The Toshiba 40L3400U (MSRP $499.99, online $399.99) is one of 2014's clear-cut options if you don't want to take out a bank loan just to watch a little prime time. On paper, this 40-inch display offers Full HD (1080p) resolution, smart connectivity, and 120 Hz motion.

In real life, however, you won't find perfect performance here—nor does it seem fair to call this a "smart" TV. Getting connected to the internet can be tricky due to software issues, and there are only three apps—Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora—with no browser, app store, games, or any of the other features we've come to expect from modern smart TVs.

And even if you're a sale shopper who doesn't care one iota about the smart features, there are still better performers out there for the same price. Notable uniformity problems and a narrow viewing angle mean the 40L3400U is a bad choice for pure performance, especially when you could buy Vizio's 40-inch E-Series for the exact same price.

It only looks expensive at the right distance.

If there's one awesome thing about technology, it's that new advances eventually make yesterday's "premium" affordable to everyone. The 40L3400U is a good example of that—the thin panel, minimal stand, and narrow bezels around the screen make it look like more expensive than it is.

The L3400U looks more expensive than it is.

In that vein, Toshiba dresses this display in silver trim that runs along the bottom of the panel, matching the stand. It looks good at a distance, but feels cheap up close. On the plus side, the 40L3400U is very light and easy to move around.

Don't expect a bunch of fancy extras like 3D glasses or an IR blaster, though. All you get in the box is a simple remote control—it works, but it won't impress anyone at parties.

You'll find on-set controls for power, volume, channel, and input selection on the TV's left side, above a solo USB input. More connectivity options are on the back of the TV, and include three HDMI inputs, a shared composite/component cluster, digital audio out, LAN (ethernet) in, and a coaxial jack for cable or antenna.

Try not to watch in the dark.

If there's one reason this smartly-dressed display is more "affordable" than the competition, it's because the panel is cheap—plain and simple.

Uniformity issues will drive discerning viewers crazy.

The 40L3400U is an edge-lit LED LCD, meaning LEDs (light-emitting diodes) run the perimeter of the screen. Uniformity problems—where the backlight is visible through the picture—often plague televisions like this, and the L3400U is no exemption. What does this mean during viewing? Hazy, blue light visually disrupts the picture. On our test unit, there are very visible LEDs at the top of the screen and in three of the corners.

It's especially distracting when watching 4:3 (standard definition) or letterbox (DVD, Blu-ray) content with black bars. Unless you're watching bright, full-screen content in a bright room, you'll notice the uniformity problems easily enough—which throws a wrench at movie night. This is by far this TV's biggest performance issue, and it's one that'll drive discerning viewers crazy.

Motion is quite good for this price range.

The 40L3400U scored well in some regards, but nothing exactly blew us away. I tested solid black levels, and enough overall brightness that you'll see satisfying contrast here.

Further, Toshiba's claims of a 120Hz panel aren't unfounded—motion is quite good for this price range, with blurring and stuttering only during intense horizontal panning (a kind of movement almost all LCDs struggle with.)

I wasn't impressed with the accuracy of this TV's colors, but calibration went a long way—improving some white balance problems in addition to color issues. The display is entirely watchable without calibration, but informed tweaking can definitely improve the picture quality. If you already own the L3400U, be sure to check out my calibration settings here.

If this TV's a smart TV, I'm Neil deGrasse Tyson.

"Smart TV" can be a misleading term. Sometimes it means the TV can connect to the internet only for software updates, sometimes it means the TV is basically a big smartphone. In the case of the 40L3400U, it's closer to the former—by modern standards, there isn't much here at all.

If you want the bare minimum in smart features, this is it.

Toshiba includes just three apps: Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. You can also stream content, like pictures and music, on a DLNA network sharing setup. There's no web browser, no "content headquarters," no app store, and no games. If you want the bare minimum in smart features, this is it.

Toshiba's choice to simplify this TV's smart features isn't necessarily a bad thing. This little display doesn't have much processing power, after all. I'll be clear, though: This is a bare-bones iteration of what many smart TVs are capable of.

Users trying to connect to a wireless network may be unable to.

Unfortunately, the small array of smart features isn't even the main problem here. While you'll have no trouble connecting to the internet using an ethernet cable, users trying to connect to a wireless network may be unable to.

Here's the problem: When you want to input your wireless password, the on-screen keyboard only allows lowercase and capital letters. Numbers can be punched in using the remote's number pad, but if your password is more complex ($oupR$ecrET-pa$$werD!!!) you're completely out of luck. Bluetooth keyboards didn't work with our test unit, either, meaning you might need to use a USB keyboard.

Toshiba's menu software is plain, but at least it works properly. The 40L3400U has the usual menus for Picture, Audio, and Network, and DIY calibrators will be glad to know that the ColorMaster CMS (Color Management System) is still here, too. Unlike most TVs, however, the L3400U doesn't allow for 2- or 10-point white balance adjustment—there's only a plus and minus slider. If you know what that means, you know that calibrating this TV at home will be trickier than usual. If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it.

Not the best investment

The Toshiba 40L3400U is not a total failure, but it has a lot of drawbacks. LED uniformity problems are a huge distraction in most viewing situations, and the TV requires a lot of tinkering and calibrating to look its best. You're also paying for a sad smattering of smart features—assuming you can connect to the internet at all. Software limitations may mean you can't type in your wireless password.

