Photos by Tony Cordoza
Television is here to stay, but the days of the tube are numbered. Admittedly, cathode-ray tubes (CRTs), the devices that create the entertaining, enlightening, and sometimes mind-numbing images in nearly every American living room, will likely remain for many years in direct-view sets with screens that measure 40 inches or less (diagonal). But many of the big-screen projectors favored by home theater fans are already employing tube-free ways to entertain. These technologies, including LCD, DLP (Digital Light Processing), and LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon), promise longer life spans, slimmer cabinets, and improved image quality that takes full advantage of HDTV's high resolution.
Toshiba's 2003 flagship HDTV, the 57HLX82, uses a three-chip LCoS engine, one of the first of its kind to be offered in a consumer-grade set. LCoS is similar to LCD, but instead of being arrayed in a panel through which light is shone, the liquid-crystal material is coated over a reflective surface on a silicon chip. Another of this TV's claims to fame is that it's the first big-screen fixed-pixel TV with a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels - enough to show every detail in 1080i-format HDTV programs. Previously, you'd need a front or rear projector with 9-inch CRTs to even approach that level of resolution.
LCoS technology avoids many of the problems traditionally associated with rear-projection TVs (RPTVs). An LCoS set will never require geometry or convergence adjustments. And because it uses replaceable bulbs instead of tubes, it has a potentially longer lifespan - just pop in a new bulb when the old one fades (a spare bulb is included). Toshiba would not give an estimated life span for the $399 bulbs, but LCD and DLP projector bulbs last around 2,000 hours, which typically translates to more than two years. In contrast, CRTs, which can't be replaced, last five to ten years. The tubes in a CRT-based widescreen TV can fade unevenly if it's used primarily to display 4:3 programs. LCoS is not only immune to this "burn-in" problem, but its bright image can be viewed in almost any lighting condition.
Of course, all of this new technology comes at a price. At a time when HDTV set prices are falling, the 57HLX82 lists for $9,000. And Toshiba's new flagship certainly isn't compact. Sure, at 18 1/2 inches deep it's quite a bit slimmer than any CRT-based RPTV, but this monster makes up for it in every other dimension. It also weighs around 300 pounds, so forget about unboxing it yourself. The black-and-gray set oozes high-tech appeal. Its 57-inch (diagonal) screen is held in place by four silver bolts that resemble industrial rivets, with the screen appearing to float in front of the chassis.
In a futuristic touch, the TV's touch-sensitive front-panel control buttons are integrated into the screen below the visible picture area. Although touching them can mar the set's slick appearance with fingerprints, your domestic partner will likely appreciate its built-in solution to the problem of ugly equipment stacks: a gray panel directly below the screen folds open to reveal a compartment large enough to store some choice video gear. There's a set of A/V inputs hidden within the compartment, and a hole in its rear wall for interconnects and power cables.
I was surprised to discover that such an expensive set lacks a built-in HDTV tuner, but at least it provides plenty of options for hooking up an external one, such as Toshiba's own DST3000 ($999). The set's copy-protected DVI (Digital Visual Interface) input can connect to high-definition satellite receivers and the handful of DVD players that have the connector. There's also a pair of wideband component-video inputs and a VGA port that handles computer signals up to XGA (1,024 x 768) resolution. A pair of digital audio inputs accepts both Dolby Digital and DTS signals.
Despite its cavalcade of features, I found the Toshiba set fairly simple to operate. The remote control has a backlit keypad and can command five additional devices. Its logical layout directed my thumb toward a big cursor control, and important keys like those used for aspect ratio selection and menu navigating are clearly marked. Unfortunately, switching inputs is a two-step process. One button press calls up the input menu, and then you have to press the corresponding numerical button on the keypad to select the one you want. The picture-in-picture function includes an option that lets you view two programs side by side, but it works only with standard sources connected to the set's composite-video, S-video, or antenna inputs.
