Times are hard for us all right now, but if you are able to find a few spare quid lying around, there is an upside to all the misery. Namely the fact that you can get TVs such as the Toshiba 32AV555 for just £335.
Considering it's so cheap and comes from a brand that's not known for its exquisite design, the set looks pretty good. The glossy finish gives it a vaguely opulent feel, while its curved edges show decent attention to detail.
Connections are slightly more 'budget' in nature, in that they include only two HDMIs when we like to see three these days. But as there's no D-Sub PC port, one of the two has to double as a (limited compatibility) PC interface.
Happily there's satisfaction on offer in the 32AV555DB's feature list, which is surprisingly long for such an affordable TV. Toshiba has also managed to get its Active Vision LCD processing in there, with its focus on improving a wide variety of picture elements. And it's even bolstered this with Faroudja's DCDi deinterlacing system, designed to reduce the jagged look around diagonal lines and curves.
A dynamic contrast system, meanwhile, enables the 32AV555DB to claim a maximum contrast ratio of 18,000:1, which is higher than the figures bandied about by the majority of similarly priced rivals.
Plus there's a dedicated Game mode that enables a more direct signal path between a games console and the screen; both MPEG and standard noise reduction processing and a colour management system that allows you to tweak the hue, saturation and brightness of the red, green, blue, yellow, magenta and cyan image components.
Colour adjustments of this level are usually reserved for high-end, high-cost TVs. The only spec, aside from the connections, that betrays the 32AV555DB's lowly origin is its native resolution: a non-full HD 1,366 x 768 pixels.
Simple but sluggish
The 32AV555DB's operating system is neither obtuse nor demanding, but we still feel it's time Toshiba revamped its rather dull and long-winded onscreen menu design. And the remote control is rather plasticky and sluggish, even if its layout is actually pretty good.
We weren't expecting much from the 32AV555DB's pictures, given its rock-bottom price, but we're happy to being very pleasantly surprised.
Particularly startling is the set's black level response: dark scenes are very watchable indeed, thanks to the appearance over dark areas of much less greyness than we usually see with budget LCD TVs – a fact which makes dark scenes look more natural than usual, as well as more three-dimensional.
Admittedly, there's a pay-off for such credible blacks. Pictures are slightly less bright than those of some LCD rivals, and in pursuing rich black levels the 32AV555DB sometimes hides away a few more shadow details than we'd like. But this is far less annoying than having to peer through a grey mist.
The screen's colours are also unusually effective. For starters they're extremely well saturated, while tones, even complexions, are mostly natural and convincing. Hi-def images look decently sharp for a 'merely' HD Ready TV, meanwhile, revealing that the Active Vision LCD processing system does a fine job of downscaling 1080p sources to precisely match the screen's pixel count.
The processing isn't as successful at upscaling standard-definition sources, with channels such as National Geographic ending up looking smeary and soft. But where SD sources are of a high quality in the first place, such as with most DVDs, the 32AV555DB's rescaling system is perfectly efficient.
The 32AV555DB's biggest single failing concerns motion handling. For, although not as bad as with many cheapo LCD TVs, there are definite signs of smearing over any rapid motion, especially (though not exclusively) when watching standard def, together with sporadic instances of judder.
In some ways, the 32AV555DB's audio is better than you get with most budget TVs. Subtle effects in a straightforward mix are reproduced with unusually good clarity, vocals are believable and always audible, and the soundstage is wide and immersive.
Unfortunately, though, once you're in the middle of an action scene, the 32AV555DB's speakers can't open up to accommodate it and the resulting audio sounds rather flat and unclear.
The price is right
The price tag makes all the TV's various performance foibles easy to swallow, as they're nothing like as overt as they are on most other TVs in the same rough price bracket.