Slim pickings

Toshiba's 42RL853 is tailor-made for the mainstream, says Steve May. But that doesn't preclude a few surprises

Earlier this year, Toshiba announced a slew of upmarket 3D-ready TVs. Dressed in togas, and liberally invoking the god Bacchus, the brand’s senior executives took over the Italian film set used to make Rome, the BBC/HBO co-production, and proclaimed that a legion of advanced tellyboxes brandishing the banner of its new Toshiba Places online portal, would march on the combined rival armies.

Well, that particular legion has yet to materialise and we’re still waiting for the doors of Toshiba Places to be flung wide. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual on the Tosh telly front, with nothing but meek budget offerings. This 42-incher is one of the latest journeyman shelf-fillers.

At 40mm thin it’s in line with higher-end designs from rival screen makers. But its plastic back panel creaks in a distinctly budget fashion and build is very average.

The screen offers four HDMI inputs (one side-mounted), plus, component, stereo phonos, PC input and a digital audio output. There’s also a single USB input and Ethernet LAN. There’s no integrated wi-fi (unsurprisingly), but you can always buy a dongle if you don’t have wired access.

The set does have ‘net connection, enabling you to browse your photo library on Flickr, watch catchup TV via BBC iPlayer or browse YouTube. Since the latter are the two biggest IPTV draws anyway, their inclusion may suffice for some. And it must be stressed that the YouTube XL API used here is actually very good.

It grants access to 720p HD streams when they’re available, which is more than some other brands offer.

The set also lays claim to media streaming. However, in this regard it’s largely ineffectual. While the TV will spot PCs and NAS devices on your network, it blanks most file formats.

Video compatibility is limited to MPEG derivations. It ignored all the samples in my test folder with the exception of an MPEG-2 TS clip. Music playback is more impressive. Over the network, the TV correctly read artist/album metadata from my MP3 music server, although it ignored album art. From USB, the set did play back MP3 and AAC music files.

Picture quality is unremarkable. While there’s a surprising amount of parameter control, some key limitations can’t be overcome. The screen does not benefit from any high-speed Active Vision motion processing. This caps the perceived motion resolution of the panel at less than 700 lines, resulting in blurry fast motion. Images snap from sharp focus to a smudge.

The fact that there is no fast frame rate processing does at least mean that movies retain their cinematic look. There is some horizontal panning judder, but nothing overly painful.

Plus points

The 42RL853’s black level looks good in rooms with moderate ambient lighting, but starts to wash out in a fully darkened room. Colour fidelity is fair. I do like Resolution+, the brand’s rather clever edge enhancement and interpolation tech. Images viewed from sofa distance with Resolution+ turned on definitely look sharper and more detailed than with the processor turned off.

When watching Blu-rays, put the screen in its Native Pixel mode so that nothing is lost behind the bezel.

The screen’s edge-LED backlight is reasonably good. The set utilises Active backlight control. There’s some light blooming in the corners of the screen but it’s uniform.

Overall, the 41RL853 can be considered reasonable value and a presentable proposition for penny-pinchers, even if it lacks the sex appeal (and ‘net smarts) of Toshiba’s incoming elite.

HCC VERDICT

Highs: Resolution+ adds detail to SD sources; BCC iPlayer and YouTube integration
Lows: Poor motion resolution; only streamed MPEGs from our network
Performance: 3/5
Sound: 3/5
Features: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

Specifications

3D: no
Full HD: yes 1080p/24
3D: no
Tuner: yes Freeview HD, analogue
Component: yes
HDMI: yes four HDMI
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Sound: 20W (2 x 10W)
Brightness (claimed): N/A
Contrast ratio (claimed): 1,400:1
Dimensions: 1,000(w) x 620(h) x 40(d)mm
Weight: 11.9kg
Features: Resolution+; Edge-LED backlit; USB for media playback (MP3, AAC, JPEG); net connectivity featuring YouTube, BBC iPlayer & Flickr; Dolby Volume