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Toshiba 32C120U review: Toshiba 32C120U

Need we say more? OK, fine. Compared with its entry-level competition, the Toshiba 32C120U delivers decent picture quality.

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David Katzmaier
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David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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4 min read

Cheap TV comparisons are like cheap boxes of chocolate. As long as you temper your expectations, you never know what you're going to get. Toshiba's 32C120U is currently selling for the insanely low price of $250 on Amazon -- ranking it among the top few on that site's Best Sellers list for the last couple of months. Amazingly at this price, it doesn't suck.

Toshiba 32C120U
7.4

Toshiba 32C120U

The Good

The 32-inch <b>Toshiba 32C120U</b> LCD TV is dirt-cheap. Its picture stacks up well overall against that of other 32-inch sets, with relatively deep black levels and uniformity along with solid bright-room quality.

The Bad

In color accuracy, the Toshiba 32C120U is worse than many entry-level TVs. Design is also a low point, with a generic exterior and subpar remote.

The Bottom Line

If you want the cheapest small TV with halfway-decent picture quality, look no further than the Toshiba 32C120U.

In fact, in picture quality the 32C120U competes well against our current favorite 32-incher, the Samsung UN32EH4000. The Toshiba's main weakness, color accuracy, is easier to overlook when weighed against its advantages, including black-level and bright-room performance. It's not nearly as stylish as the fetching, thin-bezeled Samsung, but for this cheap at this size, how much do you really care?

Design
If you like your small TVs the same way certain hipsters like their eyeglasses -- glossy black, thick of frame, and otherwise unadorned -- you'll have little to complain about in the 32C120U. The generic-looking set's only nod to panache is a faint grayish fade along the bottom edge. The unremarkable oval stand doesn't allow the panel to swivel.

Toshiba's tiny clicker is disappointing even for a TV this cheap. Its closely spaced warren of poorly differentiated, mushy keys is an error magnet. The 32C120U's menus aren't as bad, but the top-mounted navigation can be confusing in a world where everyone else stacks the main menu topics in a column on the left side.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight N/A
Screen finish Matte Remote Standard
Smart TV No Internet connection No
3D technology N/A 3D glasses included None
Refresh rate(s) 60Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing No
DLNA-compliant No USB Photo/Music

Features
The 32C120U's main extra is that it can display JPEG pictures and play MP3 audio files if you slap a thumbdrive into its USB port. Otherwise it's bare-bones all the way. The HD-minimum 720p resolution is probably 1,366x768 pixels, although Toshiba doesn't specify.

See the Toshiba 32C120U (pictures)

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The backlight, unlike some cheap 32-inchers, eschews LEDs for old-fashioned CCFL illumination, and refreshes at a rate of 60Hz. Seriously, what do you expect for $250?

Picture settings: Actually, I didn't expect this level of control for $250. The 32C120U offers a nice array of tweaks, including the ability to adjust the grayscale slightly and choose from among a bunch of different gamma settings. The DynaLight backlight control is another nice little perk.

On the downside, only one of the presets, dubbed Preference, is adjustable; if you try to change any of the others (such as Movie or Standard) the mode switches to Preference without warning. I don't like that system at all, since among other problems it makes it all too easy to lose your settings by accident.

Connectivity: If you gaze upon the 32C120U's back, you'll count two HDMI ports, one each component- and composite-video, an RGB-style PC input, and a USB port. That's a standard array for a cheap TV.

Picture quality

I was frankly surprised how good the Toshiba's picture looked for a TV this inexpensive. Its black levels were the deepest among cheap 32-inch TVs we've tested, beating out those of the former champ, Samsung's EH4000, by a substantial margin. Its color accuracy is flat-out poor, however, so the Samsung is still our overall choice in this category. That said, the Toshiba earns the same 6 in Picture Quality we awarded the Samsung, largely on the strength of its other picture-quality virtues like shadow detail and bright-room performance.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
LG 32CS460 32-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-L32C5 32-inch LCD
Samsung UN32EH4000 32-inch LED
Sony KDL-32BX330 32-inch LCD
TCL L40FHDP60 40-inch LCD
Samsung LN46D630 46-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference) 65-inch plasma

Black level: The Toshiba's depth of black was quite good; here the Toshiba beat out the other 32-inch sets in our lineup, as well as the 40-inch TCL, and came close to the 46-inch Samsung D630. Dark scenes, like Katniss and Peeta's sleepless rendezvous in chapter 8 of "The Hunger Games," were the most obvious beneficiaries, appearing with more pop and realism than on any of the other 32-inchers. The next-closest 32-inch competitor was the Samsung EH4000, but it was still quite a bit more washed-out looking than the Toshiba.

I also appreciated that details in shadows, like the folds in the sheets, the pattern in the headboard, and other near-black areas of Katniss' bedroom (1:00:01), looked well-defined without the muddiness of the other sets. I'd give the nod to the EH4000 in shadow detail, but the Toshiba was right behind it.

Color accuracy: This category is a weak point for the Toshiba, for despite its relatively ample controls I wasn't able to wrestle its color into the proximity of most of the others, let alone my VT50 reference. Skin tones were simply too rosy and saturated, as evinced by the almost sunburnt look of Katniss and Gale snacking in the field in chapter 1 (6:25). The greens in the trees and grass also had a too-yellow, almost neon look. Overall the Toshiba wasn't quite as bad as the Panasonic or TCL on this front, but definitely fell short of the others.

In its favor, the 32C120U rendered black and near-black areas with more accuracy -- specifically without as much of a blue tinge -- than most of the others.

Video processing: Like the other 32-inch sets in my lineup the Toshiba failed to properly handle 1080p/24 material -- not surprising since it's a 60Hz TV. Instead the flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend" appeared with plenty of chunky judder, instead of the smoothness of, for example, the D630. Also as you'd expect for a 60Hz TV, according to test patterns the Toshiba failed to deliver much in the motion-resolution department, although as usual I found blurring difficult to detect in program material.

Uniformity: From off-angle the Toshiba was mediocre, losing black-level fidelity from either side more quickly than a few of the others (notably the LG and the TCL) and not besting any of its competitors. It also evinced plenty of color shift. I did appreciate the lack of blotchy, brighter areas on the screen, however; the set maintained its brightness consistency well from edge to edge.

Bright lighting: The Toshiba was one of best in our lineup under the lights since its matte screen generated slightly foggier, dimmer, and less noticeable reflections of in-room objects than the Samsung EH4000, yet maintained black-level depth just as well.

Geek box: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0079 Good
Avg. gamma 2.15 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.3205/0.3408 Good
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3325/0.3456 Poor
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.314/0.3276 Good
Before avg. color temp. 7637 Poor
After avg. color temp. 6219 Poor
Red lum. error (de94_L) 4.5212 Poor
Green lum. error (de94_L) 1.0926 Good
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 7.6708 Poor
Cyan hue x/y 0.2176/0.3428 Poor
Magenta hue x/y 0.3296/0.1508 Average
Yellow hue x/y 0.4188/0.4874 Average
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Fail Poor
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 300 Poor
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor

Toshiba 32C120U CNET review calibration results

Read more about how we test TVs.

Toshiba 32C120U
7.4

Toshiba 32C120U

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 5Performance 6Value 10
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