Samsung's multi-component (5 max) remote isn't lighted, but it is very intuitive and user-friendly. The set does feature discrete IR codes for all important functions except direct access to inputs (you must scroll through a list) and a separate Power Off.
Toshiba's entry is unusual in that it runs entirely at 1080i/540p. The other two sets display 480i and 480p sources at 480p and all HD sources at 1080i. This places additional importance on Toshiba's internal scaler, which must process even progressive-scan (480p) DVD sources. The 540p rate is also a selectable option, which could potentially look better with other progressive- scan sources and is unquestionably better (more stable) for video games.
The Toshiba also features a Pure Flat picture tube with an Invar shadow mask. Its "Megaband" wideband video amplifier and dynamic quadruple focus are also said to increase sharpness and resolution. Scan-velocity modulation is included but can be defeated for best results with high-quality video. Improved RF and composite-video performance (lower noise, less shimmering) is claimed due to an advanced 10- bit comb filter with vertical contour correction.
Toshiba, too, has included separate memories for three different video sources—very important. While watching, you pick a video mode (MOVIE, STANDARD, or SPORTS), then customize the various settings (brightness, contrast, color temp, etc) for yourself. The next time you select that input, the mode and customized settings you picked will return. Why is it that so many high-dollar flat-panel displays don't have this essential feature? Two HDMI inputs are included on the Toshiba, as well as two component inputs. Video labeling allows you to assign inputs a name from a list.
A sleep timer is included but no On/Off timer or automatic turn-on. Tilt correction is provided.
The deluxe stereo audio section features selectable SRS WOW for soundfield enhancement that's signifi - cantly more 3-D than just stereo. TRUBASS boosts bass perception, and FOCUS is said to raise the sound image vertically to create clearer voices even at lower volume levels. STABLESOUND (selectable) levels out noisy commercials. Total power output is rated at 20 watts.
Toshiba's remote is not unlike the ones supplied with its most expensive sets. It's capable of controlling six components and is backlit. While inputs aren't accessible directly by name on the remote, Toshiba's two-step procedure is the next best thing and is compatible with whole-system macros. There is no separate Power Off button.
Finally, the Toshiba is significantly smaller than the other two sets, if space is a problem.
I unboxed these three sets and set them up side-by-side for viewing with a VOOM high-definition satellite box driving all three via an Extron component- video distribution amplifier. All settings were initially factory default. Right out of the box, all of the sets were too bright (CONTRAST too high), too blue (COLOR TEMP settings all at highest position), and too saturated (COLOR set too high). All this excess is to impress the public at the dealer's showroom and perhaps to impress the new owner as well, with a dazzling though far from realistic or accurate picture.
My first change for basic optimization was to find the most neutral and accurate color temperature setting on each set. On the Panasonic it was the WARM setting, on the Samsung it was WARM 1, and on the Toshiba it was also WARM. Though all were slightly different from each other and none was very accurate from an ISF calibrator's point of view, this one change made it possible to get the three sets looking at least similar. Thankfully, none of these WARM settings produced an unacceptably reddish picture (commonplace), though the Toshiba did have a hint of reddishness.
Then, when COLOR was dropped on each and BRIGHTNESS and CONTRAST (or PICTURE) optimized, it became much more difficult to tell the sets apart, though actually getting all three adjusted to look the same was no quick and easy task and absolutely required real-world viewing rather than just test patterns. I didn't like any of the sets' factory-optimized modes, like MOVIE or NORMAL, though you usually have to start with one of those then alter it to make the picture look right.
Much of my initial comparison was made watching several of VOOM's Original HD Channels in 1080i. Why watch ugly TV when you can enjoy unusual and entertaining programming in beautiful high definition? These HD observations also apply to non-HD viewing, as well, though specific DVD and low-rez non-HD viewing via standard cable will be dealt with later on.
The Panasonic always seemed to have the edge in picture detail, though it was a very subtle one, with the Samsung not far behind. The Toshiba was slightly softer-looking, which prompted me to run the sharpness control up a bit. And speaking of sharpness, none of these sets displayed excessively ugly enhancement artifacts with higher settings of their sharpness controls. Some of the Samsung's apparent sharpness undoubtedly came from the undefeatable scan-velocity modulation (SVM) circuit. The Panasonic and Toshiba also have scanvelocity modulation, but it's defeatable in the video menu. SVM can effectively enhance subjective detail with poorerquality video, but because of the generally undesirable accompanying artifacts, it's best left off when watching high-quality sources.