Setting about Toshiba's new 36in 36ZP48 feels like a trip down memory lane. I don't mean this in a bad way, but there are things about it that remind me of TV days gone by.
There's the fact that it comes with four extra speakers as part of a built-in Dolby Digital/Pro-Logic surround sound decoding system. TVs boasting such integrated audio talents were once ten a penny, but these days, due to the rise of the all-in-one home cinema packages and separates systems, they're very rare indeed.
And given their inevitable weaknesses compared to the nonintegrated competition, I must confess that I haven't missed them much.
The next seeming anachronism is the 36ZP48's sheer bulk. As a 36in CRT TV it eats up an extravagant amount of floorspace, protruding a stonking 60cm around the back. It's also hernia-inducingly heavy. After reviewing a long stream of light, slim flatpanel TVs, its girth seems nothing short of shocking.
From the front, the 36ZP48 doesn't look much wider than your average 32in TV. And there's a good reason for this in that the 36ZP48 is the third incarnation of Toshiba's very successful Picture Frame design, whereby the screen frame is kept as slim as possible.
The Picture Frame 3 is more neutral than its predecessor, featuring a standard matt silver finish, with a slightly shinier curved section containing the speakers running under the screen. There's also another cosmetic difference between Picture Frame 2 and Picture Frame 3 in the form of an extra shelf in the stand.
These cosmetic tweaks are apparently the only differences between Picture Frames 2 and 3, though. A trawl through the 36ZP48's connections and features uncovers nothing new.
There are the same three Scarts (two RGB), the same set of progressive scan-capable component video inputs, the same separately assignable coaxial and optical digital audio inputs, the same speaker connections for external front and rear speakers, and identical front AV inputs.
The features list boasts the familiar selectable progressive scan or 100Hz processing options, with Natural and Active alternatives. Of these, Natural gives the most stable picture but may cause the odd problem with smearing on motion, while Active employs a huge 32MB of internal memory to process motion through a full 360°.
Thankfully, the pictures from last year's Picture Frame 2 model were so good that they still impress on Picture Frame 3. Especially likeable is the set's colour reproduction - the screen has a vibrant yet natural tone. The black level response is also outstanding, presenting dark scenes with both convincing solidity and background detail.
I was also impressed by the lack of nasty side effects thrown up by the 36ZP48's digital picture processing. There are, however, one or two areas where time does catch up with the 36ZP48.
Perhaps my biggest concern is with the picture's apparent slight softness. This isn't real lack of definition; our lab tests confirm that the set's tube comfortably resolves detail beyond 5.8MHz. But other proprietary picture processing systems have raised the benchmark of what we now expect in terms of subjective fine detail on a modern TV.
After the immaculate convergence of LCD and plasma screen images, I couldn't help but be struck by traces of blue and red seepage in the corners of the 36ZP48's glass, as well as some gentle haloing around bold edges.
None of these are disastrous traits; the 36ZP48 is still a fine picture performer, but the bar has definitely risen beyond the 36ZP48's design.
I must confess that I found it difficult to arrive at a conclusion about the 36ZP48's sound. Given that the surround talents don't seem to have added a great deal to the TV's cost, I felt that I could admire the cohesion of the soundstage.
Inevitably there's a shortage of both bass and treble richness compared to what you'd get from a separate system, but provided you have only limited surround sound ambitions, this set will do nicely.
Old but gold
The 36ZP48 is a well-specified, attractive looking TV, albeit one that's no longer at the cutting edge of picture presentation. Much of its appeal will depend on your lust for glass acreage. Value is also great, as from most outlets, a cool matching stand is included in the price.