Introduction to the Toshiba 55SL417U 55″ Edge Lit LED LCD HDTV
With all the hoopla surrounding 3D, the other big innovation in HDTVs has been largely forgotten – LED backlighting. For an image-quality geek like me though, this is a far more significant advance in technology. LCD panels can now play in the same black-level arena as plasma TVs. In some cases, they even exceed. As anyone schooled in imaging science will tell you, dynamic range is the single most important factor in perceived image quality. The greater the distance from minimum black to maximum white, the deeper and punchier the picture. Since the upper limit is easy to achieve – most LCDs can produce far more light than is needed – the quest for blacker blacks becomes the new frontier.
Pioneer set a standard with its ninth-generation Kuro plasmas that has yet to be equaled. Sadly, they are no longer available. But LCD, the king of flat panel sales, is getting ever-closer to that mark. With the advent of LED backlighting, the gap is now narrower than ever before.
While zone-dimming sets are still the top performers in the black-level category, edge-lit designs like the Toshiba 55SL417U reviewed here do a superb job with contrast at a much lower price point. It wasn’t long ago a premium 46-inch LCD sold for nearly $5000. Toshiba has come in with a superb value in a 55-inch panel that retails for only $1,499.99. Did they have to cut corners to achieve this? In a word – no. As I measured and watched this HDTV, I was continually impressed by its image quality. It offers tremendous performance for the money and competes favorably with displays costing significantly more.
Specifications of the Toshiba 55SL417U 55″ Edge Lit LED LCD HDTV
- Design: Edge Lit LED HDTV
- Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080
- Maximum Refresh Rate: 120 Hz
- Screen Size: 55″ Diagonal
- Input Signal Compatibility: 480i/p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p24/60Hz
- Display Formats: 4:3, Full, TheaterWide 1-3, Native (1:1 pixel)
- Audio: 10 watts x 2, Optical Digital Output (Dolby Digital, 2-channel PCM)
- Inputs: 4 HDMI (1.4), 1 Component, 15-pin VGA, 2 USB, 1 Ethernet
- Internet Apps: Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, Blockbuster, Pandora, YouTube, Yahoo Widgets
- Power Consumption: 140 Watts in Use, 40 Watts in Standby
- Dimensions: 33″ H x 49.8″ W x 1.25″ D
- Weight: 67.2 Pounds
- MSRP: $1,499.99 ($1,299.99 from Toshiba Direct)
- SECRETS Tags: HDTVs, 1080p, LED
Design of the Toshiba 55SL417U 55″ Edge Lit LED LCD HDTV
Though not the absolutely thinnest panel out there; the SL417U is still pretty slender. The front bezel is of average width and finished in a nice piano black. This is my favorite kind of screen surround because it literally disappears whether the TV is on or off. A chrome strip adorns the sides and top of the panel and is not visible from the front. There are no mechanical buttons anywhere on the panel. You have to look closely to find the power and other controls on the lower right. They are all touch-sensitive; and I do mean sensitive. I barely had to make contact to activate them. The TV ships with a separate base which mimics the design of the panel with a piano black finish and chrome accents. The screen itself does a fairly good job of rejecting room reflections being finished with a semi-gloss coating.
Inputs are grouped around the left side of the panel and face either downwards or sideways. The jack panel is so thin, special connectors are needed for the analog inputs. These are all provided in the box. HDMI inputs number four and are version 1.4-compliant. While this is not a 3DTV, 1.4 does give you the audio-return feature. There are also two composite and one component input. A PC connector with audio is provided along with two USB ports, a LAN port and an RG6-type antenna terminal. The internal tuner is ATSC and QAM-capable so you can receive over-the-air signals or tune in non-encrypted cable-TV channels. If you are unable to run an Ethernet cable to your entertainment center, not to worry, the Toshiba includes 802.11n-compatible WiFi. No additional adapter is required.
The remote is the usual wand-type with the ability to control other devices. It is not backlit which I always consider to be a flaw. One nice feature is the direct-access buttons for Netflix and Yahoo widgets. These will likely be often-used features. Starting at the top we have power toggle and Game and Freeze buttons. The Game mode shuts off video processing and puts the TV in a bright picture mode. Moving down there are four mode buttons to control additional components followed by a numeric keypad. Next are three dedicated buttons for Netflix, Yahoo and other ‘Net apps along with an Info key. In the center are the navigation keys, and then transport keys which you will need for YouTube and other streaming apps as well as your Blu-ray or DVD player. At the bottom are the four colored keys for BD-Live interaction or cable box control as well as aspect ratio control, a sleep button and a subtitle toggle.
Setup of the Toshiba 55SL417U 55″ Edge Lit LED LCD HDTV
After attaching the base, I set the panel up on my usual bench and set about exploring the menu system. The first order of business was to connect to my home network and download the latest firmware update. This took only a few minutes. Even without a source connected, you can still access the Internet apps. Besides a large collection of Yahoo widgets, Toshiba includes Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, CinemaNow, Blockbuster and Pandora. The remote even has a dedicated Netflix key and I can’t help but wonder how much Netflix paid for that! The interface is fairly intuitive and I was able to check out the apps easily. There is only an on-screen keyboard which gets old real fast but this is typical of ‘Net-abled TVs.
