Hot on the heels of our 32RL953 review comes the 40TL963, a 40in 3D-ready, edge LED set that Toshiba claims to ‘offer viewers the ideal combination of performance, design and value’. We can well believe it too, given Toshiba’s form in this area – over the years its so-called affordable TVs have always been packed with loads of the latest features.
A glance at the spec sheet shows the 40TL963 is of the same ilk – for under £550 it throws in 3D support, web content, DLNA, USB ports, Freeview HD, 4 HDMIs, smartphone control… the list goes on. If its picture quality matches the quality of the feature list, we could be onto a winner.
Design and connections
The 40TL963 eschews the black finish of the 32RL953 for a prettier brushed silver bezel, which exudes an air of panache. This bezel is remarkably slim (about 2cm), as is the set in general – all thanks to the wonder of LED technology. Up close inspection reveals the build quality isn’t quite as luxurious as it seems from afar, but on the whole this is a well-made TV. There’s a table stand in the box, fashioned from toughened glass that makes it feel very sturdy and stylish at the same time.
On the back is a generous range of sockets, including four HDMI inputs – three of these are outward facing, which might scupper your wall mounting plans, although one is placed on the side. You also get two USB ports (meaning the WLAN dongle and USB sticks aren’t fighting over the same port), component, Scart and PC inputs, optical digital audio output and Ethernet. Alongside the RF input for Freeview is a satellite LNB input for the DVB-S/DVB-S2 tuner. A headphone jack and CI slot complete the line-up.
As we said at the start, the feature list is surprisingly generous for a 40in set just shy of £550. First up, it’s 3D ready, with built-in wizardry that converts 2D material to 3D. You don’t get any active shutter glasses in the box though, which is probably to be expected at this price – these will set you back an extra £80 per pair. If your budget won’t stretch to that, consider Toshiba’s VL range, which uses passive 3D tech and throws four pairs of glasses in the box.
The most alluring feature is Toshiba Places, the company’s online content service. It provides a mixture of free video streaming sites (BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Livesport.TV), subscription TV sites (Cartoon Network, HiT Entertainment), movies on demand (Box Office 365, Acetrax), music services (iConcerts and AUPEO!) and games. You can also access your Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Dailymotion, as well as send/receive messages from other Toshiba Places users.
The 40TL963 is also DLNA certified and can therefore stream media from servers on your home network. That includes music, videos and photos, with a range of supported formats that includes MP3, WMA, AAC and WAV, DivX, MPEG-1, MP4, AVI, XviD, WMV HD, AVCHD and MKV. These can also be played from storage devices plugged into the USB port.
Another casualty of the low price tag is Wi-Fi – the set requires an optional dongle to access the network and Internet functions wirelessly, which will cost you somewhere in the region of £50. If that’s too big a stretch, use the Ethernet port.
Elsewhere the set uses Toshiba’s AMR200 picture processing, which combines a 100Hz refresh rate with backlight blinking to generate a 200Hz-like effect. It’s designed to reduce motion blur when displaying fast moving programmes.
The set is also equipped with a Freeview HD tuner (with a CI slot for pay channels) with an 8-day EPG. It also features Intel’s Wireless Display technology and allows you to record from the Freeview tuner onto a connected USB HDD.
The 40TL963’s remote looks flash in its gloss black and silver finish, but it’s a bit unwieldy due to its large size, cluttered layout and tiny keys at the bottom. The ring of controls surrounding the direction pad is too close, making it easy to press the wrong button. The labelling is helpful though, printed in shouty capitals, and the rubber buttons are satisfying to press. Owners of Apple and Android devices can do away with the remote altogether and use the free app to control the TV instead.
The onscreen menus are easy on the eye, particularly the main menu which is arranged in an arc at the bottom of the screen. Highlight one and the submenu appears in a second line above it. It’s logical and the full colour animated icons look cute.
Here you can access the Media Player, Connected TV services, the EPG and the setup menu, which reverts to a more conventional box in the middle of the screen. Media Player is where you’ll find all your digital media, whether it’s on a USB stick or on a network.
Its menus are simple but effective. A dialogue box splits content into movies, music or photos – select one and the screen is filled with large folders and file icons. Linger on one and it previews in a small box with details on the right. When running through our gamut of test files, the only trouble came when playing a hi-def MKV file – it played the video fine but couldn’t decode the DTS audio track accompanying it.
The EPG design is excellent, using up the entire screen with the programme grid, with a row of options running along the bottom. That leaves no room for live TV or a programme synopsis but it’s no biggie. You can move from page to page using the dedicated arrow keys on the remote. If it wasn’t so sluggish to respond to remote commands we’d deem it a complete triumph, but sadly the cursor moves slower than Eamonn Holmes in quicksand.
A few other things to report – the ‘Quick’ menu helpfully brings up a contextual menu offering all the key functions; the Freeview info banner can be used to see what’s on now and next, with an Also option showing you what’s currently on other channels; and digital text pages load up instantaneously. A 3D button at the top of the remote lets you select from 3D, 2D or 2D-to-3D conversion.
