|Toshiba 52XF550 LCD HDTV|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs LCD HDTVs|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Tuesday, 01 July 2008|
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Over the past two years, Toshiba has really elevated its LCD game to compete in the higher-end realm with companies like Sony and Samsung. I was quite impressed with last year’s high-end 52LX177, a 120Hz 1080p model whose performance rivaled that of pricier 120Hz models on the market. This year’s follow-up, the 52XF550, boasts a new implementation of the company’s ClearFrame 120Hz technology and incorporates the Super Narrow Bezel cabinet design. Yet its $3,299.99 MSRP still puts it the lower end of the price spectrum for a 120Hz LCD. Naturally, I was anxious to get my hands on this new TV to see if Toshiba could again prove itself a formidable competitor in the 120Hz category.
The goal of the Super Narrow Bezel cabinet design is to put less frame around the screen to draw more attention to the image on the screen. There’s less than an inch of gloss-black bezel surrounding the 52XF550’s 52-inch screen on the top and sides. The bottom bezel measures about 1.25 inches; attached to it is the silver-and-black SoundStrip 2 speaker bar, which is only about one inch thick. The non-swiveling base also has a gloss-black finish, with slightly rounded corners (the smaller 40- and 46-inch XF550 LCDs feature swiveling bases). In all, it’s a simple but tasteful design that’s attractive when the TV is off and unobtrusive when it’s on. It also takes up less space than other 52-inch panels, which is an important consideration for anyone who wishes to place a big-screen TV in a cabinet. It’s worth noting that the 52XV540, which costs $400 less, uses many of the same performance technologies (including ClearFrame), but replaces the Super Narrow Bezel and SoundStrip 2 speaker with more traditional design elements.
The remote is similar in size and layout to previous Toshiba TV remotes; its long, wide design was a bit too big for my small hands, but I managed. The remote lacks the amber backlighting found on last year’s model. The buttons still look as if they should have backlighting, or at least glow-in-the-dark ability, but they don’t. The remote can control up to four additional devices. One of the device buttons is still labeled HD DVD, and I felt a twinge of sadness for Toshiba every time I looked at it. There are no dedicated source buttons, but you can jump quickly between inputs by pressing the Input button and the number that corresponds to the desired input. Using the remote’s “Pic Size” button and number pad, you can similarly jump between the six aspect-ratio options, which include a Native mode for viewing signals with no overscan and a 4:3 HD mode to reshape incorrectly stretched HD signals. Automatic aspect-ratio detection is also available.
The 52XF550 has a healthy connection panel, including three HDMI, two component, one VGA, one S-video and two composite inputs. Unfortunately, neither an HDMI nor a component input is located on the side or front panel. Along the right side panel, you’ll find power, input, menu, channel and volume buttons, as well as a single set of basic A/V inputs. The HDMI inputs accept both 1080p/60 and 1080p/24; all three are located on the underside of the back panel, facing downward, so it’s difficult to feed cable into them. The back panel has four pairs of stereo analog audio inputs, as well as a fixed stereo analog output and an optical audio output to pass digital signals to an outboard receiver. A single RF input grants access to the internal NTSC, ATSC and Clear-QAM tuners. The TV lacks a program guide, but the remote’s THINC button pulls up Channel and Favorites Browsers that show thumbnails of available/selected channels along the bottom of the screen; there’s also an option to scroll between inputs using this function, which I found to be a handy navigational tool. The THINC function used to include email access and music/photo streaming from a PC but while other manufacturers are adding Web-enabled functions to their high-end TVs, Toshiba opted to omit the needed Ethernet port on this year’s model.
The 52XF550’s onscreen menu system is the same one we’ve seen in previous Toshiba TVs; it’s cleanly laid out and fairly easy to navigate, thanks in part to the remote’s exit and back functions. The Video set-up menu first allows you to choose between five picture modes: Sports, Standard, Movie, PC (HDMI and VGA inputs only) and Preference. As usual, the Movie mode produces the most natural image and has the best black level. With this mode as my base, I used the Digital Video Essentials DVD (DVD International) to adjust the contrast, brightness, color, tint and sharpness controls for the HDMI and component video inputs. Edge enhancement wasn’t a major concern at the default sharpness setting, although I still lowered the setting a few steps to remove any potential ringing around hard edges. Once you change a video parameter, the TV automatically switches to the Preference picture mode; happily, you can set different parameters for the different inputs. The basic Picture Settings menu also includes a 100-step adjustable backlight and a DynaLight mode that automatically adjusts the backlight based on the source content’s brightness. I’m not a fan of dynamic brightness controls, so I left the DynaLight off and turned the backlight all the way down to zero. Even at the minimum setting, the 52XF550 had a solid amount of light output for a room with average lighting. At its maximum backlight setting of 100, the TV is extremely bright; I never felt the need to push the setting beyond 20, even with all my room lights on and the blinds open.
The 52XF550 doesn’t have as many advanced picture settings as you’ll find in some higher-end LCDs, but the most common controls are here: dynamic contrast (which I left off), digital and MPEG noise reduction, an eight-step gamma adjustment, a choice between cinema and video processing modes and a Game mode to improve response time with a gaming console. In the color realm, the TV has three preset color-temperature options (Cool, Medium and Warm), plus the ability to add or subtract blue and green from these presets. However, there’s no direct access to RGB offset and gain controls to precisely adjust white balance. Toshiba’s ColorMaster feature allows you to tailor the hue, saturation and brightness of the primary and secondary color points.
Toshiba’s ClearFrame 120Hz technology doubles the TV’s frame rate from 60 to 120 hertz through Motion Vector Frame Interpolation (MVFI). Many 120Hz TVs feature a single mode that’s designed to reduce both motion blur and film judder, but Toshiba’s method lets you address each issue separately. In the Advanced Picture Settings menu, the ClearFrame option (on/off) is designed to reduce motion blur, a common LCD issue. I’m not sure why anyone would pay for a 120Hz TV and then turn the feature off, but hey, if you feel so inclined, Toshiba will let you do so. A second menu option, called Film Stabilization, deals specifically with film judder, that stuttering effect you see in moving images when a 24-frames-per-second film source is converted to 60fps video via the traditional 3:2 process. ClearFrame must be turned on to utilize Film Stabilization. There are three menu options: Off, Standard and Smooth (last year’s model had just on and off options). The Off mode adds no stabilization effect, while the Smooth mode appears to do more advanced frame interpolation to produce super-smooth, judder-free movement. The newly added Standard mode is particularly interesting because Toshiba says it is a true 5:5 mode, which means that each frame in a 24fps film source is repeated five times to create 120 frames. This is something film purists have clamored for; we’ll talk more about its performance in the next section.
The Audio set-up menu includes the standard bass, treble and balance controls, plus a StableSound feature to limit level variations. SRS WOW audio processing is onboard, with settings for 3D, Focus and TruBass parameters. If you’re utilizing the internal tuners, you can adjust the dynamic range control for audio signals and designate Dolby Digital or PCM for the optical digital audio output. On a related note, the TV’s mute function includes both half- and full-mute options.
The 52XF550’s HDMI inputs support Deep Color and lip sync, and the REGZA-Link HDMI-CEC function allows for more intuitive control of other Toshiba products connected via HDMI. You can adjust these HDMI parameters via the General set-up menu, where you can also enable or disable the TV’s power-saving mode that reduces standby power consumption.