Looking for a new 40-inch TV to use this Christmas -- one that looks stylish and won't break the bank? Toshiba's 40RL858B certainly seems to fit the bill, as this LED set is as slim as an After Eight mint and is priced at around £500.
Currently Toshiba is also running a promotion -- if you buy the TV before Christmas from participating retailers, you can also get a half-price Toshiba Blu-ray player and a free one-year subscription to the LoveFilm movie rental service.
User interface and EPG
The menu system that Toshiba has used here is different to the twin-circle approach taken on the high-endmodel. Hit the menu button on the remote and it calls up a black box in the middle of the screen with five tabs across the top for stuff like set-up, picture and audio. As you select each of these, the area beneath fills with the various settings that you can adjust. It's not all that inspiring to look at, but the flat menu structure makes it pretty easy to find your way around.
Picture controls are comprehensive. Along with the usual settings like contrast, colour and sharpness, you can dive into the advanced menu to adjust individual levels for red, green and blue. You can also tweak the controls for the black and white level or noise reduction settings as well as turn the active backlighting control on or off.
Like the menus, the set's electronic programme guide (EPG) isn't exactly a treat for the eyes. It mimics the menu's dark colour scheme and actually looks depressing next to the bright and cheerful EPGs found on LG and Samsung TVs. The EPG has a traditional horizontal layout with channels listed on the left-hand side of the display and programming info shown as a timeline to the right. An awful lot of programming data is on screen in one go, but it's sluggish to navigate.
Digital media and Internet features
This model includes Toshiba's Places Internet TV platform. This was recently updated to include the Acetrax movie on-demand rental service, which is a welcome and much needed addition. However, Places still lags some way behind the competition, both in terms of the services on offer and the whole user experience.
For starters, the Places system is rather cumbersome to use. The system is split into four key areas -- the Video Place for online video content, the Social Place for social networking services, Music Place for audio services, News Place for information services and Fun Place for games.
When you enter the Video Place hub you'll find YouTube and BBC iPlayer listed. Select these, however, and you're told that they're not available from this menu and you actually need to access them from outside the whole Places system, which is about as user-friendly as a bed of nails. However, at least the Video Places menu is reasonably well populated, as it now includes Acetrax alongside Viewster, Dailymotion, Box Office 365, Cartoon Network, Hit Entertainment and Woomi.
The other hubs are pretty barren in comparison. The News Place has just one entry for a weather forecasting service, as does the Music Place, which only lists the Aupeo radio service. The Game Place hub isn't much better as it only offers four very basic puzzle games to play. Even the Social Place has just Facebook and Flickr support.
The system is also quite sluggish to use and can feel buggy at times. You can find yourself unceremoniously dumped out of a menu or video stream for seemingly no reason, for example.
The media streaming features aren't much better, even though this set has a different media streaming client to the ones we've seen on previous Toshiba TVs. Nevertheless, it still suffers from the same problems in that we couldn't get it to stream any content from a Windows Vista PC or our Iomega NAS drive. However, it did work with a Windows 7 laptop, although it only seemed to play DivX and Xvid files, as we couldn't get it to recognise MKV HD videos. This was strange because the set happily played MKV videos locally via a memory key plugged into its USB port.
Design and connections
Some of Toshiba's recent models haven't looked all that stylish, but the 40RL858B features a new design that really is the business, especially for a non-premium priced offering. Instead of piano black, Toshiba has opted for a metallic silver finish, and this combined with the narrow bezel really does make it quite a tasty-looking model. Even the stand has a pleasingly angular look and thanks to the use of LED backlighting this model is fairly slim too, measuring a relatively slender 39mm deep.