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If you crave having the latest gadgetry built into your television, 2012 is a pretty good year. No, Toshiba's flagship L7200U LED doesn't have the gesture-controlled futurism of Samsung or the voice-activated fun of LG, but it does boast a couple of unique features of its own: a built-in program guide, the ability to control a cable box, and an included nearly-full-size QWERTY keyboard. Of the three only the keyboard proved useful in practice, but when paired with a capable Web browser it ups the L7200U's appeal for gizmo-inclined buyers.
For the rest of us, however, the L7200U is just not a very good value. Despite a promising spec sheet that includes local dimming, the L7200U exhibited subpar overall picture quality. Couple that with a flagship price and you end up paying way too much for features of questionable worth on a TV.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Toshiba 55L7200U, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. The two have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Toshiba 47L7200U||47 inches|
|Toshiba 55L7200U (reviewed)||55 inches|
The L7200 certainly looks the part of a high-end TV, with subtle styling and classy touches like metallic edging, a glass-topped swivel stand, and a gentle curve along the bottom edge below the dark-gray accent strip. The top and sides of the bezel are extremely slim, if not quite in the same category as Samsung's and LG's flagship LEDs, but the visual effect is spoiled somewhat by the thicker bottom. I liked the single sheet of glass across both screen and bezel, giving the L7200 an even sleeker look.
The remote does little to hold up its end of the design effort. Clad in reflective black and matte silver it looks attractive enough, but it's a pain to actually use. The central "OK" key is ringed by a confusing constellation of similarly sized buttons that was difficult to navigate by feel. The remainder of the keys are indifferently organized and there are simply too many of them. Since I was constantly having to look before I pressed, I did appreciate that the buttons were backlit, and as always the dedicated Netflix key is welcome.
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit with local dimming|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Passive||3D glasses included||4 pair|
|Refresh rate(s)||240Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
The L7200U comes loaded. From a picture quality standpoint the most notable feature is local dimming of the its LED backlight. Yes, those edge-lit areas of the screen dim in large, imprecise swaths compared with the dimmers that have full-array backlights, but some local dimming is better than none in my experience since it usually improves black-level performance.
From an accessories standpoint the honor goes to the included QWERTY keyboard. Compact yet plenty big enough to type on, the keyboard connects sans wire to the TV via a simple USB dongle, and worked flawlessly in my testing. I do wish it had more dedicated keys for TV-specific functions, but for Web browsing and other data-intensive chores it sure beats using the remote.
Like many passive 3D TVs this year, the L7200 includes a four-pack of glasses. Toshiba also makes a 10-pack for around $50 and most third-party circular polarized glasses, such as those used in movie theaters, should work too. (The only maker of active-3D TVs this year that provides glasses is Samsung, which throws in at least two pairs with every 3D set.) Check out our 3D TV Buying guide and comparison of active and passive 3D for more.
Although the L7200 has built-in Wi-Fi I was unable to get it to work with the SMC Barricade router in our lab, so I connected via Ethernet. I wouldn't be surprised if other routers worked fine, but it's worth noting that the Barricade has worked flawlessly with numerous other Wi-Fi devices.
EPG and cable box control: The Toshiba is also one of the only TVs to include a built-in electronic program guide (EPG) and cable/satellite box control. Powered by Rovi, the guide downloads and displays a grid of programming just like your cable or satellite box. Selecting a currently airing program from the TV's grid sends a signal to the box to change the channel. Depending on how good your box's guide is, you might find the Rovi guide an improvement.
The trade-offs are significant, though: the TV must change the channels on your cable box via an IR blaster, which delays the process slightly. Worse, it can't schedule or play back a DVR recording or let you watch on-demand -- both common and important functions of today's set-top boxes. That's why the feature is likely to go unused by most people, and incidentally why I believe no other TV maker bothers.
