Toshiba doesn't actually manufacture the panels and tech inside its TVs, but this 40-incher provides yet more proof of why – as a brand – it continues to be one of the most popular around. One word: value. There's no sniff of absolute top quality here, but nor is there anything remotely tacky about this Edge LED-lit effort; it’s a mid-range TV that will suit living rooms after an affordable flatscreen.
Even the plastic frame manages to make a decent effort at looking faintly metallic (the new vogue in flat telly land), though it's the super-slim bezel that's the 40RL858’s key design flourish; it's barely a centimetre in thickness, quite something for such a low-priced set.
Add a Freeview HD tuner, almost total digital file support from its USB slot, and a BBC iPlayer app, and the 40RL858 is so far looking every bit the every-man TV. There are, however, some significant problems that take this telly down a few notches in the flatpanel pecking order.
Wi-Fi, USB & digital file support
A big problem is Wi-Fi, or lack thereof. A TV that can access web content only via wired connection is hardly cutting-edge; we'd argue that a Wi-Fi dongle is crucial - one is available for a paltry £30, happily. Secondly, the 40RL858’s ins and outs are a tad restrictive. Most alarmingly there is only one USB slot, leaving us wondering whether to install that dongle or dock a USB stick full of DivX files. Choices, choices. We're also put out by the three HDMI inputs - hardly generous.
Also note that this USB slot cannot indulge in any kind of recording, pausing or rewinding of live digital TV, which although something of a relative oversight on a TV of this price, is hardly a deal breaker – a dedicated PVR does a far, far better job in any case.
In terms of file support we’re impressed by the 40RL858; it plays everything, including MKV video and Apple Lossless M4A music. If USB slots are a tad too manual for your tastes, know that the 40RL858 also indulges in DLNA networking, though here MKV isn't supported.
Smart TV hub
Our main complaint about Toshiba Places is its drab European-ness. We've nothing against our continental cousins, but do we need to read Euronews or France 24? Unfortunately, that's all that's on offer in the News Places area. We would much prefer local services, after all isn't that supposed to be the beauty of web-connected devices that know your IP address and location?.
Better is the Social Places section, which comprises Facebook, My Photos (Flickr-hosted) and My Videos (DailyMotion), while Games Places contains just Funspot, a tiny collection of slightly fiddly remote control-powered games including chess and Sudoku.
Music Places is virtually empty (iConcerts & Aupeo), and though Video Places (Viewster, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Dailymotion, BoxOffice 365, Woomi, Cartoon Network, HiT Entertainment & Acetrax) is acceptably full, it’s got few must-have attractions. Toshiba Places is also rather slow to load and to navigate using the remote.
Graphical user interface
Although the general GUI is rather lacklustre, it does at least build-in some excellent shortcuts. For instance, the Media Player menu, accessed via a dedicated button on the remote, gives one-touch access to the application tab of the main onscreen menu; cue links to core services such as Toshiba Places, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, that USB media player and the network media player.
The quick controls shortcuts cover the same ground, but add a sleep timer, a roster of various picture presets, and some aspect ratio choices.
However, the Freeview HD electronic programme guide is ugly, slow and lacks basic functions; it's not a patch on the likes of Samsung and Sony TVs.
Picture & sound quality
With our test disc Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy engaged, it’s obvious straight from the off that the 40RL858 has some issues with light leakage. Although it’s most obvious with a blank screen, the dingy corridors aren't just lined with secrets; around the edges an uneven amount of blotchy light blights the picture’s darker elements. If watching on dynamic mode in a brightly lit room, it's not the huge problem it may at first appear to be, though even with the lights turned down low and some panel brightness sacrificed, it’s still noticeable.
Let's not pretend this is a reference level TV, but we spotted some shadow detailing within blocks of convincing darker colours. Colours are actually where this TV excels, showing off its nuanced palette that can deal with well saturated reds and greens as well as paler and more subtle, natural tones.
There is some motion blur, but again, it's not a serious problem if you engage the 100Hz mode. There's plenty of detail and sharpness in images; certainly enough to add to our impression of the 40RL858 as a tremendously good value screen for hosting Blu-ray images. It’s worth exploring the myriad picture presets, which include two Hollywood settings that are about as close as this TV get to a cinematic look, and also take some of the picture noise from non-HD sources.
If you’re careful, the 40RL858 is a jack-of-all-trades picture-wise – and that’s actually quite rare at this price.
Audio is via a set of stereo speakers on the 40RL858’s undercarriage, both of which are rated at 10W. Results are fairly poor, with a distinct lack of detail and low frequency in the basic soundstage that’s really only good enough for watching news programmes and the like.
It may lack the pizzazz and must-have appeal of higher-end brands, but an extraordinarily thin bezel and good-value pictures make this a decent budget buy.
Granted, there’s no slinky user experience, top-quality pictures or acceptable audio, but at this price we didn't expect there to be; Toshiba has come up with another budget winner that will get many living rooms a first taste of smart TV.