Editors' note, November 15, 2007 The rating on this review has been lowered from 7.9 to 7.6 due to changes in the competitive marketplace.
Before the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format war was ever conceived, a protracted fight between LCD and plasma was well underway--and today it continues unabated. The two flat-panel HDTV titans vacillate back and forth with every generation of new technology, and LCD's latest salvo sounds potent indeed: 120Hz technology. The Toshiba 52LX177 is the first 2007 HDTV CNET has reviewed that includes this feature. See below for the nitty gritty, but the short story is that while we did notice a slight difference between 120Hz and standard 60Hz LCDs, it certainly didn't blow us away. Much more noticeable was the 52LX177's judder-busting Film Stabilization processing--an offshoot of 120Hz that really smoothes out camera movement (for better or for worse, depending on your personal preference). Add in solid all-around picture quality, scads of picture controls, and even home networking capabilities, and you have one of the most loaded HDTV spec sheets on the market. Of course you'll pay dearly for the privilege, but that's the price of living on the cutting edge.
Toshiba's LX177 series includes two smaller sizes, the 42-inch 42LX177 and the 46-inch 46LX177, along with a larger 57-inch version, model 57LX177. All four members of the series are virtually identical but for size, and we expect the other three sets to perform similarly to this one.
Toshiba clad the 52LX177 entirely in black, from the somewhat thick, glossy black frame surrounding the picture to the very large, stretched-out U-shaped black stand. The speakers are discreetly hidden along the bottom edge of the frame and angled downward--not quite as hidden as Samsung's design, for example, but still nearly invisible. The only other adornments on the face are a series of white logos that, given the set's many capabilities, are commendably circumspect. The 52LX177 measures approximately 50.5x33.4x15.4 inches and weighs 103.2 pounds including stand.
We liked the 52LX177's large remote, although some users might find the number of buttons intimidating at first. The big central cursor feels just right, and the buttons are grouped logically; this is one of the few clickers we've seen recently to include full backlighting behind every key. The remote can handle five other pieces of gear. The internal menu system groups the many items in intuitive categories, although the numerous picture options made that menu seem more labyrinthine than necessary. We also would have appreciated text explanations for each menu item.
The Toshiba 52LX177 is perhaps the best-featured LCD available today. Naturally, it has a native resolution of 1080p, so its 1,920x1,080 pixels can resolve every detail of today's highest-quality HDTV sources. All non-1080-resolution sources, from standard TV to DVD to 720p HDTV, are scaled to fit the pixel array.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this review, the 52LX177 is also equipped with 120Hz technology. In essence, the panel can refresh its image twice as fast as standard HDTVs, which should cut down on motion blur sometimes seen during fast motion with standard, 60Hz flat-panel LCDs (plasmas and rear-projection sets, unlike 60Hz flat-panel LCDs, don't suffer this kind of blur). To convert the standard 60Hz source to 120Hz, the set uses a process called Motion Vector Frame Interpolation, which creates a new frame using information from the two adjacent frames. Toshiba claims this method is superior to other 120Hz processing methods, which insert black frames or inverse frames between the real frames. We haven't tested any of those other sets so we can't comment on this claim at the moment. The 52LX177 can also smooth out judder seen on film-based material. See the Performance section below for more details on how these features affect the picture.
The 52LX177 can also take advantage of a few features associated with the HDMI 1.3 format, namely the xvYCC color space, Deep Color, and Lip-Sync Latency (more info). All three of these features require an HDMI 1.3-compatible source (typically a late-model Blu-ray or HD DVD player) playing a disc or other content encoded with these features. We did not test these extras since we did not have appropriate content at press time. It's worth noting, however, that the 52LX177 utilizes a 10-bit panel, so it should be able to take advantage of Deep Color content when and if it becomes available.
On to stuff that actually matters today. The Toshiba 52LX177 offers one of the most flexible picture memory arrangements we've seen, which is a great boon for people who like to tweak the image. There are four preset picture modes that cannot be adjusted--doing so causes the mode to switch automatically to the Preference mode, which saves changes independently for each input. While this design might seem problematic, since it automatically erases the changes you had previously entered in Preference, there are a couple of ways to avoid losing your settings. First, we recommend using one of the two Pro modes, which are also independent per input, to save your picture settings. Second, you can use the novel TheaterLock function to gray out (make nonadjustable) most of the options in the Pro1, Pro2, and Preference modes--an excellent way to guard your hard-tweaked settings against accidental erasure.
Beyond the standard picture controls, there's an array of advanced options. You can choose to engage DynaLight, which does improve black levels in dark scenes, although we left it off for critical viewing since it changes the black level according to program content. We kept Dynamic Contrast off for the same reason. We did appreciate the eight gamma settings (we used the lowest setting, minus-4, because it provided the most CRT-like rise from black) and three color temperature presets, as well as the ability to adjust the color temperature's blue and green drive (although we'd prefer the full six, or at least three, adjustments here). There are two kinds of noise reduction with four levels each, as well as a setting that introduces edge enhancement. Toshiba also throws in a Color Master Pro option that we found problematic enough to leave turned off.
Conveniences abound on this set, starting with the unique ability to interface with a home network via a rear-panel Ethernet connection. This feature allows the 52LX177 to display digital photos (JPEG files only) and play digital music (MP3 only) that are stored on another computer on the network. Furthermore, the set includes an e-mail client, so you can actually view e-mail (POP3 only, which includes most ISP-based e-mail as well as Google's Gmail but not the basic Hotmail or Yahoo mail services).
Unfortunately we weren't able to get any of these features to work properly by press time. We tried setting up the TV to access our Gmail account but were stymied by--of all things--the lack of an "@" sign on the virtual keyboard for username entry. Other POP3 services that don't require an @ in the username might work fine, but we didn't try any others aside from Gmail. We were also unsuccessful at using the JPEG and MP3 browser. Once we finally got the TV to recognize our PC--which involved changing our PC's username, since the virtual keyboard lacked a "space" option--we couldn't access the folders. Perhaps users with a bit more patience can get these features to work properly.
Among more conventional conveniences, there's a picture-in-picture mode that lets you view two sources at once. There's also the ever-popular game mode that disables some video processing with the ostensible goal of shortening any delay between your fingers and the onscreen action (we didn't test this mode). Surprisingly there's no dedicated power save mode that affects the TV while it's turned-on, although you can engage a mode that makes the TV emerge from standby very quickly. As usual, this mode causes the set to consume significantly more power when turned off--29 watts versus 0.85 watt in default mode, which can add significantly to your electric bill.
Connectivity on the 52LX177 is ample, including three HDMI inputs, two component-video inputs, a PC input (just 1,024x768 resolution), an AV input with composite and S-Video, an RF jack for cable or an antenna, and an Ethernet port. The side panel offers an additional AV input with composite video only.