A huge improvement on its previous iteration, this 37-inch Toshiba LCD offers a wealth of features and connectivity -- including, notably, two HDMI inputs -- but an uninspiring design and unexceptional picture quality let the side down. For its size and spec, though, it's very good value
While Toshiba's previous WL56 range of LCD TVs offered a limited specification for an affordable price, the new WLT58 series has improved features and performance without distancing the budget buyer.
Among the improvements is an integrated Freeview digital tuner and market-leading connectivity that includes previously ignored component inputs and two HDMI digital video inputs. The high-resolution panel, assisted by Toshiba's Active Vision processing technology, also supports all high-definition formats for an inclusive future-proof specification.
The sober, grey design may be uninspiring but there is an exhaustive range of advanced adjustments to enhance picture performance. And, aside from background noise, images are impressive without being exceptional.
A competitive price usually means compromises and, without any omissions from the technical specification, it's build quality that seems sacrificed to keep down costs on the Toshiba 37WLT58, which is available online for around £1,500.
Grey frames are gaining popularity but, unless you're Sony, their contribution to style is as conservative as the colour suggests. From afar, the straight-edged construction, featuring a new slimline speaker system at the base, appears substantial. But closer inspection exposes a plastic camouflage, which gives the build a lightweight feel -- even the 'chromed' controls above the screen are painted to appear metal. The screen arrives mounted on an uninspiring pedestal stand, but the price includes a self-assembled, backless rack that will turn more heads than the TV itself.
Thankfully, there are no such compromises to the screen's outstanding connectivity. Finally, an affordable screen has arrived that features a choice of HDMI inputs. This means you can connect an HDTV receiver and an HDMI equipped DVD player without having to switch cables between a single input. The digital connections are located beneath a removable panel at the rear where you'll also find a RGB PC terminal with accompanying audio input and a CAM card slot for receiving subscription channels from TopUp TV.
Alternative analogue connections are separately situated beneath a rear panel on the right-hand side. Unlike earlier WLT56 models, there's now three Scart terminals, with two RGB-enabled for uncompromised picture quality. Previously omitted component inputs supporting progressive scan have returned to the fold. Both rear panels can be replaced once connections have been made but the lateral position of the analogue inputs makes it difficult to conceal cables without bending them -- stiff cables can be seen sprouting from the side.
Elsewhere, gamers and camcorder users are granted easy access to a set of standard AV inputs, including S-Video, at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. With so many connection options available it's unlikely that any of your components can claim to be ignored and Toshiba deserves praise for its all-embracing approach.
When we reviewed the Toshiba WL56 we complained about limited connectivity and the absence of an integrated digital TV tuner. Well, it seems someone was listening, as all WLT58 models arrive with built-in Freeview tuners and connections to spare. Add high-definition compatibility to the equation and you're left with an impressive future-proof design.
The high-resolution (1366x768-pixel) panel is supported by Toshiba's own Active Vision picture-processing system. Put simply, Active Vision employs a range of internal technologies to enhance the core elements of a picture -- detail, colour, movement and contrast. And, although the WLT56 models used the same system, the contrast ratio has been improved in WLT58 screens.
The menu system looks great with brightly coloured graphics separated into various options using clear icons. There are three unlabelled picture presets, which only appear to adjust brightness levels, and a wide range of other standard and advanced settings. You can fine-tune the picture as far as adjusting individual colours and experiment with features such as Black Stretch, which exaggerates dark areas to improve contrast.
There's also a varied group of sound settings, including a bass booster and some amusingly titled SRS WOW sound effects. These attempt to recreate surround sound from the TV's stereo speakers with varying levels of success. You can individually adjust the effects to sound more spatial, focused or to add depth.
Digital channels are accompanied by an equally attractive 7-day electronic programme guide. The colourful menus are uncluttered and easy to read, but while digital menus elsewhere include moving thumbnails of the current programme, the EPG itself doesn't.
Not all the 37WLT58's functions are terribly effective, but if you like to tinker there's plenty to play with, although the unresponsive remote occasionally frustrates. The tall, tapered design is well arranged and spacious but a touch temperamental. And it's too easy to unwittingly flick the slide switch, which changes the device it controls, leaving the remote useless until you realise what's happened.
Picture performance is more than competent without threatening the true class leaders -- but the competitive price makes it easier to forgive the 37WLT58 for its slight flaws.
Despite the wealth of picture-processing technology, images are still affected by widespread instability, with TV broadcasts suffering the most. As with most flat screens, analogue programmes are afflicted by a cacophony of white noise and blurred colours that's best left ignored. The bright digital TV pictures are far superior, using strong colours and solid definition, but movement could be smoother and backgrounds frequently fizz.
Playing DVDs produces a cleaner picture, which progressively improves as you advance through the hierarchy of connections from analogue Scart to digital HDMI. Upscaled digital images from a corresponding HDMI DVD player enhance colour vitality and deepen black levels to create meticulous detail and improved contrast. But there's still a smattering of instability, especially with colour and shadow gradations, that class-leading screens cope better with.
Only subtle weaknesses separate the 37WLT58 from reference screens like Sony or Panasonic but the law of diminishing returns dictates that you could spend significantly more in search of only slight improvements.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide