The Monster TV Face Off Toshiba 57HX81
At this point, if you've read some of the other reviews, you may not feel the need to read this one…or you just don't feel like reading any more. This one is worth reading, however, and not just because of our witty prose (which, at this point, is all but depleted, assuming it existed in the first place). Toshiba—one of the Final Four, if you will—is, in some ways, the best set of the Face Off.
Like the Pioneer TV, the 57HX81 certainly doesn't start out well. It has only a modest but adequate set of inputs. The connectors are more logically laid out than the more-expensive Pioneer model and include everything a basic home theater will need. Like the Panasonic display, this model includes a center-channel input, although the 57HX81 accepts a line-level signal. This signal will produce higher-quality audio than Panasonic's speaker-level input but still runs through the TV's speakers. A separate center-channel speaker is ideal, but at least you have an option.
Accessing the inputs is easily done with the backlit remote. Press the input button, and all of the inputs are listed, with numbers, onscreen. This is great. You get the simplicity of a toggle (pressing the input button repeatedly cycles through the inputs) and the efficiency of direct access (press the corresponding keypad number to go directly to the input you want). For once, a manufacturer takes an intelligent approach to a common problem. The rest of the aesthetically appealing menu system is similarly easy to use.
Another great feature of the user menu is the picture-preference setting. Change to the standard mode for bright afternoon viewing. Switch to the movie mode for nighttime viewing and a more-accurate picture. The movie mode also disables SVM, which pleased most of the judging panel. With SVM disabled, Ron and the Kid felt that the image was significantly sharper than that of most of the other sets. Maureen said that, no matter where she sat in the room, the Toshiba set's detail and color were consistently sharp and accurate. The set's adjustable fleshtone circuit and reasonably accurate factory gray-scale setting also earned it praise (although we're not sure whose fleshtone Toshiba is referring to). Ron and Chris mentioned that the image's color was one of the most natural of the group. Adrienne and Shady C both agreed that the color fidelity was excellent but gave a slight nudge to the Pioneer display. Geoffrey and I both realized that a technician's service-mode tweaking could easily make this set as good as any display available.
The set's DC restoration is typical, increasing dynamic range with bright images by lowering black levels slightly. Big Papa was the only one to take note of this, mentioning that shadow detail was good but not as perfect as that of sets with a more-stable black level. Everyone agreed that the 3:2-pulldown detection did a fine job of eliminating motion artifacts in film-based sources. Accolades further flourished for HD images. Adrienne said that "HD material looked outstanding."
In the end, the 57HX81 came in about a nose behind the Pioneer. While more people ranked the Pioneer first, nearly everyone ranked the Toshiba second, with the Kid giving it top honors. Considering the list-price difference between the two and the further improvements professional calibration can make, you could purchase the Toshiba, save money, and still have a better-looking TV.—MW
57HX81 HD Monitor $3,500
Toshiba America Consumer Products
Dealer Locator Code TOS
HT Labs Measures:Toshiba HD Monitor
The top chart shows the gray scale of the Toshiba HD monitor as set by the manufacturer, in the most accurate menu setting possible. The set measures off the black body curve and doesn't read as a particular color temperature (see below). After making adjustments using the Photo Research PR-650, the gray scale measures extremely well, within 150 Kelvin of D6500, which is the accurate setting, across the entire range. The bottom chart shows that the primary colors of the display's CRTs are excellent, matching those specified by SMPTE for HDTV. This means that the display will reproduce all of the colors available in the system. The gray scale, shown in the middle of the triangle, goes from a purplish-blue before calibration to being accurate (the middle red dots) afterward. The light output was approximately 28 foot-lamberts with a white window and puts out 25 ft-L with a full-white field. This indicates an OK power supply. The display has OK DC restoration: Dark portions of the image get even darker as the image gets brighter. Scan velocity modulation is disabled in the Theater mode. The color decoder is very accurate as set by the factory, and the comb filter removes nearly all dot crawl. The TV displays at least 500 horizontal lines (per picture height) with NTSC sources, as measured using the resolution pattern from the Ovation Avia test DVD played on a Sony CDP-650D DVD player.—MW/GM