As the number of flat-panel HDTVs climbs, and the choices become ever more overwhelming, manufacturers look for more ways to differentiate their models. With the RF350U series, represented by the 40-inch 40RF350U, Toshiba chose compact external design as its differentiator, making for a sleek, trim look.
On the other hand, the quality of the 40RF350U's picture falls below that of most of the rest of the flat-panel field, especially in terms of color accuracy. If you want maximum screen size for minimum cabinet size, however, you can't do better than this Toshiba.
When we first profiled the Toshiba RF350U series, we crowed over its slim profile--and in person, from the front at least, the TV doesn't disappoint.
The bezel around the screen is thinner than any we've seen, at just about 0.8 inch along the top and sides. The bottom, which incorporates the silver-lined speaker slot and a slightly wider bezel edge of about 1.2 inches, is again narrower than that of any flat-panel we've seen. If you want economy-of-face, this very attractive HDTV has it.
Including its stand, the 40RF350U measures just 36.9 inches wide by 25 inches tall by 12 inches deep; remove the stand, and the panel dimensions shrink to 36.9 by 22.6 by 4.8 inches. It weighs 59.1 pounds. Compared to slim LCDs such as the Sharp LC-D64U series, that nearly 5-inch depth seems a bit chunky, buy if we must have a couple extra inches in any dimension on a flat-screen TV, we'd prefer depth.
We liked the large remote, though some users might find the number of buttons intimidating at first. The big central cursor feels just right, and the buttons are grouped logically; this is one of the few clickers we've seen recently to include full backlighting behind every key.
The remote can handle five other pieces of gear. The internal menu system groups the many items in intuitive categories, though the numerous picture options made that menu seem more intimidating than necessary. We also would have appreciated text explanations for each menu item.
The Toshiba 40RF350U has a native resolution of 1080p, so its 1,920x1,080 pixels can resolve every detail of today's highest-quality HDTV sources. All non-1080-resolution sources, from standard TV to DVD to 720p HDTV, are scaled to fit the pixel array.
For what it's worth, this Toshiba can take advantage of a few features associated with HDMI 1.3, namely the xvYCC color space, Deep Color, and Lip-Sync Latency. All three require an HDMI 1.3-compatible source (typically a late-model Blu-ray or HD DVD player) playing a disc or other content encoded with these features. We did not test these extras, as that content didn't exist at the time of this review, and we don't expect it to be available for a while.
There are four preset picture modes that cannot be adjusted--doing so causes an automatic switch to the Preference mode, which saves changes independently for each input. This design is a bit problematic, since it automatically erases the changes you had previously entered in Preference, but there is an easy, if not exactly intuitive, fix. The TheaterLock function can gray out (make nonadjustable) most of the options in Preference modes, guarding your hard-tweaked settings against accidental erasure.
Beyond the standard picture controls, there's an array of advanced options. You can choose to engage DynaLight, which does improve black levels in dark scenes, though we left it off for critical viewing, since it changes the black level according to program content. We kept Dynamic Contrast off for the same reason.
We did appreciate the 10 gamma settings (we used the lowest setting, minus-5, because it provided the most CRT-like rise from black) and 3 color temperature presets, as well as the ability to adjust the color temperature's blue and green drive (though they don't seem to work properly).
There are two kinds of noise reduction, with four levels each. Toshiba also throws in a Color Master Pro option that enables fine color adjustment, but it doesn't work all that well.
Among more conventional conveniences, the Toshiba lacks a picture-in-picture option. There's also no dedicated Power Save mode that affects the TV while it's turned on, though you can engage a mode that makes the TV emerge from standby more quickly.
As usual, this mode causes the set to consume more power when turned off--15 watts versus 1.29 watts in default mode, which can add to your electric bill. See the Juice Box below for details.
Connectivity on the 40RF350U is ample, including three HDMI inputs, two component video inputs, a PC input (just 1,280x1,024 resolution), an AV input with composite and S-Video, and an RF jack for cable or an antenna. The side panel offers an additional AV input with composite video only.
As we mentioned at the top, the most disappointing aspect of the Toshiba 40RF350U's picture is its color accuracy, in both its grayscale and its primary and secondary colors. The set manages to deliver a deep level of black and process 1080i material well, but those positives are outweighed by its picture quality issues in other areas.
As always, we began the review process by calibrating the TV's user menu controls for optimal performance in a darkened room, beginning with attenuating its light output to a comfortable 40 footlamberts (FTL).
While the set does have controls for color temperature adjustment, they didn't seem to "take" consistently. For some reason, after we'd calibrated the TV as normal, using those controls, bringing it much closer to the 6,500K standard, the set's color temperature would gain about 600K after we switched sources and then switched back.