Toshiba may currently be best known for the modest pricing of some of its television sets, but as the 47WL968 demonstrates, it can still churn out the high-end goodies. Toshiba has called on the Jacob Jensen design team to give this TV a suitably upmarket makeover. There's more to this model than mere looks though, as for the £1,000 asking price you also get passive 3D support, 400Hz motion processing and Toshiba's Places smart TV system.
User interface and EPG
The 47WL968 uses Toshiba's standard arc-style menu system, in which two crescents of icons pop up from the bottom of the screen when you call it up. It's a very different system to the homescreen layouts on LG and Samsung sets.
The bottom arc contains icons for the setup, media player and function menus. Selecting one of these options then moves you up into the second tier of icons, where you can further hone down the settings or features you're trying to access. If you select Media Player in the bottom menu, for example, you can choose between the USB media player and network media player in the secondary menu. Similarly, selecting Setup in the bottom menu then lets you select the sound or picture controls in the second menu.
The different menu options are represented by colourful, animated icons, but overall the system is not as appealing or as intuitive to use as the menus on Samsung or Sony's TVs. Moving back and forth through the different arcs of icons can also be a pain, especially as when you actually get to the main controls you're dumped out of the arc menus and into flat pages of picture or sound options.
The TV gives you the option of using two different TV guides. The standard guide uses the normal Freeview HD EPG information. It's quite blandly presented, but it does show plenty of programming information on a single screen, displaying 13 channels in one go. It lacks a video thumbnail widow to show the channel you're currently tuned to, but it does at least keep the audio running so you don't completely lose touch with the show you were watching when you called it up.
The secondary EPG is provided by Rovi and is Web-based, so to use it you have to have the TV connected to the internet. It's graphically much richer, as it not only includes a video thumbnail window, but also has more detailed information on upcoming TV shows. Listings often include a picture representing the show as well as cast and crew information. The problem is it takes quite a long time to start up when you hit the Guide button on the remote, and moving around it can feel sluggish because it takes a while for it to load in all the programming info.
Digital media and Internet features
For a while now the weakest link in Toshiba's mid-range and higher-end TVs has been its smart TV system -- and unfortunately still remains the case. Toshiba's system is called Places, but despite the addition of a few new features, including some extra services and a full Web browser, it still falls a long way short of what's offered on similar TVs from Sony and Samsung.
When you open the Places menu, you'll find it's divided up into different sections for TV, Video, Music, Social, News and Games. The number of services available within these sections is, for the most part, quite limited.
For example, the TV hub only contains an iPlayer app and Web-based EPG. It lacks services like ITV Player and Demand5, which are now available on rival smart TV platforms. While the Video hub has apps for on-demand services like Blinkbox, Acetrax and Viewster, it lacks support for Lovefilm and Netflix.
Toshiba may have integrated a full Web broswer into the Places system, but it doesn't support Flash for video playback and it's also annoying to control via the set's remote.
The TV does support Intel's WiDi (Wireless Display) technology, so if you've got a newer laptop that has this feature built in you can beam video from your laptop to the TV without needing to hook up any cables.
The 47WL968 also has two media players on board. One is used for streaming media across a network from DLNA devices like laptops and network connected hard drives, while the other is used for playing back files from memory keys and hard drives connected to its USB ports.
In the past Toshiba's TVs had trouble playing video files from non-Windows 7 PCs, but thankfully this model doesn't suffer from this issue. I was able to stream a range of different formats to it including MKV HD and DivX files. It did refuse to play a couple of older Xvid files, but newer files in this format played fine.
Design and connections
The 47WL968 is the best looking TV I've seen from Toshiba in quite some time. Key to the appeal of its design is the barely-there bezel that frames the screen. With the TV off it looks as if the set doesn't really have a bezel at all, with the screen seeming to run from edge to edge and just a piece of sliver trim to mark out the side panel. When you turn it on you can see that there's actually a slight border where the screen meets the silver edging, but the whole thing is just 12mm thick, so it's still pretty remarkable and gives the set a very futuristic look.
The bottom of the TV is also nicely tailored. The silver embossed Toshiba logo sits on a matte black backing, above a V-shaped mirrored panel that houses the IR sensor for the remote and the power indicator light.
