Toshiba is trying hard to make its smart TV platform – called Toshiba Places – a genuinely different experience to other brand's efforts, but it only achieves that in a negative sense.
Somewhat sensibly it attempts to divvy-up apps between 'places'; TV Place, Video Place, Music Place, Social Place and News Place.
Nice idea, with one catch – there's not much inside each section.
TV Place is the location for catch-up TV, though inside is just a BBC iPlayer icon.
Video Place is a little better, counting Acetrax, Blinkbox, Cinetrailer.tv, Viewster, Dailymotion, Woomi and YouTube, while Music Place includes just iConcerts and Aupee! Radio. Social Place comprises an inbox that can link to personal accounts for email, alongside apps for Facebook, Twitter, MyPhotos (Flickr) and My Videos (Dailymotion).
Meanwhile, News Place gathers together Livesport, Euronews, France 24 and MeteoNews. But even old-fashioned Teletext was far better than that sorry lot.
Lastly, the Games Place leads to a small collection of Funspot, Smart Kidz and Brain Trainer games.
It's a nice division of labour in theory, but there's not enough labour – and the breakaway of dedicated icons for YouTube and the BBC iPlayer to the 42VL963's central user interface seems an admission of this.
Toshiba Places is reasonably well laid out, with customised settings for individual members of the family possible (so Dad doesn't tweet about the cricket on daughter's account, presumably) and there are links to the most used apps up-top; when we tested the 42VL963 we found shortcuts to BBC iPlayer, Blinkbox, Acetrax and Livesport.tv across the top.
The hardware is a lot more comprehensive. On the rear of the delectably designed 42VL963 are three HDMI inputs, a Scart, a D-sub 15-pin PC input, component video inputs and accompanying phonos, an optical digital audio output, and an Ethernet LAN slot.
The latter proves crucial since there's no Wi-Fi built into the 42VL963, which will be a deal-breaker for some – and seems stingy on a TV costing this much.
However, generosity abounds on a particularly extensive side-panel, which includes a fourth HDMI slot, two USB slots - one for adding a Toshiba Wi-Fi dongle, and another for thumbdrives or HDDs - either stuffed with digital files for playback, or formatted to record TV programmes from Freeview (or, more usefully given that there's only one tuner, a handy pause-live-TV feature).
For those wanting to add channels to Freeview's roster there's also a Common Interface slot for subscription cards.
Lastly, the side-panel includes a headphones slot, though for some reason it's very far up the TV, almost at the top.
Those USB slots aren't needed to recharge 3D glasses since the 42VL963 uses the passive, polarised 3D tech, and puts four pairs of the cheap RealD 3D specs in the box.
What is a genuinely great idea from Toshiba is a choice of electronic programme guides for Freeview HD content.
The choice – which you have to make blindly upon start-up – is between BroadcastGuide and MediaGuide. The former is the usual EPG, while the latter is a ROVI-powered, web-fed guide that's a tad more dynamic, more colourful, and has an (albeit tiny) live TV thumbnail, too – though it is slower.