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Toshiba RF350U review: Toshiba RF350U

Toshiba RF350U

David_Katzmaier.jpg
David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg
David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

9 min read

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.

6.5

Toshiba RF350U

The Good

Sleek style featuring a very thin frame; reproduced a relatively deep black level; numerous picture controls; solid connectivity.

The Bad

Inaccurate primary and secondary colors and color balance; darker areas tinged blue/green; poorly implemented color temperature controls; below-average screen uniformity.

The Bottom Line

Although the compact Toshiba 40RF350U is one of the most distinctive-looking 40-inch LCD TVs available, its picture quality has some issues.

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.

Design
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.

Features
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.

Unlike many new LCD TVs however, including the company's own 52LX177, the 40RF350U does not have a 120Hz refresh rate.

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.

Toshiba 40RF350U
The Toshiba's rudimentary color temperature controls allow some tweaking beyond mere presets.

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.

Toshiba 40RF350U
An advanced color management system is available, but it doesn't do much good.

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.

Toshiba 40RF350U
Analog back-panel connectivity includes a pair of component-video inputs.

Performance
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.

The controls remained set the same (B Drive -8, G Drive -14, if you're keeping track) however, which was particularly mystifying. After this happened a second time, under the same circumstances, we gave up and decided to evaluate the set in the unadjusted "Warm" setting, which was overly green and blue, compared to the standard (see the Geek box below). We've never seen this kind of issue before, and we blame Toshiba's implementation.

The company also includes numerous settings that affect color decoding, and primary and secondary color accuracy, grouped under the Color Master Pro heading. In general, we found these controls complex and interactive (for instance, changing one parameter would affect another), and for proper adjustment, they require specialized equipment and expertise.

Of course, we'd prefer not to have to make any adjustments to these controls, but since the TV needed it, we gave it a shot. We were able to calibrate these controls to lend some improvement, particularly to the accuracy of magenta and yellow, but in the latter case, our improvements necessitated a trade-off in color decoding.

Neither were we able to do much with green, which was particularly inaccurate, or cyan. We have included our adjustments to these controls in our standard user menu collection of settings (see the Tips section below or click here).

After we got everything as zeroed-in as possible, we sat down to compare the 40RF350U against a few other flat-panel HDTVs we had on-hand, including the 42-inch Philips 42PFL7432D, the 46-inch Samsung LN-T4671F, the Pioneer PDP-5080HD (our reference for black level), and the Sony KDS-55A3000 (our new color reference).

Since Toshiba is the principal backer of HD DVD, we thought it only fair to perform our principal observations with a Blu-ray Disc (hey, we give Sony the same treatment), namely X-Men: The Last Stand played from a Samsung BD-P1200.

In its favor, the Toshiba was able to produce a relatively deep level of black during dark scenes, as well as in the letterbox bars above and below the image. During the nighttime assault on Alcatraz, for example, Magneto's suit and the night sky appeared dark enough to satisfy--a bit darker than the Philips, but not as dark as the Samsung and the Sony, and not nearly as dark as the Pioneer's inky blackness. Details in shadows were a bit less distinct than on the better sets, but again, the Toshiba beat the Philips and showed enough shadow detail, for example, in the wrinkles on the shaded side of Magneto's face.

Despite all the tinkering we did with color, it remained quite inaccurate overall. The cyan tinge we noted in the 52LX177 review was prevalent, turning the blue skies to slightly aquamarine and making Kelsey Grammer's indigo skin a bit too greenish as well, when compared to the Sony reference. Speaking of green, it was the worst offender by far, as revealed in any scene with lots of grass or foliage.

When Magneto assaults the caravan bearing Rebecca Romijn, for example, the fields and forest alongside the road looked entirely too blue--significantly worse than on any other TV in the room. Black areas and deep shadows, meanwhile, also appeared too blue, an issue we've seen on many LCDs, and in the Toshiba's case, there isn't much you can do about it.

Finally, the blue-green tinge to grayscale was readily apparent in skin tones. Once Romijn lost her powers, for example, her bare skin appeared too pale and even a bit greenish in spots, a direct result of the less-accurate initial color temperature.

We also found the Toshiba's less-than-perfect uniformity across the screen distracting in some scenes. The upper-right and -left corners of our review sample's screen appeared lighter than the rest, and we noticed this in night scenes, such as when Iceman takes Kitty for a skate. A vaguely cloud-shaped area in the upper-right quadrant, and another on the left side, were also lighter than the background, but these were visible only in very dark scenes or when the screen went completely black.

Off-angle performance was about average for an LCD, though it certainly surpassed the Philips in this regard. As usual, the Toshiba's picture became a bit more washed out from one seat over on the couch, and from more extreme angles, a reddish tinge crept into the dark areas.

Although the 40RF350U lacks 120Hz processing, we didn't experience much image blurring, even in the fast-action scenes. We did see blurrier edges on the text of an ESPN ticker, however--at least compared to that on the Pioneer plasma and the Samsung 120Hz LCD TVs, for example--so if (unlike us) you're particular about blurring, you might want to avoid this set.

In terms of raw resolution, the 40RF350U delivered every line of 1080i and 1080p test patterns, and unlike most HDTVs we've tested, it correctly deinterlaced 1080i source material. As a result, the stairs from Chapter 8 in Mission: Impossible 3 and the RV grille from Chapter 6 of Ghost Rider both appeared stable, though you'll be hard-pressed to find other instances of 1080i deinterlacing making a difference.

The Toshiba's standard-definition video processing was below average. The set resolved every detail of the DVD, according to HQV's color bars pattern, though fine details in the grass and stone bridge appeared softer than on the Philips. It did an average job of smoothing out jagged diagonal lines, such as the stripes of the waving American flag.

We did appreciate that both of the noise reduction settings, DNR and MPEG, helped clean up the worst of the moving motes and dots in the low-quality scenes of the DVD, though there was naturally a bit of softening, as we engaged the highest settings, and overall, the Philips' NR was more effective with the worst areas.

Finally, the Toshiba failed our 2:3 pull-down detection test because the moire in the grandstands behind the race car reappeared after going away at first, indicating that the set had a difficult time locking into film mode.

With PC sources via HDMI, the Toshiba performed nearly perfectly, as we've come to expect from all 1080p LCDs. It delivered every line of resolution, according to DisplayMate, and exhibited clean text and no overscan.

On the other hand, performance via RGB was below average. The TV would accept only a 1,280x1,024 signal, at best, which didn't fill the screen (though text looked sharp enough) or a 1,366x768 signal, which appeared blurrier with significant overscan. However, it did fill the screen (and then some). With this TV especially, a computer connection is best done digitally.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6,619/7,410 Average
After color temp N/A  
Before grayscale variation +/- 672 Average
After grayscale variation N/A  
Color of red (x/y) 0.629/0.318 Average
Color of green 0.203/0.667 Poor
Color of blue 0.15/0.06 Good
Overscan 0 percent Good
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Fail Poor
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Toshiba 40RF350U Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 221.49 115.98 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.32 0.17 N/A
Standby (watts) 1.29 1.29 N/A
Cost per year $68.05 $36.00
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Average
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.

6.5

Toshiba RF350U

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 5
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