Ha! So you thought LCD TVs bigger than 32in were far too expensive to compete with big plasma TVs, did you? Erm, actually, so did I. Seems I was wrong.

Toshiba's 42WLT58 is a 42in LCD TV - from the company's flagship range, no less - that'll set you back a mere, plasma-rivalling £2,400.

I concede that the 42WLT58 isn't the most gorgeous looking TV in the world. The shaping, finish and dark-grey colour scheme all look a bit bland - though I suppose this does help the set blend into the average living room rather than dominating it, and doesn't distract from the pictures you're supposed to be watching.

Things are rather more attractive when it comes to connectivity. Particularly gratifying is the provision two HDMI inputs (Sky HD and DVD player!), together with a component video jack (Xbox 360), a PC jack, three Scarts, a subwoofer line out and all the other bits and bobs you'd expect to find on any TV.

As befits a flagship screen, the 42WLT58 is HD Ready, thanks to a 1366 x 768 native widescreen resolution and all the requisite HD connectivity. Key amongst its features is a built-in digital Freeview TV tuner, complete with 7-day EPG. While you can set programme reminders from this guide, though, you can't set multiple recording events.

When it comes to picture and sound adjustments, the TV's crisp and clear onscreen menus offer a back light adjustor, MPEG and standard picture noise reduction, colour management, a 'cinema' progressive scan mode for improving the appearance of jagged edges, a bass booster and SRS WOW audio processing.

Also at work is Toshiba's Active Vision LCD image processing system, which is designed to increase the pixel count, improve colour subtleties and help with fast motion.

Smaller sets in Toshiba's current LCD range have delivered some of the nicest LCD pictures around, so I had no reason to expect anything less from this kingsized version. But it only takes a few moments of watching the 42WLT58 to realise that the sets performance is somewhat schizophrenic.

Performance

After setup and calibration, two problems with the 42WLT58's pictures are immediately apparent. First and worst, its black level response is really limited, with dark picture areas succumbing to greying-over all too readily. Any outer space shots in any of my favourite sci-fi movies looked flat and strangely under-populated with stars (the less bright ones disappear into the low-contrast smog). Toshiba quotes the 42WLT58's contrast ratio at a relatively measly 550:1 (the 37in and 32in sets in the WLT58 range are rated at 800:1). Our tech labs independently rate contrast at just 280:1.

It doesn't help black levels, either, that this review screen showed clear pools of backlight seepage creeping quite severely into the picture's bottom left corner, and more subtly into the top right corner. Not very nice at all.

The other main issue I have with the 42WLT58 concerns its colour tone. As I watched a variety of footage from all of the TV's source options - in both NTSC and PAL - I seldom felt that colours looked completely natural in hue. Skin tones seemed variously over-cooked or pasty, rich reds look orangey, and many dark scenes are blighted by blue or green undertones. A more minor problem concerns video noise during standard-definition viewing, as the set seems to notably exaggerate any that might be inherent to a source - especially the digital MPEG noise in some low bitrate digital broadcasts and HDMI digital viewing.

Of course, it would be surprising if all the talents seen on other recent Toshiba LCD sets had passed the 42WLT58 by. So from here on in the news is mostly good.

Motion is rendered with impressive clarity, and camera pans are delivered without either juddering or the smearing issues associated with LCD screens that have a slow response time. Fine detail performance is good, too. Seemingly, every last pixel of picture information from my D-Theater HD transfers of Master And Commander and U-571 made it to screen. What's more, this clarity is not accompanied by the graininess seen on one or two other high-sharpness LCD panels I've seen of late.

It should be said, though, that the detailing evaporates rather markedly during standard-def viewing, and skin tones can sometimes look a bit waxy.

The picture is strikingly - at times almost radioactively - bright, too, but without peak whites or harsh boundary contrasts looking overemphasised or forced.

The 42WLT58's sound performance is very satisfying overall. The soundstage spreads far and wide without ever becoming incoherent, and there's enough power to go up a gear for action scenes - which are then delivered without distortion.

There are certainly aspects to like about the 42WLT58 - not least its price.

Yet it's difficult to shake the feeling that this screen is a step or two behind Toshiba's smaller LCD sets. Even more tellingly, it's also more than a few steps behind Panasonic's TH-42PV500 and Pioneer's PDP-436XDE plasma sets. Ultimately, much of its appeal will boil down to what you want to use it for. Discerning home cinema buffs will, I suspect, pass it by. John Archer