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Toshiba TL515 review: Toshiba TL515

Toshiba TL515

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
15 min read
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.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch 47TL515U, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.


Toshiba TL515

The Good

The <b>Toshiba TL515U</b> evinced good picture quality for an edge-lit LED-based LCD, with relatively deep black levels in dark scenes, even screen uniformity and very good video processing. Its matte screen works well in bright rooms. Its Internet suite includes built-in Wi-Fi. Passive 3D on this TV has minimal crosstalk, is brighter than active, and Toshiba includes four pairs of lightweight, nonpowered glasses.

The Bad

The TL515U's backlight fluctuated more than usual, causing contrast and color to vary depending on scene content. Its picture loses fidelity from off-angle in dark scenes worse than other LCDs. The Net TV internet portal is light on content compared to competitors. Passive 3D shows a softer image with more artifacts and worse overall quality than active.

The Bottom Line

Although its attractive features, design, and passive 3D have merit, the picture quality issues of the Toshiba TL515U LED-based LCD TV lessen its appeal in the face of the stiff competition.

Models in series (details)
Toshiba 32TL515U 32 inches
Toshiba 42TL515U 42 inches
Toshiba 47TL515U (reviewed) 47 inches
Toshiba 55TL515U 55 inches


Toshiba's design favors matte and eschews rounded corners.

Design highlights
Panel depth 1.4 inches Bezel width 1.6 inches
Single-plane face No Swivel stand Yes

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. The stand pedestal has an angle pointing at the viewer, which allows the panel to swivel, and sits above a glass-topped base.

Even the stand pedestal is angled.

Remote control and menus
Remote size (LxW) 9.2 x 2.1 inches QWERTY keyboardNo
Illuminated keys 45 IR device control Yes
Menu item explanations No Onscreen manual No

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 (see below).

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. Why do we need a separate Preferences menu, with all of seven setup options, in addition a Settings menu? The Quick menu with direct links to picture, sound and 3D settings helps a bit, but lack of an onscreen manual does not--we predict many users will have to resort to the online PDF manual to get a handle on the TL515U. At least they won't be looking there for Netflix; a big red logo-infused key takes care of that.

A dedicated Netflix button calls up the streaming service directly.

The set also evinced some unusual quirks during normal use. For some reason it takes seemingly forever--about 33 seconds--to turn on from a cold start (other TVs in our experience take about 5 seconds). Browsing the menus and calling up different functions, for example changing picture modes, the screen would often black out for a second or two before coming back up.


Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit with local dimming
3D technology Passive 3D glasses included Four pairs
Screen finish Matte Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
Refresh rate(s) 240Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video
Other: Additional passive glasses cost $60 for a 10-pack (FPT-P100UP); IR pass-through (with optional cable); Optional voice control module

The TL515U's principal differentiator is passive 3D, enabled by the same Film Pattern Retarder technology used by LG and Vizio in models like the LW5600 series and XVT3D650SV. A polarizing film coating the TV screen allows each eye, gazing through special glasses, to view every other line to create the two images necessary for the 3D illusion.

Toshiba, which sells both active and passive 3D LCDs, calls its passive 3D technology "3D Natural." Both types of 3D TVs can handle any of the new 3D formats used by Blu-ray, TV broadcasts, and video games, and both require viewers to don 3D glasses, but each has its advantages and disadvantages. See our 3D TV FAQ for general information on active vs. passive and 3D in general, and the Performance section of this review for more the TL515U's 3D picture quality.

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 ten-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.

Toshiba packs in four pairs of passive 3D glasses.

Aside from 3D the TL515U is well-equipped. It's the only Toshiba LCD to offer an edge-lit LED backlight with local dimming. The LEDs along the edge of the screen can be dimmed or brightened in sections according to program content. Toshiba told us that all sizes, including the 32-inch model, have 16 dimmable zones (if true, it means they all have four more zones than the LG 47LW5600). Contrast that with the 200+ zones on full-array local dimming TVs like the LG LX9500 series, for example, and you'll have some idea why the scheme is far from perfect. That said, it does improve black-level performance despite some trade-offs.