Unless it's the only 40-inch TV you can find or afford, the L3400U just isn't what you should buy. In a pinch, the L3400U sports a completely palatable picture as long as there aren't any black bars—but do you really want something so inflexible? Discerning viewers won't be able to stand the uniformity problems.

The bottom line is that the L3400U will suffice for a kitchen, garage, or guest room, but if you want the best quality for your money, there are better options in the same size and price range: Vizio's 40-inch E-Series or Samsung's 40-inch F5000 are available now. Check back throughout the year for more reviews in this size and price range.

The Toshiba 40L3400U (MSRP $499, online $399) is not a terrific performer. As you'll see, it's capable of decent performance after an informed calibration, but no amount of tinkering can correct the uniformity issues I noticed during testing and casual viewing. The TV's limited white balance control means you can correct most of the grayscale error (but not all of it). While the L3400U does have some natural strengths, namely its contrast ratio and black level, the bad outweighs the good.

Note that the Contrast Ratio and Viewing Angle results are gathered in Movie mode (or its equivalent) prior to calibration to better gauge the experience that most consumers will have.
Calibrating the L3400U was no easy task. Unlike most TVs, which offer controls for 2- or 10-point white balance, the L3400U only has plus and minus options for its red, green, and blue sub-pixels.

Essentially, 2-point controls let a calibrator adjust the balance between sub-pixels from steps 10-50 IRE (the first half of the grayscale) separately from steps 60-100 (the second half of the grayscale). Even more detailed are 10-point controls, which allow calibrators to adjust RGB along each step of the grayscale. The L3400U's control only allows the user to emphasize or reduce the prevalence of each sub-pixel within the whole, rather than focusing on one half or one tenth of the grayscale. Basically, there's less gradation available.

During calibration, we aim for a peak brightness of 40 fL (about 120 cd/m2 ) and a gamma sum of 2.4. These are ideal "black room" numbers, the viewing environment that's generally best if you want to see maximum detail and color performance. To achieve these settings, I changed the L3400U's Static Gamma from 0 to -3, and reduced the Backlight from 70 to 53 in conjunction with the noted changes to the TV's white balance and color system.

In most of the following sections, you'll see charts for the before and after effects of this calibration upon the TV's performance. Note that Contrast Ratio and Viewing Angle are taken in Movie mode (or its equivalent) prior to calibration to better gauge the experience that most consumers will have.
A display's contrast ratio is determined by dividing its default luminance at 100 IRE (peak white) by its default luminance at 0 IRE (black). All of our contrast results are gathered from the default settings in Movie mode using a standard ANSI checkerboard at 1:1 pixel mapping in a black room.

I tested a solid black level at 0.04 cd/m2 and plenty of luminance at 172 cd/m2 in the default Movie mode, giving the L3400U a contrast ratio of 4,300:1—not bad at all. Compared to other 2014 LCDs, this Toshiba fosters a more striking contrast between dark and bright elements.
To determine horizontal viewing angle, we measure the screen's contrast from head-on, and then in 10° horizontal increments from the center. In this way, we determine how far from middle a viewer can watch before the contrast is greatly compromised.

I measured a total viewing angle of 18°, or ±9° from the center to either side. Essentially, you have to sit right in the center of the screen to enjoy the best picture while watching this Toshiba.
A television grayscale refers to all of the neutral shades it creates—blacks, grays, and whites. While a TV's LED backlight tends to create pure light, this can be distorted across the grayscale spectrum by uneven emphasis between the RGB sub-pixel matrix. Essentially, if the TV favors one color over the others, it will add that color to blacks, grays, and whites as well—resulting in reddish grays or green-looking blacks, for example. Prior to calibration, the L3400U tested with a very high collective error of 12.22, where 3 or less is considered acceptable. I reduced this error to 2.24.

Analysis of the L3400U's RGB sub-pixel emphasis reveals that, like many modern LCD TVs, this Toshiba favors the blue sub-pixel over the red and green. Using the TV's 1-point white balance control, I synced up the sub-pixel emphasis as much as possible using the TV's limited software.

Gamma or gamma sum refers to how quickly (or slowly) a TV increases in luminance from black (0 IRE) to peak white (100 IRE). Common gamma pre-sets include 2.0, 2.2, and 2.4, which are better for bright, dim, or dark rooms, respectively.

We begin by measuring the TV's default gamma in the Movie mode pre-set—the L3400U's is 1.65 out of the box. This means that the TV tends to absolutely gloss over subtle details in dark regions. The good news is that it can be fixed: I calibrated the TV and achieved a gamma sum of 2.37—much closer to an ideal setting than before.

A color gamut is a visual representation of a TV's color production. Current HD TVs are expected to adhere to an international standard for color saturation and hue, ensuring that content looks the same on televisions around the world—and ensuring that movies and TV shows look the way the directors intended, amongst other things.

The L3400U does a decent job with color accuracy, but it's definitely not perfect: I had to make some very large changes to the hue, saturation, and brightness of all the primary and secondary colors to hone in on "perfect" coordinates for red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow.

Meet the testers

Lee Neikirk

Lee Neikirk

Editor

@Koanshark

Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.

See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews

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