It’s clouds, ultra high definition and Superman at the Toshiba product launch
It’s been a difficult couple of years for the TV manufacturers, especially those in Japan who have had something of a perfect storm to weather.However Toshiba, at least, appear to weathered those particular storms better than most, reporting actual growth in 2012. The Japanese manufacturer was also number two in the LCD market for nine out of twelve months last year, which is surprising given the utter dominance of the South Koreans. So that was last year, what about 2013? Well Toshiba arranged a press launch for their new line-up at The Grove, a hotel just outside Watford that is apparently the venue of choice for philandering footballers.
Whilst we didn’t see any Premier League stars at the launch, apparently both Tom Cruise and Mila Kunis were staying there, whilst filming at nearby Leavesden Studios. Speaking of movies, one of the first things that Toshiba announced was that they are the official technology partner for the upcoming Superman flick Man of Steel. Apparently Toshiba were the technology partner of The Dark Knight Rises last year, although to be honest we were unaware of that particular association. There was certainly no doubting Toshiba’s current partnership with the last son of Krypton, the Man of Steel trailer was playing on all their demos.
So movie partnerships aside, what does Toshiba have in store for us this year? Well they have an entirely new line-up of TVs, some redesigned Blu-ray players, their new ‘Cloud TV’ internet platform and, of course, the Ultra HD TVs we saw at CES back in January. Before we really get started, it’s worth noting that Toshiba has a newly designed remote control, which whilst quite large is a definite improvement on some of their previous efforts. Kicking off their launch with Cloud TV, Toshiba are keen to stress that the new platform is designed to combine innovation, collaboration, simplicity and choice. The new design does look quite similar to many other manufacturers’ systems, with an emphasis on Video-on-Demand services, which Toshiba see as a growth area. The platform centres around a Home page, with additional pages for TV, Video, Premium Apps and News.
All Toshiba models that include Cloud TV will also have built-in WiFi as standard and the new platform will include Netflix, Vimeo, Blinkbox and Deezer, not to mention existing favourites like BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Acetrax. Cloud TV will offer an advanced personalised approach to Smart TV, with users receiving content recommendations based on their viewing history. There will be a search feature that look for content in the EPG, as well as VoD and any devices connected to the home network. Cloud TV will also include live feeds of tweets and updates relevant to the on-screen content, as well as social networking profiles. There will also be mirroring features using WiDi and Toshiba’s MediaGuide will allow users to browse the EPG and control the TV from a mobile device without interrupting programming.
Moving on to the TVs, this year Toshiba has six different models, ranging from the entry level 1 Series right up to the Ultra HD 9 Series. With the exception of the 4K models, pricing for which Toshiba has yet to announce, the emphasis appears to be on more budget models with some fairly aggressive pricing. Kicking off with the 1 Series, we have their small screen entry level model with sizes ranging from 22 to 40 inches. The 22 and 24 inch models will have a choice of black and white chassis and there will also be DVD combo options. There will also be the 2 Series with edge LED lighting and 39 to 50 inch screen sizes. Prices will range from £179.99 for the 22-inch 1 Series model up to 599.99 for the 50-inch 2 Series model.
The new 4 Series comes in two flavours, the L4 and the W4, with both being the first in the range to offer the Cloud TV platform. They also include an open browser, are Skype ready, have built-in WiFi and WiDi, Resolution+ upscaling, 4 HDMI inputs, USB recording, MediaGuide and Dolby Digital Pulse. The W4 uses a 32 inch HD-ready screen with a Freeview tuner and will cost £329.99. The L4 uses a Full HD panel and includes a Freeview HD tuner, as well as 100 AMR (Active Motion & Resolution) and comes in screen sizes ranging from 32 to 50 inches. The 32 inch W4 will retail for £329.99 whilst the 50 inch L4 will cost £699.99.
Next up we have the 6 Series which merges a Full HD picture with a stylish slim design. As well as the Cloud TV service, the 6 Series also includes Freeview HD, Resolution+ upscaling, 100 AMR, an open browser, are Skype ready, have built-in WiFi and WiDi, 4 HDMI inputs, USB recording, MediaGuide and Dolby Digital Pulse. The 6 Series comes in screen sizes of 32 inches, which will cost £399.99 and 40 inches, which will set you back £499.99.
The 7 Series represents Toshiba flagship 1080p model, offering larger screen sizes up to 58 inches and including active shutter 3D. It’s interesting to note that the 7 Series is the only non-4K model to include 3D, so Toshiba has effectively dropped the feature from the rest of their line-up. The 7 Series adopts a contemporary design with smooth corners, an ultra-thin bezel and minimalist brushed aluminium details. It also includes the Cloud TV service, Freeview HD, Resolution+ upscaling, 200 AMR, an open browser, are Skype ready, have built-in WiFi and WiDi, 4 HDMI inputs, USB recording, MediaGuide and Dolby Digital Pulse, Audyssey Premium Television and 2D to 3D Conversion. All the 7 Series models come with two pairs of active shutter glasses included and the 40 inch costs £599.99, the 50 inch is £899.99 and the 58 inch will set you back £1199.99.
Finally we have the 9 Series, which is Toshiba’s range of Ultra HD TVs, utilising 3840 x 2160 panels and their new CEVO 4K processing engine. As their flagship models, the 9 Series will also include the Cloud TV service, Freeview HD, Resolution+ upscaling, 800 AMR, an open browser, are Skype ready, have built-in WiFi and WiDi, 4 HDMI inputs, USB recording, MediaGuide and Dolby Digital Pulse, Audyssey Premium Television and 2D to 3D Conversion. The 9 Series will come in screen sizes of 84, 65 and 58 inches, with passive 3D on the two largest models andactive shutter 3D on the smaller one. The screen size of 84 inches and 65 inches and the use of passive 3D tells us that Toshiba are using LG panels for those 9 Series models but since the 58 inch screen size uses active shutter, that suggests the panel comes from whomever is supplying the rest of Toshiba’s range. As is usually the case, the native 4K content looked spectacular but the upscaled 1080p Blu-ray shown on the 65 inch model looked very noisy, although this might have been due to the settings being used. All the models use edge LED lighting and as a consequence the backlight uniformity was poor but we should stress these were pre-production models. Whilst most of Toshiba’s new line-up will be available by May, the 9 Series won’t start shipping until the summer and at present we don’t have any indication on price.
As well as their TV line-up, Toshiba were also launching their new range of Blu-ray players. Thee are three new models, the BDX2400, the BDX3400 and the BDX5400. All of them feature a new elegant and compact design, with rounded edges that reminded us of the Apple TV box. The BDX2400 and BDX3400 have a matte black finish, whilst the BDX5400 combines a glossy black front with a brushed aluminium cover. The BDX2400 is WiFi ready, whilst the BDX3400 and BDX5400 have WiFi built-in. Both the BDX2400 and BDX3400 have smart features and the BDX3400 adds DLNA and Miracast. The BDX5400 includes all the features found on the BDX3400 but also adds 3D compatibility. The BDX2400 will retail for £79, the BDX3400 will set you back a mere £89 and the BDX5400 is a snip at just £99.
Overall the new designs of Toshiba's TVs and Blu-ray players were attractive and contemporary, although they did look a bit samey. On closer inspection, the build quality had a slightly budget feel and this sense of targeting the lower end was reinforced by the dropping of 3D from most models and the competitive pricing. It's a brave strategy considering how thin margins are these days but let's hope that competitive pricing extends to their new Ultra HD models because that would make all of us enthusiasts happy!
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