Along with Vizio and LG, Toshiba is the only other TV maker selling a passive 3D TV in 2011. That model, the TL515U series reviewed here, performs basically the same with 3D material as its LG doppelganger, and in short we like the image produced by active 3D TVs better. Meanwhile the Toshiba's 2D picture quality, which is much more important in our book, didn't quite match that of the LG or the better LED-based LCDs in our tests, due mainly to its overactive backlight. Given that the two are very similar in price--the LG is even a bit less expensive at press time--it's tough to recommend the Toshiba TL515U series to people who want passive 3D or the best 2D performance from an edge-lit LED TV.
The biggest market advantage of passive 3D is inexpensive glasses. Toshiba packs four pairs in with the TL515U, and while it doesn't sell extras individually as of press time, you can opt for the 10-strong "party pack" ($60). Compatible circular polarized glasses are also available from online merchants, and if you swipe a pair of passive 3D glasses from your local theater, they should work too.
The squared-off, angular TL515U is understated yet sleek. The TV has a subtle two-tone finish on its medium-width bezel, with a glossy strip of black that offsets the matte, textured finish of the rest of the frame. The sides of the frame are made of chrome strips angled so they can catch reflections to either side--which might be distracting in some rooms.
Toshiba's clicker is not our favorite. Its buttons are too numerous, packed together and similar, while their angled transparent faces distort the already-small labels beneath, making them even more difficult to read. Worst of all, the keys around the central cursor group emit a loud click at every press--the only thing that could possibly make using an onscreen keyboard more annoying. On the plus side, nearly every key is clearly illuminated, making it one of the better in-the-dark wands, and it can control three other pieces of AV gear via infrared, either directly or via pass-through.
The main streaming interface is called Net TV, and hitting the corresponding remote button shows all seven choices at once via an easy-to-grok semicircle with nice big icons--although we didn't appreciate the somewhat sluggish progression from one to the next.
Unlike some other TVs the TL515U lacks a dedicated app store, but the presence of umpteen near-useless (and a few nearly useful) Yahoo Widgets should soften the blow. Among the latter class is Facebook, Twitter, and eBay along with the usual weather, sports and news. Among the former are 12 games and 37 local TV stations' widgets--with no easy way to sort through them to find one that might represent your locality.
Hitting the menu button brings up an attractive two-tiered arch of icons, but the many settings choices quickly become confusing. Submenus are plagued by too much nesting, zero in-menu explanations, and confusing labels.
The Toshiba was a good performer overall, although a couple of flaws prevented it from standing among the best edge-lit LED-based LCDs we've tested. It's capable of deep black levels in dark scenes, but its overly active backlight spoiled those blacks as scenes changed in brightness. Color fidelity also fell short of the better sets. On the other hand blooming was minimal, uniformity solid and video processing better than average. 3D picture quality was, as we saw on the other passive TVs we've reviewed, inferior to active in key ways, but should still be appealing to less discerning eyes (and people who want to save money on a family's worth of glasses).