|Toshiba 52HL167 52-inch LCD HDTV|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs LCD HDTVs|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Saturday, 01 September 2007|
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Is 52 the new 42 in the world of flat-panel televisions? Last year, the 42-inch flat panel was the marquee TV, offering the perfect convergence of size and price that consumers craved. As flat-panel pricing continues to drop, consumers will be able to move up to a larger screen size without moving up substantially in price. I predict the 52-inch panel will soon take center stage, thanks to new arrivals like Toshiba’s 52HL167. This product’s MSRP is $3,499.99, which is right on par with new, similarly sized panels from other big-name LCD manufacturers; however, several online retailers have already broken the magical $3,000 barrier with this big-screen LCD.
The latest crop of LCD panels is especially interesting because many employ new technologies, like LED backlighting or a 120-Hertz refresh rate, designed to improve performance issues that plagued older LCD TVs. However, these technologies also add to the bottom line, which may be worthwhile for the videophile who’s bothered by motion blur but isn’t a huge concern for the everyday consumer. Consequently, most LCD manufacturers have also released a step-down line that removes these top-shelf features and, by doing so, knocks several hundred dollars off the price. The 52HL167 falls into this category: It lacks some of the high-performance features found in Toshiba’s Cinema Series 52LX177 – like ClearFrame 120-Hz technology and Deep Color support – but it costs $500 less and retains many features that consumers crave: a 1920 x 1080 resolution, three HDMI inputs, an excellent assortment of picture controls, and an attractive gloss-black cabinet that measures just five inches deep.
Set-up and Features
The last Toshiba LCD TV I reviewed was part of the 2006 Cinema Series LX line. In many respects, this year’s middle-tier offering is even better than last year’s high-end model, which shows how much the company’s entire LCD line has evolved. Toshiba has been generous with the HD-capable inputs on the 52HL167, including three HDMI, two component video, and one 15-pin RGB PC input. The HDMI inputs accept 1080p/60 and 1080p/24, something last year’s LX model did not do. They also employ the new CE-Link technology designed to allow easier control of devices connected via HDMI. When CE-Link is enabled in the TV’s menu and in other CE-Link-capable devices, such as HD DVD players and A/V receivers, you can automatically control basic functions of each device with the TV’s remote or the CE-Link onscreen menu. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any other CE-Link devices on hand to try out the function.
The company wasn’t quite so generous with standard video inputs, offering only one S-video and one composite video input; this TV is clearly intended for the person who has embraced higher-level video connections. On the audio side, you get four pairs of stereo RCA inputs, with the RGB and HDMI 1 inputs sharing a single pair. The other two HDMI connections lack separate audio inputs, obviously intended for use with products that pass both video and audio over the HDMI connection – if you’re using your TV for audio, that is. The 52HL167 has two 10-watt four-inch speakers and employs SRS WOW signal processing. If you wish to send internally tuned audio to an external A/V receiver, you can choose between optical digital and stereo RCA audio outputs.
Speaking of tuners, the TV’s internal ATSC, NTSC and QAM tuners (no CableCARD slot) share a single RF input. Scanning over-the-air signals is a quick process, and the onscreen interface tells you how many and which channels it finds. It’s easy to delete unwanted channels, and the remote’s Favorites Browser button pulls up a nicely conceived sub-menu that enables quick navigation between channels and external inputs. Some features are missing, however: there’s no program guide or picture-in-picture functionality, and, despite the presence of a THINC button on the remote, the TV doesn’t have the needed Ethernet port to fully utilize the Toshiba Home Interactive Network Connection feature, which lets you access a computer’s MP3s and photos via your home network. (For that feature, you must move up to the LX Series.) The remote itself lacks backlighting and dedicated input buttons, but you can program it to control three additional components.
The 52HL167 offers numerous picture controls to tailor the image quality for each input. To start, there are four preset picture modes: Sports, Standard, Movie and Document (which is only available for HDMI). Be warned, the default Sports mode looks extremely exaggerated and unnatural. The Standard mode is a solid choice for a bright living room, while the Movie mode provides the best presets for a darkened room. Of course, if you stick with one of these presets, you’ll miss the chance to play with the many image adjustment options that Toshiba has provided. In the color realm, you get basic color and tint controls, plus three color temperature options (Cool, Medium and Warm) and the ability to add or subtract green and blue from the overall temperature. Toshiba TVs historically measure quite blue out of the box, even when set to a Warm color temperature, but they usually calibrate very well. According to my SpyderTV colorimeter, this latest TV is closer to the accurate 6,500-Kelvin point in the Warm mode, which means skin tones and the overall color palette look more natural, and calibration isn’t a necessity. The 52HL167’s ColorMaster feature lets you precisely tweak the hue, saturation and brightness of red, green, blue, yellow, magenta and cyan.
The 52HL167’s 100-step adjustable backlight provides a wide scope of light output options to accommodate various viewing environments. The maximum setting makes this TV absurdly bright and creates some screen-uniformity issues; the minimum setting renders the best blacks while still providing plenty of light output for a moderately lit room. Even with my curtains open and all of the room lights on, I didn’t feel the need to push the backlight beyond a setting of 20. In addition to standard brightness and contrast controls, the TV also sports several settings to automatically adjust black level and white level to suit the source material: DynaLight and Static Gamma for blacks, and Dynamic Contrast for whites. I turned all of these modes off. In the area of noise reduction, the first thing you’ll want to do is turn down the TV’s sharpness control, as it adds edge enhancement at its default 50 percent setting. At the zero setting, I still saw a bit of ringing around lines, but the overall effect wasn’t too noticeable. Toshiba has also included Digital Noise Reduction and MPEG Noise Reduction options, but the latter clearly softens the image, so I recommend you turn it off.
I’m always happy to find automatic aspect ratio detection as a feature, and Toshiba has been generous with the aspect ratio options, including a Native mode for viewing 1920 x 1080 content pixel for pixel and a 4:3 HD mode that fixes the shape of incorrectly stretched HD sources. You can choose between Film and Video processing options, but there’s no Auto mode. Finally, for you gamers out there, the Game Mode purportedly shortens frame delays for faster response between the TV and a gaming console.