Toshiba of late have launched a number of products in which they have pushed the benefits of upscaling. We've seen this in notebooks, DVD players and now the introduction of Resolution+ in their ZV range of TVs. The claim is that this will upscale your standard definition content, close to HD quality. But can it live up to these claims?
First up with the new design you’ll find an illuminated Toshiba badge in the centre of the bezel. A flash-in-the-pan novelty, since once you start watching TV, you’ll want to turn it off, it is simply too bright. It seems a missed opportunity, because if you could dim the light down, it would be a classy touch; as it is, the effect is overbearing.
The TV is also surprisingly thick, so if you are looking to wall-mount this model, be aware: it measures a hefty 94mm, and then you need space for whatever you are going to plug in the back. We tested the 42-inch model, but it comes in 46 inches as well. A neat "boomerang" stand provides a comfortable degree of swivel and seems plenty secure.
Turn on the set and it will quickly auto-tune the Freeview, we found it had no problems finding the channels at all. If you want to tune the analogue tuner, simply switching over to it will run a similar auto-tuning process, again, with no issues.
In terms of connections, on the back of the ZV you get 2x HDMI, Component, 2x Scart, VGA, digital coax and optical audio, as well as analogue audio and subwoofer connections. A side panel gives you an HDMI, Composite, S-Video, 3.5mm headphone socket and the common interface slot. Not the most comprehensive, lacking the Ethernet, USB or SD slots that some screens are starting to adopt, but adequate for most.
Once you dive into the TV, it is something of a surprise to find that the EPG has not had a refresh for a number of years, and whilst it just about holds together on smaller screens, at 42 inches it looks blocky and lacks the refinement you now get in many rivals. We are entering the high-definition world but the EPG is strictly standard definition. You also don’t get channel numbers, which seriously hampers normal navigation without using the guide. Luckily the numbering is standardised so you know that 71 is CBeebies...
Toshiba have been keen to emphasise the technologies packed into this screen, the headline of which is the new Resolution+. Surprisingly this feature is not on by default, you have to dig into several layers of settings to engage it. Resolution+ has a scale from 1 to 5, which makes quite a difference. Think of it like an unsharp mask in Photoshop, which is essentially what it is doing. If you go too far, you destroy the image, too little makes no difference. It is all about balance and different sources require a little tinkering to find the optimal setting.
Does it work? Yes it does. But there is a caveat. Resolution+ only applies to SD content, so that includes content from the internal Freeview tuner and Scart or Composite, or SD HDMI inputs.
So if you have an "upscaling" DVD player connected by HDMI, the Resolution+ will do nothing for you - not a selectable option in the menu - unless you change the DVD player output back to SD. Connect the same player via Scart and it takes out a lot of the nasties that the analogue connection introduces, bringing you back to a picture similar to your HDMI connection. The real question is whether the TV’s image processing is better than the DVD player. Obviously DVD disc and original film stock quality differs, so there is an endless range of variables here, but across a broad range of discs, we found there was little difference between the TV and DVD upscaling.
The same will apply with Sky HD: to get the most from the screen’s options, you’ll need to change the resolution output to automatic, so it doesn’t think it is receiving a 1080 signal and upscales when you are not watching an HD channel.
In terms of upscaling SD Freeview TV the Resolution+ does make a difference: you can see the change by simply switching it on and off. However, the tuner itself doesn’t give you the best picture from Freeview. This is where the ZV really falls over: regular TV doesn’t look fantastic. Jagged edges, especially around text, and noise blights the experience, even with Resolution+ run through a number of settings.
We hooked up the ZV alongside a 40-inch Samsung set and found that (okay there are 2-inches in difference) the Tosh didn’t look as good: same aerial, same results with all the connections reversed. Of course, you don’t notice this so much if this is your only set and these things are very subjective, but for us, it was a weak Freeview showing.
There are other technologies lurking in the set, such as digital noise reduction, MPEG noise reduction, dynamic contrast, 3D colour management, active backlight control, black/white control, cinema mode, film stabilisation and Active Vision M100. The last option gives you the 100Hz mode which is a noticeable benefit when watching movies, smoothing out a surprising level of judder that is present without it. MPEG noise reduction does make a noticeable difference too and with some tinkering you’ll get things to settle down so things are more watchable.
There is plenty of colour to be reigned into control, but it seems that those elusive black blacks aren't quite here on this screen.
One welcome addition, however, is a proper power button, so you can actually turn off the TV and not leave it in standby and for this Toshiba should be commended. Discretely hidden on the left-hand side, this sort of addition should not be beyond any TV manufacturer.
We do like the input switching, giving you a simple pop-up menu which you can scroll down. That said, input switching seems surprisingly slow giving you audio long before the picture joins in. The audio, backed by SRS technology is not too bad, with the ZV packing in 20W RMS, with reasonable bass for more exciting movie watching, but we felt it was a little muffled for regular TV watching.
It is perhaps no surprise to find that the ZV handles high definition content very nicely. This giving you the Full HD, 1080p (with 100Hz, 24fps if you like), your HD content will look lovely and sharp. As a large gaming screen we found it performed well, holding its own with both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 at this size, we found that it really gets the best from these sources, with a dedicated Game Mode.
But the challenge is not to produce good HD content so much, but to make the lesser content look fantastic. This is the premise that Toshiba set-up with the ZV and unfortunately this only works with a caveat. Yes, standard DVD looks very good, but that’s becoming something of a niche market with upscaling players now so common.
For us, the Freeview performance stumbled against rivals. If you happen to have Sky HD or Freesat this is perhaps not going to worry you as much. But despite various niggles with the set, the ZV stays true to what Toshiba have been doing over recent years – delivering lots of technology without costing you the earth.
Is this the resolution revolution that Toshiba promised? Not quite.