Toshiba H81 review: Toshiba H81

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Great picture; comprehensive connectivity; video processing with 3:2 pull-down; excellent color decoding; reasonable price.

The Bad New 540p video processing isn't ideal for use with progressive-scan DVD players.

The Bottom Line This is one of the best small, entry-level, HD-ready, rear-projection TVs available.

8.0 Overall

Toshiba's renowned, 40-inch, 16:9, rear-projection set, the TW40F80, hit the market in late 1996 and was one of the first 16:9, consumer rear projectors available. All of Toshiba's subsequent 40-inch HDTV-capable models also enjoy an excellent reputation for picture quality, reliability, and good value. The 42H81 continues that tradition, with a slightly larger screen size and an all-time-low price. Toshiba's renowned, 40-inch, 16:9, rear-projection set, the TW40F80, hit the market in late 1996 and was one of the first 16:9, consumer rear projectors available. All of Toshiba's subsequent 40-inch HDTV-capable models also enjoy an excellent reputation for picture quality, reliability, and good value. The 42H81 continues that tradition, with a slightly larger screen size and an all-time-low price.

Smallest in the line
The 42-inch 42H81 is the smallest rear-projection TV in Toshiba's TheaterWide line, which includes 50-, 53-, 57-, and 65-inch sets. The 42H81, like most RPTVs, isn't blessed with a stunning design. It's a basic box finished in dark gray. The area below the screen is covered entirely by gray fabric, and arguably this set isn't as sleek as its predecessors. However, the newly designed universal remote is one of the best we've encountered. Extremely well laid out and nearly fully backlit, it's a real pleasure to use in a darkened theater environment. The remote is also capable of controlling a wide variety of other A/V equipment. A full list of compatible manufacturers and codes for all the different products this remote can control is in the owner's manual.

As far as features go, we were particularly impressed with the new autoconvergence feature, which worked better than we expected on our review sample. Unlike many other sets with autoconvergence, the 42H81 also has the center static convergence, as well as a nine-point user convergence for touching up the edges of the picture. We praise Toshiba for this, as most autoconvergence schemes do little to improve the edges of the picture.

The set also has the all-important 3:2 pull-down in the video processing, which virtually eliminates jaggy and motion artifacts on film-based video sources, such as DVD. There's also a Favorite Channel feature, which allows you to program in your favorite channels, and a nine-picture multiwindow that lets you preview up to nine of your favorite channels simultaneously.

The one feature that users may take issue with is the Double Window (Split-Screen) Dual Tuner POP (picture-out-of-picture). Rather than creating a small, PIP (picture-in-picture) window, this function splits the entire screen in half, which makes it impossible to get involved with a main program while, say, casually checking the score of a sporting event. We didn't love it, but others may.

On the audio side, the 42H81 offers MTS stereo with SAP (Second Audio Program) and a sub bass system, and there's an impressive 30 watts of overall audio power. The SRS 3D surround-sound feature attempts to simulate the surround-sound experience with the set's two stereo speakers.

All hooked up
We had no complaints in the connectivity department. This TV has two sets of A/V inputs on the rear panel with composite, S-Video, and stereo audio, as well as two sets of component-video inputs with stereo audio that will accept 480i, 480p (progressive-scan DVD), and 1080i HDTV signals. There is also an A/V output with composite video only, while the front panel provides A/V inputs with S-Video, a set of stereo audio outs, and dual RF inputs.

As noted, when calibrating the set, we discovered that the autoconvergence actually works fairly well. It's no replacement for a thorough service convergence, but it does seem to work much better than that of sets that we've tested from other manufacturers.

After a full ISF calibration, we sat back and watched some scenes from Planet of the Apes using progressive-scan DVD player, and we came away impressed with the images. The color was rich, saturated, and very accurate, thanks to the set's excellent color decoder. It's worth noting, however, that while the DVD looks sharper when running progressive-scan (rather than interlaced) from the Yamaha, the 42H81's 540p video processing did create some artifacts in the up-conversion process.

Although we didn't have an HDTV source to evaluate the 42H81's HDTV performance, our experience with the last several versions of Toshiba's 40-inch HD-capable models with HDTV program material has been excellent.

The 42H81's list price of $2,499 is $500 less than the cost of last year's 40H80, which means that this is a solid value in its size category. The only other comparably sized, HDTV-ready RPTV is , which sells for $2,199. The Hitachi has a comparable feature set, with similar 540p video processing, but lacks manual convergence controls and has an inferior color decoder. Therefore, even with its slightly higher list price, the Toshiba set is a better value.

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