Toshiba 55wl863b

The design Jacob Jensen's studio has come up with for the 55WL863 initially looks a little uninspiring.

It's just a black rectangle around a 55-inch screen essentially - though to be fair, the bezel is unusually slim (without delivering the same sort of ground breaking slimness found on some of Samsung's TVs this year).

The closer you get to the 55WL863, though, the more attractive it becomes, as you discover that it's exceptionally slim round the back and, best of all, incredibly well built from gorgeously tactile metal.
Turning to the 55WL863's stunningly slender and robust rear, all of its connections are positioned for access from the side - either the left or bottom edges. Which is of course ideal for people thinking of wall mounting the TV.

Connections

The connections themselves are in line with what you would expect of a top-end TV. Four HDMIs get the ball rolling, all built to the 3D v1.4 specification. Also of note are the set's twin USB ports, LAN port, and PC port.

It's worth noting that the slimness of the 55WL863 has required Toshiba to provide down-sizing adaptors for some of the connections, including the Scart and component inputs.

The USBs are capable of playing back photo, video and music files from USB drives, or you can use one of them for recording from the set's Freeview HD and HD satellite tuners.

Please note, though, that the satellite tuner is not a Freesat one; it just takes in whatever free to air channels it can find from the designated satellite, with no Freesat 'packaging'.

The LAN port is there for streaming files in from a networked DLNA PC (ideally a Windows 7 model for maximum compatibility), or for accessing Toshiba's Places online service. Or if you'd rather not bother with the wired approach, the 55WL863 ships with built-in Wi-Fi. Excellent.

Camera

As with Toshiba's VL863 passive 3D models, the 55WL863 sports a built-in camera. This is used in conjunction with a built-in face recognition system to figure out who is using the TV at any given moment, so that the set can automatically switch to that user's preferred settings - something that has the potential to prove particularly useful when it comes to the TV's online features. For it means the set can automatically call up your preferred favourites lists, email accounts, and personalised layout.

However, the personalisation feature is let down somewhat by the rather poor quality of the built-in camera, which doesn't really work properly if your room is either very bright or very dark, and doesn't enjoy much resolution either. Probably because of these problems the set 'read' the wrong user on a number of occasions during its time in the test labs.

Internet TV

Focussing next on the Places online system, as with other online Toshiba TVs this year it feels like a feature of great promise rather than a polished and finished article.

On the upside, its presentation is excellent, with bright, colourful, clean graphics and text, and a sensible, spacious layout that doesn't overload you with information. The focus on personalisation really is interesting too, with its support for individual email/social network accounts, and individual favourite content lists.

The catch is that there isn't as much content on Places as you get with most rival online systems at the moment.

The full list of video applications currently available looks like this: Viewster, BBC IPlayer, YouTube, Daily Motion, Box Office 365, Woomi, Cartoon Network, and HiT Entertainment. For music you've got just the Aupeo personal radio app. In the 'Social' Place you've got your email accounts, and access to your Flickr online photo library and Daily Motion video library.

In the News place, finally, you've just got the depressingly multilingual Meteonews.tv weather 'channel'.

It's good to see Toshiba apparently focussing most of its content sourcing on video, but Places could do with a few more non-subscription video options, and its music and news 'places' are sorely malnourished.

It's also a bit weird that there are still no Facebook or Twitter apps in the Social Place section, and it's annoying as hell that the BBC iPlayer and YouTube apps aren't properly integrated into the Places platform. Instead, selecting either of them from the Places menus throws up a message telling you that you have to quit out of Places and select the 'Connected' option in the TV's normal menus to access these two key online features.

Edge LED

Focussing next on the features that make the 55WL863's pictures tick, the full HD 55-inch screen is illuminated by edge LED lighting but with a degree of local dimming available. Local dimming isn't always very successful on edge LED TVs, so it will be interesting to see how well it works here. The claimed contrast ratio of 7,000,000:1 is promising at least, even though it's almost certainly also rather fanciful...

The really big cause for hope with the 55WL863's pictures, though, is the new CEVO Engine. For as well as driving key 'headline' features like the NetResolution system for improving the appearance of streamed video and the 3D Resolution+ system for boosting the sharpness of 3D images, the CEVO Engine works on a more micro level when it comes to improving such general image components as colour, contrast and motion clarity.

The arrival of the CEVO Engine also introduces (actually very accurate if rather gentle) 2D to 3D conversion to a Toshiba TV for the first time, with the set's 3D abilities being of the active variety rather than the passive ones found on Toshiba's step-down VL863 series.

It's a bit disappointing that you don't get any of Toshiba's active 3D glasses included for free with the TV, though.

Picture settings

Heading finally into the 55WL863's onscreen menus, there's a pretty comprehensive suite of tools for calibrating pictures. These include a solid if somewhat imprecise colour management system; different strength settings for the LED local dimming feature; a simple black/white sliding bar 'balance'; adjustments for the static gamma setting; MPEG and standard noise reduction systems; the facility to turn on or off Toshiba's Resolution+ system and adjust its level of potency; and a trio of different tools focussed on motion.

The first of these motion tools lets you choose Smooth, Standard and Off settings for Toshiba's Active Vision M800 processing (which combines a 200Hz refresh rate with a scanning backlight and frame interpolation processing to deliver a pseudo 800Hz effect if you use its strongest Smooth setting), but you can also adjust the range of motion that the interpolation processing works on. There's even a further separate 3D judder cancellation system, with auto and off settings.

Calibration is further aided by a provided test pattern, an RGB filter that can remove the red, green or blue elements from the picture individually to aid colour tuning, and finally a white balance adjustment that lets you use the 2-point or 10-point fine-tuning system.

If some of these advanced features sound far too scary for you to tinker with yourself, you may be interested to note that Toshiba has also used the power of the CEVO Engine to come up with an innovative TPA-1 auto calibration system for use with the WL863 and YL863 sets. This comprises a meter that attaches to one of the TV's USB ports and hangs down over the screen's front ready to read the test signal outputs produced by the screen when you set the auto calibration system in motion.

Colour calibration works completely automatically, while gamma works to arrive at your preferred targets for colour temperature (the default, sensibly, is the D65 temperature generally considered best for video) and gamma (we chose 2.2).

Toshiba deserves a great deal of credit for trying to put a degree of 'professional' calibration into the hands of ordinary end users, with next to no technical knowledge being required. However, while the calibration device will suit the sort of AV enthusiast whose idea of a perfect picture is one that sits in line with the established video standards, it's also quite possible that many normal users won't actually like the relatively undynamic picture the calibration system - accurately - arrives at. Especially as it leaves reds looking a little flat.

It's also doubtful how many end users will care to fork out the £250 you need to purchase the auto calibration system.