Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified. Click here for more information.
As LCD and plasma vie for popularity and picture quality bragging rights, one perceived weakness of the LCD camp has provided a reason for TV makers to charge more for step-up models: image blurring. Higher refresh rates like 120Hz and now 240Hz aim to clean up blurring with newfangled technology, and Toshiba's ZV650U series is one of the least-expensive sets available with a 240Hz effect. The company does use different technology to fight blurring than true 240Hz HDTV, and Toshiba is careful to call it a "240Hz effect," but anti-blurring effects are similar. Mind you, in most normal program material we find it nearly impossible to appreciate the antiblurring effect of higher refresh rates, but some people are really bummed by blurring, and for them the new LCDs--or perhaps the nearly blur-free images produced by plasmas--hold appeal. Unfortunately for this particular Toshiba, high-tech-sounding processing can't overcome lighter black levels and a few other picture-quality foibles. On the other hand, for those dead set on LCD who don't mind paying a bit extra for a 240Hz effect, the relatively low price of the Toshiba ZV650U series makes it worth considering.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch Toshiba 47ZV650U but this review also applies to the 42-inch Toshiba 42ZV650U and the 55-inch Toshiba 55ZV650U. All three sizes share identical features and specifications.
Toshiba deserves credit for bucking the trend of flat-panel TV frames composed entirely of glossy black. Instead, the frame around the screen of the ZV650U series is edged in silver metal, which borders a silver background that fades tastefully to black. If you look closely you'll see that the black fade is suspended above the silver background on a transparent sheet, and the silver is composed of tiny squares that curve from the extreme edge of the panel inward. It's a subtly complex design that results in an attractive, unusual look that doesn't detract one whit from the picture. The company tops, er, bottoms the package with a matching swivel stand.
The black and silver theme extends to the remote, and we mostly liked its design. The big clicker has quite a few buttons but makes good use of size and placement differentiation to allow relatively easy operation by feel alone. On the downside, it's not illuminated and small-handed people might have trouble reaching the important picture mode and size keys at the bottom of the remote, which should be moved higher at the expense of the transport keys. The Toshiba remote can control three other pieces of gear.
The company's menu system has improved from last year, with better-organized icons and a simpler layout. We liked the easy-to-read color scheme, but there are still some problems. The menu buries too many options toward the bottom, exposing too few to view, and we missed having explanatory text for each selection.
The principal step-up of the 650U series is the 240Hz effect. The company's literature calls it "ClearScan 240," which "combines 120 frames per second with new advanced backlight scanning systems to create a 240Hz effect." Since most sources are at 60 frames per second, Toshiba's method, also used by Vizio and LG, doubles each frame to get to 120 like a standard 120Hz LCD, while flashing the backlight extremely quickly--much faster than human vision can perceive--to achieve further reduction in blurring. Sony and Samsung, the other two players in the 240Hz game, actually quadruple the original frames to get to 240, and so deserve the "true 240Hz" designation. Toshiba, meanwhile, deserves credit for being careful to call its technology a "240Hz effect" rather than true 240Hz, but we're pretty sure the distinction will be lost on many consumers. (Editors' note May 20, 2009: Actually, it was subtle enough to be lost on us too. This review originally omitted the word "effect" in describing the technology.)
Like most other LCD TV makers' faster refresh sets, Toshiba's ZV650U series also incorporates dejudder processing, called "Film Stabilization" on the menu. The company also makes a big deal out of its Resolution+ processing, which applies to standard-def sources. See the Performance section for details.
Picture adjustments are extensive on the ZV650U series. The set offers five adjustable picture modes and a sixth, called "AutoView," that automatically adjusts certain parameters (like Contrast) according to its own logic, based on ambient lighting and picture content. Each of the other modes is independent per input.
Moving beyond the basics, Toshiba included a big bag of tweaks. Most are quite useful, such as a 31-position gamma slider that allows a great deal of fine-tuning, an extensive color management system, and the ability to lock your settings. We also loved the presence of red, green, and blue filters, which allow you to tweak color and tint, and as always we appreciated the full color temperature controls (a first for Toshiba)--although we question the utility of 10 color temperature presets, when most sets get by fine with three or four. A few other less-useful settings include the "Control Visualization" window that displays a brightness vs. "number of pixels" graph; and the oodles of automatic adjustments, including dynamic contrast, dynamic backlight (called Dynalight), and the automatic room lighting sensor, which is also adjustable.
