If you're just about to buy your first HD Ready screen you might not want to spend all your money on dipping your toe in the market. Screens that show 720p aren't cheap, but they do cost significantly less than their 1080p variants, so can make ideal first hi-def televisions.
The C-series TVs sit at the bottom end of the Toshiba Regza range. Things like matte plastic and no side HDMI input show that there has been some cost-cutting to keep the price of this screen low.
One thing about the design of the C3030 series has given us a little chuckle. Unlike the X- and Z-series televisions, the C series has only a matte-black finish. This implies that piano black is only for premium products, but in our experience it's everywhere. For us, it's actually quite nice to see a TV finished in a pleasant non-reflective surface.
Although we like the matte black, the 37C3030 is actually pretty boring to look at. The traditional silver claw stand and a thin metallic surround are the only relief from some otherwise fairly stark blacks. At the bottom of the TV is a thin strip of shiny black plastic, which conceals the status light and some logos, claiming the TV is 'HD ready' and has 'integrated digital TV', meaning it can receive Freeview.
On the front there are no buttons at all. To the right of the screen, there are controls for adjusting volume, channel and entering the menus. There's also a composite video input for hooking up a camcorder, but no S-Video or third HDMI socket here, unlike on the X series.
The remote control is the usual Toshiba affair. It's light, pleasant-looking and does everything you would expect. The major buttons are where you would expect them to be, and on the C series the remote controller seems to be a little more responsive than on older models.
The menus on the Toshiba are nice and simple to use. We also found that the response time of the TV while configuring the menu options has been improved greatly from the WLT66 range. This makes adjusting the TV settings much easier and less irritating.
The TV features a built-in Freeview tuner with auto setup, which worked well. The electronic programme guide interface is pleasant to look at, using low-key colours and providing a decent amount of information. A nice addition is the counter, which tells you how much of a TV programme remains.
The 37C3030 also supports 24 frames per second processing, which exactly matches the frame rate of film. This means that movies should look natural and not suffer from any pitch change, which used to be a problem on film material converted to the PAL format. Obviously you'll need a high-definition player that supports this feature.
In our darkened testing room, we found we could easily turn the backlight down to minimum and still see plenty of detail in the picture. We also noticed that when the backlight setting was high we could see the backlight more at the corners of the screen -- this is irritating, because during dark scenes it's fairly obvious. We were pleased to see this problem was reduced by dimming the backlight, but this is far from ideal and is the worst we've seen for a while.
High-definition picture quality was excellent. Serenity looked superb -- there was plenty of detail in the dark scenes, and the colour was bright and vibrant. Happy Gilmore looked bright and colourful, but as usual we were amazed at the flaws high definition shows up. There are a number of scenes in Happy Gilmore that aren't focused properly -- on DVD we never noticed, but on HD DVD it's really very obvious indeed.
In the ongoing battle between overly soft Freeview pictures and ones that show up every picture defect, we found the Toshiba sat firmly in the soft category. We didn't dislike the Freeview picture, although the softness meant details were slightly washed out. Colour was good though, and overall we felt the picture was decent enough.
Sound was a little weak. We found that when listening to speech only, we were able to easily hear what was said, but as soon as a sound effect was added, speech was drowned out and less distinct. We tested some external speakers hooked up to our HD DVD player via a stereo amp, and found this sound to be clear and easy to understand. It's not unusual for LCD TV speakers to be low quality, as space in the cabinet is quite limited. External speakers solve this, albeit at extra cost.
If you're looking for a basic HD Ready screen, the 37C3030 should appeal to you. If you can stretch your budget a little, consider the big brother of this TV, the 37X3030D, which has the advantage of 1080p and nicer styling.
While this TV isn't perfect, it does well on both HD and Freeview content and the 37-inch screen is large enough to impress your mates.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide