I had better luck when I turned to video setup. The TV lets you tweak and store custom picture settings for each input, including color temperature and noise reduction. Of the two lamp modes, Low Power and Hi Bright, I opted for Low Power, which still gave me a plenty-bright picture in a dark room. One positive thing that I noticed right away was the TV's wide viewing angle - pictures looked uniformly bright up to 30° to 40° off the center seat. On the downside, standard 4:3 programs viewed with the Toshiba's Natural (non-wide-screen) picture mode selected had noticeable inward bowing at the sides - which may be a problem if you frequently watch in this mode. With its Warm color-temperature mode selected, the Toshiba set's color had a pumped-up artificial look. But a few service-menu tweaks (see "in the lab" below for details) really went far to improve the picture.
PICTURE QUALITY When I watched the Hotel Rwanda DVD, the brightly colored clothing worn by parading Hutu tribesman looked vivid without appearing loud. And in a poolside scene at the hotel, the tanned skin of sunning tourists stood in stark contrast to the pale, weathered hide of actor Nick Nolte, here playing the Canadian Colonel Oliver. Viewed from 10 feet away - the minimum distance suggested in the manual - the Toshiba's picture looked very clean and detailed, with buildings along the parade's path and objects in street-vendor stalls coming through with excellent clarity. Shadow depth and detail were also very good. For example, in a scene where hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) and a friend witness the arrest of a neighbor from inside Paul's yard, the shadowed faces of the men stood out against the black nighttime sky.
High-def programs looked extremely sharp on the Toshiba. In a scene from ABC's Alias where a scientist is interrogated at gunpoint, the 720p (progressive-scan) HDTV picture was very crisp, with the details in the lab equipment's dials and meters coming through clearly. The set's ruthlessly revealing picture even brought out the graininess of the original film image.
Of course, standard-def programs still make up much of our viewing diet. I was seriously impressed by the Toshiba's pristine upconversion of conventional 480i (interlaced) programs. It displayed strong contrast and sharp-looking graphics on news and sports channels like CNN and ESPN. And the DVDs that I watched using my player's standard video outputs all looked surprisingly solid and clean.
BOTTOM LINE With a bit of tweaking, Toshiba's 52HM94 DLP HDTV is capable of delivering stunning pictures. And its wide viewing angle lets the whole family enjoy the same bright image and vibrant color from any seat on the couch. Unfortunately, Toshiba's problems with the TV Guide On Screen feature could be a serious issue for anyone who expects to use a Cable CARD or purchase the optional Symbio hard-disk recorder. But if, like me, you already have a high-def cable box with a hard-disk video recorder, you'll find a lot to like here.
In the Lab
(Warm color temperature before/after calibration)
Low window (20/30-IRE)..........8,965/6,693 K
High window (60/80-IRE).........9,744/6,591 K
Brightness (100-IRE window before/after calibration).....13.9/14.5 ftL
The Toshiba 52HM94's high and low color temperature measured far enough off 6,500 K that grayscale calibration was required. Color rendition improved dramatically after adjustment. I could not correct 750-K bumps at the extreme top and bottom of its grayscale, which wasn't a huge issue given where they occured. And grayscale linearity between those points varied within ±150 K, which is good performance. (Calibration needs to be performed by a qualified technician, so discuss it with your dealer before purchase, or call the Imaging Science Foundation at 561-997-9073.)
Screen brightness with the TV's Low Power lamp setting was modest but sufficient for watching in a dark room. Resolution tests showed the TV capable of displaying 720p-format HDTV with full detail. Color decoding was very accurate, measuring only +5% red and green on the Avia DVD's color-decoding-error test pattern. Overscan was only 1 to 2% through the TV's HDMI input, and picture centering was perfect. -A.G.