Toshiba TW56X81 Rear-Projection Television

A "choose your own adventure" television.

I might be dating myself (or just admitting more than I should), but as a kid I used to read a lot of those "choose your own adventure" books. You know, the ones where a junior adventurer goes looking for Mayan treasure, and, at the end of each page, the reader must choose which subsequent page to turn to and thus which path the story will take. Sometimes, you'd end up dead; other times, you'd strike it rich. The books were a literary video game. It was pretty much the only thing my parents could get me to read (hence the lack of Hemingway influence in my writing).

In a way, Toshiba's new 56-inch high-definition-ready television is like those books. It's not that the unit lacks literary worth (although we are talking about a TV here), but that you get to choose how the TV performs. Not only can you tweak the TV, but you can appease the average viewer one minute and the hard-core videophile the next with nothing more than the flip of a menu switch.

Before we get into that, though, we have to describe our cast of characters. In this case, we're talking features, and this TV is chock-full of interesting ones. For starters, you'll notice two wideband component video (with audio) inputs on the back of the set. These will accept the better-quality signals from both regular DVD players and progressive-scan DVD players like Toshiba's SD-9100 (reviewed last month), as well as HDTV decoders that output 480i, 480p, or 1080i. Be sure to set the input (in the menu) for either DVD or DTV. You can't use HD tuners that use VGA or RGB outputs (like some DSS receivers), but you can connect NTSC sources with composite or S-video signals to the two additional audio/video inputs on the back. There's a fifth input on front that, with the connections on back, should be more than enough for any home theater. If you have more gear than what I've mentioned here, you should have an external receiver anyway. Both fixed and variable outputs allow you to run audio and video to the external receiver. But probably the best feature of the rear panel is the easy-to-read white labeling.

Other features, like picture-in-picture, are fed with the TV's dual RF antenna inputs, while an RF output makes using a cable box easy. The TV also has a feature called POP (picture-out-of-picture), which allows two slightly squished 4:3 images to appear at the same time. You can essentially watch two programs at once. Too bad you can't have the audio for one image come out the left speaker and the audio for the other come out the right speaker (just kidding).

Toshiba hasn't changed their menu or remote much from previous models. Then again, they weren't broken, so why fix them? The universal, backlit controller is intuitive and comfortable. Buttons are big and easy to read. The menu is similarly well-laid-out and readable. One handy feature is the Picture Preference preset that gives you a starting point for making adjustments to the main picture controls (contrast, brightness, color, tint, sharpness, and color temperature). If you start out in the normal mode and then make changes, the TV will kick you into the custom mode at the normal mode's settings.

There are a couple of noteworthy additions to the menu that will be useful. For instance, since the display has a widescreen 16:9 shape, regular TV images usually appear with black bars to the left and right of the image. This TV has a wide mode that zooms in on this image to fill the screen; however, it cuts off information at the top and bottom. The menu's size control changes the amount of information that's cut off, but it squishes the image slightly. The scroll function allows you to move this image in case subtitles or sports scores get cut off. Combine these with the full mode used for HD signals and anamorphic DVDs, and the image will accommodate anyone's taste.

TW56X81 Rear-Projection Television
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