At the Consumer Electronics Show last January, every television manufacturer had at least one 3D-capable display in their booth. Over the next few months, new models trickled into the marketplace. Now that CEDIA has come and gone, the floodgates are officially open and every brand has at least one and in some cases multiple models to choose from. I attended CEDIA with the primary goal of securing as many 3D TVs as possible for review. Toshiba was kind enough to be the first to provide me a sample, the flagship 55WX800U Cinema Series 55″ LED Edge Lit LCD HDTV.
- Design: LED Edge Lit LCD HDTV
- Resolution: 1920 x 1080
- Maximum Refresh Rate: 240 Hz
- Screen Size: 55″ Diagonal
- Input Signal Compatibility: 480i/p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p24/60Hz
- 3D formats: Side by Side (half or full), Top & Bottom, Frame Packing
- Screen Formats: 4:3, Full, TheaterWide 1-3, Native (1:1 Pixel)
- Audio: Main – 10 watts x 2, Woofer – 10 watts, Digital Output Toslink (Dolby Digital, 2-channel PCM), Dolby Volume
- Inputs: 2 Composite, 1 Component, 15-pin VGA, 4 HDMI 1.4, 2 USB, 1 Ethernet, 1 SD Memory Card Slot
- IR in & Out
- Internet Apps: Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, Yahoo Widgets
- Power consumption: 180 Watts in use; <1 Watt in standby
- Dimensions: 33.5″ H x 50.5″ W x 1.15″ D (Stand is 14″ Deep)
- Weight: 73.9 Pounds
- MSRP: $3299.99 USA
- 3D glasses: $169.99/each
Historically there has always been a battle between the cinema and television. Ever since the first consumer TVs appeared in the mid-twentieth century, Hollywood has looked for ways to lure entertainment seekers out of their living rooms and into the movie theater. First they tempted us with CinemaScope. The advent of widescreen in the 1950s created a major divide in image quality between film and television. Other technologies followed; stereo sound, 3D (the kind with colored glasses), surround sound (remember Sensurround?) and the staple of science museums everywhere, Imax. Now the world’s entertainment capital is having another go with 3D, this time with far better results than the old anaglyph format (colored glasses). And we won’t have to wait to try it at home because every television manufacturer is now offering displays and Blu-ray players that let us experience 3D from our own couches.
Upon unpacking the WX800 I immediately noticed its elegant high-class styling. This is Toshiba’s flagship flat-panel display and they made sure to give it a look appropriate to its $3,300 price tag. The front is one continuous sheet of glass rather than the usual screen surrounded by a bezel. When the TV is off, all you see is a featureless black panel; very chic. The glass is treated with a substance Toshiba calls Crystal Coat. It serves to cut down the effects of reflected light on the image. In practice, there is still a fair amount of reflection from room lighting. I recommend avoiding bright lights or sunny windows when installing this display. Front panel controls are all touch-sensitive; there are no buttons to spoil the landscape. The only thing that stands out is the Energy Star logo on the lower left. The base is brushed black aluminum with a chiseled-chrome upright. You can swivel the TV about 25 degrees in either direction. The chrome treatment continues with a thin strip along the bottom of the panel just in front of the down-firing speakers.
The back panel is thin metal with all inputs facing either down or to the side. The inputs are so close to the back of the TV, I had a bit of trouble plugging in an HDMI cable with a fat connector. Slim is the name of the game with this display. Even the analog jacks are 3.5mm minis rather than the usual RCA. An adaptor cable is included if you need to use the component or composite connections. In addition to the four HDMI inputs, there are one each of component (which Toshiba calls ColorStream), composite and VGA. Two USB inputs are included as well as a LAN port, an SD card slot, and an IR input. The lone RF connector lets you use the integrated ATSC or QAM tuners for box-free cable or over-the-air signals. The lone output is an optical TOSLink port. A byproduct of TVs becoming ever thinner is the non-removable power cord.
The WX800 has all the latest features one would expect in a big-screen TV. Of course 3D is front and center. Toshiba has not included a 3D conversion mode so only native content will show in 3D. Besides 3D Blu-ray, you’ll have to have one of the new 3D feeds from DirecTV before you put on those glasses. Compatibility extends to frame-packed, side by side and top/bottom formats. The TV does not ship with glasses. One pair was sent to me for the review. They are of the powered shutter type and the button battery which lasts around 75 hours is included along with a hard case and a lanyard. My first try-on seemed comfortable and I had no problem fitting them over my prescription eyeglasses.
