The 42VL963 initially performs out of its skin.

Toshiba 42VL963 review

With the Freeview HD tuner up and running, a blast of How We Won The War from BBC1 appears strong on colour, contrast and clarity.

There's little of the flicker and fizz around lo-res graphics that we're used to on LCD TVs, and a boldness to images that continues on our test DVD Children of Men.

Switch to the HD version and it's a more nuanced, more pristine story.

There's plenty of detail, too, in our Blu-ray test disc Hugo, with real texture and depth to the wisps of smoke in the Paris train station. Even dust in the air is visible during close-ups.

Colour is somewhat muted, but natural looking (using ColourMaster didn't visibly enhance or effect the picture), and though that's backed-up by some convincing black levels, there's not much in the way of shadow detail.

Consequently, a lot of detail in dark backgrounds is obscured, such as the walls of Hugo's bedroom, and more noticeably his hair and clothes, which take on a flat look.

Contrast can be boosted somewhat by using the Active Backlight Control feature. It reacts to ambient light conditions and dims the back light accordingly, substantially boosting the quality of black.

However, it resets light levels constantly and quickly becomes annoying, though it's acceptably subtle on its 'low' power setting.

Motion, too, is handled reasonably well, though only if Active Vision is used – without it the 42VL963 delivers blurry moving objects. It's best left on its middle strength setting; this way it rids Blu-ray discs of judder and blur with only the odd twitch around moving objects.

That issue is exacerbated if Active Vision is left on full power, while its mildest setting is too weak to be of any use.

The opening sequence of Hugo is thus rendered well, with Active Vision ensuring a smooth panorama across Paris, well defined, yet fluid falling snowflakes, and a comfortable swooping camera shot through the train station.

A scan across a complicated clock-face is far, far more comfortable with Active Vision engaged than without, though some will notice the slightly video-like feel it lends to proceedings.

Still, although it does do a good job with such motion scenes, there is a slight wobble within the frame.

Game mode is a little stark, though the pitch in Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 appeared vibrant and detailed during our test, but with noticeable motion blur; we instead settled on the less garish 'Hollywood 1' preset, with Active Vision its middle setting.

Annoyingly, the 42VL963 insists on showing us a safety message each time we engage 3D mode on our Blu-ray player. Honestly!

Hugo in 3D mode suddenly loses its detail – compared to when we watched the same sequences in 2D – and the horizontal structure of the image is highly visible, too, though the depth that opens up is quite something.

Unfortunately there is a touch of judder that can't be cured using Active Vision (it's not available in 3D mode), which is a shame since we've seen similar tech add a nice polish to some passive 3DTVs of late.

The 3D effect isn't always a success, with 3D characters sometimes seeming divorced from rather flat-looking backgrounds, and after about an hour of Hugo we did get slightly immune to the 3D effects.

Still, without any crosstalk and with bright, colourful 3D pictures throughout, we'd judge the 42VL963 a success in this department; a nice, fuss-free 3D feature fit for occasional use.

However, the 2D-3D conversion mode – accessible via a shortcut on the remote and apparently able to work from any video source, even live TV – is a failure.

We tried to convert an episode of Neighbours, some ProEvolution Soccer 2012, and Prometheus on Blu-ray on-the-fly, but all we noticed was the appearance of those horizontal lines, or a loss of detail. Or both.

Lastly, although the LED panel behind the 42VL963 is clearly of decent quality, we did notice some light leakage in the corners of the screen, though only those watching in a blackout will notice.