The new HDTV offering is bristling with inputs so you can hook up almost everything you own, but don't try watching nondigital programs
Toshiba may be a lead player in the battle between the standards for high-definition DVD players, but it has struggled to break into the top ranks with its HDTV offerings. Looking at the company's 52LX177 Regza Cinema Series LCD set, you'd say it's not for a lack of effort. This 52-inch television, priced at $3,500, combines full 1080 progressive HD resolution with an impressive internal feature set and plenty of options to connect the TV to other entertainment equipment.
Toshiba (6502.T) typically walks its own path with its set designs, but the 52LX177 adopts the glossy black front bezel that has become almost standard among the top manufacturers. The TV's speakers are recessed, but not altogether hidden, on the bottom.
On the back of the set are three HD multimedia interface inputs for hooking up the latest video game consoles and high-definition DVD players. There are also two component-video ports, composite and S-video inputs for older electronics gear, an RF jack for cable TV or an antenna, and both USB and Ethernet ports to pull photos and music from a computer (though this requires a bit of technical savvy). A word of warning: The heavy, 10-pound stand that holds the set does not swivel, making it hard to get to all these rear ports in a tight space. One saving grace is a single input for composite video positioned on the side panel of the TV.
Some Nice Touches
Toshiba also throws in a fully backlit remote, making it easier to see every key in darkened rooms. The buttons are laid out so there's little confusion when you're trying to adjust settings or switch inputs. But with such a large remote I would have preferred dedicated buttons for each input. Instead, you must bring up an on-screen menu to change settings. Another nice touch: The remote offers a half-mute function that lets you turn down the sound without turning it off.
Though TV makers have profit in mind in pushing their highest-resolution models hard, anyone who's mulling the purchase of an HD DVD or Blu-ray player might consider spending more to get the full HD resolution a TV like the 52LX177 offers.
That said, there are nagging compatibility issues between these full-HD sets and non-HD equipment. When I tried to play a standard-definition DVD of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events on a Philips (PHG) Soundbar home theater system, the Toshiba's picture quality was awful, with scan lines making viewing nearly impossible. The problem appeared to be that both units were trying to improve the picture to full 1080p; when I lowered the screen resolution on the set to 720p, the problem went away. While a techie might be able to sleuth a situation like this quickly, many users may find themselves hopelessly lost.
Best Sticking to Digital
Although analog TV programs play well on some HD sets, it was painful watching nondigital channels on the Toshiba. The fuzzy picture was made worse by such a large screen. But the Toshiba set shone when it came to HD video. I hooked up an Xbox 360 game console with its external HD DVD player to watch Transformers, which has plenty of fast-action scenes to test a TV's internal processing. The Toshiba handled the final battle scenes between the Decepticons and Autobots with aplomb, with no noticeable jagged edges or artifacts. The same held true for Spider-Man 3 in the Blu-ray high-definition format on both a Sony (SNE) PlayStation 3 and a Pioneer (6773.T) Elite standalone DVD player.
To reduce motion blur on the LCD screen, Toshiba uses a technology it calls "Motion Vector Frame Interpolation" to smooth the fraction of a second between one image and the next. The set also features 120-hertz processing technology. But in many cases, I'd suggest turning it off, since the processing can actually introduce artifacts when you're not watching movies or sports.
The 52LX177 delivered solid, deep blacks and decent detail in shadowed scenes, though many plasma-screen TVs and some rival LCD TVs from Sharp (6753.T) and Samsung do a better job on both fronts.
Personalizing Your Picture
As with many Toshiba sets, there's a tendency for both reds and greens to be a bit oversaturated. I typically don't mind the red, but some users may be turned off by the exaggerated skin tones. The greenish tinge was a bit more bothersome. I tried to adjust the color by digging deep into the menu system, but couldn't quite get it where I wanted. Professional calibration may help on that front.
The average user can get by with the four preset picture modes, but there are plenty of options for people who like to adjust images often. There are memory categories called Preference, Pro1, and Pro2 that can be individually tweaked to customize the settings for everything from color to backlighting.
Users also can delve into the contrast setting to fine-tune the blackest blacks, the whitest whites, and everything in between. You also can fine-tune the "noise" from signals and enhance the edges of images, as well as adjust hues, saturation, and brightness levels of individual colors.
Recommended for Dedicated HD Viewing
As other manufacturers have done this year, Toshiba has equipped the 52-in. Regza with technology that expands the number of colors the set can reproduce. Another goodie that Toshiba hopes justifies the high price is a picture-on-picture feature that lets you watch two HD images at once. The set also has a game mode to offer a faster response time between the controller and the display. And there's a lip-sync technology to make sure that sounds don't lag the image on the screen—a problem that sometimes occurs when using HDMI cables.
Overall, the Regza 52LX177 manages to hold its own against a slew of competitors in both the core plasma and LCD markets. If you're looking to watch high-definition programming in particular, I'd recommend adding this set to your comparison-shopping list.