Toshiba Regza VL863 (42VL863B) 3D LED LCD TV Review
Mark gets our first look at both Toshiba's 3D tech and their auto-calibration tool.
IntroductionWith the official unveiling of their glasses-free 3D 55ZL2 at IFA 2011, Toshiba were the talk of the conference and, whilst the VL863 certainly doesn't pack all the bells and whistles of the CEVO powered ranges, there's certainly plenty to get our teeth in to. Ever since the auto-calibration tool was announced, we've been keen to see how it would perform in practice and now we have the chance! There's also our first look Toshiba's take on a passive 3D system and their new video portal, 'Toshiba Places' too.
Toshiba certainly aren't the most fashionable brand but they're definitely one of the most innovative, so let's see how their latest efforts fare.
Design & ConnectionsThe first thing that struck us about the looks of the VL863 was the unusual mosaic effect of the swivel stand; on closer inspection it was apparent that the first thing that had struck the television, that morning, was the bottom of the couriers van - hard - as the glass was completely shattered. The resultant 'fix' using a roll of cling film and some gaffer tape proved more effective than attractive but needs must and all that. Looking beyond, or rather above, the stand revealed a rather Sonyesque looking television, styled in conjunction with renowned designer Jacob Jensen, with its brushed charcoal effect bezel underscored by a gloss black strip that accommodates touch-sensitive input, menu and volume and channel up and down buttons that only illuminate on contact and, briefly, during start-up. The standby button shines red whist off and blue when the TV is on, unfortunately it's not possible to deactivate the light in the user menus but we guess it's not likely to bother most. The chassis is very slim measuring less than 4cm at its deepest point, which is around the norm for LED edge-lit TVs of this size. It's rare we ever have cause to use the term triangular prism but the VL863 sports 3 of them - two down the sides of the bezel and one that forms the attachment between the stand and the rear of the TV. The side mounted prisms are gun metal in appearance but barely noticeable unless you're stood close. The screen, itself, is matte black and thus not as reflective as the majority of TVs we receive for review. All in all, it's an attractive looking unit with understated design which is, of course, all a personal opinion but we doubt many will fall out with the aesthetics.
We do feel, however, that quite a few may fall out with the supplied remote control handset. Quite what Toshiba were thinking with the sliding metal component is beyond us. Not only does it make the unit bulbous and unergonomic but, when in its 'up' position, it's actually uncomfortably cold to handle. Call us sissies, if you like, but the winter months will soon be here and we'd probably be breaking out the fingerless gloves, were we forced to use it for the duration. With the metal slider fully down, the control becomes bottom heavy and unwieldy. Those unconcerned about protecting the warranty on the remote control may just consider the removal of the slider, through brute force.
In terms of connections, we're pleased to see Toshiba include a downward pointing HDMI input that could help facilitate flush wall mounting provided all sources are routed through it, it's Audio Return Channel enabled too. The remaining three HDMI ports are on the side facing portion of the connection plate and are joined by two USB inputs, a CAM interface, a headphone jack and SPDIF audio out. Also sideways facing there's the terminal for the break-out adapter that services the component video input and corresponding audio. There's also break-out adaptors for SCART and D-SUB PC connections, in the box, which connect on the downward facing section along with a LAN port and the DVB-T2 (Freeview HD capable) aerial socket and there's a satellite input too.
Menushe Setup sub-menu contains options for System Setup, Picture, Sound and Preferences. The Preference item has options for 3D, including a test pattern that didn't seem to serve much purpose other than to demonstrate that the VL863 is, indeed, capable of displaying 3D images but then it says that on the box! There's also Network and Network Device Setup options and the Personal TV Setup choices. Now we can only assume that the Personal TV Setup options will take on more meaning in the CEVO enabled sets that feature face recognition technology as here it's limited to governing the starting volume and picture settings of the TV - hardly earth-shattering stuff.
The System Setup tab contains all the tuning, language and location options whilst the Sound Menu has a standard Balance slider and there's a Dolby noise reduction setting with options for Low, High and Off, it's set to Low by default. For all but the poorest sources, switch it off as it puts the shackles on the already mediocre speakers. There's also a Headphone volume control and, under the Advanced Sound Settings, an equaliser and some 'surround' options.
