Over the last few years, when it comes to TVs Toshiba has avoided entering into an arms race with other manufacturers to see who can stuff their sets full of the latest features. Instead it has focused on offering good looking TVs with often eye-catchingly low price tags.
The 46TL968 continues this trend, as despite having a slim bezel that's very 'now' and packing in active 3D support and 200Hz motion processing, you can buy this mid-range 46-inch model online for as little as £550.
User interface and EPG
The menu system on the TL968 is quite different to what you find on most rival TVs. It doesn’t use the homescreen concept adapted by LG and Samsung, nor does it have the flatter style menus found on Panasonic’s sets.
Instead when you hit the Menu button on the remote it calls up two arcs of icons at the bottom of the screen. In the first arc you select the type of task you want to perform, such as changing the setup, selecting TV programmes, or accessing the media player and this then shunts you into the upper arc where you can choose the specific function you want to access. Once you've chosen setup, you can then pick from picture, sound, preferences and system options, while selecting the media player gives you the options of choosing the USB or network player.
Toshiba has added colourful icons and animations to the menus, but the drab black and grey backgrounds mean it still doesn’t look anywhere near as visually appealing as the menus on LG and Samsung’s TVs. Also, moving around the various screens can feel a little long-winded, as skipping back and forth through the two arcs can be a tad tedious after a while, especially if you’re trying to make multiple corrections to the picture presets.
Like some other mid-range sets we’ve seen recently, such as the ES6800 from Samsung, the TL968 has both Freeview HD and Satellite HD tuners on board. Unlike Samsung, Toshiba hasn’t localised the satellite tuner on its sets, so it doesn’t conform to the Freesat HD spec. When you tune in to satellite channels it just tunes all free to air channels and dumps them in a jumbled channel list. The EPG also fails to fully populate with programming information for them. Because of this, unless you want to use the TV with a foreign satellite service, it's only really the Freeview HD tuner that's of use on this set.
The EPG doesn’t have a video thumbnail window, but when you call it up it does at least keep the audio running, so you don’t entirely lose track of the show you’re watching. Its design isn’t all that easy on the eye, but on the plus side it shows thirteen channels of programming info at once, and you can use the channel up and down buttons to quickly move through it in large blocks of channels.
Digital media and Internet features
Toshiba’s smart TV platform is called Places, and unfortunately -- despite the addition of some extra content lately -- it still lags far behind TVs from companies such as Samsung and Sony.
The Places system is divided up into a series of hubs for TV, Video, Music, Social Networking, News and Games. Unfortunately, many of these subcategories are pretty sparsely populated. The TV section, for example, only includes an iPlayer app and the Media Guide online EPG, so you don’t get support for ITV Player or Demand5. And while the Video section now includes apps for Blinkbox, Acetrax, YouTube, Vimeo and DailyMotion, it lacks support for big hitters like Netflix and Lovefilm, which are available on most rival smart TV platforms.
Toshiba has also now added a full Web browser, but this is rather a chore to use via the remote control, and unfortunately doesn’t support Flash for video playback.
Nevertheless, there are two on-board media players. One of these is used for playing back digital media files from USB drives, while the other is used for streaming files across a network from network-attached hard drives or DLNA devices such as PCs and laptops.
In the past, Toshiba’s TVs have refused to stream MKV files over a network unless they were coming from Windows 7 PCs, but thankfully the company has fixed this issue on the TL968. I found it was happy to play a wide range of formats including MKV, DivX and MP4 files, both locally from USB drives and remotely from DLNA networked devices. The set also supports Intel WiDi (Wireless display), so if you've got a WiDi compatible laptop you can hook it up to the TV wirelessly.
Design and connections
The 40RL868 isn’t the most stylish TV I’ve ever clapped eyes on. Its finish is on the plasticky side -- especially the fake brushed metal effect used on the bezel -- and this cheapens its overall appearance somewhat. That said, the TV is far from ugly. I like the sloping mirrored panel at the bottom of the TV, and the bezel is actually reasonably narrow too.