Home entertainment technology evolves at lightning speed, so it's important to make sure your TV is as futureproofed as possible - and they don't come much more forward-thinking than this 42-inch set from Toshiba.
Not only does it boast an HD-ready resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, but it's also one of the first flatscreen TVs to sport three HDMIs. This means you can plug in a Sony PlayStation 3 and a Sky HD personal video recorder, and still have a socket left for an HD DVD or Blu-ray deck.
The 42WLT68 has an even greater trick up its sleeve, namely a new version of the company's Active Vision picture processing that uses 100Hz technology.
Active Vision M100 ups the TV's refresh rate from 50 times a second to 100 by inserting generated frames between the real ones, using a trick called 360° Motion Estimation. As each frame is on screen for a shorter time the amount of motion blur - a common problem with LCD TVs - is cut. The result is cleaner, sharper movement, but an added bonus is that the Active Vision technology also enhances detail, colour and contrast as it does on previous Toshiba LCD sets.
The set is also impressive on the outside. The glossy black styling is an improvement on Toshiba's previous WLT66 series, and the silver under-screen speakers - from audio gurus Onkyo - are a stylish touch.
Aside from the three HDMIs, there are two Scarts (one RGB), component video jacks and a PC video input. There's also a CAM slot for adding the Top Up TV package to the Freeview channels the digital tuner picks up; an optical digital audio output for piping stereo sound to an amp; and a subwoofer output for extra bass. Other features include a seven-day electronic programme guide (EPG) and SRS WOW pseudo-surround sound.
The set's vitals - according to Toshiba - include a contrast ratio of 3,500:1 and a brightness of 450cd/m2. If we had to grumble, the 1366 x 768 resolution feels underwhelming compared with the 'full HD' sets on the market, but it's enough for decent hi-def performance.
Easy to use
On the whole, the 42WLT68 is simple to use. The menu system, EPG and onscreen displays are attractive and straightforward, though a couple of the EPG's options aren't made clear in the manual or onscreen. Digital text, auto tuning and channel changing are all very quick to use. The remote is well laid out, easy to master and has terrific labelling, but our sample had very squashy, unresponsive buttons which became a little annoying.
Active Vision M100 lives up to its potential. With standard-def football broadcasts, the frenetic action looks judder-free. Players move around the pitch with only slight motion blur, and there's a low amount of smearing behind the ball.
Sky Sports News provides another good demonstration of its skills. The processing sharpens up the horizontally scrolling text, removing flicker and making it much easier to read.
The good news doesn't stop there. The 42WLT68 generates some deep and authentic black levels, but still manages to resolve subtle shadows within dark areas. Colours are frighteningly vibrant and the excellent detail reproduction makes high-quality standard-def material look almost as good as hi-def.
Active Vision doesn't eliminate blur entirely - the set has an occasional wobble with detail on football pitches when the camera moved - but these are minor grumbles and on the whole, it's a triumph.
When you move onto hi-def, the results are out of this world. With The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou on Sky Movies HD, the Toshiba hits it out of the park with tons of pin-sharp detail and glorious reproduction of the movie's jaunty colour palette.
A range of other hi-def material, from football to documentaries on BBC HD looks stunning - especially Planet Earth. Pictures from the built-in Freeview tuner are some of the best we've seen on an LCD set, but only with good quality channels - with low-quality broadcasts the 42WLT68 can emphasise noise and make the picture look scruffy. DVD playback is superb, particularly with CGI animation.
We're hugely impressed by the set's sound quality. The powerful speakers deliver chunky bass and crisp dialogue reproduction, and audible audio at low volumes. SRS WOW also provides a wide soundstage that adds to the sonics.
The 42WLT68 is the set that's got it all - excellent picture and sound quality and an unbeatable feature list, all for a reasonable price. And if you're looking for a set that boasts enough cutting-edge connections to keep you going for years to come, then you won't go wrong with the Toshiba 42WLT68. Highly recommended.