Toshiba was dealt a fairly weighty series of blows earlier this year when retailers and movie studios alike announced they were turning their backs on the company's HD-DVD format and going for Blu-ray instead. Though the amount of HD-DVD players sold in Australia was only relatively small, it seems Toshiba is still recovering from the large dent it left in the company's global bottom line. But it hasn't stopped the company from releasing products — especially based on the company's own Cell processor. Sadly, the Cell TV and DVD player are still a way off in this country, but we do have models such as the XD-E500 DVD player and this, the company's flagship television, the 46-inch 46XV500A LCD.
After languishing in two-tone silver hell for a long time, Toshiba has unveiled what has to be its best looking TV yet. Sure, it's piano-black — but we'll forgive them for that. The TV's lines are sleek and the bottom of the bezel is contoured and touched off by a thin silver trim. Classy.
The unit is quite slim, but not particularly suited to wall mounting as the rear inputs face outwards instead of downwards. Unlike some competitors there is no swivel adjustment, but this also means the TV is more stable overall.
The remote itself is quite a good one, and in keeping with the current "Keep It Simple Stupid" fashion with its rounded buttons and friendly look. However, the bottom section is a little cluttered still and features pictograms instead of names and the buttons' functions can be a little baffling at first.
The Toshiba 46XV500A is at the pinnacle of the Japanese manufacturer's range, and its list of features include everything you'd expect from a modern television. Of course, you can't release an LCD nowadays without some form of 100Hz on-board, and here it's called ClearFrame 100Hz. Like other technologies, it inserts extra interpolated frames into a 50Hz for a smoother picture, and is the company's first foray into this technology. Other picture processing gizmos include Meta Brain Pro which performs tasks such as deinterlacing and noise reduction, and support for 24p through Toshiba's Cinema Mode.
The screen is a full 1,920x1,080 resolution, 6ms response time, and a dynamic contrast ratio at 30,000:1 — though its actual contrast ratio is a more sensible 3,000:1. The telly features a full-HD tuner, 'natch, and to further satisfy your high def needs it comes with three 1.3a HDMI ports. Further inputs include a single component, three composites, an S-Video and a VGA port.
If you're looking for a TV with class-leading picture processing, then the Toshiba 46XV500A is pretty much in the leader pack, but with one caveat — its 100Hz mode is just as bad as all the others. The Meta Brain Pro engine supplies the good oil for this machine and it pretty much helped the Tosh ace most of our synthetic tests — both on DVD and Blu-ray. This is impressive, as a lot of modern TVs tend to forget that most content is still in standard definition and have scaling engines that simply aren't up to snuff. Toshiba's is. One of the only tests it fell down in, though, was in DVD film mode test. But this is quite an academic test anyway and shouldn't hamper your enjoyment of DVD movies all that much.
Picture quality was generally impressive, with good results from our Blu-ray movies, King Kong on DVD and general free-to-air watching. Colours were good, especially during our test scenes from King Kong though the settings did need a little tweaking, but this was relatively easy to fix — even if they were hidden behind a couple of different menu options. Perhaps to prevent children from mucking up your picture? Black levels were also decent for an LCD of this size, but we did need to do some tweaking of the brightness levels under Movie mode as there was quite a bit of black "crush". As is customary for current-gen LCDs, off-axis viewing exhibited the usual softening and slight rainbow effects on dark scenes.
However, the TV was plagued with some niggles which keep us from actively recommending it. The first is one of the most subtle: the TV has an active backlight system, but we saw no difference when it was on or off. It seemed like it was active all the time, with gentle "dynamic iris-type" effects. Also, the TV won't allow you to display the native aspect it is being fed when using component inputs, you have to manually select either 16:9 or 4:3 — this is crazy and caused some problems with our synthetic tests. It will only allow Exact Scan in 1080p or 1080i mode. Lastly, kudos to Toshiba for trying, but the 100Hz doesn't work very well. We found there were some ghosting artefacts with Clear LCD and Smooth mode enabled viewing normal content ... other brands do 100Hz better.
While we were initially impressed by the sound quality of the on-board speakers this idea quickly faded. They can tend towards the overly boomy, with little treble response, making all male voices sound a little like the Forty Winks Man.
The television's support for PC connections via VGA was a little hit-and miss unfortunately, with some resolutions giving up a green tinge. Nowhere in the manual does it explain what resolutions the monitor supports and instead gives you options to adjust the Clock phase and sampling clock. Huh?
The Toshiba 46XV500A is a very competent television, and has one of the best non-100Hz processing engines we've seen. However, this is a market flooded with "competent" models, and the Tosh lacks the distinction that covers cutting edge units from Samsung and Sony. Make no mistake, this television features excellent picture processing, and up-to-date cosmetics. Sadly, it's no longer enough amongst its feature-rich, bargain-priced competitors.