Although it's done just about enough to sneak the occasional victory in one or two recent LCD group tests, Toshiba's range hasn't advanced quite as far from its predecessors as we might have hoped. Either that, or it has been saving all its best new stuff for its flagship Z series, as represented today by the 42in 42Z3030

Features

The first significant feature is its design. For the 42Z3030's bezel is so impressively slender that it helps the set occupy little more space than your average 37in set.

It's well connected, too. Three HDMIs dominate proceedings, all of them built to the v1.3a specification and equipped with the ability to handle Deep Color. If you're thinking the latter feature is of no significance, then you may be interested to know that JVC has just announced a new consumer HD camcorder with Deep Color and HDMI v1.3 output. And where one brand has gone, others are almost certain to follow.

The HDMIs are also significant, as they're the means by which the TV can receive and play 1080p sources from HD disc players, including the 'ultrapure' 1080p/24fps format.
Other jacks of note include a digital audio output, a subwoofer line out, and a PC port.

Going back briefly to the TV's aforementioned 1080p/24fps capabilities, we should add that it carries the processing power to show 24fps sources using a 5:5 pulldown system, which replicates the exact image frames in multiples of five to reduce the juddering often seen with 24fps sources.

The 42Z3030 is also notable for sporting a full HD resolution and a sky-high claimed contrast ratio of 15,000:1. Inevitably this figure isn't a native one, and is actually only achieved by some 'fancy' measuring techniques and a dynamic contrast system whereby the backlight output is reduced when dark scenes are detected to boost black levels. But it still raises hopes of some serious black level prowess.

Other key elements including 100Hz processing for making motion look clearer and sharper, ActiveVision picture processing for improving colours, black levels and motion and; 10-bit video processing for a wider, subtler colour palette. Also watch out for MPEG noise reduction for cleaning up messy digital broadcasts and Dynamic Gamma Curve Correction for improving colour tones while eliminating overstressed peak whites or hollow blacks.

Ease of use 

Although the remote control is a bit plasticky and fractionally sluggish, the onscreen menus are attractive and well-organised enough to ensure that operation remains more or less foolproof.

Picture

In some ways, the 42Z3030's pictures live up to the TV's flagship status. In other ways, they don't.

Probably their strongest suit is their astonishing colour vibrancy. Colourful scenes, especially on HD sources, enjoy a level of colour-rich intensity we've seldom if ever witnessed before - and that's saying something when you consider how bright and vibrant LCD pictures usually are anyway.

The set's full HD nature plus the 10-bit processing also ensure that colours enjoy reasonably stripe-free blends and good, subtle toning.

Catching our eye elsewhere is the smoothness and clarity of motion on the 42Z3030. That 100Hz system definitely seems to help in this respect - as does the 5:5 pulldown system if you feed in a suitable 1080p/24fps source.

One further feather in the 42Z3030's cap is its sharpness with HD pictures, presenting detailing galore and impressively noise-free, crisp edging. Provided, that is, you utilise the provided 1:1 pixel mapping mode.

So where does the 42Z3030 fall short of greatness? First and worst, it's surprisingly unimpressive with standard-definition sources, tending to show programmes on its built-in digital tuner with quite overt blocking and shimmering noise. You can improve things using the MPEG noise reduction feature and by toning down the image contrast, but we certainly never felt entirely satisfied with the 42Z3030's standard-definition performance.

We also never felt entirely comfortable with its black level response. There's definitely a little more greyness over dark areas than we'd ideally like to see on a flagship TV - a situation not helped by the way contrast and colours drop off quite severely if you have to watch the 42Z3030 from much of an angle.

We also occasionally spotted brightness 'jumps' as the dynamic contrast system went about its business a little too unsubtly.

Sound

The 42Z3030's flagship prowess is arguably more consistently obvious in its sound than its pictures. For even though its speakers are necessarily pretty small and thin, they serve up a surprising feast of rich bass, clear trebles and a wide mid-range that's able to expand to take in a good action scene.

Value 

Around £1,200 doesn't seem too much to pay for a screen as large and talented as this one.