The Picture menu contains some interesting options being as the VL863 is enabled to use the Toshiba Auto Calibration tool, more on which later. Besides the auto calibration options and standard Backlight, Contrast, Sharpness and Brightness sliders we have various picture modes with Hollywood Day and Night mimicking isf or THX day/night modes. The auto calibration tool can only be used with the Hollywood Pro pre-set and we wouldn't advise using it in its out of the box state as it's too dark for all but bat cave environments. There are two further sub picture menus in the Advanced and Expert Picture Settings areas. Under 'Advanced' we have Toshiba's notoriously buggy CMS, labelled ColourMaster; Colour Temperature; Auto Brightness Sensor Settings; LED Backlight Control; Black/White Level; Static Gamma; Noise Reduction, Resolution+ and Active Vision M400. We'll deal with most of these in other sections but setting Colour Temperature to 2 and Noise Reduction and Auto Brightness to off, in Hollywood Day, isn't a bad starting point.
The Expert Picture Settings Menu houses a catch-all test pattern and a RGB Filter allowing for a quick colour and tint calibration using just a test disc. We can also choose between BT.601 and BT.709 colour decoding or choose to have the TV auto detect. From here we can also calibrate the greyscale using the 2 or 10 point White Balance controls as well as use the calibration tool in conjunction with the Colour and Gamma Calibration items. We'll deal with this, in detail, later on. Finally we have a Control Visualisation option that produces graphs showing representations of APL and gamma response, it's a nice if fairly superficial touch.
FeaturesIn terms of Smart TV functions, the VL863 isn't exactly setting the world alight but Toshiba are, at least, moving in the right direction with Toshiba Places. Places is a web based portal providing access to video portals such as iPlayer, Box Office 365 and The Cartoon Network. There are also a few news services and social networking/sharing in the Picassa app. Perhaps the star of Places is Woomi TV that's a cloud based video portal offering a wide range of content, not much of which is UK specific but it does show promise provided they can gain enough interest to expand what's on offer.
The VL863 is capable or playing back media files, via DLNA, either wired or wirelessly but wireless will require the purchase of a dongle. The VL86s had no troubles in picking up the media servers on my PC and made a reasonable fist of most of what was thrown at it. As usual, it's not going to replace a dedicated unit for these duties but it fared better than most in what it would resolve. There's also support for files from USB that showed similar file support.
The most anticipated new feature, from our perspective, comes in the form of the auto-calibration tool and the built in software to take advantage of it. The tool itself is manufactured by X-Rite and is likely based on their Tri-Stim Display 2 meters. It's actually very neatly put together with an ambient diffuser protecting the lens when not in use. The diffuser arm then can be swung around and clipped in to a locked position allowing the TPA-1 to be placed on the screen and the USB connector placed in the back of the TV. We'll dovetail the actual process in to the next section and, of course, show you the results as analysed by an EyeOne Pro with Calman 4 software.
Test ResultsAs the auto-calibration process can only be performed from the Hollywood Pro picture mode, we naturally took measures from there. In actual fact, Hollywood Day was giving the image closest to industry standards and would be our fall back mode should the autocal not go as desired as Hollywood Pro locks down the manual controls. So let's begin with the Hollywood Pro before adjustment:
Clearly the gamma response is our biggest issue here; quite simply images are far too dark, for the environment, with shadow detailing verging on non-existent. The spike in the middle of the greyscale isn't helping either with images showing uneven tone. Greyscale tracking is actually pretty good with a small excess of blue and deficit of red across the scale and as they're doing so in a fairly linear fashion, it would seem that it's a fairly simple calibration required were we to use the 2 and 10 point white balance sliders.
Measurements here were very good for a pre-set mode and Delta Errors were all close to 3, below which the eye is unable to detect issues. Of course it's the brain that does the processing work but you take the point. With initial readings made it's time to plug in the TPA-1 Picture Analyser to see what it could do.
The Toshiba guidelines state that the auto calibration should be performed gamut first - in actual fact we tried it both ways with identical results - but we'll maintain our usual running order to avoid confusion. So here's what the combination of TPA-1 and re-adjusted LUTs produced, according to the EyeOne Pro and Calman in terms of greyscale and gamma:
The auto calibration of greyscale and gamma (labelled Gamma Calibration in the menus) allows the user to select the target x,y coordinates of x=313 y=329 to match the D65 standard and choose from a range of gamma values. The TV then runs through a 20 point greyscale measurement and makes its adjustments. Despite the fact we selected a gamma value of 2.2, it's clear from the charts that gamma hasn't been tamed sufficiently although it is closer near white. Whether the problem is the measuring tool or the software (or both) is unclear but we'll need to step in with the old methods to get acceptable results. On paper, greyscale tracking is improved, marginally, but the pre-calibrated excess of blue is actually more preferable than the 'calibrated' excess of red. Perhaps the Colour Calibration would go more smoothly...