The set's remote is quite big and chunky, but it's still relatively comfortable to hold, and I like the fact that most of the buttons are quite large too. A fair bit of thought seems to have gone into the layout of the controls, as most of the key functions are gathered around the central D-pad, so your thumb naturally tends to float above them when you're holding the remote in your hand.
Most of the TV's connectors are housed on the rear. Here you'll find both an RF input for the Freeview HD tuner and a satellite input for the HD satellite tuner. Sadly, this tuner isn't Freesat-compatible, so it's really not all that useful in the UK unless you want to use it with a foreign satellite service. For UK services its just tunes in a jumble of channels, rather than ordering them properly as Freesat does, and only now and next programming shows up in the EPG for the satellite tuner.
There are three HDMI ports on the rear, along with a single USB port and an optical audio output for feeding audio from the Freeview or satellite tuners to an external amp. You also get full sized Scart and component inputs as well as a VGA socket. This rear panel is home to the TV's Ethernet socket, but as it has integrated Wi-Fi -- a welcome addition, which was missing from Toshiba's older TVs -- you may not have to make use of it.
Toshiba has also added a few extra connections on a panel on the left-hand side. This houses an extra HDMI and USB port, as well as the headphone jack and a CI slot for use with pay TV services on Freeview.
The 47WL968 has a very slim chassis that only measures around 40mm deep at its mid point (it's much slimmer at the edges). TVs with slim chassis usually lead to compromised audio quality, but the 47WL968 doesn't embarrass itself in this department.
It has pretty strong mid-range and high-frequency response, which helps dialogue to cut through in the mix. You can boost this further by using the Voice Enhancement setting that's found in the Advance Sound Settings menu, although it only makes a slight difference.
As with many slimline models though, its bass response isn't amazing. It's not as lacking in this area as some sets I've reviewed previously, but bass does tend to sound quite boxy and wooden, lacking the plumpness and richness of TVs from Sony and Philips that have extra mini subwoofers to boost their low-end punch.
2D Picture quality
The 47WL968 pictures are on the whole pretty strong. Its backlight is quite consistent, especially for such a slimline model. It doesn't suffer anywhere near as much from clouding or visible jets of light as the likes of Toshiba's own cheaper TL series of screens, even when you're watching it in a darker room in the evening.
Its performance with HD sources such as TV shows on BBC HD or movies on Blu-ray is very impressive. Pictures have excellent levels of detail and sharpness, and colours look warm and vibrant. Its black level performance is good too, although shadow detail does get lost when it's trying to cope with very contrasty scenes. This is especially true if you've got the Active Back Light turned on -- even at its lowest setting.
There are several picture quality issues though. The set's ClearScan motion processing tends to produce some jarring tearing and flickering on moving objects. It's less obvious when you have it set at its lowest level, but still obvious nevertheless.
Its upscaling of standard-definition TV -- while not bad -- also isn't quite up to scratch, and certainly not on a par with the likes of Sony's excellent HX853. Pictures just don't look as sharp, even if you've got Resolution+ turned on. Colours also seem to be significantly more muted and have a plasticky quality to them when the set is dealing with standard-definition broadcasts.
3D Picture quality
The WL968 is built around an LG panel, so when it comes to 3D it relies on LG's passive technology. A polarising filter on the front of the screen splits the horizontal resolution in half as it feeds alternative lines to each eye. If you sit close to the screen you can make out the scanning lines, but from a normal viewing distance they all but disappear.
The bonus of the passive system is that the glasses are extremely cheap -- around £2 per pair -- and as they're not powered they also don't cause you to see flickering on ambient light in your room. They're also extremely light and comfortable to wear.
The 47WL968's 3D pictures are, for the most part, pretty convincing. There's a strong sense of depth and little crosstalk. Toshiba's Resolution+ system seems to work particularly well with passive 3D, helping to make images look just that little bit sharper than some of other passive models we've used.
Its 3D pictures certainly aren't flawless, however. I noticed some juddering and tearing on camera sweeps while watching Prometheus, and as the ClearScan system doesn't work in 3D mode there's no way to dial this out.
The 47WL968 is a seriously stylish-looking TV with an almost impossibly slim bezel. It also produces sharp and vibrant looking pictures in HD and has deep black levels thanks to its even backlighting. Only some motion issues in 3D and a lacklustre smart TV system stop it from scoring more highly.