Like many TVs today, the WX800 is Internet-capable. Streaming services are available from Netflix, Vudu and YouTube. Yahoo widgets are also included for things like weather, news and stock quotes and you can download more applications if you wish. To enable these features, simply hook up an Ethernet cable to the LAN port.
Backlighting is via edge-mounted LED arrays. Even though this was all the rage last year, it’s my first chance to review an LED TV. Honestly, I consider this a bigger deal than 3D. My initial impression upon powering up the WX800 was one of excellent contrast. A traditional CCFL-lit LCD does not look this good. While blacks aren’t as dark as the best plasmas, image depth has taken a huge leap forward thanks to LED technology. The LEDs are also part of the dynamic contrast feature called DynaLight. It’s not a zone dimming display but the backlight can be modulated very quickly to increase contrast without obvious brightness pumping.
Just as a reminder, “Edge Lit” LED displays, like the unit under review here, use LEDs along the edge of the flat panel and send their white light horizontally across the backside of the LCD pixels. There is a baffle of pits and valleys along which the light bounces so that the entire panel is illuminated evenly. This is the reason why the edge lit panel can be so thin. With Zone Dimming, there are blocks of LEDs, say around 100, with each block containing numerous LEDs, behind the pixels. Each block can be turned on or off, and brightnesses in between. Zone dimming gives a bit better even distribution of the light, but the downside is that the panel is much thicker. So, for those of you who want to mount a flat panel LED illuminated LCD HDTV on the wall, the edge lit variety will work best because it will not stick out from the wall but only an inch or so.
The remote is a traditional wand-style with full backlighting. It can be used to control five components in addition to the TV. There are quick access keys for NetTV and Yahoo widgets along with a 3D hotkey and a quick menu for changing things like screen aspect and picture mode. Transport controls are also included to operate a disc player. At the bottom are function keys to freeze the picture, change the aspect ratio, select the audio output mode and toggle closed captioning.
I found the WX800’s menu system intuitive and easy to navigate. I only had to refer the manual a few times during my initial tour. The main menu is split into Picture, Sound, Applications, Preferences and Setup sections.
Picture is the first place to visit for all calibration options. Aside from the brightness, contrast and other typical picture controls, there are two sub-menus titled Advanced and Expert. Here is where you’ll find the two or ten-point grayscale control, the color management system and many options for image enhancement and noise reduction. The auto-dimming feature is called DynaLight and can be turned off if you wish. Along with that, there are 11 levels of Dynamic Contrast available. I turned on the DynaLight but left Dynamic Contrast at zero. Here you’ll also find the frame interpolation (Film Stabilization) and 240 Hz (ClearFrame) settings. The TV will accept a 1080p/24 signal and process it correctly with 10:10 pulldown if the Film Stabilization control is set to Standard. The Middle and High settings produce the “soap opera” effect. Also in the Advanced menu is the Smart Sensor feature. This activates a front-panel sensor that adjusts the backlight according to your room’s ambient lighting. In the Backlight Adjustment Pro menu, you can control exactly how the backlight is modulated with a sort of gamma curve screen. This is pretty cool since most TVs with this feature give you no control at all. You can also allow the TV to adjust color temperature with room light. The options are Auto, Incandescent, or Fluorescent. Since all of these features have a negative impact on picture quality, I left them off.
The Audio menu has several advanced options for things like Dolby Volume and simulated surround sound. There is also a dynamic range control, handy for movie-watching. The TOSLink output can be set for either Auto, which allows bitstream, or PCM. The surround output can be adjusted for wall or stand mounting and there is a graphic equalizer as well. Other options include bass boost and dialog enhancement.
The Applications menu gives you control of Yahoo Widgets and the NetTV suite of apps. You can also set favorite channels in the Channel Browser and set the sleep and on timers here. In the Preferences menu, there are more app-specific options for network setup, Netflix and Vudu options and most of the TVs other convenience features. You can also access 3D settings but they are limited to how the display reacts to a 3D feed. There is no 2D-3D conversion feature; only native Blu-ray 3D or broadcast content will show in 3D. If you want to prevent others from accessing the 3D mode, you can enter a lockout code. The final menu, Setup is the place to choose a language, scan for channels or update the firmware. This can only be done over the network; USB memory sticks are not supported.
As I do with every display, I did a full calibration of the WX800. After measuring all the picture modes I found Movie 2 to be the best starting point. The other modes utilize the same color gamut but set various things like the backlight or picture enhancements to different values. As I mentioned in the menu run-down, there are controls for every aspect of calibration. I discovered they were not without a few caveats however.
