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Toshiba shows off its 2006 collection

Last week Toshiba filled a country hotel with more televisions, DVD players and projectors than any sane human has a right to see and let the assembled press off the leash. Including Crave...

Last week Toshiba filled a country house hotel with more televisions, DVD players and projectors than you'd find in the AV department of John Lewis, then threw open the doors to the best and the brightest of the UK press, or at any rate those journalists most interested in all things audiovisual. We ooh'd and aah'd, we left fingerprints on all the glossy black plastic, and we asked pertinent and probing questions like, 'How much does will it cost?' 'When will it be out?' and 'Why hasn't it got an HDMI socket?'

Highlights, lowlights and interesting sidelights included:

• According to Toshiba's figures, LCD is now worth more than CRT, rear-pro and plasma combined, with 32-inch the most popular size. Toshiba expects 37-inch LCDs to be the fastest growing sector in 2006-07, although 32-inch will remain the most popular size -- so your new 32WLT66 will still keep you abreast of the Joneses. Toshiba's LCD televisions have a new brand name, REGZA, from an old German word for 'activeness', and a new slogan, 'Image is everything' (prompting an immediate response from the cynical press: 'Sound is irrelevant').

• This year's big sellers are expected to be the 32WLT66 (reviewed here) and the 37WLT66 (pictured above left), both available now. If you want a 'full HD' television with a panel resolution of 1,920x1,080, you'll need to wait for the 42WLT66 and 47WLT66, available late April/early May for around £2,000 and £3,500 respectively. All these sets have two HDMI inputs.

• In September Toshiba will launch the premium WLT68 range, in 32-, 37- and 42-inch sizes. These sets with have three HDMI inputs and 100Hz picture processing, which attempts to smooth out motion by inserting an extra frame between each of the frames in the input signal. Toshiba only had non-working prototypes on display, so we can't tell you how well it works (note: there are few things as dull as a non-working prototype of a flat-panel TV).

• If you want more bass, but can't face fitting up your living room for 5.1 Surround Sound, Toshiba is now offering the SW1000, a slimline subwoofer that can be mounted behind the screen. Expect to pay around £150.

• Toshiba's HD-XA1 HD DVD player launched in Japan on 1 April and is set to launch in the US on 18 April. We won't see a UK version until Q4 and there's still no word on pricing. Toshiba demonstrated the player for us by switching between high-def video from the HD-XA1 and a standard-def version of the same footage from a regular DVD player. Crave was impressed by the detail, vibrant colours, smooth diagonals and stable image from the HD-XA1, but with just three titles on sale when the player launched in Japan, it's hard to feel that HD DVD has arrived. Likewise, there was some vagueness about the functionality. HD DVD allows for picture-in-picture commentary and menus that display with the film playing in the background, but Toshiba doesn't know what the studios are going to do with these features. The player can also be connected to the Internet, opening up the joyful possibility that you might see your favourite actor using a cool mobile phone and interrupt your high-def home-cinema experience to click through to an online shop and purchase it immediately.

• In addition to the ET10 and ET20 home-cinema projectors, Toshiba also demonstrated the FF1, a pocket-sized, battery-powered projector that uses LEDs instead of a lamp (picture above, inset). It can display images or presentations from a USB memory stick, making it a low-fuss solution for portable presentations. It's cute and we want one, although since we don't actually need it, the £749 price tag makes it an expensive toy.

• Is anyone still interested in standard-def DVD players? No, thought not. However, we're tempted by the RD-85DT, Toshiba's lastest combination hard-drive and DVD recorder (pictured above, right). With a stylish new case, 160GB hard drive, built-in Freeview tuner, support for the eight-day electronic programme guide and component video outputs, it has almost everything we could want -- apart from an HDMI output (apparently we'll get that on the next generation, possibly before Christmas). Expect to pay around £350.

• Finally, a random fact for trivia buffs: in 2004, Toshiba installed the world's fastest elevator in the world's tallest building. Said elevator has a top speed of 1,010 metres per minute and zips passengers up and down Taipei 101, an office building in Taipei, Taiwan. So now you know.

And that's enough Toshiba news for today. -ML