dimming, these sets command a price premium and deliver somewhat better energy efficiency and markedly better black level performance than standard LCD TVs. But with black levels on par with plasma comes a price in the form of blooming, subpar off-angle performance and, in the case of the Toshiba SV670U series, an overactive backlight. On the flipside it still delivers those inky blacks, along with accurate color and solid video processing. The Toshiba SV670U can get you into the LED game for less, and for LCD-over-plasma fans who crave black levels, that's reason enough to consider one.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Toshiba 46SV670U, but this review also applies to the 55-inch Toshiba 55SV670U. The two share basically identical specs aside from screen size and should exhibit very similar performance.
Editors' note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the SV670U series and the Toshiba ZV650U series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the previous review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.
In photos the SV670U looks basically the same as the ZV650U models, but in person there's a fairly apparent difference. The S models have a sheet of transparent material that covers the entire face of the panel, creating an illusion, especially from the side, of the whole thing being composed of one pane of glass.
The frame around the screen of the SV670U series is edged in silver metal, which borders a silver background that fades tastefully to black. If you look closely you'll see that the black fade is suspended above the sliver background and the silver is composed of tiny squares that curve from the extreme edge of the panel inward. It's a subtly complex design that results in an attractive, unusual look that doesn't detract one whit from the picture--although like the Z models, the S look a bit bulkier with that extra frame area than many competing LCDs. The company completes the external package with a matching swivel stand.
Black and silver extends to the remote, and we mostly liked its design. The big clicker has quite a few buttons but makes good use of size and placement differentiation to allow relatively easy operation by feel alone. On the downside, it's not illuminated, and small-handed people might have trouble reaching the important picture mode and size keys at the bottom of the remote, which should be moved higher at the expense of the transport keys. The Toshiba remote can control three other pieces of gear.
The company's menu system has improved from last year, with better-organized icons and a simpler layout. We liked the easy-to-read color scheme, but there are still some problems. The menu buries too many options toward the bottom, exposing too few to view, and we missed having explanatory text for each selection.
LED backlighting with local dimming takes full responsibility for the SV670U's price hike over the company's step-down models. This LCD-based TV employs groups of LEDs (as opposed to the standard fluorescent lamps behind most LCD screens) that can be individually dimmed or even switched off in different areas of the screen. The system is different from edge-lit LED-based LCDs, such as the 6000, 7000, and 8000 series sold by Samsung, because the Toshiba's LEDs are arranged behind the screen as opposed to, well, along the edges. In general we've observed improved contrast, along with some trade-offs, with local dimming technology, so check out Performance below for the full skinny.
On the downside the Toshiba SV670U lacks the Internet-connected interactive capability found on many of its competitors this year.
The SV670U does have a 240Hz refresh rate, however, which in theory means the TV takes each frame from a standard 60Hz source and repeats it four times. In practice, the method used by Toshiba, along with LG and Vizio, only repeats each frame twice, using a so-called "scanning backlight" system to double those frames to four. Sony and Samsung, the other players in the 240Hz game so far, actually repeat each frame four times on their 240Hz displays.
This TV also incorporates dejudder processing with its Smooth setting. We appreciated that, like Samsung's dejudder-equipped LCDs and unlike any others we've tested, Toshiba allows you to get the antiblurring effects of 240Hz without having to engage dejudder. The company also makes a big deal out of its Resolution+ processing, which applies to standard-def sources.
Picture adjustments are extensive on the SV670U series. The set offers five adjustable picture modes and a sixth, called "AutoView," that automatically adjusts certain parameters (like Contrast) according to its own logic, based on ambient lighting and picture content. Each of the other modes is independent per input.
Moving beyond the basics, Toshiba included a big bag of tweaks. Most are quite useful, such as a 31-position gamma slider that allows a great deal of fine-tuning; the ability to lock your settings; red, green, and blue filters, which allow you to tweak color and tint; and full color temperature controls (a first for Toshiba)--although we question the utility of 10 color temperature presets, when most sets get by fine with 3 or 4. A few other less useful settings include the "Control Visualization" window that displays a brightness versus "number of pixels" graph; and the oodles of automatic adjustments, including dynamic contrast and the automatic room lighting sensor, which is also adjustable. On this Toshiba the DynaLight setting controls whether or not local dimming is engaged; we recommend leaving it on, which significantly improved black level performance.
The SV670U has an ample five aspect ratio choices with high-definition sources. We recommend using the "Native" mode for 1080i and 1080p sources, since that mode scales the incoming pixels to the screen without introducing overscan.
While the Toshiba lacks picture-in-picture, it does offer a media reader function that can handle digital photos and music stored on USB sticks or SD cards (the card reader only handles photos). Fans of DivX will appreciate that the USB reader can also handle videos in that format (we didn't test this feature).
Toshiba equipped the SV670U with plenty of connectivity. The back panel starts with three HDMI inputs, adding two component-video, one VGA-style PC (1,280x1,024 maximum resolution), and one AV input with composite and S-Video, along with digital and analog audio outputs. The side panel sports a fourth HDMI, another AV input with composite video, and USB and SD card slots.
All told, the Toshiba SV670U series showed off very good picture quality, with the inky blacks typical of local dimming LED-based LCDs accompanied by mostly accurate color. On the flipside we noticed more blooming--the tendency of bright objects to spill over onto dark backgrounds--than with other such displays we've tested, and worse off-angle performance than the competition.
Editors' note, updated 10-26-2009: The picture quality results noted below were obtained from the second of two review samples we tested. The first exhibited significantly worse image quality, characterized by flashing LED segments in dark scenes. Toshiba has released a firmware update, however, which cures the problem. See this blog post for more information.