Despite the tumbling cost of flatscreens, the majority of them still remain firmly in the £2,000-plus category. Rear projection, on the other hand, has seen a resurgence as the major manufacturers are able to churn out massive screens at well under this price. The 52WM48P, one of Toshiba's first DLP efforts, boasts a modern design, a great assortment of connections and a comparable visual performance to its competitors.
The picture quality is greatly enhanced by Toshiba's Active Vision technology, which is one of the better processing models employed by the major manufacturers. Movement is consistently smooth, even with comparatively poor interlaced feeds such as Freeview, and colour reproduction is natural, even if the colours don't jump off the screen. What you're left with is a workmanlike rear-projection TV -- one that satisfies all the right criteria without exceeding expectations.
Physically, the 52WM48P is very appealing. It's an understated, classy affair, with the huge screen encapsulated by a silver plastic bezel. Another elegant touch is the black plastic strip that runs underneath -- it features touch-sensitive buttons that allow you to change channels, volume and inputs. It's a particularly upmarket take on an age-old television feature.
First impressions are just as good round the back of the television, with a lovely new HDMI connection looking inconspicuous on a row of standard sockets. HDMI is the latest and greatest advancement in the AV world, and you can think of it as the digital equivalent of the humble Scart. It can send video and audio down one small cable completely in digital form, meaning no degradation in either. However, as you might expect, DVD players with these outputs are pretty thin on the ground at the moment, and ironically none are available from Toshiba until June 2005 (the SD-350E, which will be £99). However, those that are currently available will often upscale DVD video to more closely match the high resolution of the display, which can be quite useful when they're blown up on to a 52-inch screen.
Although HDMI input is the best connection on offer, you still get a good allocation of standard terminals. Three Scarts (two RGB and one composite input/output) plus a component input will cover enough possibilities for most people. The set also features the standard composite and S-video inputs, while VGA offers you the possibility of a stupidly large computer monitor. Or, of course, you could combine a Media Center PC with the television to become the centre of your fully-fledged digital home. A subwoofer output is a strange but not entirely unwelcome addition to the roster, useful in case you want to add some bass to your audio.
The remote control is standard Toshiba affair -- it's easy to use, but could perhaps do with being backlit or having glow-in-the-dark buttons. However, it can also operate a DVD or VCR if you program it to, and the main buttons are big enough for you to find them quickly.
The television's menu system is simple to use, with options grouped into categories and then presented in a list, and most of Toshiba's advanced picture presets are employed by default. The performance is okay out of the box, but you'll definitely need to drop the contrast.
As the front of this DLP rear projection TV proudly declares, it uses Toshiba's Active Vision picture-processing technology. Basically a whole bunch of picture algorithms that clean up the major components of the picture, Active Vision is the bridge between the relatively low quality of existing AV sources and the high resolution of the DLP chip inside. It's a successful attempt at coping with analogue TV feeds, but it can't work miracles, and due to the sheer size of the screen, a major amount of fizzing and detail loss occurs. Anyone lucky enough to have Freeview or Sky will have a more enjoyable time, but even on these digital signals, MPEG noise can creep in where sharp outlines meet background colours.
This is not to undermine the technology though, because Active Vision is effectively dealing with a low-resolution picture whenever it's fed PAL material. However, it manages to keep everything looking natural, and its particular strength is keeping movement smooth and judder-free, which is actually quite an improvement with Freeview. DVD sources typically tend to look better, but there can still be a lack of detail that can't be fixed by using the advanced options.
However, if you're relatively picky about your picture optimisation, there's still plenty to play around with. You can preserve the material in its original format by engaging the 14:9 and 4:3 modes. This keeps the picture in a square format while introducing black bars on the left- and right-hand sides. The television also has a dedicated Subtitle mode. The television can present a decent brightness level, but only if you pump up the Lamp Mode to High Bright, as opposed to the default Low Power. Of course, this will reduce the life of the lamp, but unless you're viewing in ambient light-free conditions, you'll need to have it engaged.
The audio options are comprehensive too, as you can toggle SRS Wow Effects and employ a variety of preset sound modes. We usually bemoan any artificial additions to the sound performance, but in this case they weren't at all intrusive, and added to an already stellar presentation.
General AV performance from the 52WM48P is good, if nothing to shout about. Toshiba's screen gives the projected image a slightly iridescent quality, which is noticeable but not at all unpleasant. Unfortunately, the colours are certainly very flat, remaining permanently fixed to the screen as opposed to giving the impression that they're dripping with life. The television also suffers badly from the rainbow effect, where you see the colours split up into their component parts when you move your eyes from side to side, which is one of those small things that will annoy you once you begin to notice it.
The brightness level on the television really needs to be turned up, but the contrast level on the screen is very good. Shadow detail is very easy to make out, as opposed to becoming a mass of grey. However, the same can't be said for detail levels, which are low enough to be intrusive on anything lower than high-definition material, and there's a grainy quality to images inputted via RGB Scart and component. This mostly affects Freeview TV and DVD movies, but upgrading to HDMI sorts out the problem nicely.
Aural playback is the most impressive part of the AV performance. You can really turn the power up and enjoy a cinematic soundtrack to the full, and as mentioned earlier you can wire a subwoofer in for extra kick. The speakers do sound meaty enough, though, and you can really make out detail in the treble.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide