Toshiba has been struggling to make an impact with its TVs recently. It could once duke it out with the big boys when it came to high-end tellies, but today focuses on budget sets instead. Even here it's struggling -- it recently announced that it's axing half of its workforce in the TV division.
The 39L4353 nevertheless will make many sit up and pay attention, not least because of its humble price of £400. For that you get a set with a stylishly-slim bezel, smart TV support and a generous helping of four HDMI ports. So is it a cracking budget deal?
Toshiba has given the menu system on its TVs a major overhaul this year. In many ways it's an improvement, but it also has its drawbacks. Navigation is, thankfully, more straightforward. In the main menu, for example, there's a banner of icons for stuff like picture, audio and tuning shown down the left-hand side of the screen. You can jump between these to access their sub menus. Also, despite its low price, Toshiba has added comprehensive picture-controls, including a full colour-management system.
That's the good. The bad is that like the other sets from Toshiba I've seen this year, the menus are horrendously slow to use. As a result, jumping back and forth through various picture options becomes pretty tiresome due to the glacial pace at which the menus plod along.
Following the lead of the likes of Sony, Toshiba has also added a secondary Internet-based programming guide to this model. This Internet guide is able to pull in more information about TV shows, as it includes extra stuff like details of actors and directors. It's sluggish to use though and takes an age to open.
I found it was best to stick with the standard Freeview guide instead. It's not exactly wonderful, as it lacks a video window and has a cluttered interface, but at least it shows you lots of upcoming shows on a single screen and is fairly speedy to navigate around.
Toshiba's old Places smart TV system was pretty woeful. Not only was it slow and buggy, but it was also desperately lacking in apps. The company's new Cloud TV system tries hard to improve matters, but still isn't very convincing.
It's split across a number of screens, and includes 'modern' features, such as a Twitter feed of currently trending TV shows. This isn't currently moderated, so at times you'll see some off-colour language in there, which won't be appreciated by those with younger family members. Toshiba has now realised this is an issue and says it's working on filtering the content.
The screens are populated with grids of icons for various apps, with different screens dedicated to different types of content. The fact that several apps appear across multiple screens, however, highlights that the system is still lacking when it comes to support for streaming services. BBC iPlayer and Netflix are included, but it doesn't have apps for Lovefilm, 4oD, Demand5 and ITV Player. If you want those, look for a Samsung TV instead.
The other big problem is that the system, as with the normal menus on this TV, is very, very slow. Moving between the different screens can feel like wading through sludge, and apps also take longer to start up than on other manufacturer's TVs.
On the plus side, the set does have a decent onboard media player with good file format support -- it works with Xvid, MP4 and MKV files, for example.
Design and connections
Taking the 39L4353 out of the box, it feels like a budget TV. It's very light, as its body is made from plastic, and the chassis creaks as you handle it -- the bezel at the top flexes if you apply pressure to it, for example. The set is also quite chunky compared to most of today's LED models and as a result looks more like older LCD screens when viewed from the side.
Does all this matter? Probably not. If you don't wall mount the TV then the thickness of the chassis isn't going to be particularly noticeable. Also, most of us don't man-handle our TVs once they're in place, so the slightly flimsy chassis isn't that much of a problem.
What's more, when viewed from the front, this TV is actually pretty handsome. The matte black bezel is only 15mm wide, so the set looks contemporary and the corners at the bottom have been curved to make the whole TV look less aggressively angular.
The set's remote isn't wonderful though. The buttons feel too spongy and when I combined this with the TV's sluggish menu system it wasn't a good mix. It's a shame as the remote isn't bad in terms of design and button layout.
For a budget model, this TV has an excellent array of connectivity options. Chief among these are its four HDMI ports (including one that supports MHL) -- a very generous amount for a budget set. It also has a set of component inputs, a full-sized Scart socket, a VGA input and an optical audio output for feeding audio from its Freeview HD tuner to an external amp. There are two USB ports as well, and naturally Ethernet and Wi-Fi are built-in.
The Wi-Fi chip supports Wi-Di too, so you can mirror your laptop's screen wirelessly to the TV if your laptop supports this function. Miracast -- a similar technology for Android phones -- sadly isn't supported.
The 32L6353's audio quality is pretty average for a budget set. It's small down-firing speakers are rated at 10W, which is enough to fill an average-sized front room. The resulting audio is mediocre though.
Toshiba hasn't added a mini-sub to the rear, which is perhaps not surprising at this price, so the TV really isn't capable of troubling the lower ends of the audio spectrum. This in turn means that action flicks tend to sound gutless as explosions and the like lack low-end rumble. It's not bad in the mid-range audio frequencies, so dialogue in movies or speech on TV shows cuts through the mix nicely.
Picture quality is obviously the most crucial element of any TV and sadly the 39L4353 puts in a lacklustre performance. Let's discuss the pluses first though.
The trio of 'Hollywood' picture presets are the best starting point for getting decent results from this set. All three look slightly yellow-y out of the box, but once you've toned this down using the TV's colour-management system you'll find it delivers a pretty sympathetic colour palette that works especially well with movies.
The display's viewing angles are also quite wide (an inherent benefit of this model's IPS panel), so contrast and brightness doesn't shift as dramatically as on some of Sony's displays when you view them from an angle.
Performance with standard-definition channels isn't bad either. These are softer than on Sony's sets, as Toshiba's once mighty Resolution+ system is showing its age, but its upscaling is better or on a par with many of Samsung's budget and mid-range TVs. HD sources look just as crisp as you'd expect them to be.
The 39L4353's black levels are so-so and don't compare well to many of the mid-range sets that I've had in for review recently. They're just not dark enough. Darker areas of the picture tend to look quite hollow too as it doesn't do a good job of reproducing shadow detail. You can improve the shadow-detail performance by upping the brightness, but this also makes black levels look even less convincing.
Another problem is that its backlighting was not very even, as the corners of the picture looked slightly grey-ish when watching darker scenes at night with the lights dimmed. Motion clarity is very average too. The set does have 100HZ processing, but you still see a fair amount of smearing during quick pans while watching the footy.
The upshot of all this is that the 39L4353 looks fine if used mostly in a brighter room, as in this setting the shortcomings of the uneven backlighting and black levels are less of an issue. If you're after a more satisfying movie experience with the lights dimmed you'd be better off looking elsewhere.
Toshiba's 39L4353 has its weaknesses. Its menus and smart TV system are very sluggish to use, black levels are weak and you can see some clouding from its backlight when used in a dimly lit room.
At £400, however, it's remarkably cheap for a 39-inch telly, looks stylish when viewed from the front and has great connectivity options. If you predominantly watch TV in a bright room and use an external set-top box for your TV and on-demand services, then it's actually not that bad an option.