After setting brightness and contrast to appropriate levels, I turned off all dynamic picture adjustments. These traditionally play havoc with a display’s gamma and this TV already has decent black levels. My first order of business was grayscale adjustment. The WX800 offers either a 2-point or 10-point system. The 2-point adjustment yielded respectable results but I wanted to see if I could do better with the 10-point. My first discovery was that activating the 10-point adjustment also activates a separate grayscale memory. Normally I would rough in with the 2-point then fine tune with the 10-point but this didn’t work. Secondly, I learned the steps in the 10-point did not correspond to my window patterns. I had to use the set’s internal patterns which are much brighter than those from my Accupel signal generator. After a lot of work, I was only able to equal the result from the 2-point adjustment, not better it.
The gamma control is represented by a slider with 30 steps. Unfortunately, the control doesn’t have enough range to achieve a 2.2 curve. The best I could do was 2.03 on the lowest setting of -15. This was done with DynaLight and Dynamic Contrast turned off. Though this measurement is lower than standard, the picture did show decent depth of contrast. I found in watching actual content, a small improvement was made by turning on the DynaLight and leaving the Dynamic Contrast at zero.
My last stop was the WX800’s color management system. It worked correctly but unfortunately, the TV’s native gamut is slightly undersaturated, especially in the red primary. No CMS I’m aware of can expand a display’s native colors; only reduce them. I was able to align the secondaries perfectly using the six colors’ hue controls. The brightness controls also did a good job of setting the correct luminance values. The end result was decent and color looked excellent when viewing actual content. One cool feature I found was the RGB filter. This allows you to selectively shut off any primary color so you can adjust color and tint with a bar pattern. It’s like the blue only mode available on some displays but extended to red and green. It’s completely safe too. Not only will it prevent you from shutting off all three colors, when you exit the menu it turns all colors back on.
Is this the future of TV?
I should first note that I did all my viewing using the TVs built-in speakers. They did surprise me with their quality. I’m not going to tell you it sounded as good as a separate surround system but Toshiba’s TV audio is some of the best I’ve heard. The speakers are mounted along the bottom edge of the panel and there is a separate woofer for the lower frequencies. While it was far from furniture-rattling, the sound was more than adequate for casual watching. Most TV speakers are little better than an afterthought but Toshiba obviously took some care here.
Obviously the big story here is 3D so to prepare for this review, I purchased the entire catalog of 3D Blu-rays available from Amazon – all four of them. At the time of this writing, these are the only movies for sale with a few others shipping soon. Hopefully by the time I review another 3D-capable display there will be more choices. Fortunately, I got an even mix of CGI cartoons and live-action content. To play the discs, Toshiba provide me their latest 3D Blu-ray player, the BDX3000KU. I’ll be covering this model more in depth in a future review.
First up was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Since I had set 3D detection to Auto, the TV and player recognized the native content and switched into 3D mode. I fired up the glasses, cleared the warning screen which comes up every time you play a 3D disc and settled back. The first thing I noticed was significant ghosting (also called crosstalk) in background objects. Foreground elements looked sharp and well-defined but more distant elements had soft outlines as if there was a double-exposure. The image was also quite dim, at least half the brightness of a 2D one. The reduced light level was expected but the ghosting was not. I checked all the settings I could and nothing would make things any better. A quick menu gives the option of swapping the left and right shutter sync but this did not help. I finally tried the different picture modes and discovered Sports made a noticeable improvement. This mode raises the Backlight and Contrast settings to maximum. Even after lowering the color temperature and turning off all picture enhancements, it still looked better than the Movie 2 mode I had been using.
Monster House was a better example as most it is devoid of detailed backgrounds and busy imagery. The 3D effect was subtle but apparent. Again, the picture looked better in Sports mode due the increased brightness. It’s interesting that at the dawn of 3D in the home, the industry chose animation as its poster child for this new technology. It seems like the high contrast and sharp detail of these films actually makes the TV look worse.
Next I pulled out the two IMAX discs I had purchased, Grand Canyon Adventure and Wild Ocean. As live-action films, they display far more subtle gradations of light and color than a CGI based movie. Unfortunately I still saw ghosting any time a dark object was shown against a light background. Some very busy scenes like fishermen hauling in a net or a city flyover showed a large drop in perceived resolution thanks to the crosstalk. Undersea shots looked a little better thanks to the essentially monochromatic color palette. I never saw any moiré or any of the more typical video artifacts. Grand Canyon Adventure was the best 3D film I viewed. I did see crosstalk but it was much more minimal. Even detailed backgrounds were reasonably solid. The water effects were especially cool. I enjoyed the slow motion shots of water droplets floating in and out of the picture.