The ZV650U has an ample five aspect ratio choices with high-definition sources. We recommend using the "Native" mode for 1080i and 1080p sources, since that mode scales the incoming pixels to the screen without introducing overscan.
While the Toshiba lacks picture-in-picture, it does offer a media reader function that can handle digital photos and music stored on USB sticks or SD cards (the card reader only handles photos). You won't find an Ethernet jack, DLNA capability, or any interactive doo-dads on this set, although fans of Divx will appreciate that the USB reader can also handle videos in that format (we didn't test this feature).
Toshiba equipped the ZV650U with plenty of connectivity. The back panel starts with three HDMI inputs, adding two component-video, one VGA-style PC (1,280x1,024 maximum resolution), and one AV input with composite and S-Video, along with digital and analog audio outputs. The side panel sports a fourth HDMI, another AV input with composite video, and USB and SD card slots.
Picture quality on the ZV650U was solid, albeit not up to the standards of the best flat-panel LCDs we've tested this year. The TV's main strength was color accuracy, thanks in part to those extensive adjustments, while black level performance was a major weakness. Toshiba's 240Hz effect didn't contribute significantly one way or the other to the TV's overall performance.
Our calibration benefitted from the ZV650U's many picture settings, although we didn't have to adjust the default Movie mode as much as with previous Toshiba sets. That mode's default color temperature setting measured slightly blue but still solid for an out-of-the-box preset, although its gamma was quite a bit off at 1.71 versus an ideal of 2.2. After our tweaks, gamma was nearly perfect (2.208) and very linear from bright to dark, and the same goes for the grayscale aside from the very darkest areas, which tended toward blue, and a very slightly reddish cast in midtones. The biggest improvement over last year's Toshiba models was in primary and secondary color accuracy, which was good enough so that we didn't even use the new ColorMaster color management system. We also loved the red, green, and blue filters, which allowed us to easily confirm the Toshiba's accurate color decoding.
For our comparison we lined up two other 240Hz LCDs, the Samsung LN52B750 and the Sony KDL-52XBR9, as well as a pair of plasmas, the Panasonic TC-P46G10 and our reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. Many of our image quality tests were conducted using the "Taken" Blu-ray Disc.
Black level: The ZV650U didn't match the depth of black of any of the other displays in our comparison. Black and very dark areas, like the letterbox bars, the shadows and the black roadie cases and leather jackets in the backstage security room in Chapter 3, for example, all appeared a good deal lighter than on the other TVs. As usual, the lighter blacks made dark scenes appear less realistic and more washed-out.
We did appreciate the Toshiba's relatively good shadow detail, which resulted in natural gradations from shadow to darkness on Liam Neeson's shaded face in the backstage scene, for example. Given the set's lighter blacks, details in dark areas were as realistic as they could be.
Color accuracy: The Toshiba ZV650U excelled in this category with just a couple of exceptions. Its solid post-calibration grayscale was evident in skin tones, such as the smiling face of Kim at her birthday party and the scowl of her mom, both of which looked quite close to our reference in that well-lit scene. The grass, trees, and flowers likewise looked natural and not too garish, as did the blue sky--a marked contrast to the greenish look to blues we've seen on past Toshibas. Saturation was also very good, with plenty of pop to the bright colors at the party--although as usual, deeper blacks would have made the colors appear even richer.
During dark scenes the grayscale stayed consistent until very near black, where they turned the bluish tinge we've seen on so many LCDs. The blue cast of the ZV650U's blacks was a good deal more noticeable than that of the other LCDs' displays.
Video processing: Overall the ZV650U series didn't perform quite as well as the true 240Hz displays we've tested. Like Samsung and unlike Sony, Toshiba offers a couple of different groups of settings to control the processing. The "ClearScan 240" setting seems to affect blurring only. Turning it on enabled the antiblurring effect, while leaving it turned off reduces motion resolution, increasing apparent blurring in our test.
According to the test, however, the Toshiba didn't deliver quite as much motion resolution. With ClearScan 240 engaged, it could only resolve between 700 and 800 lines on our chart before the closely spaced lines broke up into random interference. Other 240Hz displays resolved between 900 and 1,000, whereas standard 60Hz LCDs come in around 300 to 400. The interference was not visible in program material we watched.
As usual, we found it difficult to appreciate the extra resolution in any case. Comparing the Toshiba with the Samsung, for example, with the latter's antiblur effect turned off (thus delivering the same motion resolution as a 60Hz display), a fast-moving hockey game didn't seem appreciably sharper on the Toshiba. Some viewers are more sensitive to motion blur than we are, but for us, the 240Hz's antiblur properties don't seem worth it.
