- Written by Chris Eberle
- Published on 03 October 2011
The Toshiba 55SL417U 55" Edge Lit LED LCD HDTV In Use
For the viewing tests, I used an Oppo BDP-83, my reference player. All video processing was disabled by way of the Source Direct mode.
I will only offer a final, brief comment on the sound quality of this TV; it’s poor at best. There is no bass to speak of and even at the maximum setting; it wouldn’t fill my room with sound. While it’s standard operating procedure for most of us to use a separate sound system, I’d say you have little choice here. Beyond watching the news, the anemic speakers in the SL417 are of no use.
I started out with the Blu-ray edition of The Last Samurai. This film is visually stunning with its lush landscapes and epic battle scenes. The video transfer however, is not the cleanest. Compression artifacts are present throughout, mostly in backgrounds and areas off-center but occasionally in characters faces too. During calibration, I had turned off all the noise reduction features on the SL417U but after watching a few scenes, I decided to experiment a little. The best combination, after a bit of trial and error, was to set MPEG noise reduction to Low and DNR to Auto. This gave me the least softening of the image while cleaning up artifacts nicely. One clip was an especially tough test. During the first battle sequence, we see a forest in the early morning with lots of mist and dark shadows. The mist looked great and shadow detail was preserved nicely with no contouring. I also watched for any motion blur during the fast action and saw none. 120Hz coupled with a fast pixel response rate takes care of any LCD motion problems.
Moving up a bit in quality, I popped in the new Blu-ray release of Le Mans. This film is shot on very grainy stock and presents quite a torture test for a display’s noise reduction algorithms. Again, with the MPEG NR and DNR settings engaged, artifacts were kept to a minimum. The image retained its dimensionality thanks to the excellent contrast performance of the SL417U. Night scenes retained a nice level of detail and I saw no signs of crushing. Obviously, this transfer is superior to that of The Last Samurai because artifacts were virtually non-existent even with the noise reduction features turned off.
The recent release of Grand Prix on Blu-ray has caused celebration among fans of what is, without a doubt, the greatest racing movie ever made. The transfer is of reference quality in every respect. Here I saw no artifacts whatsoever. Color was rendered superbly and accurately. I had just watched this disc on my front projection setup, so comparisons were easy. Flesh tones looked nice and natural and the brightly colored clothing, cars, flags and other details popped out creating a true 3D effect. Detail was very sharp especially in facial close-ups. With many scenes of speeding cars, I tried out the Film Stabilization (frame interpolation) feature. When set to Smooth, extra frames are inserted to improve motion and preserve resolution during fast pans and action scenes. The Toshiba handled this material without any judder or tearing artifacts. The effect is not something I’m a fan of but the TV performed as intended. Resolution stayed rock-solid during even the fastest motion. There was no blur or judder whatsoever. It’s merely a case of user preference. Some will like the effect and some will not.
CGI films make just about every display look good but I still like to watch at least one title for every review. This time, I chose How to Train Your Dragon from Dreamworks. The quality of animation is among the best out there, even compared to the best of Pixar. The SL417U rendered every freckle, every hair, and every texture beautifully. I did see a bit of noise here and there which I would attribute to the transfer. I am picking nits though. Overall image quality is superb. There was one scene I especially enjoyed when two Vikings are talking by candlelight. They are wearing very furry tunics made from animal hides. Every hair and bit of lint popped right out giving the image a 3D appearance. I still maintain that a quality display, properly calibrated, and showing the best source material, will eliminate the need for a 3DTV. The Toshiba proved me right once again.
I finished up with the latest Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows, Part 1. This movie is dark from beginning to end and will be difficult for any display to render well. I used this opportunity to try out the Dynamic Contrast and DynaLight features. Dynamic Contrast crushed detail at both ends of the spectrum turning fine shadow detail into black blobs. I turned it off right away. DynaLight did a better job at maintaining detail but at the expense of light output which was cut nearly in half. I tried compensating by turning up the backlight control but this increased image noise to an unacceptable level. I was impressed that DynaLight did not cause any crushing like so many other dynamic features do, but the loss in light output was too great. I found I preferred both features turned off and the backlight left at 47, which is about halfway up its range. After watching awhile longer, I came away impressed with the Toshiba’s dark scene performance. This is the real separator between LCD and plasma with plasma having the edge. With the advent of LED backlighting though, the gap has narrowed considerably. I now consider TVs like the SL417U to be the equal of the average plasma in native contrast performance. Only the very best plasmas will do better.
My overall impressions were positive save for the noise reduction issues. While slight, I hadn’t seen them in other displays I’ve reviewed recently. I don’t consider it a deal-breaker by any means but this TV won’t do poor source material any favors. I’ll also qualify this by saying I watched at a close distance of about seven feet. This is a bit inside THX and SMPTE guidelines. From nine feet and greater, the noise was pretty much invisible. Though I lamented the clipping of below-black detail during the calibration phase of the review, it did not appear to be a problem in any of the content I watched.
To test the Internet features of the SL417U, I tried out the Netflix and YouTube apps. Netflix has quietly improved their quality of late with better video and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound on some titles. Still, there is a visible difference depending on what device is streaming the content. My benchmark is the AppleTV. Netflix always looks excellent on it as do other Internet sources. Toshiba has raised the bar here. Not only did Netflix look great, YouTube did too. Given the extreme compression used, most of the videos I watched held up well on the 55-inch screen, even when viewed closely.