With a decent 46-inch 120Hz LED-backlit display, a pretty good media player, and support for Yahoo Widgets, Netflix, Vudu, and a few other top-tier commercial on-demand Web services, the Toshiba 46SL417U enters the midsize connected-HDTV fray in style. But the field is tough these days, and the 46SL417U faces stiff competition from highly rated models (some with 3D support, which this set lacks) at a similar or somewhat lower price.
It’s not so much that this set has any major problems. It’s just that the 46SL417U has a slew of design annoyances, and while nothing in our juried image-quality tests raised a huge red flag, nothing in the results made this HDTV particularly compelling, either. It scored pretty much straight down the middle, earning average ratings of Good for contrast, color tones, and handling of motion and detail. Judges generally liked the way it handled our recorded high-def video clips, but a few found its DVD and Blu-ray videos a tad oversaturated, and they remarked on the loss of detail in a test clip from the Blu-ray version of The Dark Knight. And while it aced our motion benchmarks, we saw considerable stuttering in our diagonal-panning test.
The 46SL417U is very energy efficient: In our tests it consumed 63.6 watts per hour when turned on, and registered no noticeable consumption when powered down, earning a green score of 87 percent, which we rate as Very Good.
With a shiny black bezel and pedestal, the set’s design is fairly typical, although the top edge of the bezel is significantly wider than that of most current sets. For some reason Toshiba placed a turquoise blue Energy Star sticker on the lower-left corner of the bezel, and it’s a bit distracting there.
Ports sit along two sides of a recessed area in the back, facing either down or sideways, a design intended to facilitate cable management for wall-mounted panels. However, the arrangement can also make it difficult to line up and insert a thick cable, especially with the downward-facing ports, which include coax (for cable or antenna), ethernet, digital audio out, PC (RGB) video and audio inputs (the latter can double as a component-video or DVI-audio input), and an HDMI port.
The side-facing lineup, from the top, includes two USB ports; one component-video input (requiring use of an included adapter cable); two shared audio/composite-video inputs, which also use provided adapter cables (you choose the appropriate AV source—component audio, composite AV, or DVI audio via one of the HDMI ports—in the set’s software menu); an analog stereo-audio output; and three HDMI ports.
Obviously the use of adapter cables for component and composite hookups can be confusing, especially since you also have to take the extra step of specifying the input type through the HDTV’s software menu, but it is a way to help minimize cable clutter if you want to mount the 46SL417U on a wall. Toshiba provides a helpful printed manual, along with a small but useful quick-setup sheet showing how to connect the various cables.
A fairly standard first-time wizard guides you through the usual setup routine in which you specify language, time zone and Daylight Savings Time status, location (home versus store), and the video source for the coax cable (cable TV versus antenna), after which the channel-scanning process starts.
The first-time wizard does not address image quality or network setup, however. For those items, you must go into the on-screen menu using the 46SL417U’s remote—a long, snazzy-looking curved affair on which most of the buttons are set into a shiny black surface slapped on top of a silvery base that sticks out at the bottom. Unfortunately, the remote suffers from several usability issues: Some buttons, including the color-coded context-sensitive buttons (a fixture on most advanced remotes), are way too tiny; the remote has no backlight; and the button for changing inputs isn’t conveniently located.
The 46SL417U’s remote can control up to three additional devices via buttons labeled Cable/Satellite, DVD/BD (Blu-ray), and Auxiliary. By default, the first two buttons are programmed to control, respectively, a Toshiba satellite dish and a Toshiba Blu-ray Disc player, while the last button is set to control an Onkyo home theater audio system. You can reprogram all of the buttons to control other devices.
Toshiba’s menu system is well organized and easy to follow, with five top-level categories (Network, Media Player, Wallpaper, Timer, and Settings). The largest menu item, Settings, contains submenus for Picture, Sound, Applications, and Preferences (a catchall that leads to parental controls, the aforementioned shared port settings, setup for Netflix and Vudu, channel-browser editing, and so forth).
The Picture menu provides a fair number of user controls for image quality, starting with seven presets: sports, standard, two movie settings, game, PC, and something called AutoView, which is supposed to adjust brightness, contrast, and the like based on content and ambient-lighting conditions. Toshiba’s on-screen menus don’t provide any explanations for these controls and other settings (how the two movie settings differ, for example), but the HDTV does do something that may be even more helpful: It moves the menu item to the bottom of the screen and lets you see what the setting does to the image.
Beyond basic image controls, Toshiba provides two additional submenus for more fine-tuning. Under Advanced, you get a slew of options including an edge enhancer, dynamic contrast adjustment, a couple of settings for improving black tones, a couple of controls to address motion artifacts, noise adjustment, backlighting controls (including one based on ambient-light conditions), and color-adjustment controls.
The Expert settings, meanwhile, include a test pattern (which some owners might prefer to use instead of TV video when making other adjustments), a fairly sophisticated set of controls for white balance (including the ability to copy your final settings to all inputs), and color-temperature controls. You’ll notice, however, that many picture controls are grayed out for certain inputs or if certain presets are in use.
The set’s audio controls are fairly basic, although they do give you a volume leveler that addresses the problem of some content (ads, for example) playing at much higher volume than other content. The 46SL417U has no specific control for simulated surround sound, and although the manual says that two other controls labeled Voice Enhancement and Dynamic Bass Boost accomplish the same effect, I was generally unimpressed by the audio that the set’s integrated 10-watt stereo speakers produced. The sound just didn’t seem loud or immersive, even when turned up to full volume.
Network setup is fairly easy. In addition to its ethernet port, the 46SL417U has built-in support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi networks. (A wired connection is best, but if that’s not possible, I strongly recommend 5GHz Wi-Fi for use with Web services since the more heavily used 2.4GHz band suffers from limited bandwidth; in my tests of this HDTV, YouTube videos were pretty much unplayable over 2.4GHz Wi-Fi.)
The 46SL417U’s support for Web media isn’t the most extensive I’ve seen, but it does hit the high points, with support for Blockbuster, Cinema Now, Netflix, Pandora, Vudu (HD movies on demand), YouTube, and other assorted services via the ubiquitous Yahoo Widgets. Additionally, the set lets you play music, view videos, and watch still images, stored either on a USB flash drive or on a DLNA server on your home network. File-format support for music and video is pretty good; interestingly, the set supports more formats for playback from a DLNA server than from a USB thumb drive (for example, you can play a Windows Media video from a server but not a thumb drive). As for still images, the HDTV supports only .jpg files, but you can set up a slideshow with background music.
Macworld’s buying advice
Overall, the Toshiba 46SL417U 46-inch HDTV shapes up as a decent midrange set, with a midrange price, good (but not great) image quality, and satisfactory (but not outstanding) Web and media-player features. It’s the kind of HDTV you may want to snap up if you encounter a good sale; otherwise, you’ll want to look closely at competitors that might offer superior image quality, better design, or more features at a similar price.