Hands On Review: Toshiba 47TL515U 3D LCD TV

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Several online options, 2D to 3D conversion, and super thin.


Sep. 16, 2011 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

In January at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, Toshiba grabbed a lot of headlines with its autostereoscopic (glasses-free) 3D TV. The company is still talking about that TV nine months later, but the 3D TVs they’re actually selling fall into the passive glasses category.

This one in particular is a 47-inch unit with a very slim design and a full suite of video and networking features. It’s an edge-lit LED LCD TV with some local dimming, which helps improve black levels. It includes four HDMI ports, plus the standard assortment of analog inputs. There’s also a USB port for connecting thumb drives and such.

As stated previously, it’s a passive 3D TV, which means that it puts most of the 3D technology in the LCD panel rather than in the glasses. The passive glasses are similar to the ones you’ll get in most commercial theaters, and in fact the glasses you snuck out of the theater will work with this TV. This method has some pros and cons which I’ll get into later.

The TV assembles easily enough. In fact, it’s so light, under 50 pounds, that one person can unbox it and assemble the stand. The TV swivels on the stand, so if you put it on a table you can turn it to face viewers on different ends of the room—not important if you’re hanging it on a wall though. It’s also just slightly more than an inch thick, so it will look great on a wall.

The Toshiba remote is a mix. It’s nice-looking, with contrasting shiny black and metallic gray. It includes a backlight button that’s very bright. I found the button layout frustrating though. The buttons are painfully small, with nano-sized type and cramped so close you have to hold it up to your face to see what’s what. You’ll get used to it, but never really like it.

Getting Started
I started engaging the TV by connecting a Verizon FiOS DVR and a Panasonic 3D Blu-ray player. Right away I noticed something interesting. This TV takes forever to turn on and handshake with connected components. In the old days it wasn’t unusual to wait a minute for a tube TV to warm up and show a picture, but today we expect our TVs to snap to attention immediately. For some reason, which probably has to do with HDMI issues, the Toshiba 47TL51U takes a long time—51 seconds. That might not sound like a lot, but it seems like an eternity when your staring at a black TV that should have a picture on it.  Switching between sources is faster, and I like that when I turned on my Blu-ray player the TV noticed and switched inputs automatically.

After tweaking the TV’s main video settings with a Datacolor Spyder 3 TV color meter, I got deeper into some of the advanced menus. The TV is not THX or ISF certified but allows for red, blue and green adjustments, gamma fiddling and other fine tuning.

Once all tuned up, I ran through some test patterns and video samples. It did very well on the HQV jaggies tests and other tests on that disc. Colors look good as did black levels and fine details.

While overall the TV looked very good, it did exhibit some light leakage from the edge-mounted LED backlights. I could see light areas on full dark field test patterns as well as on real-world video material when most of the screen was dark (should as a night sky or outer space scene). The leakage was most pronounced in the top right corner. If you weren’t really looking for it you’d probably not notice. This problem doesn’t impact most viewing because full black scenes are rare and usually don’t last long on the screen, but it’s there.

The TV performed well with motion too. This might be due to the 240Hz processing which is designed to smooth out motion images. Often, processing like that can have other effects on a picture, like making film content look like video, but thankfully I didn’t notice any of that on this TV.

3D
When I switched to 3D, the TV offered a mix of good and bad. I tend to like passive 3D for the obvious reasons: the glasses are cheap, convenient and there are no emitters or RF syncing issues. But the technology does impact resolution. In order to produce the 3D image, the TV uses a polarizing filter to send half the resolution to each eye, so the right eye only sees the right image and the left eye sees the left image. Your brain puts it together to make 3D, but it’s still just a 540p picture.

The resulting image on this Toshiba was bright and extremely well-done 3D. There was absolutely no flicker or ghosting in the picture. In Despicable Me, everything had shape, texture and depth. In an underwater IMAX feature, one scene with a large grouper was so convincing it appeared that my dog was going to get bitten when he walked in front of the TV.

But while the passive technology makes a good 3D image, it also noticeably softens the overall picture. In some places it makes the TV’s pixel structure more apparent. This is more easily seen in onscreen text. I noticed this issue with an LG passive 3D TV as well, but the impact was slightly stronger on the Toshiba.

Toshiba also included a 2D to 3D conversion feature. It works OK, and may be something interesting to show off to friends, but even my kids didn’t care about it that much.


Net TV
Gloriously, the TV includes built-in Wi-Fi (wired LAN is also included). While I generally prefer hooking up network devices via a real Ethernet cable for its reliability, wireless makes placement and installation much easier, and if you have a strong wireless network in your home, it will work fine most of the time. The downside here, is that Toshiba’s wireless set up is a bit wonky (yes, this is a technical term). Rather than going the traditional route by scanning for your SSID and asking for your WEP key, it requires the user to skip over several other setup options (comically labeled “easy”) first. OK, to be fair, it’s not difficult, just kinda backwards to me.

Anyway, the TV found my network easily, and I was connected in a few moments.

Toshiba’s smart TV approach includes two routes to get you to online content. Toshiba calls the first layer Net TV. Press the Net TV button on the remote and you’re offered a selection of typical content services including Netflix, Pandora, Flicker, CinemaNow, Skype, Blockbuster and Vudu. That’s a fairly standard lineup and will cover most people’s media needs.

The online services all worked well, but the YouTube interface is awkward and very difficult to navigate.

If you press the Yahoo button on the remote you’ll see the bottom of the TV taken up by a variety of icons such as Yahoo Finance and Yahoo news. These further lead to more content. There’s also a place to add more widgets to that menu. Compared to other smart TVs, this strategy is a bit confusing. You’ll find lots of content available, but remote response is slow and it’s not always clear what you need to click on to get something to work. 

On the other hand, if you take the time to figure out the navigation, you’ll find tons of things to look at, including games, news sites, video sites, social media and others. When you add new apps they appear on the bottom navigation bar. Launch the app and a window opens on the left side of your screen while your TV program keeps playing. This is a nice way to watch a program while still browsing things like news or Twitter. It takes some getting used to, but I warmed up to it shortly.

Overall, the Toshiba 47TL515U performs its core functions well and has plenty of attractive features to make it a worthwhile buy. The slow startup time and cramped remote will bother some people more than others. The 3D performance was on par with other passive TVs, and the 2D performance was very good except in one area. At 47 inches, this isn’t likely to be the centerpiece of a home theater, but it would make a nice living room TV for family viewing.

Toshiba 47TL515U
$1,499
Full specifications can be found here.



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