My conclusions regarding 3D mode: use Sports for maximum brightness and minimum ghosting. A carefully calibrated Movie mode is great for 2D content but 3D quality will suffer. Like any new technology, there will be growing pains. I’m sure there will be future improvements in both displays and 3D content production.
The WX800 performed much better with regular Blu-ray discs. As I said earlier, this is my first review of an LED display and I was impressed. While it’s no Pioneer Kuro plasma, contrast is far greater than that of even a premium LCD with a CCFL backlight. I did notice some uniformity issues around the edges of the screen in extremely dark scenes but this was more obvious in test patterns than in actual content.
Star Wars, Clone Wars is a high-quality animated series from Lucasfilm. I’ve used season one as test material in the past so the episodes I watched from season two had a familiar look. The Toshiba did a fantastic job of rendering some very engaging CGI animation. The name of the game here is bright, bold color and detailed texture, and the WX800 delivered beautifully. I didn’t miss 3D one bit as every object, background and alien face popped from the screen thanks to the set’s excellent contrast performance. The only flaw I noticed was below-average screen uniformity in the darkest scenes. I watched these episodes in total darkness which accentuated even the smallest flaw in black areas. I would suggest a low-level room light or even better, a backlight when watching this TV.
Zombieland is a somewhat satirical look at a post-apocalyptic world filled with classic Hollywood zombies that stagger about and eat human flesh. The color palette is somewhat cool and drab. The image never looked flat on the WX800. Flesh tones had a decent vibrancy despite a slightly under-saturated red primary. Dark scenes showed good shadow detail with fairly deep blacks and no signs of murkiness. Film grain was evident in this transfer but it was never distracting even with all noise reduction options turned off. Turning them on softened the picture slightly. Using Resolution+ produced some edge enhancement that I found unnecessary. I left that off as well.
I dropped in two other reference Blu-rays to complete my testing, Seabiscuit and I, Robot. Seabiscuit is loaded with lush warm colors both in indoor and outdoor shots. One scene in particular shows Red Pollard riding through a forest in autumn that is just breathtaking. The bright oranges and yellows of the turning leaves looked great on the Toshiba. I, Robot is my favorite live-action disc with which to test image clarity. Every scene is tack-sharp and fantastically detailed. The WX800 did a great job with this movie. Again I was impressed with how far LCD has progressed since the advent of LED technology.
Another feature that is showing up in pretty much everything from TVs to toasters is Internet apps. In the case of the WX800 that means service from Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, Blockbuster, YouTube and Yahoo Widgets.
For movie and radio services, you obviously need to sign up for an account first. You can do this right from the TV if you wish. I already have Netflix so all that was required was a code generated from my PC (I used my iPhone) and my streaming queue magically appeared on the screen. This is the pilot version of the Netflix app so if you want to add titles to your queue you have to do it on your computer. Hopefully a future update will add queue management and browsing functionality. Using a Cisco wireless adaptor to connect the WX800 to my home network, I was able to see 10 of 13 bars on the Netflix quality scale over my 802.11g router. Even with the high quality stream, video still showed noticeable judder unless I engaged the High setting of the Film Stabilization control. As is always the case with Netflix, content quality varies greatly. Some episodes of Dirty Jobs bordered on unwatchable due to macroblocking and general softness. Still, for an incredibly low monthly fee, you can have a large library of movies and TV shows on demand.
Yahoo widgets are another common feature on current-generation TVs. A default set is installed the first time you press the dedicated button on the remote. After that, you can browse a moderate-sized library for more apps. They’re all represented by icons that scroll across the bottom of the screen so you can quickly call up weather info or stocks or even play a game. It won’t replace a PS3 or an Xbox but I did enjoy a game of Sudoku. I also had a go with the YouTube interface. You can use the app or the classic version which looks like a web browser. I found the interface very clunky as I had to perform all navigation with the direction keys on the remote. When I clicked on a video, it took a long time to load and sometimes I only got audio with no image.
All Internet apps are accessed by pressing either the NetTV or Yahoo Widgets keys on the remote. I discovered once you call up any app or start a movie, you cannot access the TV’s menu if you want to change say the picture mode or aspect ratio. Just be sure to set the picture controls where you want them before starting any ‘Net programs.
On The Bench
Equipment used: EyeOne Pro spectrophotometer, CalMAN Professional 3.7 analysis software, Accupel HDG-3000 signal generator, Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player in Source Direct mode, Spears & Munsil Benchmark Blu-ray disc.
All the picture modes have the same measured color gamut. As you can see below, red is undersaturated and the secondaries are off, most notably magenta. The red luminance is too high which I suspect is intentional to prevent those tones from appearing washed out. The charts below represent the Movie 2 mode.
The gray scale in Movie 2 is quite cool with an average color temp of 8296 Kelvins. Gamma is also well off the mark at 1.51 average. This is affected by the DynaLight and Dynamic Contrast settings which further damage the gamma curve.
After calibration color is improved in the positions of secondary colors and the luminance measurement. Since the gamut is under-saturated, the CMS can’t help the primaries. You can only move color points in to the triangle, not out of it. Luminances are much better however. When the gamut is fairly close to spec like this one, getting the color brightness correct makes a more visible difference than moving the x and y values. I was also able to get the secondaries lined up thanks to the CMS and white balance adjustments.
Post-calibration grayscale is well below the threshold of visibility. I couldn’t get all the points below 1 Delta E, but this is very good performance for an LCD. I tried both the 2-point and 10-point grayscale control sets and found no difference in the final result. Gamma is flatter but even at the lowest setting; the best average number I could achieve was 2.03. The tracking is reasonably flat and the image looked quite contrasty despite the low number.
Video processing showed below-average results in my tests. The TV failed all video-mode source adaptive tests. Film-based material was a little better but it took over a second to lock on to any form of 3:2 cadence. To be fair, I consider video processing in a display to be largely irrelevant. With a good source device, you won’t need it. Motion-adaptive performance was OK with average rendering of the jaggies clips. Line twitter in the moving ship was minimal. The WX800 will process 24Hz signals in 10:10 pulldown mode when Film Stabilization is set to Standard. Using the higher settings for Film Stabilization caused very obvious artifacts in moving wedge patterns and real content no matter what the input signal. I recommend turning on the 240Hz ClearFrame option for all content. Leaving the TV in straight 60 Hz mode causes obvious judder and motion blur.
Contrast performance was excellent with a minimum black measurement of .01 foot-Lambert and a peak of 36.84 foot-Lamberts in the Movie 2 mode yielding an on/off contrast ratio of 3684:1. When DynaLight was turned on, the black level was immeasurable. DynaLight alone had a positive effect on image quality increasing dynamic range without crushing detail. Using the Dynamic Contrast did crush detail on any setting above zero. The highest measured light output was over 96 fL in the Sports mode. Like any LCD, you can really crank up the lumens when using the TV in a brightly-lit room. White field uniformity was excellent with no visible color shifts anywhere on the screen. Darker full-field patterns revealed hot spots in the upper half of the panel. It was especially noticeable in the corners. With a small amount of room light, this flaw became almost invisible. I recommend this TV not be watched in total darkness. A backlight of around 4 foot-Lamberts would be best.
As a regular TV, the WX800 performs extremely well. Color accuracy is not perfect but pretty good out-of-the-box and much better with calibration. Contrast is excellent and really shows how far LCDs have come in just the last two years. While plasma still has a slight edge in black levels, this is a TV with large dynamic range and a three-dimensional quality – and that’s without the glasses. I’m still waiting to be wowed by 3D because a properly designed and calibrated display looks better to me than any 3D presentation – and that includes the theater.
Since this is my first 3D TV review, I have no frame of reference to judge 3D performance. The added effect didn’t really impress me any more than a good 2D display with accurate color and good contrast. The ghosting I observed was a definite distraction. I didn’t really experience fatigue but I don’t think I could wear those glasses for more than two hours at a stretch. Even if there were more content to watch, I won’t be rushing out to update my movie collection just to have 3D. I also don’t think it’s worth the added expense. The investment is sizeable once you factor in a new display, glasses, a new Blu-ray player and a new receiver or pre-pro. Right now, 3D ranks low on my “gotta have it” scale.
This TV presents a bit of a dilemma. On one hand it’s an excellent display with solid contrast, accurate color and a rich set of convenience features. Unfortunately its main draw, 3D support, falls short of expectations. I’m sure Toshiba and every other manufacturer will improve their technology in coming generations. And no doubt, Hollywood, having invested tremendously in the creation of 3D content, will add value to their offerings. It’s tough to form an opinion based on my observations of one television but what I’m seeing so far tells me, “it’s early yet.”