We appreciate that the TL515U includes built-in Wi-Fi, which saves the cost of buying a dongle or using an alternative. Instead of selling a proprietary Skype camera for use with the TV, Toshiba simply recommends getting any Skype certified camera. In the same vein it recommends purchasing any inexpensive IR blaster/emitter for use with the TV's IR pass-through feature, which allows the TV to pass remote control signals through to other gear--a nice extra if you want to stash your equipment out of sight.

Toshiba will sell a "voice control peripheral" that consists of a USB receiver that plugs into one of the USB ports, as well as a voice recorder--a little black box that sits on your coffee table. According to the company, "the user claps to enable voice control and then speaks various commands like "volume up," "channel 55," "channel down," etc. Pricing and availability for the device have not been determined.

Streaming and apps
Netflix Yes YouTube Yes
Amazon Instant No Hulu Plus No
Vudu Yes Pandora Yes
Web browser No Skype Optional
Facebook Yes Twitter Yes
Other: Blockbuster, CinemaNow, 82 Yahoo widgets as of press time

Toshiba's selection of video Apps outdoes that of Sharp and Philips, but falls short of the other major TV makers by missing Amazon and Hulu Plus. Audio is represented only by Pandora.

The main 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. Netflix gets the new interface, with search, YouTube uses the "lean back" GUI Google developed, and navigating the services was snappy enough.

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.

Big, simple icons lead to the major streaming services.

Picture settings
Adjustable picture modes 6 Fine dejudder control No
Color temperature presets 10 Fine color temperature control 2 points
Gamma presets 30 Color management system Yes

Nothing major goes missing here, although the Toshiba lacks the 10-point grayscale and fine dejudder adjustments of LG and Samsung. While there is a CMS, it caused more problems than it fixed, so we didn't use it. Toshiba provides two Movie presets, which is great for tweakers who want to set up for two different lighting conditions for example.

We appreciated that Netflix and Vudu allows adjustment of most picture parameters, although fine color temperature is excluded.

Toshiba's array of controls is solid, although its Color Master color management system needs work.

HDMI inputs 4 Component video inputs 1
Composite video input(s) 2 VGA-style PC input(s) 1
USB port #TK back, #TK side Ethernet (LAN) port Y/N
Other: IR blaster port

The selection here is perfectly fine, although, as with most thin TVs, you'll need to use the included breakout cables to connect analog video sources.

Nothing is missing from the input bay, and we appreciate the large icons.

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).

The two Movie presets are both more accurate than the others. The main difference between them is that Movie 2 engages Dynalight (turning on local dimming) while Movie 1 turns it off. The darker black levels of Dynalight are worth the trade-offs in our opinion (see below). In the default settings Movie 2 had a blue grayscale, inaccurate color, and crushed shadow detail. Our calibration was able to significantly improve the grayscale, although we couldn't fully fix the other issues. The fact that the TV didn't display blacker-than-black made setting brightness, which affects black level, more subjective than it should be.

The biggest Geek Box issues were gamma and gamut luminance, and because of Dynalight's fluctuation we couldn't accurately measure or calibrate either one using standard window patterns (we ended up setting gamma controls by eye and leaving color in the default position). We also noticed blocky artifacts in many areas when we engaged the Color Master CMS, so we left it turned off. In case you're curious, we also performed a calibration in Movie 1, with Dynalight off and have included it in the picture settings linked above. Black levels were terrible, however, with 0% measuring 0.051 Fl--the worst we've seen on a 2011 TV.

For our image quality tests we watched "Tron: Legacy" on Blu-ray and compared the Toshiba to the TVs below.

