AVForums heads off to The Grange just outside London to check out Toshiba's new product line-up
On the 6th of March, Toshiba assembled a large number of UK tech journalists in The Grange hotel in Hertfordshire to launch their new product range for 2012.The proceedings were kicked off by their UK Marketing Director, Matt McDowell, who spoke about Toshiba’s successes in the last year. He pointed out that Toshiba sold more TVs in 2011 than in any previous year and that was despite the TV market contracting by 2% during the same period. In fact when you combined TV/DVD/PC sales for 2011, Toshiba shifted nearly 2 million units and was second only to Samsung who sold 2.48 million. Toshiba were a top three brand in TV sales for six out of the last twelve months, the number two brand in PC retail and the number one brand in DVD and Blu-ray sales - irony anyone?
Toshiba attribute this success to their strategy of producing models that meet every price point and type of customer. They are also focused on what the customer needs rather than innovation for innovation’s sake. Toshiba said that when it came to TVs, their customers were mostly concerned about design and picture quality (a recurring theme this year) and as a result Toshiba have brought innovation further down their range. Toshiba introduced their first TV into the UK market 31 years ago and they now have a 96% brand awareness. Their approach to the design and development of all their ranges is to create products that, rather than being aspirational, are more functional and practical, reflecting the way that we actually live our lives. Or as Toshiba would say, products that have been designed for real life.
In terms of their TV lineup for 2012, the top of the range will be their ZL2 Quad HD panel with glasses free 3D. This TV will include every feature that Toshiba currently offers including the CEVO ENGINE and Smart TV. The ZL2 launches on the 12th of March, will come in a 55” screen size and will retail for around £7,000 but will only be available through the John Lewis store in Oxford Street. I saw the ZL2 at CES but this press event offered a much better opportunity to get a close up look at the display. Toshiba were showing 4K content on the display and I have to say it looked very impressive with no obvious processing and an incredibly detailed image. There were shots of Hong Kong taken from The Peak at night and having lived there I could see loads of familiar buildings including my old apartment block (sorry Phil). If you put your head right up to the screen you could see the honeycomb effect of the lenticular filter but this was invisible from any normal viewing distance. Toshiba were also showing 1080p upscaled to 4K and as we saw at CES, this didn’t look as impressive, with a very soft image and some obvious artefacting. In fact, personally I think a 1080p image on a normal 55” HDTV would have looked sharper. As for the glass-free 3D, well if that’s the reason you’re spending seven grand then you might be disappointed. The 3D looked poor, the resolution was noticeably lower and the viewing angles were very limited, even when you stood in the sweet spot.
After the ZL series there will be the VL series which is a LED LCD TV that uses a single sheet of glass design, includes passive 3D and offers screen sizes of 42, 47 and 55”. The VL will come with 4 pairs of glasses and also includes Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners, USB HDD recording, DLNA, Media Guide, wireless ready, Smart TV, 2D to 3D Conversion, Smartphone/tablet remote control and Intel’s Wireless Display technology built in. Pricing seems quite competitive with the 42” model retailing for about £699 and they will be available in June.
There will also be the TL series, which comes in 40 and 46” screen sizes and offers the same features as the VL series, except that it doesn’t have the single sheet of glass and uses active shutter 3D instead of passive. The TL series won’t come with any glasses included but once again pricing is quite competitive, with the 40” model retailing for around £599 and being released in April. As with all the other manufacturers, Toshiba regards 3D as nothing more than a feature and is one of many factors that consumers will take into consideration when deciding which TV to buy. In addition, just like LG and Panasonic, Toshiba also believe it makes sense to offer the consumer a choice of passive or active.
Moving down the line we have the RL Series which is also a LED LCD TV, offering a Smart TV option for smaller screen sizes (23, 32 and 40”) and would probably make a good choice for a second room. The features include a Freeview HD tuner, Toshiba Places, AMR100 smooth picture processing, Resolution+, ambient light sensor, USB recording, wireless ready, MediaGuide internet EPG, DLNA, Intel’s Wireless Display technology built in and Smartphone/tablet remote control. The design uses a black and silver finish with a sleek slim bezel and it will be shipping in the second quarter of 2012, with a price point around £529 for the 40” model.
Toshiba have already launched their entry level BL series, which is an LED LCD TV that comes in 32 and 40” screen sizes and has a choice of a black or silver finish. They have also launched the BV series, which appears to be almost identical to the BL series except that it includes a customised viewing mode for gaming. Both models have minimal features and only have Freeview tuners which is surprising, how expensive is it these days to include a Freeview HD tuner? There is also the DV series which is a HD Ready display that has a built-in DVD player and only comes in a 32” screen size.
Just like every other TV manufacturer, Toshiba is placing a lot of emphasis on Smart TV and they demonstrated their new platform to us. The actual features on display were still in development but they should be fairly similar to the final versions. As with last year, the centrepiece of the platform is Toshiba Places but the amount of content has been increased, including iPlayer v3, iConcert, Aupeo, Viewster, YouTube and Livesport.tv. There is also Social Places for all the social networking sites but Toshiba won’t be including a dual screen feature because in focus groups they found that with more than one person watching, people found dual screen very annoying. Toshiba’s higher end TVs will also include MediaGuide which is am internet EPG developed by Rovi. As such it provides a meta data rich TV guide that covers eight days but the downside is that there will be advertising in the guide itself.
Other new features include Intel’s Wireless Display technology (WiDi) built in, which allows compatible WiDi devices to connect directly with each other without needing to go through your wireless network. Aside from these new features, Toshiba’s higher end TVs will also include MediaShare via DLNA, USB HDD recording and smartphone/tablet remote control. The new platform looked quite attractive and seemed very responsive but I did feel that it was too spread out and could benefit from being more centralised.
As far a Toshiba’s new Blu-ray lineup is concerned, there will be four new models, starting with the BDX1300 which is their entry level model and includes the basic features plus smartphone or tablet operation. Then there is the BDX4300 which is similar to the BDX1300 but includes 3D playback. Then there is the BDX3300 which doesn’t include 3D but does have Smart TV functionality, including built-in WiFi and MediaShare via DLNA. Finally there is Toshiba’s top of the line Blu-ray player, the BDX5300, which includes all the features on the BDX3300 but adds 3D playback. We were quite impressed by some of Toshiba’s Blu-ray players last year, so we’re looking forward to taking a closer look at their new lineup soon.
Toshiba certainly have an interesting lineup of TVs planned for 2012 and we’re looking forward to reviewing as many as possible over the coming months. Certainly despite its cost and limited availability, the ZL2 will generate a great deal of interest and the VL and TL series also offer an impressive list of features, as well as a choice of passive or active 3D.
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