A total of five aspect ratio selections let you adapt any kind of material to the set's 16:9 screen. The three Theater Wide modes can be used to stretch and crop standard 4:3 programs to various degrees. Two of these can be manually scrolled to adjust the amount of cropping on the top and bottom - I preferred Theater Wide 3, which stretches the edges, leaves the center intact, and crops off only a little bit. A Natural mode places white sidebars to either side of the image. I would have liked to dim the bars or turn them completely black, but that wasn't an option.
My first taste of the 57HLX82 came in the form of a 1080i-format D-Theater tape of the movie X-Men. The opening sequence looked extremely impressive, with the vaguely DNA-like strings of the title sequence rendered with razor sharpness and the words of the titles themselves defined almost perfectly. The set's excellent resolution really made the animation shine. But things took a turn in the shadowy opening scene, which depicts the young Magneto's wrath at being separated from his parents in a concentration camp. This darker sequence looked flat and lacked detail. For example, as Magneto lies in the mud, his dark jacket was rendered in a single shade of black, without any of the shadow gradations and soil spatterings that would have lent the image some depth. But the next scene - a daylight exterior view of Rouge's house - looked lush and vibrant by comparison, with amazingly realistic definition visible in the individual leaves of bushes and trees.
To evaluate the Toshiba's DVD prowess, I selected Road to Perdition, a gangster flick that stars Tom Hanks as an Irish hit man with a heart of gold. The set's ability to draw out picture detail with DVDs was very good: in a scene where Tom's older child is reading in bed, I could make out the words on the page perfectly, and even the texture of the paper in his book. But the dark streets of Depression-era Chicago proved a challenge for the 57HLX82. When the child shined his flashlight across the room, the surrounding blackness got a little brighter instead of remaining dark, and I noticed a "posterized" effect around the light beam - the gradations from light to dark showed subtle contours instead of fading seamlessly to black. I also noticed a faint hum coming from the set's cooling fan during this quiet section. Flicking on the lights to take in some basketball action, I found that the picture improved dramatically when I adjusted the TV for a brightly lit room (the 57HLX82 stores your custom settings for its various inputs, which is a big plus). Graphics were crisp and clear, and the image was bright and noise-free. Viewers used to direct-view TVs will have nothing to complain about, and the picture remained bright over a wide viewing angle. In this respect, it was much more consistent than CRT-based rear-projection sets.
Toshiba's first-generation LCoS TV delivers enough resolution to see all the detail in HDTV programs. My only major disappointment was its performance with dark images. But with most program material, the 57HLX82 will deliver a picture superior to anything else on the market, and LCoS could very well outlast any of the other current TV technologies.
Color temperature (Movie setting before/after calibration)
Low window (30 IRE): 7,604/6,777 K
High window (100 IRE): 6,866/6,403 K
Brightness (Movie setting, before/after calibration, 80 IRE): 39.2/27.7 ftL
With the Toshiba 57HLX82's Movie picture preset selected, it measured close to the NTSC standard of 6,500 K. The upper end of the grayscale was accurate, but the picture got steadily bluer toward the lower end. After calibration, color temperature was much closer to the standard, but the lower end still tended toward blue, and grayscale steps varied by around 400 K. (Calibration needs to be performed by a qualified technician with specialized equipment, so discuss it with your dealer before purchase, or call the Imaging Science Foundation at 561-997-9073.)
After calibration, light output was excellent. The set's NTSC color decoder showed errors in the red and green channels, so overall color level needed to be reduced to produce an accurate picture. Toshiba's 2:3 pulldown processing distinguished between film- and video-based programs extremely quickly, and I saw minimal motion artifacts with standard video programs. DC restoration was average - the level of black varied with the average level of the entire image. Surprisingly for a fixed-pixel display, convergence was not perfect, with red and green fringing visible at the edges of the screen. Close examination of a white field revealed three dead pixels. I also noticed a faint purplish band across the bottom of the screen - a possible anomaly of the review sample.