Few TV brands have had as busy a 12 months as Toshiba. Not content with launching its biggest television range for years last April, Toshiba even managed to squeeze in a 'round two' of telly launches right at the end of 2011. And heading up this second raft of TVs is the TL868 series, as represented here by the 46-inch Toshiba 46TL868B.

Toshiba has got very clever in recent years at figuring out ways of offering sought-after features for cheaper prices than any other mainstream brands. The 46TL868B fits into this trend perfectly, managing to deliver Full HD active 3D, Edge LED lighting and an astoundingly slender form wrapped around the large 46-inch screen all for under £700 - the sort of money you'd normally expect to spend on a fairly bog-standard 42-inch TV.

Chuck a Freeview HD tuner into the mix, and there's a very good chance indeed that undecided TV buyers wandering around their local electronics store will have their attention and ultimately cash grabbed by Toshiba's almost shameless attempt to, um, give punters exactly what they want.

But is the Toshiba 46TL868B really the bargain it first appears? You don't get any free 3D glasses with it, after all. And there have been a number of Edge LED TVs from Toshiba this year that have suffered with some pretty serious picture flaws. So could it be that the ultimate impulse buy will turn into a nasty case of tears before bedtime?

Toshiba 46tl868b review

The first feature anyone will notice about the Toshiba 46TL868B is how slender it its. For a start, it sticks out only a fraction as far around the back as your average budget LCD TV.

Even better, its bezel is almost non-existent by budget TV standards - only a touch more than 1cm across. This means that the TV will fit into the sort of space usually only occupied by a 42-inch TV. Also, experience suggests that the smaller a bezel is, the easier it is to get lost in the image on the screen. Especially if that image happens to be a 3D one.

And yes, despite costing less than £700, the images on the Toshiba 46TL868B really can be 3D as well as 2D. In fact, the TV even uses the Full HD active system that all the main brands bar LG still tend to consider the premium 3D format for picture quality enthusiasts.

However, there is a catch with this. While even the most affordable passive 3D TVs usually ship with loads of free glasses included in the price, the expense of making active shutter glasses for 3D TVs means you don't get any at all for free with the Toshiba 46TL868B.

Toshiba 46tl868b review

Presumably Toshiba thinks - not unreasonably - that there's something to be said for tempting cash-strapped AV fans to the 3D table with a lower up-front price, then allowing them a simple upgrade path to 3D as further funds for pairs of active shutter glasses become available.

To be fair, while the Toshiba 46TL868B doesn't ship with free 3D glasses, you certainly can't accuse it of lacking features and ambition in other areas. Its connections, for instance, are prodigious, with highlights of four HDMIs, a D-Sub PC input, two USB ports and even a LAN port.

This LAN port is there in part to support the Toshiba 46TL868B's Freeview HD tuner (a tuner that itself might not necessarily have been expected on such a cheap TV). But much more impressively, it can also be used for hooking up to a DLNA-capable (and ideally Windows 7) PC for streaming in video, music and photo files. Or it can be used to take the TV online, via Toshiba's Places service.

There will be more on Places in a moment, but first there are a couple more things to discuss about the two USB ports. Namely that as well as enabling you to play a good variety of multimedia file types - including DivX HD - stored on USB storage devices, they enable you to add an optional USB dongle to make the TV Wi-Fi capable.

The Toshiba 46TL868B's Full HD screen is driven by Edge LED lighting rather than the normal CCFL system you might have expected on such an affordable set. And even more surprisingly, there's 100Hz processing to boost the image's stability, richness and motion clarity.

Heading into the on-screen menus, the Toshiba 46TL868B continues the theme of offering more than you've any right to expect. Pretty much every aspect of the TV's pictures can be adjusted across a prodigious range of settings, thanks to tricks such as a surprisingly well-realised colour management system, a backlight adjustment and a black/white level slider that proves to be a rather nifty tool for enabling you to balance brightness against black level response and shadow detail.

The Toshiba Places online system initially seems hugely promising, thanks to what is arguably the most attractive and 'personable' on-screen interface of any smart TV system to date. It's also clear that Toshiba has managed to sneak a bit more content on there than has been the case before.

The key options available now include BBC iPlayer, Box Office 365 (subscription), the Cartoon Network (subscription), HiT Entertainment (subscription), Viewster, Daily Motion, YouTube, Woomi, Flickr, the Aupeo internet radio site and two significant recent additions: Facebook and the Acetrax on-demand movie service.

Even with these new additions, there's no disguising the fact that Places is currently lagging behind the online systems of its big-name smart TV rivals, such as Samsung's Smart Hub and Sony's Bravia Internet Video services, as seen on the Samsung PS51D8000 and Sony KDL-46HX923, and other excellent smart TVs.

So here's hoping 2012 will bring a flurry of Places activity to rival the flurry of hardware activity Toshiba managed in 2011.