Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified. Click here for more information.
As LCD and plasma vie for popularity and picture quality bragging rights, one perceived weakness of the LCD camp has provided a reason for TV makers to charge more for step-up models: image blurring. Higher refresh rates like 120Hz and now 240Hz aim to clean up blurring with newfangled technology, and Toshiba's ZV650U series is one of the least-expensive sets available with a 240Hz effect. The company does use different technology to fight blurring than true 240Hz HDTV, and Toshiba is careful to call it a "240Hz effect," but anti-blurring effects are similar. Mind you, in most normal program material we find it nearly impossible to appreciate the antiblurring effect of higher refresh rates, but some people are really bummed by blurring, and for them the new LCDs--or perhaps the nearly blur-free images produced by plasmas--hold appeal. Unfortunately for this particular Toshiba, high-tech-sounding processing can't overcome lighter black levels and a few other picture-quality foibles. On the other hand, for those dead set on LCD who don't mind paying a bit extra for a 240Hz effect, the relatively low price of the Toshiba ZV650U series makes it worth considering.
Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch Toshiba 47ZV650U but this review also applies to the 42-inch Toshiba 42ZV650U and the 55-inch Toshiba 55ZV650U. All three sizes share identical features and specifications.
Toshiba deserves credit for bucking the trend of flat-panel TV frames composed entirely of glossy black. Instead, the frame around the screen of the ZV650U series is edged in silver metal, which borders a silver background that fades tastefully to black. If you look closely you'll see that the black fade is suspended above the silver background on a transparent sheet, and the silver is composed of tiny squares that curve from the extreme edge of the panel inward. It's a subtly complex design that results in an attractive, unusual look that doesn't detract one whit from the picture. The company tops, er, bottoms the package with a matching swivel stand.
The black and silver theme extends to the remote, and we mostly liked its design. The big clicker has quite a few buttons but makes good use of size and placement differentiation to allow relatively easy operation by feel alone. On the downside, it's not illuminated and small-handed people might have trouble reaching the important picture mode and size keys at the bottom of the remote, which should be moved higher at the expense of the transport keys. The Toshiba remote can control three other pieces of gear.
The company's menu system has improved from last year, with better-organized icons and a simpler layout. We liked the easy-to-read color scheme, but there are still some problems. The menu buries too many options toward the bottom, exposing too few to view, and we missed having explanatory text for each selection.
The principal step-up of the 650U series is the 240Hz effect. The company's literature calls it "ClearScan 240," which "combines 120 frames per second with new advanced backlight scanning systems to create a 240Hz effect." Since most sources are at 60 frames per second, Toshiba's method, also used by Vizio and LG, doubles each frame to get to 120 like a standard 120Hz LCD, while flashing the backlight extremely quickly--much faster than human vision can perceive--to achieve further reduction in blurring. Sony and Samsung, the other two players in the 240Hz game, actually quadruple the original frames to get to 240, and so deserve the "true 240Hz" designation. Toshiba, meanwhile, deserves credit for being careful to call its technology a "240Hz effect" rather than true 240Hz, but we're pretty sure the distinction will be lost on many consumers. (Editors' note May 20, 2009: Actually, it was subtle enough to be lost on us too. This review originally omitted the word "effect" in describing the technology.)
Like most other LCD TV makers' faster refresh sets, Toshiba's ZV650U series also incorporates dejudder processing, called "Film Stabilization" on the menu. The company also makes a big deal out of its Resolution+ processing, which applies to standard-def sources. See the Performance section for details.
Picture adjustments are extensive on the ZV650U series. The set offers five adjustable picture modes and a sixth, called "AutoView," that automatically adjusts certain parameters (like Contrast) according to its own logic, based on ambient lighting and picture content. Each of the other modes is independent per input.
Moving beyond the basics, Toshiba included a big bag of tweaks. Most are quite useful, such as a 31-position gamma slider that allows a great deal of fine-tuning, an extensive color management system, and the ability to lock your settings. We also loved the presence of red, green, and blue filters, which allow you to tweak color and tint, and as always we appreciated the full color temperature controls (a first for Toshiba)--although we question the utility of 10 color temperature presets, when most sets get by fine with three or four. A few other less-useful settings include the "Control Visualization" window that displays a brightness vs. "number of pixels" graph; and the oodles of automatic adjustments, including dynamic contrast, dynamic backlight (called Dynalight), and the automatic room lighting sensor, which is also adjustable.
The ZV650U has an ample five aspect ratio choices with high-definition sources. We recommend using the "Native" mode for 1080i and 1080p sources, since that mode scales the incoming pixels to the screen without introducing overscan.
While the Toshiba lacks picture-in-picture, it does offer a media reader function that can handle digital photos and music stored on USB sticks or SD cards (the card reader only handles photos). You won't find an Ethernet jack, DLNA capability, or any interactive doo-dads on this set, although fans of Divx will appreciate that the USB reader can also handle videos in that format (we didn't test this feature).
Toshiba equipped the ZV650U with plenty of connectivity. The back panel starts with three HDMI inputs, adding two component-video, one VGA-style PC (1,280x1,024 maximum resolution), and one AV input with composite and S-Video, along with digital and analog audio outputs. The side panel sports a fourth HDMI, another AV input with composite video, and USB and SD card slots.
Picture quality on the ZV650U was solid, albeit not up to the standards of the best flat-panel LCDs we've tested this year. The TV's main strength was color accuracy, thanks in part to those extensive adjustments, while black level performance was a major weakness. As usual, Toshiba's 240Hz effect didn't contribute significantly one way or the other to the TV's overall performance.