At a Glance
The Toshiba 47ZV650U features solid picture quality, but it could be easier to use.
The Toshiba the Toshiba 47ZV650U ($1300, as of 09/20/09) is a pleasant-looking HDTV that delivers a more than acceptable viewing experience, but its rough edges need smoothing, and it's short on extras.
In the PC World Labs' tests, the 47ZV650U put up slightly above average scores in picture quality. Color saturation is a weak point for the 47ZV650U. One judge complained that a scene in the Phantom of the Opera DVD looked murky. Another noted that a scene from The Dark Knight Blu-ray Disc looked hazy, and complained about the "washed out" skin tones in a 720p Wheel of Fortune clip. Like some of our other judges, I found the images dull, flat, and uninteresting--the result of a slight lack of color saturation. But I liked how it handled 720p content, giving it high marks in the clips at that resolution.
The 47ZV650U did moderately well in four out of five benchmark tests. Instead of actual movie and television content, the benchmarks use specially designed moving and still images intended to catch certain problems common in HDTVs. But this Toshiba unit performed miserably in the diagonal panning test, vibrating the image violently where it should have been moving smoothly. While you're not likely to see such extreme shaking when viewing normal content (the test was designed to push a TV's limits), it does suggest that occasional moving camera shots could be problematic.
Overall, the 47ZV650U performed reasonably well in our two motion tests, which are designed to show how well an HDTV can handle moving objects; its motion handling, however, was the weakest among the 240Hz sets we've tested. This model did perform well--though not exceptionally so--in our horizontal panning test, but it struggled some on our diagonal panning test, displaying significant motion judder and stuttering in place of a smooth pan.
But for a 47-inch HDTV that you can buy for only $1300, the images are more than acceptable. In our most recent round of testing, only one other set of comparable size--the Samsung LN46B750--had better image quality scores, and that HDTV sells in the neighborhood of $1700.
You can crank up the sound to ear-shattering levels, which is good even if you don't want to, because it means that the speakers can handle a lot of power--and you'll be able to bump up the volume when necessary. At 60 percent (still loud enough to anger the neighbors), the 47ZV650U sounded very good, without exhibiting any distortion. The simulated surround wouldn't fool anyone into thinking that it's a true surround-sound system, but it created an immersive feeling. The audio, though, lacked the dynamic range needed to give a sudden loud organ blast the intended punch. But you should never depend on a TV's built-in speakers if you want the full, movie-going audio experience; that's what surround receivers and speakers are for.
Toshiba placed most of the inputs on the back, way over to the right edge for easy access. The rest are located on the side, for even easier access. Strangely, the coaxial cable connector is in a recessed area on the back and faces down, making it needlessly difficult to attach your antenna or cable connection.
When you turn on the 47ZV650U for the first time, a wizard helps you with the setup; it'll ask if you'll be using the TV at home or in a store (and optimize the settings accordingly) and proceed to scan for channels.
The main on-screen menu is legible but unattractive. But the bigger problem is that the menus are not always intuitive or informative. You move back up the menu layers with the remote's "channel return" button, rather than the more obvious and easier-to-hit right-arrow button. And when a menu item offers multiple options (such as the four preset video modes), the 47ZV650U's menu displays only one of them at a time.
The menu also lacks descriptions of the choices, which are really needed in the Advanced Picture Settings submenu. How do you adjust ColorMaster if you don't know what it means? You could check the manual, but that only says that ColorMaster "allows you to adjust standard colors."
The remote control is just short of excellent. It's big and bulky, but that allows it to have large, well-placed buttons that are almost all easy to press. The most important ones--Volume, Channel, the menu buttons, and the four-way directional keypad used to select menu options--are particularly well-placed and easy to identify by touch (once you learn them). You can program the remote. The only flaw? Despite the buttons' translucent appearance, this remote isn't backlit, making buttons more difficult to find in the dark.
Many HDTVs these days come with either a USB port or an SD Card slot for home multimedia, but the 47ZV650U is one of the rare models that offer both. You can plug in a USB flash drive carrying photos copied from your PC, or simply slip in the card from your camera. The photo viewing feature works fine, although the slideshow lacked options like transitions. Although the 47ZV650U claims to handle music and videos through USB (but not SD), we couldn't get this to work. As of this writing Toshiba has yet to give us an explanation as to why we may have encountered this issue.
This Energy Star 3.0-compliant HDTV uses about 103 watts when turned on, according to the PC World Labs. That's exceptionally good for a 47-inch set. It burns 0.4 watt when off.
Most of this TV's features are explained in the 81-page English manual, but the manual is dense with text, and intimidating. The set has no separate quick-setup guide, and the manual isn't available as a PDF online.
The Toshiba 47ZV650U is a solid HDTV all around, though not exceptional. But for a 47-incher you can buy for $1300, it's a worthy contender.