Comparison models (details)
LG 47LW5600 46-inch LED-based LED
Samsung UN46D6400 46-inch LED-based LCD
Sony KDL-46EX720 46-inch LED-based LCD
Panasonic TC-P50ST30 50-inch plasma
Vizio XVT553SV 55-inch LED-based LCD
Samsung PN59D8000 (reference) 59-inch plasma

Black level: The TL515U was capable of delivering a deep shade of black in dark scenes, at its best outdoing the Sony, matching the LG and Samsung LEDs, and falling a bit short of the plasmas and the Vizio. Despite the Toshiba's excellent 0% measurement, its actual depth of black, and thus perceived contrast and pop, fluctuated significantly with different picture content. The brighter the light areas in mixed scenes, the worse the Toshiba's blacks suffered; in one example from Chapter 10 (1:06:46), Gem's bright umbrella seemed to lighten the letterbox bars and Sam's hood, washing them out worse than any of the other displays.

Dynalight does a worse job of controlling the brightness of the backlight than LG's local dimming method--in particular, it makes bright scenes too bright by our measure. On most LCDs window patterns (with a white rectangle surrounded by black) measure the same light output as full-raster patterns (with the entire screen filled by white); on the Toshiba set to output 40Fl with a window, we measured about 65 Fl with a full raster. In other words, as the amount of white in the screen increases, Dynalight increases the brightness (light output) of the entire backlight significantly. We noticed this difference when comparing the Toshiba to other displays; the white of Flynn's home in Chapter 9 provided a too-vivid example.

We blame this fluctuation and overbrightening for the slight lack of shadow detail and somewhat washed-out highlights we saw as well. When we set static gamma to reveal full shadow detail (about 8), the bright part of the image washed out; when we lowered it to zero, shadow detail was crushed. We settled on the midpoint, which still crushed some shadow detail like the details in Sam's leather jacket in Chapter 2, and washed out highlights like the faces of the diners in Chapter 9.

In its favor, the Toshiba evinced little blooming, and we didn't notice any of the strange artifacts we saw with the LG.

Color accuracy: The Toshiba was a mixed bag in this area; better in person than its Geek Box showing might indicate, but worse than most of the other sets. Again we noticed more variation than usual that seemed linked to the overall brightness of the image. In midbright scenes, skin tones, like the face of Quorra (1:56:55) in Chapter 19, appeared just a bit too ruddy and oversaturated, but more accurate that the Panasonic ST30. As the scene became brighter (1:57:43) they looked less accurate and slightly yellower. We also noticed that dim scenes, like the grandparents in Chapter 1 (2:16), were tinged with too much red.

Other primary colors, such as the green of the trees and the yellow of a scrap of poster on the wall in Chapter 19, also looked somewhat off compared to the reference, although the difference was relatively subtle.

In near-black scenes the Toshiba showed the same propensity for bluish blacks we've seen on many LED TVs; it was worse than on the Samsung or LG, yet not as bad as on the Sony.

Video processing: We had few complaints in this department. Along with Samsung's models, the Toshiba is one of the few TVs we've tested with the ability to preserve maximum motion resolution and proper 1080p/24 film cadence. When we set its ClearScan 240 to On and Film Stabilization to Standard (the default settings for Movie mode), we measured a full 1,200 lines of resolution and saw no trace of smoothing or hitching in our 1080p/24 test clip.

The TV can also engage smoothing (dejudder) from the Film Stabilization menu, although there's just one level of smoothness available. Choosing Off in the same menu causes the set to engage 3:2 pull-down.

Uniformity: The Toshiba performed pretty much the same as the LG in this area, maintaining even brightness across its screen. The corners and edges didn't appear noticeably brighter than the middle, and the blotches we noticed on the Sony and Samsung were absent.

When seen from off-angle to either side in darker scenes, the Toshiba and LG were the worst in our lineup. They lost black level fidelity worse than the others and also became significantly dimmer--the latter difference was extreme enough that it might be a side-effect (no pun intended) of the passive 3D screen. They kept fidelity relatively well in bright scenes, however.

Bright lighting: The matte screen of the LG was a boon under the lights, muting reflections better than the glossy Samsung or the plasmas and preserving black levels quite well.

3D: The TL515U's picture quality in 3D was essentially identical to that of the LG--the other passive 3D model in our lineup. We compared the two to the other 3D models mentioned above using "Tron," choosing the best dark room default picture setting (Movie 2 on the Toshiba) and subbing in the Samsung UN55D8000, the best 3D performer we've tested, for the 2D-only Vizio. Note that many of the following descriptions will be familiar to readers of the LG review, including the conclusion that we liked the active 3D TVs better than the passive models.

