|Toshiba 52XF550 LCD HDTV|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs LCD HDTVs|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Tuesday, 01 July 2008|
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Television and Movies
Since 120Hz is the 52XF550’s marquee feature, it seemed only fitting to begin by evaluating the ClearFrame and Film Stabilization technologies. With ClearFrame off, the 52XF550’s performance with test patterns from my FPD Software Group Blu-ray disc was similar to that of many traditional LCDs: text grew blurry and fine detail was lost as soon as the motion kicked in. The ClearFrame function provided a noticeable reduction in motion blur. The resolution pattern still showed some loss of detail in the 720- and 1080-line segments, but the small text in the fast-moving map pattern remained clean and legible. I took in several NBA playoff games during my time with the 52XF550 and was pleased with the amount of background detail during quick pans across the court.
The HD HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc (Silicon Optix) contains a film-based stadium pan that provides a great example of how the Film Stabilization modes affect judder. The Off mode revealed blatant judder; the Standard mode reduced the judder but still looked like a film source; the Smooth mode produced super-smooth motion that looked more like video. With the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Blu-ray disc (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), output at 1080p/24 from the Pioneer BDP-95FD player, the Smooth mode did a nice job of reducing judder, with only an occasional misstep or stutter. Those who felt that last year’s Toshiba implementation was too subtle will be glad to know that the Smooth effect seemed more pronounced this time around, although it still wasn’t quite as smooth as I’ve seen in Sony and Samsung 120Hz TVs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I find it distracting when the motion is too smooth and felt that Toshiba struck a nice balance. The Standard mode, meanwhile, was a mixed bag. At times, it successfully reduced judder while retaining a film-like quality, which I appreciated; however, in many instances, it seemed to make the judder even worse. The results were similar with standard-def DVD movies and film-based TV shows, although I noticed more stuttering hiccups with TV content than with BD/DVD content.
As I moved through my arsenal of Blu-ray demos, I was impressed with the 52XF550’s black level and overall contrast. Scenes from The Black Pearl, Black Hawk Down (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), The Prestige (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) and 3:10 to Yuma (Lionsgate) looked very rich and well saturated in both bright and dark viewing environments. The 52XF550’s blacks aren’t quite as deep as those of the best plasmas and LED-based LCDs, but they’re better than many traditional LCDs. Subtle black details came through well in scenes from The Curse of the Black Pearl, 3:10 to Yuma and War (Lionsgate), and the overall level of detail with these Blu-ray discs was outstanding.
In the HD processing department, the Toshiba ably handles 1080i signals through both the HDMI and component video inputs. It passes the video and film resolution loss tests on the HD HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc and it cleanly renders the staircase descent in chapter eight of the Mission: Impossible III Blu-ray disc (Paramount Home Entertainment). Digital artifacts weren’t a concern with 1080i HDTV signals, and both 1080i and 720p shows had excellent detail. The TV’s good black level and rich color palette made for some truly grabbing HDTV content. How I Met Your Mother, The Office and the NBA on TNT looked excellent.
When I switched to standard-definition content, the 52XF550 failed most of the 480i processing tests on the HQV Benchmark DVD (Silicon Optix), but went on to perform well with real-world DVD and SDTV signals. Its up-conversion of 480i to 1080p was solid; the level of detail wasn’t the best I’ve seen in a flat panel, but it wasn’t lacking, either. With my de-interlacing tests of Gladiator (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) and The Bourne Identity (Universal Studios Home Video), the 52XF550 created only minor jaggies and no moiré in the scenes. Its handling of video-based DVD content wasn’t quite as good, producing a few too many jaggies in diagonals. However, during my time with the 52XF550, I watched a good deal of SDTV, which alternates between film and video content, and I was seldom distracted by jaggies and other artifacts.
The 52XF550 features 14-bit processing, but it only uses a 10-bit LCD panel. The light-to-dark test ramp in Video Essentials revealed that the TV didn’t reproduce all of the transitions between black and white, creating uneven steps in the mid-to-dark gray region. As a result, I saw some noise in dark and deep-colored backgrounds with both HD and SD content. In most cases, it wasn’t excessive; at a normal viewing distance, I seldom noticed it. However, I was distracted by the consistent noise in one especially dark episode of Lost on ABC HD, and the smoke in chapter 10 of the Ladder 49 DVD (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) looked a little pixilated and noisy. I experimented with the TV’s noise-reduction options: the DNR settings had minimal impact and the MPEG settings (especially medium and high) noticeably softened the image.
With SRS WOW employed, the tiny SoundStrip 2 speaker system produced reasonably full, dynamic audio for its size, and the StableSound function proved effective. As with many LCDs, screen uniformity was a minor concern here: an all-black test pattern revealed visible light near each of the screen’s four corners. However, the issue wasn’t dramatic enough to affect real-world content, even with darker DVD scenes. The 52XF550’s viewing angle was better than that of many LCDs, but it still didn’t compare with plasma. At about 45 degrees off-axis, the black level began to go up and color saturation began to go down, although the image remained watchable at wide angles.