The world of televisions is going through a huge change of late, and the transition has been plagued with confusion for potential buyers. What is high definition? Will my TV be redundant within the next few years? Is LCD better than plasma? Now though, the big picture is finally coming together (if you'll excuse the pun). High-definition compatibility is becoming standard, as is HDMI connectivity -- both guaranteeing your new TV won't be consigned to the scrapheap any time soon. (And if you're still not sure, check out our guide to buying an HD TV.) We're even seeing more Freeview-enabled TVs than the old analogue variety these days. Most importantly, flat screens just keep on dropping in price, and this Toshiba is the closest competitor to the current budget king, the Samsung LE32R41BD.
Toshiba's 32WL56, then, is a future-proofed LCD that nearly gets everything right. The problems are only niggles, but enough for it to lose out on this occasion to models from Samsung and Sony. Unlike those two televisions, the Toshiba is part of a dying breed of non-Freeview-enabled TVs, and component video has to be fed in via VGA -- something that was equally annoying on Philips' 26PF5520D. Toshiba's Active Vision picture processing provides a crisp picture from all sources, although it's not the deepest contrast we've seen, and the set is particularly good at providing quality digital TV pictures from a set-top box. If you want the very best picture quality you'll have to outlay another £100 on a modern HDMI-enabled DVD player, such as the Samsung DVD-HD850, or wait for the opportunity to invest in a high-definition disc player. An impressive, if not market-leading, LCD TV.
The Toshiba 32WL56 is one of the plainest, most mundane designs in the LCD world. Whereas manufacturers like Panasonic, Sony and Samsung have taken the desirable aesthetics of a flat screen and added their own trademark flourishes, Toshiba's square angular design and dull grey finish sour first impressions. Sitting on the desk for over a week during testing, we had no one ask about the TV -- even ViewSonic's LCD received this compliment ten minutes after being set up.
If the television lacks distinction on the physical front, connectivity is much more impressive. There are an assortment of connections on the rear and side from composite to HDMI, plus a VGA socket in case you want to hook up a PC. Conspicuous by their absence are component video inputs -- a prerequisite for flat-screen TVs. Dig around in the box and you'll find a component-VGA adaptor, but this means you can't have a media centre PC and a component DVD player connected at the same time. Nonetheless, Toshiba's offering of HDMI brings it bang up to date with all of its competitors' latest LCDs, and it means that you can buy a new DVD player (from Samsung, Denon or indeed Toshiba themselves) with HDMI output and video upscaling capability and get the best possible picture quality.
There are two Scart inputs, only one of which is RGB-enabled. This is a real shame -- the de facto connectivity standard is still RGB Scart, despite the arrival of HDMI, so if you want to connect a Freeview or Sky box and a games console, for instance, then you're forced to lose quality from one of them. In fact, if this TV is going to be an upgrade from a CRT, then you might want to invest in some new equipment and cables as well. If you can afford the £100 for an HDMI-equipped DVD player then it's worth the investment, as is a component video cable for your chosen games console.
Toshiba's remote control is typically well designed, adhering to the age-old design rule of simplicity over flashiness. The buttons are all spaced out equally and it feels the perfect size when sitting in your hand. The central collection of buttons is well managed too -- direction buttons move you around the menu system and also change channels and volume. You can also take control of other Toshiba equipment if you're a big fan of the manufacturer, with buttons to operate a DVD player and VCR located at the bottom of the remote.