Toshiba 37ul863b

Sound

Audio from the 37UL863B's stereo 10W speakers is generally flat, though it's worth investigating the advanced sound settings in the GUI. In there you'll find SoundNavi, which offers a very simple graphic equaliser-based preset for both wall and stand mounting positions.

Of more appeal are two illusory 'surround' sound modes termed 'spatial', 'cinema' and 'voice enhancement'. The latter two aren't much to get excited about, but 'spatial' mode works well and successfully widens effects while keeping dialogue clear and central. With it engaged, Pacific's many wide shots of battle scenes and frenetic soundtracks benefitted, albeit while still suffering from the same lack of bass and punch that plagues most flat TVs.

It's something that will get you through the months while you save up for a separate audio system or home cinema speaker array.

Value

From within its huge arsenal of LCD TVs, Toshiba has issued yet another value-busting bigscreen.
The truly big TV, once the reserve of the wealthy, is at last within reach of the wider public, and this step-up 37-inch size is an ideal place to embrace the big.

The 37UL863B would appear ideal for upgrading a second room or bedroom, but its the living room where it's really aimed; the latest tech is here, from Freeview HD and Freesat HD innards to Edge LED, Wi-Fi access to BBC iPlayer and a swanky remote. There are no real weaknesses to speak of – nothing major, anyhow – so this just has to be viewed as a good value set that's specc'ed to sell.

Ease of use

The main GUI for the 37UL863B consists of a virtual dial that hosts dynamic icons for the TV's main functions, with partly translucent sub-icons appearing above each one.

Hover over TV Programmes, for instance, and there are three sub-choices that link to the EPG, a library of recordings made on a USB HDD, programme timers and a genre search of upcoming broadcasts. There are other shortcuts to Media Player (movies, photos and videos) and Connected TV, including shortcuts to the Toshiba Places hub screen as well as dedicated icons for YouTube and BBC iPlayer.

After firing-up the Wi-Fi without any issues, Places is a let-down – and not just because the video on demand on offer isn't that great. In Video Places the links to iPlayer and YouTube are not live, and merely bring-up an error message. It's not a terminal problem, for dedicated shortcuts to both can be found back a step on the TV's main GUI, but it wasn't the only issue we had with the rather cluttered interface for Places.

As well as there being no sign of the Acetrax movies on demand service, Places doesn't seem to be very smart at all. It asked 'are you sure?' every time we decided to head out of Places and back to the main TV menus, which also entails moving the cursor and pressing OK. Three button presses to exit a lacklustre feature containing broken links? Not good.

In contrast, the Freeview/Freesat software is immaculate. The EPG is a vast improvement on Toshiba's bevy of entry-level TVs, with details of what's on for two hours over a stunning 13 channels at once. The downside of that is that the EPG doesn't float over a live broadcast, though the audio remains. We also like its grey, black, white, blue and maroon design. It's also possible to search by genre set timers and scan forward seven days using the fastext keys.

USB recording can be set to 'one touch' recording or 30-360 minutes in 30 minute increments, with up to 10 minutes of padding possible at either end of timed recordings.

Set against a 3D purple background and featuring thumbnails in a grid style, the USB stick loads a thumbdrive packed with JPEG photos easily and quickly. Video files are almost as well treated from USB; in our tests we were successful with AVCHD, MKV, MPEG and MP4. It's great to see a preview window that immediately plays whichever folder the icon is on.

The 37UL863B picked-up and played MP3 music files stored on the same USB stick, though not other formats. Swapping between playing a song to watching a video or showing a photos means jumping back to root menus, which is a drag.

Networked over Wi-Fi, the 37UL863B plays a slightly different collection of files, namely AVCHD, MOV, MP4 and, thankfully, AVI. It's also now capable of WMA over a network, as well as MP3.

Dip into the 37UL863B's advanced menus below the sheen of the GUI's virtual dial and it's Panasonic all over; the same occasional slowness (returning to Freeview/live inputs from the Media Player can take a while) is evident.

Locating the 37UL863B's more advanced picture settings is long-winded, with important features like its M100 mode for increasing the panel's refresh rate to 100Hz not easy to find. Ditto for Resolution+, an up-rezzing circuitry that's impressed before, and AutoView – a sensor that measures ambient light and tweaks brightness, though rather violently.

In a darkened room AutoView virtually disarms the backlight entirely, though an impressive selection of picture presets are complemented by the 'expert' menus' pre-loaded test pattern and extensive options for an in-depth calibration.

That kind of customisation proves more use than Personal TV. The camera is ever so basic and is only sometimes able to detect a face correctly. Nor is the feature particularly easy to access and alter. The motion detection system is better; the TV went into standby when we left room, and when we re-entered a few minutes later, detected our motion and woke.

More core quality is offered by the set's unusual 'slider' remote; a metallic armband wraps around the remote and can be nudged up or down to obscure or reveal some of the least-used controls. Moving that armband makes the remote better weighted, and the higher buttons easier to use. And it looks a high-end device indeed.