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Before the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format war was ever conceived, a protracted fight between LCD and plasma was well underway--and today it continues unabated. The two flat-panel HDTV titans vacillate back and forth with every generation of new technology, and LCD's latest salvo sounds potent indeed: 120Hz technology. The Toshiba 52LX177 is the first 2007 HDTV CNET has reviewed that includes this feature. See below for the nitty gritty, but the short story is that while we did notice a slight difference between 120Hz and standard 60Hz LCDs, it certainly didn't blow us away. Much more noticeable was the 52LX177's judder-busting Film Stabilization processing--an offshoot of 120Hz that really smoothes out camera movement (for better or for worse, depending on your personal preference). Add in solid all-around picture quality, scads of picture controls, and even home networking capabilities, and you have one of the most loaded HDTV spec sheets on the market. Of course you'll pay dearly for the privilege, but that's the price of living on the cutting edge.
Toshiba's LX177 series includes two smaller sizes, the 42-inch 42LX177 and the 46-inch 46LX177, along with a larger 57-inch version, model 57LX177. All four members of the series are virtually identical but for size, and we expect the other three sets to perform similarly to this one.
Toshiba clad the 52LX177 entirely in black, from the somewhat thick, glossy black frame surrounding the picture to the very large, stretched-out U-shaped black stand. The speakers are discreetly hidden along the bottom edge of the frame and angled downward--not quite as hidden as Samsung's design, for example, but still nearly invisible. The only other adornments on the face are a series of white logos that, given the set's many capabilities, are commendably circumspect. The 52LX177 measures approximately 50.5x33.4x15.4 inches and weighs 103.2 pounds including stand.
We liked the 52LX177's large remote, although some users might find the number of buttons intimidating at first. The big central cursor feels just right, and the buttons are grouped logically; this is one of the few clickers we've seen recently to include full backlighting behind every key. The remote can handle five other pieces of gear. The internal menu system groups the many items in intuitive categories, although the numerous picture options made that menu seem more labyrinthine than necessary. We also would have appreciated text explanations for each menu item.
The Toshiba 52LX177 is perhaps the best-featured LCD available today. Naturally, it has a native resolution of 1080p, so its 1,920x1,080 pixels can resolve every detail of today's highest-quality HDTV sources. All non-1080-resolution sources, from standard TV to DVD to 720p HDTV, are scaled to fit the pixel array.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this review, the 52LX177 is also equipped with 120Hz technology. In essence, the panel can refresh its image twice as fast as standard HDTVs, which should cut down on motion blur sometimes seen during fast motion with standard, 60Hz flat-panel LCDs (plasmas and rear-projection sets, unlike 60Hz flat-panel LCDs, don't suffer this kind of blur). To convert the standard 60Hz source to 120Hz, the set uses a process called Motion Vector Frame Interpolation, which creates a new frame using information from the two adjacent frames. Toshiba claims this method is superior to other 120Hz processing methods, which insert black frames or inverse frames between the real frames. We haven't tested any of those other sets so we can't comment on this claim at the moment. The 52LX177 can also smooth out judder seen on film-based material. See the Performance section below for more details on how these features affect the picture.
The 52LX177 can also take advantage of a few features associated with the HDMI 1.3 format, namely the xvYCC color space, Deep Color, and Lip-Sync Latency (more info). All three of these features require an HDMI 1.3-compatible source (typically a late-model Blu-ray or HD DVD player) playing a disc or other content encoded with these features. We did not test these extras since we did not have appropriate content at press time. It's worth noting, however, that the 52LX177 utilizes a 10-bit panel, so it should be able to take advantage of Deep Color content when and if it becomes available.
On to stuff that actually matters today. The Toshiba 52LX177 offers one of the most flexible picture memory arrangements we've seen, which is a great boon for people who like to tweak the image. There are four preset picture modes that cannot be adjusted--doing so causes the mode to switch automatically to the Preference mode, which saves changes independently for each input. While this design might seem problematic, since it automatically erases the changes you had previously entered in Preference, there are a couple of ways to avoid losing your settings. First, we recommend using one of the two Pro modes, which are also independent per input, to save your picture settings. Second, you can use the novel TheaterLock function to gray out (make nonadjustable) most of the options in the Pro1, Pro2, and Preference modes--an excellent way to guard your hard-tweaked settings against accidental erasure.
Beyond the standard picture controls, there's an array of advanced options. You can choose to engage DynaLight, which does improve black levels in dark scenes, although we left it off for critical viewing since it changes the black level according to program content. We kept Dynamic Contrast off for the same reason. We did appreciate the eight gamma settings (we used the lowest setting, minus-4, because it provided the most CRT-like rise from black) and three color temperature presets, as well as the ability to adjust the color temperature's blue and green drive (although we'd prefer the full six, or at least three, adjustments here). There are two kinds of noise reduction with four levels each, as well as a setting that introduces edge enhancement. Toshiba also throws in a Color Master Pro option that we found problematic enough to leave turned off.
