Given that models further down Toshiba's current LCD range have been anything but low-end in their performance, you can understand me having high hopes for the first model from the brand's new flagship 'WLT58' range.
Not that things get off to a great start, though. The 32WLT58 simply doesn't look like a flagship product, with its dull matt grey finish with lighter silver trim lacking the glamour we've come to expect from LCD range-toppers.
Things become a whole lot easier on the eye in the connections department, especially as this set provides not one but two HDMI inputs. With Sky HD receivers and next-gen DVD players just round the corner, both demanding a digital input, the future-proofing allure of this twin-digital jack support can't be overstated.
More HD connectivity comes from a set of component video inputs, meanwhile, and there are plenty of the other common and garden AV stalwarts, including three Scarts and a 15-pin D-Sub PC connector.
As befits a high-end TV, the 32WLT58 is fully HD Ready, with a native, widescreen resolution of 1366 x 768. Other specifications that matter, meanwhile, find a claimed contrast ratio quoted at 800:1, and a brightness rating of 500cd/m2.
Aside from its HD Ready specs, the 32WLT58's most important feature is probably its built-in digital Freeview tuner. Especially since this is backed up by 7-day electronic programme guide support. However, the EPG is a touch clumsy in its presentation, and doesn't permit you to search it by genre, or set timer events for recording different channels while you're away on holiday. You can only set reminders.
Not surprisingly, given its high-end status, the 32WLT58 is equipped with Toshiba's Active Vision LCD picture processing system. Active Vision's tricks include tripling an image's pixel count, quadrupling the amount of visible colour tones, making movement sharper and upping contrast levels. At least that's the theory. Let's just hope it translates onto the screen without causing any nasty digital artefact side effects... More handy features tucked within the 32WLT58's pretty if slightly small onscreen menus include a backlight adjustment, a black stretcher, MPEG block noise reduction, and standard noise reduction.
The only operational niggle to report is that for some reason the set defaults to its Super Live aspect ratio during HDMI widescreen viewing, rather than the correct 'Wide' one (which you thus have to manually select).
So does the 32WLT58's performance live up to its flagship billing? As a matter of fact, it does.
Straight from the box it creates an overwhelmingly positive impression - and following calibration and extended, hypercritical viewing there are precious few blemishes on this initial bloom.
The first aspect of visual note is the overwhelming clarity of the picture. This is down to a number of factors - the most important of which is the set's exceptional fine detail performance. The 32WLT58 does a good job, in particular, of enhancing the sharpness of standard-definition sources, including an RGB-fed Sky receiver and even its own built-in digital tuner. What's more, although the impact of the extra detail might not be quite so aggressive as with Philips' new Pixel Plus 2 HD TVs, Active Vision LCD's extra pixels are at least achieved with no trace of the processing issues and artefacts which occasionally blight the Philips system.
Not surprisingly, its fine detail talents are also to the fore when you feed the 32WLT58 a true high-definition feed. For instance, the sense of depth, detail and texture during the first shot along the corridor inside the Nostromo during Alien (D-Theater tape) is simply breathtaking.
This brings me to the second reason the picture looks so clean. The lack of Active Vision processing side-effects is joined by a general absence of grain, dot crawl, colour striping, motion artefacting or practically any other noise. Even the blocking noise that so often afflicts digital tuner feeds seems better-handled than usual - with or without MPEG noise reduction activated.
The final reason for the picture's exceptional clarity is the almost complete absence of any LCD motion smearing.
The 32WLT58's colours, meanwhile, are first class. They are exceptionally vibrant and bright - even once you've reduced the backlight and contrast presets from their high factory presets.
Secondly, this vibrancy is achieved while retaining a much more believable tone than you might be accustomed to seeing from an LCD TV. The odd low-lit fleshtone can still look pasty, but traditional problem areas such as rich reds, oranges and yellows are convincing.
Edges in the Toshiba's pictures are also exemplary, with no haloes, ghosting, colour seepage or spiking. In fact, there's really only one picture area where there's still obvious room for improvement: black level.
In high ambient light, shadow areas during normal TV viewing seem well defined. But dim the lights and play a really dark scene, such as the below-decks tracking shot at the start of Master And Commander, and the image undeniably suffers from greying over - a fact which can reduce depth during dark shots, and obscure some of the subtler shadow detailing.
Sonically the 32WLT58 is solid rather than outstanding. It's certainly not short of volume, delivering more than your ears can take without overt distortions or cabinet rattles. There's a decent amount of bass too, and trebles are fairly clear and well rounded. But a slight shortage of raw power can leave really dense mixes sounding slightly compressed and therefore harsh during action scenes.
Toshiba's fine recent run of LCD form is continued by the 32WLT58.
Its connectivity and picture quality elevate this screen above the norm, and help justify the slightly higher price tag this set commands over the 32in mainstream. John Archer