The $899 (list) Toshiba 32AF42 is a 32-inch, 4:3 analog television with a completely flat picture tube--and not much else. This model is Toshiba's entry-level 32-inch TV, and it's nearly identical to its sibling, the 32AF62, which lists for $50 more and offers a two-tuner picture-in-picture (PIP) feature. Being an analog set, the 32AF42 will not display progressive-scan DVD or HDTV, but it will still produce a good analog picture with standard-TV- and component-video-equipped DVD players. Just don't expect to have complete control over the image. This silver-finished Toshiba is a nice-looking set, with speakers that are built in to the left- and right-side panels. Below the screen, a flip-open panel accesses the menu, volume, channel, and input controls, as well as the A/V input jacks.
One of the 32AF42's best features is its well-laid-out, illuminated remote control. We especially liked the remote's direct-input function: A button press takes you to a menu, where you can select an input by number rather than by scrolling through all the available options. The remote can control other brands of A/V devices. The nonintuitively designed menu system, however, made it difficult to adjust video. The 32AF42 has a relatively stripped-down package of both video- and audio-performance features. For video, Toshiba includes three color-temperature settings (warm, medium, and cool); a three-line comb filter for cleaning up composite signals; and advanced scan-velocity modulation (SVM). On the audio side, 10 watts drive the two speakers. You also get an array of sound settings--including those for MTS stereo or a surround-sound enhancement--and a Sub Bass system, which delivers deeper low end for movie effects.
There's a good selection of input options, including two for composite video, two for S-Video, and one for component video, which provides the best connection to DVD players.
The TV's PIP feature has a single tuner, so you can't get different channels in the inset window. Movie and Sports picture presets give you a couple of options for quick adjustment, but many TVs have more. For DVD buffs, the major missing link is a 16:9 vertical-compression mode. TVs with vertical compression can display the full resolution of wide-screen DVDs. To test the 32AF42's performance right out of the box, we selected the warm color temperature and, using test patterns from the Video Essentials DVD, tuned the picture settings.
The first thing that we realized is that the advanced SVM, which tends to introduce noticeable rings around outlines of objects, cannot be disabled. Second, we discovered that the Movie and Sports picture modes are preset only, meaning that they are not adjustable. As soon as we began to make tweaks, the set defaulted to the single Memory mode. This is pretty frustrating if you like to optimize your TV for different input sources.
Our readings of the warm color temperature were relatively close to the NTSC standard at lower light output. The color shifted toward blue as the output increased but stayed within the range of most other TVs. With the contrast properly set, total light output was average for a direct-view model.
The grayscale looked good, without any dramatic color shifts, and hues set up fairly well. The color decoders on newer Toshibas are not as accurate as the ones found on the company's older models--reds are oversaturated, and in this model, the yellows contain too much red. Convergence on the large tube was fine.
We popped in a couple of DVDs to take a final look at the set's performance. On the stellar disc Monsters, Inc., the image was quite satisfying overall, with a decent amount of pop to the colors and good delineation between shades of purple. This flat tube displays a lot of detail and dimension, even though the anamorphic image didn't appear at full resolution. In The Scorpion King, the desert scenes, with their predominantly red and brown gradations, were reproduced relatively well.
Overall, the 32AF42 delivers a solid direct-view image. It is somewhat disappointing to have such limited control over setup--particularly when you compare this model to others in its category--so this is definitely not a TV for people who like to tweak the picture. This is one model that you strictly set and forget.