Conveniences abound on this set, starting with the unique ability to interface with a home network via a rear-panel Ethernet connection. This feature allows the 52LX177 to display digital photos (JPEG files only) and play digital music (MP3 only) that are stored on another computer on the network. Furthermore, the set includes an e-mail client, so you can actually view e-mail (POP3 only, which includes most ISP-based e-mail as well as Google's Gmail but not the basic Hotmail or Yahoo mail services).
Unfortunately we weren't able to get any of these features to work properly by press time. We tried setting up the TV to access our Gmail account but were stymied by--of all things--the lack of an "@" sign on the virtual keyboard for username entry. Other POP3 services that don't require an @ in the username might work fine, but we didn't try any others aside from Gmail. We were also unsuccessful at using the JPEG and MP3 browser. Once we finally got the TV to recognize our PC--which involved changing our PC's username, since the virtual keyboard lacked a "space" option--we couldn't access the folders. Perhaps users with a bit more patience can get these features to work properly.
Among more conventional conveniences, there's a picture-in-picture mode that lets you view two sources at once. There's also the ever-popular game mode that disables some video processing with the ostensible goal of shortening any delay between your fingers and the onscreen action (we didn't test this mode). Surprisingly there's no dedicated power save mode that affects the TV while it's turned-on, although you can engage a mode that makes the TV emerge from standby very quickly. As usual, this mode causes the set to consume significantly more power when turned off--29 watts versus 0.85 watt in default mode, which can add significantly to your electric bill.
Connectivity on the 52LX177 is ample, including three HDMI inputs, two component-video inputs, a PC input (just 1,024x768 resolution), an AV input with composite and S-Video, an RF jack for cable or an antenna, and an Ethernet port. The side panel offers an additional AV input with composite video only.
The picture quality of the Toshiba 52LX177 is among the best we've tested from flat-panel LCD TVs this year, although it still wasn't up to that of the best plasmas. We liked having all of the options for video processing, and the set produced a relatively deep black. Still, we'd like to see improved color accuracy and, frankly, more evidence of the benefits of 120Hz.
During setup, we adjusted the set's light output for optimal performance in our darkened home theater, which meant our standard of around 40 footlambert, which was right around the default for Movie mode--a good sign. The initial color temperature in the Warm preset was quite green, however, and relatively plus blue as well, so we appreciated having the blue and green drive controls. We used them to adjust the grayscale to come much closer to the standard, although with more controls we could have definitely made the grayscale more linear--one of the Toshiba's weaknesses is that it gets a bit too reddish in the mid-dark areas. The Toshiba could not resolve blacker-than-black or whiter-than-white parts of the video signal, which are useful mainly in calibration, although it handled the full range in between well enough. It's also worth noting that setting the sharpness control at 15 or less caused the highest-frequency (most detailed) section of the 1080i test pattern to start flashing, so we set sharpness at 16.
We also used the Color Master Pro controls to attempt to adjust the 52LX177's primary and secondary colors, but despite getting them much closer according to test patterns, when we watched regular program material the results were much worse. We're guessing the CMP values don't map correctly to real-time, full-motion video. In the end, we decided to leave this control off and suffer through the 52LX177's inaccurate green (see the Geek box below) and cyan. For our full user-menu settings, click here, or check out the Tips & Tricks section.
For comparison testing, we set the Toshiba up next to a few other HDTVs we had onhand, including the Pioneer PRO-FHD1and the Pioneer PDP-5080HD (both 50-inch plasmas), as well as the Sharp LC-52D64U, the Vizio GV42L (both 1080p LCDs), and the Panasonic TH-58PZ700U (a big 1080p plasma). We started with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on Blu-ray, courtesy of the Samsung BD-P1200 set to 1080i resolution.
The Toshiba performed well during dark scenes for an LCD, although black levels weren't quite as deep as those of the Sharp. The nighttime scenes aboard the pirate ship looked acceptably dark, and detail in shadows was relatively good with a realistic rise from black into shadow. We still missed some near-black details compared to those of sets such as the Pioneers and the Panasonic, such as the darkest parts of Jack's hair as he rises up from the seaborne coffin, but for an LCD, the Toshiba acquitted itself well in dark scenes.
We mentioned the set's tendency to turn reddish in mid-bright scenes, but after we'd reduced the color control a bit to compensate, delicate skin tones such as those of Keira Knightley's rain-speckled face looked realistic enough. Other colors, such as the blue skies and green jungles during the tribal scenes, were slightly less saturated as a result, but still had plenty of pop. These scenes did bring out the greenish tinge to the sky and the ocean, as well as the yellowish greens of the jungle plants--both result of the inaccurate cyan and green mentioned above. The cyan was so far off during one ocean scene that it looked like Orlando Bloom was swimming in Scope.
