Consumers are a shallow bunch. As soon as we're presented with wonderfully thin TVs, we start complaining about how the bezel is fat and unsightly. The poor TV manufacturers have to put their new babies under the knife to shave off a few centimetres to suit our fancy.
Luckily for us, Toshiba doesn't seem to mind, and has taken its high-end Z series LCD panel and installed it into a teeny, tiny frame. Available for around £1,200, the Toshiba Regza 40ZF355D is amazing to look at, and with such a competent panel, it should perform brilliantly, too. Does it?
Every now and then, we review a product that causes a right old fuss. This week, it was the ZF355, a TV that has been due out in the UK for ages but has taken longer than usual to appear. As soon as we got it out of the box, we knew the wait had been worthwhile.
The ZF355 is very similar to the Toshiba Regza 40XF355D we reviewed a while ago -- and loved. The main difference on the ZF is the advanced picture processing, which should lead to an amazing picture quality.
The bezel is what makes this screen so visually impressive, but it's important to remember that it's not all about looks. The thin surround on this TV means that it will fit into the same sort of gap a standard 37-inch TV would take up. For homes with limited space, that's a real boon. Be aware that it's a deep TV, making it less ideal for wall mounting.
Although there's a speaker grille, the TV has a relatively unbroken front, but it's quite small and unobtrusive. There's also a large blue light, which seems to be purely decorative. You can turn it off via a menu, which we think you will probably want to do -- it's distracting.
At the back of the TV, you'll find two HDMI sockets, with a third on the right-hand side of the screen. A pair of Scarts and a single component input are also present alongside a VGA input for hooking up a PC or media centre to the TV. VGA is an increasingly odd choice on TVs, given that most computers have DVI these days. It would seem logical to provide one of those instead. Still, no matter -- VGA is still useful and very high quality.
The thing that sets the ZF355 apart from its little brother is the addition of the Active Vision M100 HD processing mode. One of the main selling points of this TV is the proper 5:5 pulldown mode. Explaining what pulldown is can be tricky, but essential if you want to get the best out of Blu-ray movies.
Pulldown is a method of repeating film frames because it's impossible to show a movie at 24 frames per second -- the flicker would be unbearable. Even cinemas use a form of pulldown where each frame is shown twice, and a shutter on the projector opens and closes quickly enough to be unnoticeable. The Toshiba aims to reduce motion problems by showing each film frame five times. The upshot is that 24p Blu-ray movies should look fantastic.
The inclusion of a 10-bit LCD panel should also greatly improve the colour reproduction of the TV, offering over a billion possible shades. This is a huge improvement over the older panels, and as impressive as it is, we're going to hazard a guess that you'd have to have the eyes of a hawk to actually notice a massive difference.
Standard definition Freeview pictures looked decent to us. There was minimal softening of the picture, but there wasn't excessive MPEG noise either. If you're looking for a TV to serve your standard definition viewing needs, the ZF355 won't let you down. We found that the picture controls did need adjusting to get the best quality image, so don't be too disappointed if the TV doesn't look immediately great out of the box.
HD content looked superb. To test the 5:5 pulldown and smooth film motion, we dusted off a 1080/24p HD DVD player and put in our copy of Serenity. At the movie's beginning is a scene in space, with ships moving past the camera, and another on a terraformed planet, with a pan past a CGI city. On most TVs -- especially those without 100 or 120Hz panels -- this can look juddery. Most 100Hz TVs smooth the motion to some extent, but the ZF355 took it to a whole new level. In short, for movies, this TV can hold its own against some of the best TVs we've seen.
Black levels were also great, and even though there were times when we could see a hint of the backlight, the detail was still brilliant. In general, this TV manages to show a fantastically detailed picture. The opening title sequence of Casino Royale was bursting with colour, and the black and white 'two kills' pre-title sequence looked unbelievably sharp.
Sound on the Tosh is also impressive. The company's long-standing deal with Onkyo means that the sound is clear and, despite the diminutive proportions of the bezel, is deep and rich too. We'd always suggest that any home theatre worth its salt has a separate surround decoder, but you probably won't want to fire it up for Eastenders, and that's where the built-in sound comes in.
We played some Blu-ray discs from a Sony BDP-S500 into the TV via HDMI. The TV, which supports HDMI CEC, picked the Blu-ray player up and told us that HDMI was now 'Regza link' enabled. Of course, CEC doesn't always add that much, but we do like the facility to shutdown HDMI connected devices when the TV is placed into standby -- it's handy.
One quick grumble: Toshiba is still shipping its TVs with the backlight set to 100 per cent. You'll need to get into the menu system and reduce this substantially before you'll get a decent-looking picture.
This TV offers something that's fairly rare -- at least for the moment. It has a compact case, which enables it to fit into a more compact gap. Its thin bezel also make it jaw-droppingly pretty and it's sure to impress everyone who sees it.
In terms of the competition, we'd say that the picture quality puts this TV in the same league as some of the Panasonic plasmas, although Freeview tends to look better on the plasma screens. If you need an LCD with the same visual impact, you'll need to wait for either the ultra-thin Hitachi TV to arrive, or take a look at the JVC LT-42DS9, which is available now.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday