Toshiba 55TL515U 3D LCD HDTV Page 2

The backlit, multi-component remote is a good one, with well-sized, well-spaced buttons that include direct access to the aforementioned Internet features. While there is no direct selection of inputs, there’s a button for entry into a Game mode that is said to reduce lag time between the controller and onscreen action.

With a 3D source, the Toshiba will automatically sense the input signal’s 3D mode and switch to it. If it doesn’t, you can switch manually. There’s also a 2D-to-3D conversion mode, which is neither more nor less effective than the similar modes we’ve seen on other 3D HDTVs; that is, modest at best. But I’m not sure what to make of the following statement in the manual: “The 2D-to-3D conversion function is not intended for use with pre-recorded 2D copyrighted content owned by a third-party unless the copyright owner has given direct or indirect permission, or unless applicable law permits such use.”

So if I convert a 2D Hollywood movie to 3D on my Toshiba to watch in the privacy of my home, will the Video SWAT team bust down the door? Will it also pay me a visit if I use an inappropriate gamma setting or color temperature, or engage in illicit noise reduction? Hmm...more madness to ponder.

2D Performance
The 55TL515U turned in a mixed performance with our usual cocktail of video tests. It failed both 2:2HD and 2:2SD deinterlacing, which is common to many sets. But it also failed to pass above white and below black, which makes it difficult to set the brightness and contrast controls accurately. In addition, some program material contains valid picture information above the usual peak video white level—though it isn’t supposed to. Clipping this information can result in a loss of bright white detail (blown-out whites), though I didn’t experience this issue with the sources I watched.

Out of the box, the Toshiba required the usual fine-tuning tweaks of its factory settings. The colors (including the all-important flesh tones) were respectable—though too bluish even after I reduced the Color control by a few steps and turned the Color Temperature control down to zero. The resolution was excellent.

The set’s off-axis performance is perhaps its most notable quality, and extremely impressive for an LCD display. Along with a few other manufacturers (including LG and Vizio), Toshiba appears to be using a form of LCD panel—IPS, for In-Plane Switching—that is superior in this respect to the panels used by companies such as Samsung, Sharp, and Sony. As a result, the image remains visibly consistent at off-axis angles that leave other LCDs gasping for pixels; 45 degrees, or even further, is no problem.

But one problem with IPS panels is contrast. And while this has been dramatically improved over the years, it remains a weakness in IPS displays. Some designs overcome this by using full backlit local dimming, but that can’t be done at popular prices. The edge lighting in the Toshiba, while claiming some form of local dimming as discussed earlier, is not nearly as effective.

While the Toshiba’s black level and shadow detail measured reasonably acceptable with DynaLight engaged (without DynaLight, fuhgeddaboudit!), dark scenes were bland and lacked the snap needed to look totally convincing. The screen illumination, in general, was uneven, particularly in the corners, which were a noticeably lighter gray than the darker center. Unfortunately, some degree of this is somewhat common among edge-lit LED sets.

You’ll be bothered by the set’s problematic black level, shadow detail, and uneven screen uniformity mainly in the darkest scenes, especially those with low internal contrast and no bright highlights. As the average picture level increases, the subjective contrast improves significantly, and brighter scenes are vividly reproduced.

Toshiba really needs to offer a more useful range of color temperature factory settings. Even at the minimum, zero setting, the color temperature was shifted toward blue. This won’t bother most buyers, who are used to the bluish color that many sets still provide out of the box, but it’s wrong. The only way to correct this is with a full calibration, and with an HDTV in this price range, it’s problematic to expect the average buyer will spend $300 to $400—or more—for a full calibration. (We publish our final settings in the online versions of our reviews, but be sure to read the disclaimer. There’s no harm possible in trying these settings, but they might not be optimum for all samples of a given set.)

Once calibrated, the Toshiba 2D performance remained compromised by its black level and screen uniformity issues. But its resolution was never in question, and the picture, overall, was bright, punchy, and involving.

3D Performance
Many 3D HDTVs on the market use active shutter glasses. The two separate 3D images, one for each eye and each of them with a full 1920 x 1080 resolution, are flashed on the screen in a rapid sequence. An IR or RF signal from the set triggers the glasses to alternately open and close each eyepiece as needed. The brain fuses together these two time-displaced images into as a single 3D picture.

Toshiba, and a few other manufacturers, do things differently. The left and right eye images are presented on the screen simultaneously, rather than successively, with each image circularly polarized in opposite directions. The odd lines of pixels reproduce one eye-image, the other is reproduced by the even lines. The results are directed to the appropriate eye by oppositely polarized passive glasses.

The passive glasses are light, have no batteries or electronic circuits, and are far cheaper than the active variety. In addition, they should also produce (in theory) a brighter image with less (or no) 3D ghosting.

But since the left and right images are on the screen simultaneously with passive glasses, each image employs only half of the screen’s vertical resolution. That means each eye sees an image with just half the vertical resolution of full HD. For a 1920 x 1080 source, that’s 1920 x 540 pixels per eye. Proponents of this format say the brain blends together both images in a way that renders this resolution loss moot. The jury is out on this argument. But I can say that with good 3D Blu-ray source material, the 3D images on the passive 3D sets we’ve seen, including this one, do not look soft.

What is not in question is that the technology used for passive 3D—the main component of which is a filter layer on the screen called a patterned retarder—results in a visible horizontal line structure on the screen with 3D images. If you sit close enough to the screen, you will definitely see it. It’s particularly evident on distinct details such as lettering in the menus and program titles. Move 9 to 10 feet back, however, and the lines become much less objectionable. How far back you have to sit to reach this point will vary with the individual. The lines will never bother some viewers; for others, it will be a deal breaker. I strongly recommend that you audition a passive 3D set from what will be your normal viewing distance before taking the plunge. The lines are not visible with 2D sources (unless you use the 2D-to-3D conversion mode).

The Toshiba also exhibited ghosting on some 3D material, but only at the far left of the screen, not in the center. I suspect this was a flaw only in our sample, but you will want to watch for it in any audition. It was little bother during my auditions, but if I had purchased the set, it would have gone back.

These issues aside, the Toshiba produced an immersive 3D image, brighter than most of the 3D sets I’ve tested, on material ranging from Avatar to Tangled, to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Colors were bright and clear, although bright greens were a little fluorescent, and there was a tendency for reds to pop a bit too much, particularly in medium-dark scenes. Turning down the color control helped with the latter.

I’m still not of one mind in the simmering technology war between proponents of passive and active glasses. But if you sit far enough from the Toshiba to keep those horizontal lines at bay, it can produce a compelling 3D experience.

I fear I may have listed more negatives than positives here. The set’s color management system—ColorMaster—proved to be more of an annoyance than it was worth (see HT Labs Measures). The clipping that occurs above white and below black made the brightness and contrast controls difficult to set properly. The black level, shadow detail, and screen uniformity were unimpressive. Ghosting, and that visible horizontal line structure, detracted somewhat from the full 3D experience.

But through it all, the Toshiba did produce images that will satisfy a lot of buyers. The limited black level only intruded in the darkest scenes. The color balance was pleasing (even after I abandoned attempts to use the ColorMaster feature) with natural-looking greens (at least in 2D) and believable flesh tones, particularly after calibration. The off-axis performance is impressive, which may be an important consideration for some. The screen is much less reflective than most current sets. The set’s 3D will be more than satisfying to most viewers, for whom any 3D at home is a major thrill. And the price is certainly right.

Toshiba Corporation
(973) 628-8000
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