The 55YL863B is a high-end TV from Toshiba that comes with the company's powerful CEVO picture processing engine, active 3D support and built-in Smart TV features.
The chassis has also been styled by Jacob Jensen's studio, the people behind many of Bang & Olufsen's iconic 1990s product designs.
The asking price is quite high at £1,500, but as a sweetener, Toshiba is currently running a promotion: if you buy this TV before Christmas from participating retailers, you'll get a free Blu-ray player and one year's subscription to the LoveFilm movie rental service.
User interface and EPG
This model takes the same twin-circle approach to its menu system as the 55WL863 that we looked at recently. You select an option, such as set-up, from the semi-circle at the bottom of the screen and this then shunts you to an upper circle where you choose other entries like picture, sound and preferences.
Due to its use of darker colours, the presentation looks a touch dull, especially next to the bright and cheerful menus found on LG and Samsung's latest models.
The navigation is also fussy -- especially as there's a jarring switch between this circular system and the flat menus that you eventually end up in. On the plus side, you do soon get used to it and it's arguably faster to use than Sony's Xross Media Bar system.
Unfortunately, Toshiba has carried the dark and dingy colour schemes across to the Freeview electronic programme guide (EPG). The EPG also lacks the video thumbnail windows that most other manufacturers now use on their programming guides. Instead, it takes over the whole screen and displays 13 channels' worth of data.
Of course, the plus side to this is that it lets you compare what's on and what's coming up across lots of channels. The downside is that it's overly busy to look at. Nevertheless, the EPG is quick to respond when you're jumping around the programming data using the remote.
Along with the Freeview HD tuner, this model also has a high-definition satellite tuner onboard. Sadly, this isn't a Freesat HD-compatible tuner. Instead, it just tunes all the free-to-air channels that it can find. As a result, you end up with lots of regional variations of BBC One and Two, as well as loads of foreign channels. Worse still, the EPG doesn't populate with programming data for any of the channels.
To add some wow-factor, this model has a camera and face recognition technology built in. This allows you to program it to recognise up to four people who use the set. Once their face is stored, it can automatically switch to their picture and audio presets when they sit down in front of it.
It works reasonably well, although its accuracy does depend quite a lot on lighting conditions in the room. It does feel gimmicky and after a while we just turned it off as we didn't find it that useful.
Digital media and Internet features
As with all of Toshiba's latest mid and high-end TV's, this one comes with the Places smart TV platform. Unfortunately, despite a recent minor update, it's still a disappointing offering. It's sluggish to load and navigating around the different sections isn't exactly speedy either.
Places is split into various hubs for video, social networking, news, music and games. The video menu has been updated with the addition of the Acetrax movie rental service. This is a big plus -- before, the only movie rental option was Viewster, which has an appallingly bad selection of movies.
The rest of the video hub is reasonably well stocked, with entries for the likes of Dailymotion, Woomi, Box Office 365 and Cartoon Network. There are also links to YouTube and BBC iPlayer apps. However, if you select these you're simply told to exit the Places system and access them from the TV's main menu, which is pretty shoddy interface design.
The other big problem is that the rest of the hubs are seriously under-populated. The music menu only has a single entry for Aupeo; the social hub merely has Flickr and Facebook apps; while the News menu only offers up a single weather forecasting service. It's a long way off the wealth of content offered on LG and Samsung's smart TV platforms.
Along with the Internet features, this model naturally also supports digital media playback, either locally from its USB ports or remotely from DLNA devices connected to your home network. Playing back files via USB was trouble-free, as it worked with all the DivX, Xvid and MKV video files that we tried.
However, it was more problematic when we tried to stream content over Ethernet or Wi-Fi. It refused to work with our Windows Vista PC and Iomega NAS drive and would only play Xivd and DivX files from our Windows 7 laptop. This has been a recurring problem on all of the Toshiba TVs that we've used this year and we really wish the company would update its DLNA streaming software to make it compatible with a broader range of devices.
Design and connections
Like the 55WL863, Toshiba has turned to the Jacob Jensen design studio for some help with this model's styling. Jacob Jensen was the man behind many of the iconic designs found on B&O products in the 1980s and 90s. This set's styling shares the clinical feel of those products.
To our eyes, the design looks a little dated -- like it wouldn't be out of place in a 1990s trader's apartment -- but some people may like the mixture of brushed aluminium and strong lines, as well as the piano black highlights across the front. What we do like is the narrow bezel around the screen and the elegant-looking circular cut-out in the middle of the stand.
As this is a high-end model, you'd expect it to pretty comprehensively cover off all of the major connection options. Thankfully, it doesn't disappoint. The TV sports four HDMI sockets -- with three side-mounted and one positioned on a downward-facing rear panel. On this rear panel you'll also find mini jack inputs for the Scart and combined component/VGA port, along with the Ethernet port (W-Fi is built-in too), and satellite and RF inputs.
The set's impressively slim chassis unfortunately seems to have compromised the audio quality. No matter how much you try to improve its bass performance by switching on the dynamic bass booster or tweaking the bass frequencies using the multi-band graphic equalizer, the set's audio refuses to trouble the lower end of the audio spectrum.
This makes it sound tinny and gutless, especially when dealing with music channels or movie soundtracks. On the plus side, dialogue does have a decent amount of presence and doesn't suffer from the muffled quality that sometimes afflicts other slim tellies.
2D picture quality
The 55YL863B has Toshiba's new CEVO system onboard, which powers its various picture processing modes, including the Resolution+ upscaling. The set's 2D pictures look very sharp, not just with high-definition material, but also with standard-definition images too. Standard-definition channels on Freeview, for example, are very sympathetically upscaled, with the set adding in lots of extra sharpness, while managing to keep a lid on picture noise.
Images are very bright, thanks in part to its LED backlighting, but the set's edge-dimming technology also helps to deliver deep blacks and rich levels of contrast. Colours are strong and bold and motion is handled well. You have to be careful with the MotionFlow settings. On the high setting, it has a negative impact on pictures, making them look flat, as if they were shot on video.
That said, there's a noticeable drop in contrast performance and the boldness of colours when you switch from high-definition to standard-definition content -- something that we've seen with other Toshiba TVs. Also, unless you keep the backlighting turned down, you can see pooling around the four edges of the set -- especially when watching the TV with the lights turned down at night.
3D picture quality
This set comes with a single pair of Toshiba's active shutter glasses. The company has recently redesigned its 3D glasses to make them lighter and more comfortable to wear. The results speak for themselves as they're definitely a massive improvement over the big and bulky ones that used to be supplied with its previous 3D tellies. However, the glasses still seem more prone to flicker than some of the ones we've used on competitors' sets, especially when there's ambient light in the room.
Unfortunately, when it comes to actually showing 3D content, this set is a poor performer. It showed much higher levels of cross-talk -- that is, image ghosting where the left and right channels aren't fully isolated -- than the 55WL863 that we had in for review recently. This was especially noticeable during the menu sequence in Alice in Wonderland on 3D Blu-ray, where there was an awful lot of image doubling on the line drawings.
It's a shame as the set's high brightness levels help colours to look punchy. Even with the dimming effect of the glasses and the CEVO processing, it did a good job of making side by side 3D content look sharp and crisp.
With the 55YL863B, Toshiba was clearly aiming to produce a set that could go head-to-head with high-end models from rival manufacturers. But while its powerful CEVO processing shows promise, this model is held back by the weakness of its 3D performance and Internet features.