TVs: The Toshiba What?

It's an awkward name, but the Regza is a good all-around set fully kitted out with features at a can't-complain price

By Cliff Edwards

Say what you will about the odd name Regza that Toshiba (TOSBF) has chosen for its high-end LCD line of televisions, the 47LX196 delivers a pretty good, full 1080 progressive high-definition picture at a very reasonable $3,500.

The set's design is fairly straightforward and neither excites nor disturbs, with a dull black bezel and silver "hideaway" bottom speakers that are becoming very popular in the industry. One observation: Toshiba sets always look a bit like they're going to topple over, with the wedge-shaped base that narrows toward the back that often reminds me of a person hopping on one leg.

Plenty of Features

As with most of the Toshiba sets I've reviewed, the 47LX196 shines by delivering far more tech goodies for the buck, including multiple inputs for TV and movie junkies who have a range of high-def sources, and dual tuners for picture-on-picture viewing. The aggressive pricing and extra features put it in good competition for shoppers who also are considering other 1080p sets from rivals such as Sharp (SHCAY), Samsung, and Sony (SNE).

The 84-pound unit is easy to set up. The stand is already attached, and it's not too heavy or bulky. Rear input and output connections are easily reached on the left side of the set. They include two high-definition multimedia inputs (HDMI) that send copy-protected HD audio and video down one cable, two high-definition component inputs, and an S-video connector.

While other manufacturers this year dropped the little-used CableCard technology that helps users do away with a cable set-top box, the Regza keeps it. One notable problem with this model, however, is that the HDMI inputs do not accept the advertised full 1080 progressive resolution. Instead, it accepts 1080 interlaced and scales up to 1080p. Why is that a problem? New 1080p Blu-ray players like the PlayStation 3 won't be able to recognize a 1080p connection and instead may downgrade the picture to only 720 progressive.

Perhaps because networking TVs is a trend in Japan, Toshiba also includes an Ethernet jack that lets you connect to your home computer network and stream off your computer JPEG digital pictures or MP3 digital music files using only the TV's remote control. Given that configuring the set and your network to do this is a bit complicated, however, it's unlikely many American households will use the feature.

The remote is well thought out. The mute button offers the neat option of "half-mute," which reduces the sound for answering a call, but doesn't turn it off. Unfortunately, the company does away with direct memory inputs, making you take the extra step of pressing an input button, then either pressing the corresponding number for a connected device such as a cable box, a game console, or HD-DVD player. Direct memory inputs on a remote are a good time-saver, and I'm always sorry to see so few manufacturers take the extra step of offering them.

One odd quirk I noticed was that between the time you turned the set off and back on again, it would occasionally forget the last input you used (I most often used the two HDMI inputs to watch DirecTV (DTV) and Dish Network (DISH) programming) and switch back to the first input, which was connected to Comcast Digital Cable.

Picture Quality

You can't fault Toshiba much in terms of picture quality, though. The company does a great job of producing the well-saturated reds and greens that catch a consumer's eye. If you do not plan to have the set professionally calibrated, I'd recommend switching to the standard video mode and warm setting, which balances the colors nicely and doesn't oversaturate images.

The company uses a speedy 12-bit picture processor and eight millisecond response time to handle fast-moving sports and action scenes and cut down on image distortions, or artifacts, common to digital TVs. You do get occasional artifacts, thanks to the tough job the set has in scaling all those analog and unmatching high-definition signals to its 1080p resolution.

That said, in all cases the picture looks better with 1080p. With over-the-air analog broadcasts, the pictures did not look as grainy as on other sets, and digital cable and satellite broadcasts of everything from ABC's Lost (broadcast in 720p) to Showtime's Dexter (broadcast in 1080i) were vibrant and clear, as were HD-DVD movies I viewed.

The one area where it does not perform as ably is in black contrast. The picture looks great when compared to many plasma TVs, but actually is too deeply black to detect the subtle differences and details that you should see as your eye travels across the screen.

Perhaps only purists will notice the difference, and for that reason it's not a deal-breaker. While I'd argue that you might be happier in the end spending more money and springing for a set over 50 inches, Toshiba's Regza is a very good alternative.