Toshiba Places uses a funky, modern layout, with large icons running across the middle of the screen providing access to a range of ‘places’. These include TV, Video, Music, Social, News and Game. Some of these are sparsely populated, highlighting how much more content you get from a Sony or Samsung set – but it’s still a decent selection.
Before watching anything, make sure you tweak the picture first. It comes in the Standard preset with the contrast setting cranked up to maximum, which results in bleached and unnatural-looking pictures. For movie viewing, the two Hollywood settings (one for daytime viewing in brighter surroundings, one for night) are OK, lowering the backlight and keeping things solid and cinematic, but they drain much of the punch from the picture – you’re much better off using the presets as a starting point and tinkering with the settings yourself. Thankfully Toshiba provides plenty of tools for the job, backing up with the basic picture adjustments with advanced settings like colour management and noise reduction.
As I noted with the 32RL953, the 40TL963’s performance with standard definition Freeview channels is average, despite the best efforts of Resolution+, Toshiba’s intelligent upscaling enhancement technology. The problem is that the screen exacerbates the block and mosquito noise in the signal, which leads to a rather shimmery, gauzy picture that gets worse whenever there’s lots of movement.
The basic building blocks of the picture are all there, such as strong colours and passable detail, yet this noise distracts you from the content. I tried playing with the noise reduction modes in the Advanced Picture Settings menu but none of them could eradicate the problem entirely, and make the image look softer.
Thank goodness then that the set also receives hi-def channels. With native HD programmes on BBC One HD for example, the image is packed with beautifully defined detail (skin textures, grass, fabric patterns and so forth) while artefacts don’t raise their ugly heads quite so prominently.
Colours are solid and natural, shading is deftly handled and the decent black level makes dark areas and strong colours look solid. It might not dazzle in the same way as Sony or Samsung’s latest LED sets but the 40TL963’s HD pictures are crisp and punchy enough to satisfy.
But the 40TL963 is happiest when displaying a 1080p feed from a Blu-ray deck. With Avatar in 2D the Toshiba easily gets to grips with the movie’s mixture of complex computer imagery and live action, drawing out all of its mind-bogglingly intricate detail. You can make out the scuffed and battered bodywork on the huge machines, the textures of the leaves and trees within Pandora’s rainforests and even the fine stubble lining Sam Worthington’s chin.
Also impressive is the 40TL963’s colour reproduction. The blue of the Na’vi skin looks vivid but not garish, and the set renders the patches of light and shade on their faces with tremendous subtlety. Human skin tones are nicely judged too.
The excellent contrast level makes the image look simultaneously bright and solid. Dark objects on top of black backgrounds look clearly defined, and it leaves out very little of the texture and detail within those objects. Amazingly at this price blacks look genuinely black, suppressing the mist that can dilute their density on lesser screens.
Next we tested out the set’s motion processing using the tricky test patterns on Samsung’s HD Reference Software disc. Its motion performance depends on the picture preset used – in ‘Standard’, shots of trains and buses moving quickly past the camera causes quite severe judder, and detail on the side of the vehicles is blurred.
But switch to the Hollywood picture settings and the moving objects look much smoother, eliminating judder and making the lettering clear and focused. The same goes for a clip shot on rostrum camera moving quickly across a map – the text looks a tad blurred but remains legible.
So the 40TL963 isn’t a complete triumph picture wise, but in the context of its price these images are far better than you have any right to expect.
For day-to-day TV viewing the 40TL963 does a fine job, conveying speech with a clear forceful tone and handling other incidentals in a clean and aurally comfortable manner. The 2 x 10W speakers sound fairly loud without you having to crank up the volume to unreasonable levels.
It’s only when you test its limits with an action movie do the cracks start to show – loud effects sound raspy and the overall frequency range is compressed, which can fatigue your ears at loud volumes. It’s not a deal breaker, but does underline the importance of a home cinema system if you’re a serious movie fan.
It’s clear that Toshiba has cut one or two corners to bring in this 40in LED set at such a commendably low price, making you fork out extra for Wi-Fi and 3D glasses. But other than that, the 40TL963 oozes value. For under £550, it offers an impressive range of online content through Toshiba Places, streams media using its DLNA talents, displays full HD 3D and packs some decent processing in the form of AMR200 – not to mention its built-in Freeview HD tuner, USB media playback and superb operating system.
But in the cons column, its picture quality lacks the wow factor of its big name rivals (especially SD Freeview), while minor operational bugbears like the sluggish EPG could get annoying. But it would be churlish to complain too strongly about these things given how much the 40TL963 offers for the money elsewhere.
Manufacturer and Model
Screen size (inches)
1,920 x 1,080
3D glasses supplied
Yes (via WLAN dongle)
2 x 10W
Energy efficiency class
Dimensions (with stand, W x H x D)
923 x 613 x 215mm
Dimensions (without stand, W x H x D)
923 x 555 x 37.7mm
Digital audio output
SD card slot