There was a time that it was only little-known brands (like Evesham, featured left) that produced low-cost flat TVs. This roundup, however, features well-priced sets from two of the most respected manufacturers in the business. First up is this 27in LCD from Toshiba. HD-ready and part of a range from the brand that we've admired in the past, the 27WLT56B comes at just £700.
The Toshiba will be able to show high-definition material thanks to a screen resolution of 1,280 x 720, a digital DVI input with HDCP compatibility. But while it can also take the required component video signals (for analogue HD), this is a bit more fiddly than we'd like, as it's via a PC D-sub input only. Other connections include two Scart sockets (both with RGB capabilities) and a set of side inputs for connection to occasional external sources.
Hi-ho silver framing
When it comes to design, the 27WLT56B may not look as distinctive as say, the Panasonic model in this roundup, but its grey frame in a silver surround is hardly unattractive - it certainly looks more upmarket than some of the models in this test.
More eye-catching is the set's built-in digital Freeview TV tuner - still by no means a given at this price. It also boasts a seven-day electronic programme guide for planning your viewing, and a conditional access module slot to allow you to add Pay TV channels at a later date. Digital TV channels are very quickly tuned and stored into their corresponding presets. Picture-in-picture modes are also on offer, allowing you to view a TV channel while watching an external source, or vice versa.
As with many LCD TVs, the Toshiba struggles to cope with the relatively low-resolution pictures of terrestrial TV broadcasts from its digital tuner. Whites looked overly garish during our tests, and the Tosh exhibits significant motion blurring as actors move across the screen.
There's noticeable picture noise and jagged edges, too, all of which adds up to a surprisingly poor performance from the digital TV tuner. Thankfully, pictures smoothed out significantly when hooked up a Sky set-top box via one of the Toshiba's RGB Scart inputs, but it still means that the built-in Freeview digital TV tuner is all but redundant.
As is to be expected, things improved with DVD material. Images from Kingdom of Heaven looked a lot cleaner, and mostly free from picture noise. That said, however, the 27WLT56B's images are still not quite up to the sharpness of the ultra-clear Panasonic screen in this test (see page 50).
As is often the case, the Tosh's factory-set picture levels require tweaking to produce the best results - colours are initially a bit insipid. Careful colour, brightness and contrast adjustment helps to demonstrate the screen's real potential via its DVI input, but it continues to struggle with colour graduations during dimly lit sequences, with some blocking. There's a black stretch mode that's intended to give cinematic blackness to images, but it doesn't dig deep enough, and blacks look grey and blue-tinged.
The 27WLT56B's speakers do well enough for TV programmes, with good clarity, but they're less impressive with DVDs. There just isn't the depth to do justice to our test movie's soundtrack - even with the dynamic bass mode. Still, at least the set's relative affordability should leave enough change to purchase a decent surround sound system.
Toshiba has cut corners to reach a low price point with the 27WLT56B, and the result is poor digital tuner pictures. It gives a stronger performance with DVDs, though, and should make a good set for HD.