The guide's design, with its black background, favorite channel lists, ability to weed out unwanted channels, and easy categorization, may be better than the one on your box, although I didn't like it as much as DirecTV's guide or especially Verizon Fios'. I set up the TV to control my DirecTV DVR via the Toshiba remote and it worked well for the basics, but again lack of DVR functionality was a deal-killer. My setup ended up using the DVR's guide, however, not Rovi's, and I couldn't figure out how to map the remote's Guide button to call up the Rovi guide. I also couldn't get the guide to display program data on two separate occasions, despite leaving it plugged in overnight. The e-manual was no help, so at that point I gave up. Suffice it to say this feature seems too limited to be worthwhile, and useful only if you're completely unhappy with your box's EPG and don't need DVR functionality.
The blaster is mainly designed for cable or satellite boxes in conjunction with the EPG, but it can also control devices like Blu-ray/DVD players (not all that useful since most modern disc players can be controlled via HDMI) and VCRs. There's also an Audio option but it seems limited; when I tried to find my Denon receiver the codes were missing. As with most such schemes the idea is better than the execution. Finding and setting up devices takes a while and you don't get nearly the same range of control found on a standard universal remote.
Smart TV: The look and feel of Toshiba's smart TV suite, dubbed ePortal, has been updated on the L7200 compared with last year, but app selection is still sparse. It's missing Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus, as well as any audio apps of note like Pandora or Mog. Miscellaneous apps come courtesy of Vudu Apps, where Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, and Flickr are the standouts. Check out our comparison for more.
ePortal does offer a few notable extras. There's a Search All function said to incorporate results from the EPG, the Internet, and certain apps, but it didn't work well in my experience, returning too many blank results. There's also a calendar where you can enter events and a Messages center that lets you write notes, both vying for the title of "most useless on a TV."
The Web browser is better than many such TV browsers, with decent load times and not too many rendering errors. I got a rash of security warnings at first but after I disabled those in the settings menu, it wasn't an issue. The combination of quick response times and Wi-Fi keyboard made all the difference, allowing me to easily jump around Web pages and type searches and URLs. Some of the interface choices, such as the need to press the Blue key (FN+F4 on the keyboard) instead of "Enter/OK" to confirm an entry, were mystifying, but on the whole I generally did not hate using the browser on this TV. Toshiba tells me an upcoming firmware update will allow Flash sites to work on the browser.
Toshiba offers a TV control app for smartphones and tablets, as well as a couple of other apps: Send & Play (sends links and content to the TV's browser) and a MediaGuide app that supposedly allows control of the EPG and channel changes. I didn't test any of these, and Send & Play is not yet available at the Google Play Store.
Picture settings: Toshiba delivers good adjustability on this TV, including a two-point grayscale system, a few gamma presets, and a full color management system. Control of local dimming is handled by the DynaLight setting, and three dejudder presets are provided. I also appreciated that, unlike on previous Toshibas, the various picture modes (Movie, Game, Standard, etc) are individually adjustable.
Connectivity: No complaints are warranted here, with four HDMI, one PC, one component-/composite video, and one dedicated composite video input on tap (the last two via included breakout cables). The pair of USB ports is ample, although one will likely be occupied by the keyboard's dongle.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.
|Sony KDL-55HX850||55-inch edge-lit LED|
|Samsung UN55ES8000||55-inch edge-lit LED|
|Vizio M3D550KD||55-inch edge-lit LED|
|Panasonic TC-L47WT50||47-inch edge-lit LED|
|Toshiba 50L5200U||50-inch edge-lit LED|
|Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference)||65-inch plasma|
Black level: Although not quite as bad in this department as the Panasonic LED we compared it with, the Toshiba was still second-worst in the room at conveying dark scenes. Sometimes its actual depth of black was deeper than the Samsung, and it was usually deeper than the L5200, but in dark scenes it still looked worse than either. As with the Vizio, the L7200 suffered from an extremely variable backlight but unlike that set it had serious trouble maintaining ample shadow detail and contrast.
In "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" the nighttime scavenger hunt from chapter 1 showed the L7200's difficulty with dark scenes. The shots of Oskar scanning Central Park with his metal detector (5:47) conveyed a ground bereft of detail and swallowed by too-deep shadows, while the clothing and trees (5:54) were similarly obscured. Meanwhile highlights like Oskar's face and the lights in the streetlamps (5:58) looked too dim, robbing the scene of contrast and pop.
The Vizio balanced these scenes better than the Toshiba, which in its own way looked just as poor as the more washed-out Panasonic. The darker the scene, the more detail and punch the L7200 lost, and in extremely dark scenes, like the assault on Hogwarts from "Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows, Part 2" (45:52), there was very little contrast at all, just a dim mess of shadows. Again, the L5200 looked better than its more expensive brother in these scenes despite its lighter black levels.
It's worth mentioning that shadow detail improved significantly when I disabled the L7200's DynaLight feature, which controls local dimming. I chose not to keep it off, however, because with DynaLight off the L7200U's black levels became simply terrible -- even lighter than the Panasonic's and significantly worse than any of the others, including the L5200.
Color accuracy: While not nearly as bad as its black-level performance, the L7200's color accuracy was still among the worst in the room. Bright scenes again looked much better than dark ones. Skin tones, like Oskar's face as he speaks to the locksmith (18:14), appeared neutral enough, although saturated colors like the orange of his jacket and the swatch on the wall behind him looked too saturated.
In slightly darker scenes, like Oskar's father explaining the hunt (5:35), skin tones and other areas reddened further. As usual with LED, near-black and black areas, like the shadows and letterbox bars, took on a bluish tinge, an issue that was especially apparent on the L7200U because of its lighter black levels.
Video processing: The L7200U performed very well in this category. In the Standard setting of ClearScan it handled 1080p/24 cadence properly and, unlike most TVs, did so while maintaining its full motion resolution. It's the only non-Samsung LED/LCD I've tested this year to do so.
The other ClearScan settings, namely Smooth and Cinema, also delivered full motion resolution but also introduced significant smoothing/dejudder, so I left them turned off for film-based sources. With ClearScan set to Off the Toshiba registered the same motion resolution as a 60Hz set and conveyed film with the halting cadence of 2:3 pull-down, so your best bet is to just leave ClearScan in Standard for every source.
Uniformity: Again the L7200 brought up the rear of our pack in this category, showing light leakage along the top edge (especially visible against the letterbox bars) and the far left side, right in the middle. The latter was also visible in plenty of darker program material, for example the nighttime streen scene in Chapter 10 (1:30:15).
I also noticed vertical bands along the top half of the screen, for example in the wall behind Oskar as the camera pans to follow him into the building (9:51). These were revealed as stationary, regular backlight structure of some kind when I fired up a full-raster test pattern (visible at 20 IRE and lower), and they appeared in numerous other dark and mid-dark scenes that showed panning or movement across the screen. I've never seen their like before, and suspect it has something to do with an errant "light guide," the thing that guides the light from the edge-mounted LEDs across the rest of the screen.
From off-angle the Toshiba behaved about the same as the Vizio and worse than the others at maintaining black-level fidelity -- it got more washed out fairly quickly. On the other hand it avoided off-angle discoloration well.
Bright lighting: The L7200U has a similar semigloss screen finish that behaved much like the Vizio's -- in fact the two seemed identical. Both appear glossy at first glance, but reflections still have the fuzzy edges that are the chief characteristic of a matte screen, instead of the sharp, mirrorlike look of most glossy displays. The screen doesn't dim or disperse reflections as well as the true matte screen of the L5200, but it did a better job of handling them than either the Sony or especially the Panasonic. It also preserved black levels relatively well, making it one of the better screens for bright rooms we've tested.
3D: The Toshiba L7200U was a middling 3D performer. I compared it directly with the Vizio, another 55-inch passive 3D TV, as well as with the other 3D-compatible sets in the lineup, which were all active. With the two passive TVs I was actually able to do a true side-by-side comparison since I didn't have to switch between different pairs of active glasses (for the record, I didn't notice any performance difference between the Vizio and Toshiba glasses, although the Vizio's fit better; see below) and in that comparison I was surprised that the Vizio fared better.
Seated the same distance of about 8 feet from the two same-size passive TVs, I assumed that the artifacts I've typically seen on such sets -- occasional line structure, jagged edges, and moving lines -- would be equally visible. In fact, the Vizio did a better job of hiding these flaws. During "Hugo," the horizontal lines of screen structure on the lit stair in the attic (22:32) as well as the onscreen display of my PS3 were both more obvious on the Toshiba, as was similar structure along the edge of Hugo's face (13:33) and of Isabel's (17:06). The sets appeared similar in rare instances of moving lines, typically when the camera moved over a scene that contained a horizontal edge at a shallow angle, like the bowler hat of Uncle Claude (22:41) and the edge of a low wall outside the station (22:09).
The Toshiba's image appeared a bit too sharp, while the Vizio -- far from what I'd call soft -- was instead smoother and more pleasing. In their default Movie settings (I don't calibrate for 3D testing) the two TVs have very similar light output in 3D, so I don't think that's the differentiating factor. I did disable the L7200's Edge Enhancer function and that helped a bit, but line structure was still more visible on the Toshiba.
Both passive TVs outdid any of the active sets at reducing crosstalk (ghostly double images), and in some areas, like the word "Films" from the GK Films logo before the movie starts, the Toshiba showed less crosstalk than the Vizio. I'm guessing that's because the Toshiba's more aggressive dimming caused that word to be much dimmer than on the Vizio -- crosstalk is most obvious in high-contrast areas. Elsewhere, such as when Hugo's hand reaches for the mouse (5:01) and the camera passes over tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49), both passive sets looked about equal; their 3D images were clean and crosstalk was basically invisible, whereas the active sets all showed some level of ghosting.
In other areas the Toshiba's 3D image was a mixed bag. Its black levels appeared about equal to those of the Vizio, the Sony, and the Samsung, and better than the Panasonic WT50's. That's no small feat since active sets have a large advantage in apparent black level because you're basically wearing sunglasses. The Samsung was markedly brighter, however, which made its 3D image overall punchier and higher-contrast. As usual both plasmas were exceedingly dim in comparison, so while the VT50's 3D black levels were superb (unlike the UT50's), the LEDs had much better contrast overall.
Shadow detail was the worst of the lineup, though, as evinced in Hugo's rush through the steamworks (9:50). The Toshiba's default Movie color was also bad: quite blue and slightly oversaturated in comparison to the others. Again, all of these sets can be calibrated for 3D so color and perhaps other characteristics can be improved. One thing that can't be addressed by calibration though: the brighter edges of the Toshiba's screen in dark scenes, a uniformity error was exacerbated by the extra light output of 3D.
Vizio's passive glasses fit better than Toshiba's, whether worn over my prescription glasses or not. Toshiba's lack the nose support found on the Vizio specs and their frame is completely flat, whereas the Vizio's frame bends slightly at the nose, which fit my face better. Toshiba's specs were also heavier, and Vizio's gripped the back of my head better.
|Geek Box: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.00314||Good|
|Near-black x/y (5%)||0.2843/0.3071||Average|
|Dark gray x/y (20%)||0.3126/0.3293||Good|
|Bright gray x/y (70%)||0.3136/0.3312||Good|
|Before avg. color temp.||7966||Poor|
|After avg. color temp.||6472||Good|
|Red lum. error (de94_L)||20.3155||Poor|
|Green lum. error (de94_L)||4.8971||Poor|
|Blue lum. error (de94_L)||21.1839||Poor|
|Cyan hue x/y||0.2245/0.3311||Good|
|Magenta hue x/y||0.3248/0.1586||Good|
|Yellow hue x/y||0.425/0.5147||Average|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i De-interlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1000||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||1000||Good|