Well red is definitely improved, it's just a shame we can't say the same of the rest as Delta E's are increased with the remaining colours. As we stated earlier, it's not possible to make manual adjustments to the Hollywood Pro modes and thus we'd need to start from scratch in Hollywood Day. Cue Calibration Take 2...
Although we didn't quite have the speed of the auto-calibration we did have accuracy on our side and the process was fairly speedy, producing the following:
Hindsight is, as they say, a wonderful thing and with its benefits we'd have saved ourselves a good deal of time in going straight to the rather excellent 10 point white balance controls. Note for self calibrators: the 2 and 10 point controls are totally independent of one another so don't waste your time by trying to use them in tandem. There's not much to say about the results other than, spot on, so let's see what fun we can have with Toshiba's notoriously bothersome CMS.
At this stage in time we have to say we find the auto-calibration process to be of very little use but we're sure with a few tweaks, here and there, it can be improved and we'll try to work with Toshiba, in any way we can, to bring it on.
Whilst scaling of SD signals was nicely resolved, the VL863 did lack any film modes to take care of cadence detection but, strangely, activating the Active Vision M400 control did let it pass the most basic 2:3 NTSC test. Active Vision M400 is actually an interpolation engine using double scanning of the backlight and setting it at Standard doesn't particularly induce the soap effect but we still preferred it disengaged.
Deinterlacing duties were performed with competence, with the VL863 showing no undue jaggedness under motion with either HD or SD material. The Toshiba managed to pass tests for handling a mixture of video and film content, also. Blu-rays encoded at 24p were they expected success story, with all motion processing disabled and the VL863 had no problems in displaying all the way up to peak white with no signs of clipping. The 10 bit processing was also a boon in keeping colour banding/posterisation at bay.
It's a reasonable set of results for the Toshiba, in this department, but we'd like to see the inclusion of a film mode in future models rather than interpolation fudging the issue.
Stick the VL863 in Game mode and most wouldn't be able to detect any latency between controller input and on-screen response with it lagging less than 2 frames, on average. Time measured performance was consistently between 30 and 32 milliseconds so it's certainly a very respectable candidate as a gaming TV, particularly when you throw 3D gaming in to the mix. Lag in other modes was more in the order of 50 to 60 milliseconds so we'd certainly recommend sticking to the prescribed preset for this particular pastime.
The Toshiba 42VL863 shouldn't cause much swelling of your carbon footprint, weighing in at an averaged, calibrated, 79w in 2D with 3D asking a little more at 93w.
Picture Quality - 2DGiven the calibration results and the decent video processing, we'd expect on-screen results to look convincing and natural and, for much of the time, they were. Blu-rays and HD material, as expected, looked very nice with plenty of detail. Fast moving action was handled reasonably well, for LCD, but there was some blurring when things really sped up. Active Vision M400, set to standard, did help with more taxing material but we'd only recommend experimentation with video based material as its interpolating effects are far more easily noticed with sources shot to film.
Where the VL863 didn't convince was in its black levels and contrast performance with only compromised options at the users disposal. We have to admit to a degree of fiddling around with the LED Backlight control to find a happy medium between respectable black levels and maintaining detail in the dark areas but we never really found it. Set the control to High and blacks were reasonable but shadow detail non existent; set to Off or Low and contrast performance was poor but with more detail to the image. In the end we settled on the medium setting that gave average blacks and less clipping near black but we were never really happy with any of the options with even the Medium setting giving the flash-lighting effect around objects in darker scenes. The VL863 really shone with bright, punchy material such as Disney animations and also held its own in daytime conditions where the matte screen proved an advantage in ameliorating the effects of reflections so it's certainly one to consider for a family room that receives plenty of light and plenty of use from younger members of the family - yes, we're saying it's a good TV for kids!
All in all, the VL863 is a bit of mixed bag that we'd certainly not recommend to those whose critical viewing is done with the lights down low but the outright luminance and decent viewing angles (on the horizontal axis) the panel provided certainly means it's not without its merits. Panel uniformity was certainly better than a lot of the edge-lit sets we see with just some pooling at the corners and continues the trend of IPS panels seeming to offer better uniformity, when paired with edge mounted LEDs, than other panel types.