The other setting is called "Film Stabilization" and it has three choices: Off, Standard, and Smooth--all three deliver identical motion resolution numbers. The difference between Off and Standard will be difficult for most viewers to discern, since neither engages that obvious smoothing effect produced by, for example, the Standard setting on the Sony and Samsung. On the Toshiba, Standard doesn't introduce dejudder; it simply allows the TV to preserve the proper cadence of 24-frame sources, namely Blu-rays with the player set to 1080p/24 output mode. In such a setup, the ZV650U series' Standard setting worked well to keep the cadence intact, removing the hitching motion seen on the Panasonic plasma, for example, as the camera flies over the deck of the Intrepid during "I Am Legend."
The only setting that does introduce the smoothing dejudder action is, well, Smooth. Set to that mode we saw more artifacts caused by dejudder, such as breakup on the tailfin of one of the planes on the carrier's deck, than on the other LCDs' Standard modes. As usual the smoothing effect made the film look more like video, and overall the Toshiba's Smooth looked about the same as Standard on the Samsung or Sony. The ZV650U series lacks an ultrasmooth, artificial-looking dejudder mode like those other TVs' Smooth and High (respectively) modes, but we didn't miss it.
The Toshiba handles video- and film-based de-interlacing well. On the film-based de-interlacing tests, however, the only way we could get the ZV650U to pass was to engage the Film stabilization mode to either Standard or Smooth. For that reason, and what we describe above, we recommend leaving the TV in Standard mode for most sources.
Uniformity: This category was a mixed bag for the Toshiba. On the plus side, in dark areas the corners and edges looked only very slightly brighter than the middle, and the difference wasn't distracting during normal watching. We did notice, on the other hand, that in shots with flat fields where the camera moved, such as the overcast skies and concrete during the airport chase from "Taken," the backlight structure was faintly visible as slightly brighter vertical bars.
From off-angle dark areas became washed-out significantly more quickly than on the other two LCDs in our comparison, although in its favor the Toshiba didn't discolor badly when seen from either side of the sweet spot right in front of the screen.
Bright lighting: For the first time Toshiba is using a glossy screen coating, similar to the one employed by Samsung, as opposed to the matte it used before. With the overhead lights on and the window shades in our test room pulled up, the ZV650U's glossy screen showed more distracting in-room reflections (such as this reviewer's light blue shirt) than the matte-screened Sony, and as a result turned in a worse bright-room performance than even the plasmas in our lineup. The one benefit of the glossy screen we've seen on the Samsung models, namely improved preservation of black levels in bright rooms, was not evident in the Toshiba's case--since its blacks were brighter than the plasmas' even under bright lights.
Standard-definition: Despite the ZV650U's Resolution+ processing, touted as an aide to standard-def processing, the set didn't perform very well in this category. It did resolve every detail of the DVD format, although we did see some interference in the highest vertical resolution area of our test pattern. The grass and stone bridge provided a good test of Resolution+; turning up the seven-position "level" control seemed to add some sharpness to the image, improving definition in the bridge, for example, but it also introduced edge enhancement. We could achieve a functionally identical effect, to our eye, by increasing the Sharpness control on any TV.
The Toshiba failed to remove many jaggies from rotating diagonal lines, and the stripes on a waving American flag also evinced jagged edges; engaging the Resolution+ processing had no effect we could discern on those jaggies. Switching on the Toshiba's digital noise reduction worked well to remove motes and noise from difficult shots of skies and sunsets, but the Auto function didn't have as much of an effect. On the other hand the Toshiba is one of the first TVs we've tested in a while to fail the test for standard-def 2:3 pull-down. The best setting we could find for this test, Film Stabilization: Standard, removed the moire from the grandstands but only for a split second.
PC: Via HDMI the Toshiba delivered excellent performance, as expected, displaying every line of a 1,920x1,080 source with no edge enhancement or overscan. Via VGA, the best wide-screen resolution the set could hit was 1,360x768, and although the image looked as good as can be expected at that mode, many other LCDs have VGA inputs that can do better.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6563/6844||Good|
|After color temp||6511/6507||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||215||Good|
|After grayscale variation||86||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.632/0.331||Good|
|Color of green||0.288/0.603||Good|
|Color of blue||0.146/0.061||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Fail||Poor|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
Power consumption: We didn't test the energy use of this size in the ZV650U series, although we did test the 47-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Toshiba 47ZV650U.