I like to dive right into the calibration with any new TV so I quickly found what I needed in the Picture menu. In addition to the usual Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint and Sharpness controls, there is white balance, two noise reduction options, and a color management system. You can also move the gamma curve with a slider and adjust dynamic contrast features. And of course, there is a frame interpolation option called Film Stabilization. I selected the Movie 2 setting which is the brightest of the accurate picture modes. Sports, Game, Standard and AutoView are too far from correct to be of use if accuracy is your goal.
Great color can be achieved with the Toshiba’s two-point white balance controls and color management system. The CMS is not fully functional in that you can’t move the color points enough to get perfect numbers but you can adjust the luminance of each color which is more important to perceived image quality. The default gamut is pretty close to accurate anyway. If you don’t have calibration instruments, the SL417U has a color-gating feature called RGB Filter which lets you turn off individual primaries to adjust the Color and Tint controls. This is something I wish every display would include. You can use just the luminance controls in the CMS with this feature if you want to dial in excellent color.
I also made sure to turn off things like DynaLight and Dynamic Contrast. These settings always play havoc with gamma and push the contrast to the point of crushing detail. Another interesting feature I had to disable was Backlight Adjustment Pro. This setting adjusts the backlight according to the ambient light level using a front-mounted sensor. While I applaud Toshiba for giving the user a lot of control over this option, it still negatively affects image accuracy. It is always better to control the light in your room rather than letting the display adjust itself.
After a no-surprises calibration, I was able to achieve a great result as you’ll see in the benchmark section. You can find all the details of my measurements there. The only real bump I encountered was initially, the TV would not pass above-white or below-black signals. I updated the firmware and even made a trip to the service menu to try and correct this to no avail. Then, literally a day before I planned to pack up the set and return it, a new firmware update fixed the problem. In the user menu, you’ll need to go to Preferences – AV Connection – HDMI Settings and set RGB Range to Full. You’ll also need a source that outputs RGB Video, component formats will still clip. Finally, the Brightness control should be lowered about eight clicks to set the proper black level.
Moving on in the menu system, there are options for Audio and Networking. The SL417U includes Dolby Dynamic Range Compression and Audyssey Dynamic Volume. Unfortunately, the sound is so anemic that none of these options have much effect. You can even turn on a surround sound simulation but I don’t recommend it.
The Networking section is the place to go to connect the TV to a home network. It’s always best to run a cable if you can, but the built-in WiFi works just fine. After keying in the password, I was up and running through my trusty Cisco E3000 802.11n router. You can download firmware updates and access all the included apps without fuss. Performance was quite snappy for me although I have very fast Internet access. I have recorded speeds of over 18mb/s over my wireless network.
It is also possible to pull in content from USB devices through the two included ports. Movie, sound and picture files in various formats are supported through a bundled media player app. You can also access files from any DLNA-compliant devices on your network. One annoyance I discovered; when using any apps or streaming software on the SL417U, you can only access the Quick Menu which lets you change things like the picture mode. If you want to tweak other settings, you’ll have to exit the app first.
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.
The Toshiba 55SL417U 55″ Edge Lit LED LCD HDTV 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.
Color is quite good out of the box with only small deviations from the Rec 709 standard. While the color points are pretty close, luminance is more visibly off, which makes a greater difference in perceived color accuracy. Since some colors are too bright and some not bright enough, the Color control alone won’t help the situation.
Pre-calibration grayscale is not too bad with only slightly visible errors on the TVs warmest color temp setting. In fact, it compares favorably with many THX-certified displays I’ve measured. Gamma is a bit dark at the low end which affects shadow detail and mid-tones up to about 50-percent brightness.
After adjusting both white balance and the color management system, color is noticeably better. The CMS doesn’t let you move the primaries but I was able to get luminance almost perfect. Secondaries are also near-perfect.
When I can’t get a display’s color points lined up perfectly, I re-calculate the gamut compensating for the inaccurate primaries to check the positions of the secondaries. As expected, they line up perfectly on the SL417U.
Grayscale turned out very well. In fact, it’s some of the best tracking I’ve seen from any LCD display. Even though Toshiba only offers a two-point white balance adjustment, the results show a 10-point system is unnecessary. Gamma flattened out a little to a much better average of 2.3 with only slight darkening in the lower end of the luminance scale.
If you want to use the DynaLight control to activate the LED dimming feature, you will affect the gamma performance negatively. While it doesn’t skew the curve wildly like some displays, it will crush detail at the low end. It also lowers overall light output by around 50-percent. The set has excellent contrast without this feature so I recommend leaving it off.
Video processing was mostly excellent except for the failure in the above-white and below-black tests. If you use a source that outputs RGB Video the full-range signal will be displayed if you set RGB Range to Full. The TV also failed the 2:2 pulldown test but this is quite common and won’t impact picture quality.
Conclusions About the Toshiba 55SL417U 55″ Edge Lit LED LCD HDTV
- Calibration performance (with dimming off)
- Video processing performance
- Sharp picture
- Internet apps
- Streaming quality
The Not So Good
- Audio quality
- Luma signal clipping with some sources
- Average noise reduction
- Dimming feature lowers light output too much
In my opinion, Toshiba has delivered a winning TV here. The price more than makes up for the few flaws I encountered. Image quality and calibration performance are on par with more expensive TVs, and the feature set is quite full. Literally, the only thing you’re giving up is 3D capability. With streamed content improving all the time, you could literally connect nothing besides a network cable to this TV to access thousands of hours of content. If you use the built-in WiFi, you only need to plug in the power! At $1499, it’s hard not to recommend the 55SL417U.