High definition is here, and it's here to stay. So it's high time we started to see more LCD TVs like Toshiba's 32WLT66, which as well as carrying the TV industry's much-coveted 'HD Ready' logo also delivers an HD bonus in the form of two HDMI inputs.
Most LCD TVs at the moment only carry one such digital video input, but with the Sky HD receiver and Blu-ray/HD DVD players both likely to be clamouring for an HDMI connection in many AV fans' homes in the next 12 months, having two certainly makes sense to us.
The 32WLT66's near-£1,000 asking price also gets you another future-proofing touch: a built-in Freeview tuner so you're not left staring at a blank screen once the analogue broadcasting service is finally turned off.
Many of Toshiba's previous sets have looked rather bland, truth be told. But with the 32-inch widescreen 32WLT66, Toshiba shuns its customary grey finish in favour of a much more fetching matte black front, offset by some tasteful silver trim. There's even a dash of panache in the TV's sculpting, thanks to a neat curve stretching along the upper edge.
The 32WLT66 looks and feels more robust than previous Toshiba LCDs, yet it actually weighs noticeably less, improving its wall-hanging potential if the slightly uninspiring desktop stand option doesn't excite you.
Connectivity is mostly impressive. Obviously the stars of the show are the two HDMI sockets we mentioned earlier. But there's cracking support from a dedicated component-video input for analogue progressive scan or high-definition sources like the Xbox 360 games console. There's also a 15-pin PC connection so you can double the TV up as a computer monitor, and a slot where you can add a viewing card for the subscription-only Top Up TV digital broadcasting service.
Things aren't quite so hot for analogue sources, as aside from the usual composite video and S-Video fall-backs you get only two Scarts -- and only one of these can take high-quality RGB signals. But we imagine the set's low price and twin HDMIs will make this Scart limitation at least bearable.
The remote control Toshiba supplies with the TV looks good and feels substantial and comfortable to hold. On the downside, not all of the most important buttons fall to hand as effortlessly as we might have liked, and the interaction with the onscreen menus is occasionally rather tortuous.
The two biggest features of the 32WLT66 are its HD Ready compatibility and built-in digital tuner. When it comes to the HD side of things, the set can handle the 720p and 1080i high-definition formats, but not the rarer 1080p definition. Its native resolution -- in keeping with most 32-inch LCD TVs -- is 1,366x768 pixels, making it perfect for showing 720p sources, but requiring it to downscale 1080i. If you want a native 1,080-line Toshiba screen, both the upcoming 47-inch and 42-inch WLT66 models will carry 1,920x1,080-pixel resolutions.
The 32WLT66's digital tuner, meanwhile, carries full support for the seven-day electronic programme guide (EPG) service now provided by Freeview, and will even let you store up to eight 'timer events' for recording on a separate device while you're out, simply by directly selecting programmes from the EPG listings.
The next key inclusion is the latest version of Toshiba's proprietary Active Vision LCD picture-processing system. Active Vision LCD is an umbrella term that incorporates a host of different image-processing elements designed to improve colours, contrast, motion and sharpness.
Another trick tucked away in the Toshiba's menus is a colour-management system that handily lets you tweak the saturation, brightness and hue levels for no less than six of the picture's colour components: magenta, cyan, yellow, red, green and blue.
There's even more colour flexibility via a so-called 3D Colour Management option that shifts the emphasis of the TV's colour and white-balance settings towards PC use for those wanting to double the TV up as a computer monitor. The 32WLT66 can also optimise its pictures for DVD movie rather than TV broadcast material, thanks to a Cinema Mode that alters the TV's progressive-scan settings.
On the sound front, the 32WLT66 is distinguished by a 'WOW' processing system that spreads the soundstage further afield, and a highly unusual but certainly welcome facility for adding an optional subwoofer (available from Toshiba for around £150) to boost bass levels.
The 32WLT66's pictures excel. Colours, for instance, are exemplary, combining almost brutal intensity with impressive tonal subtlety. Good colours are usually accompanied by a decent contrast range, and so it proves with the 32WLT66, as peak whites are pristine but controlled, while deep blacks appear impressively profound and largely free of LCD's common 'greying-over' problem.
The benefits of Toshiba's Active Vision processing system, meanwhile, are evident in the 32WLT66's fine detailing. What's more, this exceptional sharpness is achieved without throwing up any significant negative side effects. The set is thus a superb performer with high-definition sources -- though it proves unusually good with standard-definition digital broadcasts and DVDs too.
There are only two small picture downers to report. Firstly, dark scenes are subtly affected by an unwanted blue undertone. Second, while skin generally looks natural in colour, faces can look marginally flat and waxy thanks to a lack of shading finesse.
Sonically, the 32WLT66 is perfectly respectable. Voices remain clear and authentic even during rowdy action scenes, trebles avoid harshness and the speakers get good and loud before even a trace of distortion sets in. In an ideal world, more bass wouldn't have gone amiss -- but this can be said of nearly all other LCD TVs. At least the 32WLT66 provides the option of upping the bass quotient by adding an optional subwoofer.
Overall, the 32WLT66 is a tantalising proposition. Its standards and the flexibility of its features and connections are all far higher than you've any right to expect for under £1,000. If this set is indicative of the sort of quality we can expect from the glut of LCD TVs heading our way in time for the World Cup this summer, we truly are going to be spoilt for choice.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide