Toshiba 52HL167 52-inch LCD HDTV 
Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs LCD HDTVs
Written by Adrienne Maxwell   
Saturday, 01 September 2007

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.

Television And Movies
It seemed only natural to begin my evaluation of this 1080p TV with some of my favorite 1080p discs from both the HD DVD and Blu-ray camps. Chapter Three of Mission: Impossible II (Paramount Home Entertainment) provides a challenging blend of shadows, rich colors and ornate detail in the background décor, and the 52HL167 did an excellent job in all three areas. I was particularly impressed with the blacks, which obviously aren’t as deep as those on my reference projector, but are very good for an LCD. Combine that with solid light output, and the result is an image rich in contrast, color and three-dimensionality in a darkened theater. Of course, one of the beauties of LCD is that, when you turn up the lights, you can still enjoy a vibrant image, and that proved true here.

When I moved to even better transfers, such as Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), Black Hawk Down (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) and Trading Places (Paramount Home Entertainment), the level of detail through the HDMI input was simply outstanding. The opening black-and-white scenes from The Corpse Bride (Warner Home Video) further emphasized the TV’s good contrast, as it brought out detail in blacks, while still allowing the whites to pop. When the colors kicked in during Chapter Six, the effect was simply gorgeous.

As I moved on to television and standard-definition DVD sources, the 52HL167’s positive attributes continued to pay dividends. Both 1080i and 720p HDTV signals boasted excellent detail, a big improvement over last year’s LX model, on which 720p content looked very soft. That wasn’t the case with ESPN HD’s 720p broadcast of Sunday Night Baseball: I could make out every pore in facial close-ups, and colors were vibrant – perhaps overly so. The red and green color points don’t appear to be accurate: red leans toward magenta and green is quite oversaturated. Here’s where the ColorMaster feature came in handy, allowing me tweak the hue and saturation of these colors. But be careful: you can do more harm than good with this feature. Thankfully, there is a reset button, but you still might want to hire a professional calibrator if you find the out-of-the-box colors objectionable.

The new Zodiac DVD (Paramount Home Entertainment) provides good fodder for a display, moving from expansive outdoor vistas to dark highways to harshly lit newsrooms, and the 52HL167 ably reproduced fine textures, black detail and skin tones. The same held true with The Prestige (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), and I was particularly impressed with the TV’s ability to present this complexly lit film in both bright and dark viewing environments.

During my review process, I shuffled back and forth between HDMI and component video and was ultimately more satisfied with the quality of the HDMI signal, with every source and resolution I fed it. It’s not that the component video signal looks bad; it just lacked that extra bit of detail and colors and skin tones weren’t quite as natural. Given the high number and higher performance of the HDMI inputs, the TV is ideally suited to consumers who have embraced digital connections, either HDMI or DVI, in their set-top boxes and DVD players.

The Downside
Not having seen any of the 120-Hz technologies in action, I can’t yet say whether they improve LCD performance enough to merit the extra cost. What I can tell you is that this TV behaves like an LCD, both in its motion and its viewing angle. Image saturation begins to fall off when you move just 45 degrees off-axis; the picture is watchable even at wide angles, but you should still be mindful of where you place the TV in your room. Motion blurring was evident in fast-moving text crawls and sporting events, which diminished some of that excellent detail.

Good processing is especially important on large-screen displays, because artifacts are so much easier to see. Unfortunately, the Toshiba came up short in this area. Standard-definition DVDs and TV signals looked somewhat soft on this 1080p panel, and they contained a lot of deinterlacing artifacts. When I set my Sony Blu-ray player for 1080i output instead, I saw a noticeable improvement in detail with 480i DVDs, and the number of artifacts was cut roughly in half, which admittedly was still too many. With true 1080i sources, my Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray test disc showed that the TV correctly stitched together the 1080i fields to produce 1080p, but it did not pick up 3:2 in the film-based 1080i test pattern. However, that pattern was followed by a pan of an empty football stadium, which was actually quite clean, with only hints of moiré in the upper seats. I didn’t notice many artifacts with1080i HDTV and Blu-ray film content, but I saw a lot of them in video-based concerts airing on HDNet. All in all, you’re probably better off letting your source components handle the scaling and deinterlacing whenever possible: set your cable/satellite box and DVD player for progressive output and choose a high-definition player capable of outputting 1080p. Or, if you just happen to have an extra $3,000 lying around, the best option is to mate this TV with a good 1080p scaler, like DVDO’s iScan VP50 or Calibre UK’s Vantage-HD.

The 52HL167’s picture can look noisy, and the noise-reduction controls have little impact. Some of this noise is due to the TV’s bit depth. Despite its claimed 14-bit color, the 52HL167 did not smoothly render all of the steps between white and black in the light-to-dark test pattern on my Video Essentials DVD (DVD International), struggling as many digital displays do with the mid to dark grays, especially through the component video inputs. Consequently, darker-colored backgrounds and dark-to-light transitions often contained digital noise. The problem grows more obvious as you turn up the backlight, so you should set it as low as your room lighting will allow. A second issue involves the TV’s hyper-sensitivity to the amount of noise and grain in the incoming signal. Some 1080p TVs roll off the high frequencies to minimize the appearance of high-frequency noise in the signal, which lessens detail in the process. This TV appears to pass everything through, for better and for worse, which created an inconsistency in image quality. Often, the picture is sharp and pristine; then, suddenly, you’re confronted with a scene that’s extremely grainy and noisy, even within the same program. I couldn’t pinpoint a definitive circumstance, as the effect occurred with all types of content: bright and dark, standard- and high-definition – although high-definition DVD consistently looked the cleanest. Is it better for a TV to roll off high-frequency detail instead? That’s like asking a music lover to choose between a speaker system that tames brighter high-frequency recordings and one that is highly neutral but occasionally passes a harsh note. That’s your call to make.

I struggle to form a final opinion of the 52HL167. When the picture looks good, it looks outstanding. It’s got a lot of HD-capable connections, and the image holds up very well in bright and dark viewing environments, which gives the TV a versatility that many displays lack. However, I found the noise issue to be very distracting, often pulling me out of the entertainment experience to focus on the technology. You definitely don’t want to sit too close to this TV; I sat at a distance of about four times the picture height and would probably sit even further away if this were my everyday TV.

If you’re searching for a TV that renders the most pristine image possible with any signal type, the 52HL167 isn’t the best choice. However, if you’re a movie lover who wants to enjoy beautiful high-definition DVDs any time, day or night, and are willing to exchange some of that cleanliness for great detail, vibrant colors, and rich contrast – all in an attractively slender, gloss-black cabinet – then you should take a look at the 52HL167.
Manufacturer Toshiba
Model 52HL167 52-inch 1080p LCD HDTV
Reviewer Adrienne Maxwell
Diagonal Screen Size 43 to 56-inches

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