Engaging the Toshiba's ClearFrame option switched from 60Hz to 120Hz processing, which, among other things, is designed to address motion blur in fast movement. We frankly find motion blur difficult to detect in general on 60Hz LCDs such as the Vizio and the Sharp, and when comparing them side-by-side with the Toshiba we felt the same way. We watched a quarter of football from Fox HD and glancing between the three, the Toshiba didn't look any less blurry during fast motion. When the camera sweeps over the field to follow a pass, the yardage lines looked just as blurry on the Toshiba as on the others televisions; in other words, the blur was in the source. We watched numerous other fast-motion scenes, from the swinging prisoner-balls in Pirates, to fights and flames in V for Vendetta and Batman Begins, to flying spaceships in Serenity, to news reports on HDNet, to episodes of Law & Order, and any differences we saw between the Toshiba and the 60Hz displays were nearly impossible to confirm. The best evidence came during a ticker on ESPNHD, where the letters looked a bit blurrier on the Vizio than on the other sets. We also noticed a difference on fast-motion test patterns with white objects moving against a black background. Overall, we didn't find the Toshiba's 120Hz processing to be a game-changer, although perhaps viewers more sensitive to motion blur would appreciate it more.
The set also offers a mode called Film Stabilization. Its general effect was to reduce the amount of visible "judder," which looks like rapid-fire, full-frame stuttering and is visible primarily in pans and other camera movement. Judder is one of the main reasons film looks, well, filmlike, and since it's been a part of our movie-watching experience for a long time, removing it can seem a bit disconcerting. There's a lot of camera movement in Flags of our Fathers, for example, and the effects of the Film Stabilization mode were easily visible everywhere. During a slow pan over a battlefield, for example, the camera almost seems as if it's on rails--perfectly smooth and, to our eyes, somewhat unnatural looking. A variable-speed pan, which follows the takeoff of an airplane, did preserve some stuttering or nonsmoothness during the quickest part, but then assumed that same sort of eerie stability as the camera movement slowed. One CNET reviewer really liked the effect of the smoothness, but the majority still preferred to preserve that filmlike judder, at the very least because that's the effect the director intended. The stabilized image just looked too video-game-like and somehow unnatural in a lot of scenes, although as always, your personal preference may differ.
We also noticed that in certain pans, the stabilized image still preserved some judder-like effects. In Pirates, for example, the camera pulls relatively quickly away from a large map on the wall to find Orlando Bloom, and the grid lines on the map still jumped slightly even while a ladder looked smooth--a weird effect indeed. In this case, we again preferred the full-frame judder of the nonstabilized image. We watched this pan with the Samsung set to 1080i, 1080p/60, and 1080p/24, and the differences were difficult to detect between them, regardless of which processing mode we used for the 52LX177, leading us to believe that Toshiba's processing trumps any benefit 1080p/24 might provide.
That belief was borne out when we looked at test patterns from the HQV Blu-ray disc played back at 1080p/24 from the Samsung BD-P1200. Engaging ClearFrame caused interference in the most detailed sections of the "film resolution loss" pattern as well as sporadic interference in the stands and the pan over Raymond James Stadium. Turning on Film Stabilization had no effect on the interference, although it did, as expected, smooth out the pan considerably. With both standard 1080p/60 and 1080i sources, the results were the same: the test pattern and stadium looked best with ClearFrame off. In terms of 1080i deinterlacing, the 52LX177 passed the HQV tests for both video and film resolution loss as long as ClearFrame was off, although we did see some strobing in the pattern and the stadium during the film test. For people keeping track, the panel also resolved every detail of 1080-resolution still images.
Screen uniformity on the big 52-incher was above average for a flat-panel LCD. Looking at full-screen gray fields generated by our Sencore VP-403, we did detect brighter edges compared to the middle in mid-dark and darker fields, and in the darkest field we saw that the upper-right corner and the very top edge of the screen appeared brighter still. Off-angle viewing was about average for an LCD; there was no discoloration when we saw the image from either side, although we did detect irregularities in the backlight (vertical variations in brightness) that we couldn't see from more or less straight-on. As always with LCD, seeing the image from an angle causes it to wash out more the further you view from dead center.
We tested standard-def sources using the HQV DVD at 480i, and the results were disappointing. The 52LX177 resolved every line of resolution from the DVD according to the test pattern, but the shot of the bridge and passing cars looked a good deal softer than we'd like to see, not to mention softer than on the other sets in the room. It also did a poor job of smoothing out jagged edges from moving lines in test patterns and the stripes of a waving American flag. On the plus side, the various noise reduction controls went along way toward cleaning up the shots of skies and sunsets, although the Auto setting didn't work as well as choosing one of the three manual settings. The set engaged 2:3 pull-down processing relatively slowly, but it was effective.
The Toshiba 52LX177 handled PC sources via HDMI extremely well when we set our DVI-equipped video card to 1,920x1,080 resolution. The display resolved every line of the signal, and text looked as clear as we've seen on any LCD TV when we engaged the well-designed Document picture preset. The VGA input is much less useful however, since its resolution maxes out at just 1,024x768. That resolution looked understandably soft and, since it's non-wide-screen, showed up with sidebars on the Toshiba's screen. Naturally, we recommend devoting one of the HDMI jacks to a DVI-equipped PC (via the appropriate adapter) if you want to display computer source on the big screen.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,343/7,052K||Average|
|After color temp||6,889/6,472K||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 550K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 194K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.648/0.323||Average|
|Color of green||0.192/0.683||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.148/0.064||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down||Yes||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
|Toshiba 52LX177||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||322.09||215.47||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.28||0.19||N/A|
|Cost per year||$98.33||$65.95||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Poor|