The Toshiba 55WL863 offers sharp HD pictures and excellent 3D but suffers from poor Internet features, a bad remote and so-so standard-definition images.
Toshiba produces some stylish high-end TVs and the 55WL863 is a case in point, offering active 3D and online media streaming features.
The 55-inch model we reviewed -- there are also 42-inch and 46-inch versions -- packs in Toshiba's clever Cevo picture processing system. With a hefty price tag of around £1,800, does it warrant the money?
Toshiba's user interface is very different to those you'll find on other brands such as Samsung, Sony and Panasonic. It has adopted a twin, rotating circle design; you select the type of action you want to perform from the lower semi-circle, which then shifts you to the upper circle where you select a sub-option (see image below).
We can't say we're big fans of it. The menus were awkward to navigate using the remote. The change between this circular approach and the more traditional flat menus that you end up in makes it all feel disjointed.
The black and grey colour scheme doesn't help matters. It looks drab in comparison to the colourful approach used on LG's and Samsung's latest TVs.
The electronic programme guide (EPG) isn't exactly easy on the eye either. Again, it uses a drab mix of murky-looking colours. It lacks the video thumbnail windows that you now get on most other manufacturers' TVs.
The EPG has a more traditional horizontal layout. Because 13 channels' worth of programming data is displayed at one time, you can easily compare what's on at different times across loads of channels. Moving around the EPG is speedy; you can jump through pages of channels using the programme up and down buttons on the remote.
One interesting aspect of this TV is its face recognition feature. The set has a small camera built in; with this you can create picture and sound presets for different people. Once done, it'll recognise you when you sit down to watch it and will automatically switch to your pre-programmed preset. This actually worked well for us and it certainly adds an extra wow factor to this model.
For a high-end TV, this set's Internet and media streaming features are a mess. The problems begin with the Internet TV. It's accessed via Toshiba's Connected menu, which calls up a secondary interface that has entries for YouTube, BBC iPlayer and the Connected Places hub.
Enter the latter and you'll find YouTube and iPlayer listed again, alongside a range of other video services. However, if you select either YouTube or iPlayer in this menu, you're told to return to the previous menu and access them from there. This seems like very lazy programming to us and it's something that Toshiba needs to sort out.
Secondly, the list of services and apps available is weak in comparison to all the other big name TV brands. You do get Dailymotion and the dire Cine365 rental service but it's missing good movie rental options like LoveFilm and Acetrax.
The list of available apps is tiny and there's no app store to allow you to download additional apps. At least the iPlayer and YouTube apps work well and are easy to navigate. They let you playback programmes or video clips in high-definition as well as standard-definition.
On the whole, Toshiba's Internet TV platform feels poorly thought out and can be buggy. We certainly experienced some odd behaviour from it during our test period.
The 55WL863 also supports media streaming via its Ethernet port, but we failed to get this to work properly with our Windows Vista PC or with the DLNA server built into our Iomega NAS drive. We've experienced few issues getting these to work with other sets so we're mystified as to why they didn't work with this Toshiba model.
The TV would stream pictures and music tracks but it failed to play any of our video files. However, it had no problem playing DivX, Xvid and MKV files from a memory key plugged into the USB port.
Perhaps mindful of its less-than-desirable recent designs, Toshiba called on the talents of the Jacob Jensen's Studio for this high-end model. The Danish designer is best known for his work with Bang & Olufsen. Like many of those products, this set has a masculine aesthetic in large part due to the amount of brushed metal used on the narrow bezel.
The chassis is very slim and the stand is interesting because there's a large circle cut out of it beneath the stem. All in all, it's a classy look, if not quite as universally appealing as the designs of Samsung and LG's latest high-end sets.
The slim remote control isn't so appealing. Toshiba has added a sliding aluminium section to it, which serves very little purpose other than to get in the way of the buttons. When it's slid fully down it adds extra length to what is already a very long remote, making it feel unbalanced.
Around the back of the set you'll find three side-mounted HDMI ports as well as an extra down-facing one that supports Audio Return Channel for feeding HDMI audio to an external amp. Component and Scart connections are made via small adaptor cables. The TV has a standard VGA socket as well as two USB ports.
Along with the Freeview HD tuner, this TV has a satellite tuner. Unfortunately it is not a Freesat HD tuner so it just tunes in all the free-to-air channels that it can find. This leaves you with a mish-mash channel line-up of test stations and regional variations of the BBC and ITV channels.
You'll have to do a lot of sorting to make the channel list usable. Even then, the EPG doesn't seem to load the programming data for satellite channels.
For a slim model, the 55WL863 puts in a decent performance on the audio front. Its bass response isn't too bad and its strong performance with mid-range frequencies help it to produce dialogue with plenty of presence. The only real criticism is that sometimes it can sound a little hollow.
There are a few tweaks you can make in the audio menu including turning on the surround sound mode, which widens the soundstage, but not as much as recent TVs from Samsung, for example. There's also a bass booster and Dolby Volume is included. This can help even-out the discrepancies in volume between TV shows and advert breaks.
This set's 2D pictures are, on the whole, very impressive. Toshiba's new, more powerful Cevo processing does an excellent job on HD material, making movies on Blu-ray look pin sharp. Black levels are impressively deep, in part thanks to the set's 32 local dimming zones.
Thankfully haloing -- the unwelcome effect that appears around images that are static in a moving scene -- isn't much of a problem here, although it does rear its head now and again. Colours are handled with aplomb and skin tones have a wonderfully natural look.
However, the 55WL863's pictures are far from problem-free. As with almost all LED sets that we see, its backlighting is inconsistent. Our model suffered from pooling of light in the two bottom corners despite its use of local dimming.
Standard definition performance wasn't that great, in our opinion. Colours seemed less vivid and it was hard to achieve a balance of making the pictures look crisper without also introducing a lot of mosquito noise around the edges of objects. Without the Active Vision motion processing engaged, you can see motion blur creeping in on faster-moving images.
Unlike some of the other 3D models in Toshiba's line-up, the 55WL863 uses active 3D technology. Unfortunately Toshiba's active glasses are big and bulky and quite uncomfortable to wear, especially compared to the smaller and lighter specs supplied with Samsung's active sets.
Nevertheless, when watching 3D Blu-ray discs, image quality for 3D pictures is very impressive. They look crisp and sharp and the panel's high brightness levels go a long way towards counteracting the dimming effect of the active specs. The large screen size and Cevo processing produce an excellent sense of depth, helping to suck you into the stereoscopic effect. There's very little crosstalk visible on 3D material from Blu-ray.
Sadly, however, this isn't the case when it comes to 3D broadcasts, where the sense of depth seems to be compromised somewhat. There's also a notable increase in the levels of crosstalk where you'll see a ghost image on the edges of objects in the near- and mid-distance. We're not sure why there's such as difference between the two, but it is jarring.
The 55WL863 has a number of strengths: its stylish and masculine design will appeal to many and its HD pictures are impressively sharp and clean. The set produces very strong 3D pictures from Blu-ray discs.
However, the TV suffers from rough and ready Internet features, the remote control is horrible and the standard-definition picture quality isn't wonderful.
Faced with such strong competition in the high-end market, we just don't think the 55WL863 does enough to hold its ground against its main rivals, despite the benefits of powerful Cevo processing.