If you crave having the latest gadgetry built into your television, 2012 is a pretty good year. No, Toshiba's flagship L7200U LED doesn't have the gesture-controlled futurism of Samsung or the voice-activated fun of LG, but it does boast a couple of unique features of its own: a built-in program guide, the ability to control a cable box, and an included nearly-full-size QWERTY keyboard. Of the three only the keyboard proved useful in practice, but when paired with a capable Web browser it ups the L7200U's appeal for gizmo-inclined buyers.
For the rest of us, however, the L7200U is just not a very good value. Despite a promising spec sheet that includes local dimming, the L7200U exhibited subpar overall picture quality. Couple that with a flagship price and you end up paying way too much for features of questionable worth on a TV.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Toshiba 55L7200U, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. The two have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
The L7200 certainly looks the part of a high-end TV, with subtle styling and classy touches like metallic edging, a glass-topped swivel stand, and a gentle curve along the bottom edge below the dark-gray accent strip. The top and sides of the bezel are extremely slim, if not quite in the same category as Samsung's and LG's flagship LEDs, but the visual effect is spoiled somewhat by the thicker bottom. I liked the single sheet of glass across both screen and bezel, giving the L7200 an even sleeker look.
The remote does little to hold up its end of the design effort. Clad in reflective black and matte silver it looks attractive enough, but it's a pain to actually use. The central "OK" key is ringed by a confusing constellation of similarly sized buttons that was difficult to navigate by feel. The remainder of the keys are indifferently organized and there are simply too many of them. Since I was constantly having to look before I pressed, I did appreciate that the buttons were backlit, and as always the dedicated Netflix key is welcome.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit with local dimming|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Passive||3D glasses included||4 pair|
|Refresh rate(s)||240Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Built-in electronic program guide (EPG) with cable/satellite box control; Includes wireless QWERTY keyboard|
The L7200U comes loaded. From a picture quality standpoint the most notable feature is local dimming of the its LED backlight. Yes, those edge-lit areas of the screen dim in large, imprecise swaths compared with the dimmers that have full-array backlights, but some local dimming is better than none in my experience since it usually improves black-level performance.
From an accessories standpoint the honor goes to the included QWERTY keyboard. Compact yet plenty big enough to type on, the keyboard connects sans wire to the TV via a simple USB dongle, and worked flawlessly in my testing. I do wish it had more dedicated keys for TV-specific functions, but for Web browsing and other data-intensive chores it sure beats using the remote.
Like many passive 3D TVs this year, the L7200 includes a four-pack of glasses. Toshiba also makes a 10-pack for around $50 and most third-party circular polarized glasses, such as those used in movie theaters, should work too. (The only maker of active-3D TVs this year that provides glasses is Samsung, which throws in at least two pairs with every 3D set.) Check out our 3D TV Buying guide and comparison of active and passive 3D for more.
Although the L7200 has built-in Wi-Fi I was unable to get it to work with the SMC Barricade router in our lab, so I connected via Ethernet. I wouldn't be surprised if other routers worked fine, but it's worth noting that the Barricade has worked flawlessly with numerous other Wi-Fi devices.
Control your cable box on your TV
EPG and cable box control: The Toshiba is also one of the only TVs to include a built-in electronic program guide (EPG) and cable/satellite box control. Powered by Rovi, the guide downloads and displays a grid of programming just like your cable or satellite box. Selecting a currently airing program from the TV's grid sends a signal to the box to change the channel. Depending on how good your box's guide is, you might find the Rovi guide an improvement.
The trade-offs are significant, though: the TV must change the channels on your cable box via an IR blaster, which delays the process slightly. Worse, it can't schedule or play back a DVR recording or let you watch on-demand -- both common and important functions of today's set-top boxes. That's why the feature is likely to go unused by most people, and incidentally why I believe no other TV maker bothers.
The guide's design, with its black background, favorite channel lists, ability to weed out unwanted channels, and easy categorization, may be better than the one on your box, although I didn't like it as much as DirecTV's guide or especially Verizon Fios'. I set up the TV to control my DirecTV DVR via the Toshiba remote and it worked well for the basics, but again lack of DVR functionality was a deal-killer. My setup ended up using the DVR's guide, however, not Rovi's, and I couldn't figure out how to map the remote's Guide button to call up the Rovi guide. I also couldn't get the guide to display program data on two separate occasions, despite leaving it plugged in overnight. The e-manual was no help, so at that point I gave up. Suffice it to say this feature seems too limited to be worthwhile, and useful only if you're completely unhappy with your box's EPG and don't need DVR functionality.
The blaster is mainly designed for cable or satellite boxes in conjunction with the EPG, but it can also control devices like Blu-ray/DVD players (not all that useful since most modern disc players can be controlled via HDMI) and VCRs. There's also an Audio option but it seems limited; when I tried to find my Denon receiver the codes were missing. As with most such schemes the idea is better than the execution. Finding and setting up devices takes a while and you don't get nearly the same range of control found on a standard universal remote.
Smart TV: The look and feel of Toshiba's smart TV suite, dubbed ePortal, has been updated on the L7200 compared with last year, but app selection is still sparse. It's missing Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus, as well as any audio apps of note like Pandora or Mog. Miscellaneous apps come courtesy of Vudu Apps, where Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, and Flickr are the standouts. Check out our comparison for more.
ePortal does offer a few notable extras. There's a Search All function said to incorporate results from the EPG, the Internet, and certain apps, but it didn't work well in my experience, returning too many blank results. There's also a calendar where you can enter events and a Messages center that lets you write notes, both vying for the title of "most useless on a TV."
The Web browser is better than many such TV browsers, with decent load times and not too many rendering errors. I got a rash of security warnings at first but after I disabled those in the settings menu, it wasn't an issue. The combination of quick response times and Wi-Fi keyboard made all the difference, allowing me to easily jump around Web pages and type searches and URLs. Some of the interface choices, such as the need to press the Blue key (FN+F4 on the keyboard) instead of "Enter/OK" to confirm an entry, were mystifying, but on the whole I generally did not hate using the browser on this TV. Toshiba tells me an upcoming firmware update will allow Flash sites to work on the browser.
Toshiba offers a TV control app for smartphones and tablets, as well as a couple of other apps: Send & Play (sends links and content to the TV's browser) and a MediaGuide app that supposedly allows control of the EPG and channel changes. I didn't test any of these, and Send & Play is not yet available at the Google Play Store.