Looking for a new 40-inch TV to use this Christmas -- one that looks stylish and won't break the bank? Toshiba's 40RL858B certainly seems to fit the bill, as this LED set is as slim as an After Eight mint and is priced at around £500.
Currently Toshiba is also running a promotion -- if you buy the TV before Christmas from participating retailers, you can also get a half-price Toshiba Blu-ray player and a free one-year subscription to the LoveFilm movie rental service.
User interface and EPG
The menu system that Toshiba has used here is different to the twin-circle approach taken on the high-end 55WL863 model. Hit the menu button on the remote and it calls up a black box in the middle of the screen with five tabs across the top for stuff like set-up, picture and audio. As you select each of these, the area beneath fills with the various settings that you can adjust. It's not all that inspiring to look at, but the flat menu structure makes it pretty easy to find your way around.
Picture controls are comprehensive. Along with the usual settings like contrast, colour and sharpness, you can dive into the advanced menu to adjust individual levels for red, green and blue. You can also tweak the controls for the black and white level or noise reduction settings as well as turn the active backlighting control on or off.
Like the menus, the set's electronic programme guide (EPG) isn't exactly a treat for the eyes. It mimics the menu's dark colour scheme and actually looks depressing next to the bright and cheerful EPGs found on LG and Samsung TVs. The EPG has a traditional horizontal layout with channels listed on the left-hand side of the display and programming info shown as a timeline to the right. An awful lot of programming data is on screen in one go, but it's sluggish to navigate.
Digital media and Internet features
This model includes Toshiba's Places Internet TV platform. This was recently updated to include the Acetrax movie on-demand rental service, which is a welcome and much needed addition. However, Places still lags some way behind the competition, both in terms of the services on offer and the whole user experience.
For starters, the Places system is rather cumbersome to use. The system is split into four key areas -- the Video Place for online video content, the Social Place for social networking services, Music Place for audio services, News Place for information services and Fun Place for games.
When you enter the Video Place hub you'll find YouTube and BBC iPlayer listed. Select these, however, and you're told that they're not available from this menu and you actually need to access them from outside the whole Places system, which is about as user-friendly as a bed of nails. However, at least the Video Places menu is reasonably well populated, as it now includes Acetrax alongside Viewster, Dailymotion, Box Office 365, Cartoon Network, Hit Entertainment and Woomi.
The other hubs are pretty barren in comparison. The News Place has just one entry for a weather forecasting service, as does the Music Place, which only lists the Aupeo radio service. The Game Place hub isn't much better as it only offers four very basic puzzle games to play. Even the Social Place has just Facebook and Flickr support.
The system is also quite sluggish to use and can feel buggy at times. You can find yourself unceremoniously dumped out of a menu or video stream for seemingly no reason, for example.
The media streaming features aren't much better, even though this set has a different media streaming client to the ones we've seen on previous Toshiba TVs. Nevertheless, it still suffers from the same problems in that we couldn't get it to stream any content from a Windows Vista PC or our Iomega NAS drive. However, it did work with a Windows 7 laptop, although it only seemed to play DivX and Xvid files, as we couldn't get it to recognise MKV HD videos. This was strange because the set happily played MKV videos locally via a memory key plugged into its USB port.
Design and connections
Some of Toshiba's recent models haven't looked all that stylish, but the 40RL858B features a new design that really is the business, especially for a non-premium priced offering. Instead of piano black, Toshiba has opted for a metallic silver finish, and this combined with the narrow bezel really does make it quite a tasty-looking model. Even the stand has a pleasingly angular look and thanks to the use of LED backlighting this model is fairly slim too, measuring a relatively slender 39mm deep.
The remote control isn't as attractive to look at as the TV, but it's much nicer to use than the weird one that Toshiba ships with its high-end models. This one is thankfully quite short and the buttons are relatively small, but the layout is quite good. Despite the fact that it's angular in shape it actually feels relatively comfortable to hold.
This model's connections are split between a panel on the left-hand side and one on the rear. The back panel is home to the VGA port, optical digital audio output, full-sized Scart socket, full-sized component inputs, two HDMI ports and the Ethernet port. On the side panel you'll find another HDMI port along with the headphone socket, CI slot and a USB port.
It's not a bad line-up of connections, although it has to be said that the majority of today's 40-inch models now come with four HDMI ports and have an extra USB port to allow you to use a Wi-Fi dongle and still have a USB port free for connecting up memory keys. However, this set doesn't support Wi-Fi, even via a USB dongle.
Like Panasonic's recent models, the chassis on this TV is thicker at the bottom to add extra space for the speakers. These are rated at 10W each, but this doesn't seem to have improved the audio quality all that much. At low volume levels, the set isn't a bad performer, but once you turn up the bass and push the volume past halfway, the speakers tend to resonate with the chassis and start to distort. This is especially noticeable on music channels, or movie soundtracks with heavier bass lines.
This telly uses LED edge-backlighting and includes 100Hz processing for smoother motion. Its viewing angles are top notch. Even when watched from a pretty extreme angle, colours and contrast stay impressively stable.
The first thing that strikes you when you turn this TV on, though, is its impressive levels of sharpness. This is true not just of HD material, but even standard-definition channels on Freeview. In fact, this model's upscaling works particularly well, helping to add extra crispness to pictures while also keeping a lid on image noise. It's much better in this regard than Toshiba's larger, higher-end models, surprisingly.
Thanks to the LED backlighting, the panel pushes out images with very high levels of brightness, which in turns helps colours to look very intense. Black levels are deep too, and although you do get some minor bleeding from the backlighting into the image, it's nowhere near as bad as what we've seen on other Toshiba models. In fact, it's not really an issue under normal lighting conditions, although it is a little more noticeable when viewing the set at night with the lights turned down low.
Colours on HD material are rich and natural, especially if you opt for one of the two Hollywood picture presets, which offer the best balance of colour and contrast performance. The presets are actually pretty good and need only minor tweaking to get the most out of the TV.
However, on standard-definition material, the TV's colours aren't as impressive. Contrast isn't as hot and you'll spot slightly off-colour tones making their way into the picture, especially on skin tones. Motion isn't always as smoothly handled as it could be either.
All in all, while it's certainly not the most refined picture performer, we think it puts in a decent showing considering its relatively modest price tag.
The 40RL858B is a stylish-looking set and its performance with HD content is impressive. Standard-definition pictures aren't quite as good, but it's really the below-par Internet features and poor audio quality that let this model down.