Picture Quality - 3DBeing as the VL863 is fitted with an LG IPS panel and that it employs the same passive system seen in LG's Cinema 3D TVs, we were expecting a reasonable facsimile of what we've seen from the Korean manufacturers' efforts, and this proved to be pretty much the case. Without a straight side by side comparison it's difficult to be certain but we thought the VL863 to give a little less depth to 3D than the the LGs and, as with the 2D, detailing wasn't great in dark scenes with shadows murky and undefined. As a result of the technology employed, crosstalk was at a minimum and viewing 3D images was a comfortable, 'flickerless' experience thanks to the passive glasses and Film Pattern Retarder (FPR) screen. We realise that, for many, active shutter eye-wear doesn't cause issues so it's a personal preference matter and some may not want to sacrifice the horizontal resolution and/or run the risk of seeing scan lines but we never saw either as issue viewing the 42 inch screen at around 6 feet.
Given the VL863 can be had for under £800 and there's 4 pairs of glasses provided in the box, it actually represents great value as a 3D set but as the 2D is a little underwhelming, its over all price vs performance ratio doesn't seem quite so attractive.
- Calibrated Greyscale and Gamma
- Comfortable 3D and 4 Pairs of glasses in the box
- Nice understated design
- Very good scaling and decent video processing
- Well presented and responsive menus
- Viewing angles
- Poor blacks and contrast performance (with Backlight Control off)
- Lack of detail and flash-lighting (with Backlight Control on)
- Terrible remote control
- Auto-calibration a waste of time in its current state
- Smart TV functionalities fragmented in the menus
Toshiba Regza VL863 (42VL863B) 3D LED LCD TV Review
The Toshiba 42VL863 is not short on style with its Jacob Jensen inspired design tipping a nod to Sony's understated ethos. The remote control is also quite a stylised piece but it's certainly a case of style over substance with the bulbous metal slider proving both unergonomic and uncomfortable to handle. We'd expect a few owners may seek a DIY hardware modification by means of a screwdriver and brute force.
Set up of the Toshiba was a painless process and the well thought out menu placements both very responsive and easy to use. There's more than enough calibration options to produce a very accurate picture but we'd still advise a great deal of caution when tackling the CMS, a light touch is certainly required. It's obvious Toshiba are just starting out in the world of Smart TV and their internet connected offerings are some way behind many of the other manufacturer's but there is promise there and we'd expect a large improvement by the time their new ranges are released next year.
Given that our most eagerly awaited feature was the auto-calibration tool and in-built software, it was something of a disappointment they didn't perform to the required standard. Whilst, on paper, greyscale tracking did see an improvement after the process, gamma couldn't be reigned in to the degree where we'd be happy viewing the VL863 in anything but bat cave conditions. The auto colour calibration actually did more harm than good, with only red gaining a net improvement, whilst all the others suffered. Fortunately the manual 10 point White Balance controls worked like a charm in flat-lining greyscale and gamma response and out of the box colour reproduction was actually very good that just required a few clicks on the colour decoder to bring in to the realms of 'perfect' to the eye.
Whilst the VL863 is not without its merits as a 2D TV, the disappointing black levels, with LED Backlight Control deactivated, or set to low, had the knock-on effect of giving distinctly average contrast performance. Set the backlight control to Medium or High and blacks and contrast received a considerable boost but at the expense of losing details in the dark areas and inducing a flash lighting effect around people and objects in dark scenes. A case of choose your poison, alas. The video processing of the VL863 was actually pretty good with it handling SD scaling very nicely indeed, with most deinterlacing tests passed with room to spare. One area where the Toshiba did lack was in the absence of a film mode and its inability to detect even the most common 2:2(PAL) and 2:3(NTSC) cadences. The fact that activating the interpolation system (Active Vision M400) gave the impression of passing the 2:3 tests is probably more of an oddity than anything else but we did find that Active Vision M400 provided some help to fast moving video based action, when set to standard, without introducing too many artefacts.
3D performance was very good with the passive system once again proving a hit in terms of comfort and ease of use but some may be put off by the loss of horizontal resolution and their propensity for seeing 'scan lines'. As ever we'd recommend a demo where possible, particularly if 3D is a defining factor of the decision making process but there's 4 pairs of Real D 3D glasses in the box so it's certainly a reasonably inexpensive entry in to the world of 3D for the average family. Gaming was also a pleasure on the VL863 with lag of less than 2 frames at 60 frames per second. As ever, with edge-lit LCD, energy consumption was low with an averaged 79w in 2D and 93w in 3D.
We can't imagine the VL863 as a TV for those whose viewing is primarily done in the evening, or low light conditions, as its black levels and contrast performance are certainly lacking in that kind of environment but we can certainly envisage it being a very good choice for a brightly lit family room where a spot of gaming and 3D might be the order of the day. In the final analysis it's just a little too niche a product, for us, to receive a badge but don't count it out for the day room!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £799.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level5
3D Picture Quality6
Ease Of Use7
Value for Money6
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