The unpowered, passive glasses were certainly easier for everyday use, however. We didn't have to worry about turning them on, they felt lighter and less intrusive than any of the active specs, and we appreciated being able to look at other screens (like our laptop) without seeing flicker. They also darkened regular eyesight less than active lenses; we found ourselves taking breaks without remembering we had them on.

Toshiba's glasses are glossy, more rounded and a tad heavier than LG's, and branded with RealD's logo. As expected both Toshiba and LG glasses worked interchangeably with either passive TV. A third-party pair of passive glasses from RealD (similar to the ones in most U.S. 3D theaters) also worked fine with both, as did a pair of Vizio passive 3D glasses.

That said we found active glasses comfortable enough over longer periods that we didn't mind wearing them. More importantly, we didn't notice any difference in fatigue or discomfort (unrelated to glasses fit, that is) between the two 3D technologies. Active glasses do technically flicker to achieve 3D, but to our eye the flicker was unnoticeable and didn't feel unnatural or bothersome.

To us the more important factor is active's clear picture quality advantage, which is mostly due to the every-other-line nature of passive's polarizing technology (see Key Features above). The 3D image on the Toshiba looked a bit softer in finely detailed areas, but worse by far were artifacts caused by visible line structure.

In many scenes we could see jagged edges along visible lines, for example along the edge of Gem's outfit, the back of the receding girl's suit and the lit circle in the distance (28:11), or the diagonal lines on the floor of the arena (39:04). The effect was worse and more distracting when movement caused the jagged edges to crawl, as they did during a quick pan over the glowing Frisbee fight (33:40) and the arena (42:04) for example. Moiré artifacts were also relatively common, for example in the crawling lines of Alan's tie in Chapter 3 (16:30) and the patterned floor in Chapter 5 (28:22).

Individual horizontal lines were also visible at our preferred distance from this size TV, between 6-7 feet, especially in faces and brighter, flat fields. In most scenes sitting far enough away made the individual lines disappear--for us it was about 9 feet from the 47-inch screen--although we could still make out jaggies and Moiré from that distance.

We also noticed that when seen from extreme off-angle, the 3D effect deteriorated and the formerly fused 3D image separated into its two parts (which looked similar to crosstalk, but was visible everywhere in the image). Normal seating angles, for example from anywhere on our three-seat couch in front of the TV, looked fine, however.

We saw less crosstalk than on the UND6400 and, to a lesser extent, the plasmas. The Samsung UND8000 LED was as good as the Toshiba at shutting out crosstalk in the scenes we compared, such as the edge of the receding girls (28:45) and the pattern on Quorra's uniform (1:04:01).

The default Movie 2 crushed shadow detail quite a bit, but bumping up gamma and brightness a bit was easy enough. Afterwards the Toshiba was on par with the LG. Color fidelity was poor, with an overt blue tinge, although that can also be tweaked.

For bright rooms the Toshiba is an excellent 3D choice. Since the passive glasses don't darken the image much, the perceived brightness is higher than that of any of the active TVs. The active LEDs are probably still bright enough for most rooms, however, but the Toshiba's advantage over the plasmas in this area was greater.

Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of this size in the Toshiba TL515U series, but we did test the 47-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Toshiba 47TL515U.

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0069 Good
Avg. gamma 2.5739 Poor
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.2789/0.2724 Poor
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3125/0.3276 Good
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3119/0.3286 Good
Before avg. color temp. 7498 Poor
After avg. color temp. 6529 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 11.4437 Poor
Green lum. error (de94_L) 7.5301 Poor
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 10.3285 Poor
Cyan hue x/y 0.2261/0.3265 Good
Magenta hue x/y 0.319/0.1517 Good
Yellow hue x/y 0.4261/0.5122 Average
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 1200 Good
PC input resolution (VGA) 1920x1080 Good

Toshiba 47TL515U CNET rveiew calibration results

Read more about how we test TVs.


Toshiba TL515

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6