Let's face it, CRT televisions are about as fashionable as hepatitis -- but flat-screen TVs are still expensive. While the buzz surrounding high-definition TV is enough to drive plenty of people into investing thousands of pounds, CRT still delivers the best picture from standard-definition sources.
Now that CRT has peaked and the major manufacturers are slowing down production, you can be sure that the current top-end sets are as good as it gets. The two powerhouse companies in the field are Sony and Toshiba, and the latter can be depended upon for particularly good picture performance from its 'Active Vision' technology. It also offers component inputs, something of a rarity for CRT TVs. For this reason, you can think of the 36ZP48 as the perfect stopgap TV -- something that's based on 80-year-old technology, but incorporates advancements from the digital world, including surround-sound speakers.
This is one of the most confident displays of CRT technology ever, and one that's unlikely to be beaten. There's little to fault in the 36ZP48 package, with a superb contrast range, sharp detail and fantastic connectivity.
The physical design of the 36ZP48 is very appealing. Most CRTs are typified by their sharp lines and pointy corners, but the Toshiba breaks the mould with a curvy base and stand that manages to evoke high-end style from antiquated technology. Nevertheless it's unbelievably heavy, requiring at least three people to lift it (with plenty of grunting, groaning and cursing). For this reason it's a burden to set up, but it looks the part when it's finally sitting on its stand with accompanying speakers in tow. Its modern chassis and sleek lines mean that anyone would be proud to have it sitting in their living room.
Most of the sockets are located on one large panel on the rear. There are three Scart connections -- two RGB inputs and a third terminal that can be used as an input or output for non-RGB video. You'll find this allocation more than sufficient when you factor in Toshiba's component inputs as well, which are fully progressive-scan compatible. This is rare for a CRT TV, as you usually only find them on LCD and plasma TVs. And now that you can buy compatible DVD players for as little as £60, you can enjoy a truly out-of-this-world picture performance on a very tight budget.
Also a rarity on CRT TVs is a full surround-sound system, with four satellite speakers included and a centre/woofer built in to the TV. The back of the TV includes spring-clip terminals for satellite speakers, in addition to coaxial and optical digital audio inputs. The centre speaker is then housed inside the TV under the front panel, and bass comes from an integrated 13W subwoofer. Talk about ample connectivity!
When you've run out of space on the rear, you can use the S-video and composite video inputs that are housed in a panel on the front, along with a headphone socket. This gives the Toshiba a connection roster that covers all bases, from the low-end composite input to the essential component inputs, with plenty of RGB inputs covering the middle ground.
The glass stand has three shelves that are all wide enough to house two pieces of equipment stacked on top of each other. The stand also has holes in the rear to keep the interconnects tucked out of sight. The included remote is also very easy to use, with ample sized buttons and controls for a Toshiba DVD player -- we paired up the Toshiba SD-150 and it worked fine (this DVD player also has component outputs and did a wonderful job on Master & Commander, which is even more impressive as it costs a mere £50).
When it comes to features, the 36ZP48 is in the premier league. Through the optical or coaxial digital inputs, the television will process a Dolby Digital audio stream from your DVD player or games console and send it out to the 5.1 speakers. Even better, the speaker connections are standard spring-clip terminals, so you don't even have to use the included speakers if your home cinema system offers better performance.
The component inputs are also progressive-scan compatible, meaning the television can provide a beautifully smooth picture from your DVDs. It also houses the clever Active Vision processing technology that has won the company plaudits across the LCD range. The technology analyses detail, colour, movement and contrast, and boosts the picture where necessary to give better results. The contrast is beautifully deep -- miles better than even the best LCD or plasma -- and this works wonders on the picture. The television needed some calibrating out of the box to sharpen things up, but at optimal settings this is the best picture quality you're going to get from TV and DVD sources, full stop.
On the audio front, the addition of extra speakers was no mere afterthought. There's some clever processing going on inside the TV, which will accept a straight Dolby Digital 5.1 feed from your DVD player, or process a Dolby Pro Logic soundtrack directly from a stereo source. You can apply all sorts of filters to the surround sound, such as Theatre and Disco, as well as setting the individual audio levels for all satellite speakers. Sometimes when you're connecting a DVD player through surround-sound equipment, you can pick up a lip-synching problem along the way, but the 36ZP48 can produce an audio delay to match up. As Darth Vader would say, "Impressive, most impressive."
There's a similar depth to the picture options. There are four individual picture modes that save your presets for contrast and brightness levels, as well as four picture-format modes. The 36ZP48 automatically picks up and adapts widescreen and 4:3 material, and a Subtitle mode shifts the picture up slightly to make the captions more prominent.
If you're a big picture-quality fanatic, the 36ZP48 is as good as it gets. We've seen a lot of plasma and LCD TVs lately, but the Toshiba reminds us just how great CRTs can be. Blacks look as deep as you want them to be, with darker scenes still showing acres of detail, and subsequently the colour reproduction is natural and rich. This television also doesn't have the problems that plague flat screens, where using lower-quality inputs results in an almost unwatchable mess. Connecting Freeview and Sky to the 36ZP48 through RGB Scart displays none of the MPEG artefacts that blight most LCDs, and even composite video is passable. Toshiba's Active Vision technology is a winner across the board.
The aural performance is something special too. Thanks to the high-quality audio format support, the 36ZP48 takes the Dolby Digital feed directly from your DVD player. The speakers themselves are relatively powerful, at 10W each. They're no match for a dedicated sound system, but you certainly won't need to push beyond 50 per cent volume before they have ample presence. Alas, there's no DTS support, but the speaker package is a real bonus given the price.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide