Toshiba 32WL48P review

  • £1200

Does this LCD have the performance to back up its HDMI?

Our Verdict

A very good LCD, with the future-proofing afforded by HDMI bagging it top honours

For

  • Digital picture

    Sound

    Price

Against

  • Unadventurous design

    Occasional gauziness

Toshiba isn't a company to play catch-up while others set the pace: if there's new technology to be had, it wants in on it and fast. The 32WL48P sets itself right at the vanguard of new LCDs by being among the first mid-sized, front-room models to boast an HDMI input.

It's a handsome, rather than pretty 32in set, with Toshiba sticking to a fairly unadventurous aesthetic. A swivelling, desktop stand supports a relatively plain, silver set that could have been produced by any number of flatscreen manufacturers.

The screen surround is gunmetal grey, as opposed to the usual black, but this is about as distinctive as it gets. A typical Toshiba touch, however, is the bottom-mounted, built-in speakers. The sonic difference between sticking your drivers here instead of mounting them vertically either side is minimal, but if the reduced width of 32WL48P floats your boat, then great.

This TV also boasts the manufacturer's Active Vision processing, but as we've marvelled at this particular piece of electronic wizardry before, we'll focus on the thing that most obviously sets this screen apart, its HDMI connection.

The description of this next-generation AV conduit as the 'digital Scart' has long passed into cliché, but it still hasn't cracked the mainstream yet and is some way off totally replacing its multi-pinned analogue predecessor. Its presence on this TV is, however, a welcome reminder that the hi-def future is soon to be upon us and that you needn't break the bank to be a part of it.

The other chief advantage is, of course, that all the audio and visual data from your DVD deck is transported to the screen and displayed entirely in the digital domain. This means no quality-compromising conversion to analogue and then back to digital again before viewing.

HDMI (unlike the video-only DVI alternative) also carries multichannel audio, which is a huge improvement on Scart's analogue stereo capability. This might seem of limited importance when you're sending the sounds to a two-speaker TV set, but it does mean that those of you without surround separates can at least benefit from the cleanest possible audio signal from your DVD deck.

It's also worth noting that the HDMI capability enables the 32WL48P to recognise and play back stereo versions of DTS-encoded soundtracks, as well as the usual Dolby versions.

The back panel bears witness to Toshiba's admirable kitchen-sink connections policy, as seen on most of the company's recent LCD offerings. The inputs are spread over three areas under neat, snap-off covers.

The rear panel hosts the main event in the form of the HDMI input, which rubs shoulders with an RF jack, an RGB computer port and a pair of stereo audio phonos. The more mainstream AV selection is housed on the rear right-hand side, where you'll find a trio of Scarts (two RGB capable), a component video input, stereo in and outputs, and a line-level output for an external subwoofer to beef up the low-frequency sounds.

A corresponding section on the rear left houses the secondary socketry, which includes S-video and composite video jacks, as well as yet another stereo pair and a headphones output.

There's something about broadcast material that never seems to look quite right on LCD sets. Perhaps the brightness of the whites looks too garish, or maybe the fancy-pants digital processing throws up artefacts all over the place. Either way, the result is often a noticeably dirty picture.

This holds true with the 32WL48P, but at least the picture looks fresh, crisp and involving, despite being a little mucky. Also, it's worth remembering that the tuner is of the analogue variety, and in this context, the set does as well as any we've seen.

DVD holds the key to unlocking the 32WL48P's potential. The set does a good job with any of its sockets, although it would be a crime not to avail yourself of its higher-end options.

Pictures via component video are crisp and bold, with the 32WL48P pulling plenty of detail out of the hat and delivering a colour palette that is as at home with bold, brash, primary coloured fare as it is with the most nuanced flesh tones.

The only real criticism is a faintly gauzy sheen on the picture that never really goes away, but we've yet to see an LCD that has banished this bugbear entirely. We've also seen more solid blacks, but again, the Toshiba manages about as well as we've got any reason to expect from the technology.

The step-up to HDMI isn't earthshatteringly different, but you'll appreciate a more vibrant and precise watch. Edges are that little bit more well-defined, colours are better contained and as a whole, the picture is among the most stable and watchable on the market today.

Motion is handled almost flawlessly, with the balletic fight scenes of Hero swooping immaculately across the screen with barely a flicker to be had. This film, with its colour-coded sections that switch between red, green and blue, is merciless in its exposure of sets with a preference for any particular end of the spectrum.

The 32WL48P is a resounding success in this department, handling each with an even-handed panache and realism that puts many plasmas to shame.

High-definition feeds, meanwhile, look predictably lush, with the 32WL48P rendering an almost unnerving amount of detail. The colours, if anything, are even better and you can consider this screen well and truly ready for HDTV when it finally becomes available.

Sonically, the set is well up to the task of handling broadcast audio with appropriate gusto and it also does a commendable job with movie soundtracks.

If you're looking for something a bit special that'll last well into the hi-def age, then the 32WL48P is something of a bargain, particularly as it's a good grand cheaper than recent 32-inchers from Philips and Panasonic. This is a great, keenly priced LCD and the presence of an HDMI socket gives it the kind of edge that should keep it desirable for some years to come.