Toshiba was slow to embrace LED last year, but it's making up the lost ground with sets such as this 32-inch Regza RL model. Available online for around £430, the 32RL853 may be slim, but it packs in plenty of features, including BBC iPlayer.
In the past Toshiba's sets have tended to lack a certain savoir faire in their design, but the company has upped its game on its latest LED models. Measuring 40mm thick, this one is obviously quite svelte, but even when viewed from the front it looks pretty classy, thanks to its strong, masculine lines and the cut-off corners at the bottom of the chassis.
The build quality, although not up there with the best of Panasonic's models, still feels fairly solid. The remote, however, is slightly plasticky and the hard buttons aren't very comfortable to use.
For a 32-inch model, the 853 isn't lacking when it comes to the range of connections on offer. There are three HDMI ports hiding around the back of the set, plus one that's mounted on the side for easy access. You also get component, Scart and composite inputs, as well as an Ethernet socket for hooking the TV up to your broadband router. There's a VGA input too, and a USB port.
Like most of today's mid-range sets, this one has a Freeview HD tuner onboard, so if you live in an area covered by HD broadcasts you can tune into HD channels from the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV. Some of last year's Toshiba models suffered from sluggish channel changes, but thankfully that's not a problem here. The programme guide is also much improved and now has a clean and crisp look and feel.
Internet slow lane
Most of the other major manufacturers are now concentrating heavily on Internet TV features, seeing them as one of the key ways to differentiate their sets from the competition. Samsung in particular has been promoting the benefits of IPTV in its latest ads. This is an area Toshiba seems to be falling behind though, because although it's better than last year's models, it hasn't improved all that much.
This TV doesn't have an Internet features menu as such, but instead just offers three services that are accessed from the main menu: BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Picasa. Most importantly, the iPlayer app performs really well and is both quick and easy to use. It even lets you stream HD programming. Picasa also looks quite stylish and is fairly quick to use, but the YouTube app is unfortunately messy and slow.
The set also has a media player that can be used to either stream content across a network or play it back locally from USB storage devices such as hard drives or memory keys. But the format support is so limited it's not really worth the effort. On the video front, it only seems to play WMV files, as none of the DivX, Xvid or MKV files we tried worked, even though most TVs from other manufacturers now support these formats.
The 853 is built around a Full HD panel with edge-mounted LED backlighting. The panel has only 50Hz processing, rather than the 100Hz or 200Hz that's becoming more common on higher-end sets. It does have Toshiba's Resolution+ upscaling technology, however, which is among the best in the business. It really does help the TV to deliver impressively crisp and sharp-looking pictures from standard-definition sources such as Freeview channels or DVDs.
It's no slouch when it comes to HD sources either, and the picture presets are surprisingly good. This is especially true of the two Hollywood modes, which tone down the brightness, but offer richer contrast and warmer colours for a real cinematic look.
There are a few negatives. You can see some motion blurring and judder creep in during panning shots or faster-paced scenes. The backlighting also isn't quite as consistent as it is on some higher end TVs, and this has a slightly negative effect on black levels. And like many slim TVs, the audio from the speakers sounds a tad lifeless and hollow, mainly because it doesn't offer much in the way of bass.
On the whole, the 853 is a good mid-range set. It has a slick design, a sharp EPG and crisp, warm HD pictures. Apart from the iPlayer app, however, the rest of its Internet and media streaming features leave much to be desired.
Edited by Nick Hide