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Large screen TVs are the only way to go if youíre looking for an authentic home cinema experience, but should you go big-screen, widescreen or both?  Rick Maybury has some thoughts on the matter and  looks at two recent arrivals from Philips and Toshiba  



Toshiba and home cinema TVs are synonymous with one another. They were the first manufacturer on the UK market with a Dolby Surround set back in 1990 and theyíve been at the forefront of this technology ever since, consistently outselling every other brand. The 3357DB is their third 33-inch surround-sound TV to date, replacing the 3339DB which appeared in early 1994. On paper little has changed, core features, such as the fully-featured Dolby Pro-Logic surround sound system,  NICAM and fastext remain, and the price stays the same at just under £1500. However, there has been some subtle cosmetic surgery. Unflattering curves around the screen surround and cabinet have been ironed out, it looks a lot better for the facelift.


For such a large TV the 3357DB has surprisingly few gadgets, in spite of there being no shortage of room inside the voluminous cabinet. Toshiba are pretty good in that respect, they tend not to load their tellies with glitzy and often superfluous features, that do little for AV performance.  The welcome spin-off is a selling price that remains within the bounds of reason. 


The big 33-inch tube is the main selling point. Itís so big it almost looks like a 16:9 display, the picture area is significantly larger than any tube-based widescreen set. Seated on top of its console it looks quite imposing, thankfully Toshiba have kept the cosmetics simple, so itís not overpowering and it should fit in easily with most decor styles. The console houses the centre-front speaker, beneath that thereís shelves for a VCR and satellite receiver. It comes with a pair of rear surround speakers and it uses the built-in stereo speakers for the front channels, though there are connections for outboard speakers.


AV connections are unusually comprehensive; altogether thereís four AV inputs, handled by two SCARTs and a set of phonos with an S-Video socket on the back, and a front mounted AV terminal, (composite and S-Video plus stereo line-audio), for camcorder and video games hook-ups. Thereís also a separate AV output on the back panel and a headphone jack on the front.


Tuning is semi-automatic and it involves a fair amount of button-dabbing. It takes care of station naming, using teletext data, but the final order has to be sorted manually. Once itís up and running the on-screen display system proffers the usual selection of picture adjustments (contrast, brightness and colour), along with a few extras, such as tint, sharpness and noise reductions. There are also four pre-set picture Ďstylesí, that juggle the contrast, brightness and noise-reduction levels to suite different types of programme material, and viewing conditions. A similar arrangement is used on the stereo sound system, with manually adjustable bass and treble, switchable bass boost, plus four equaliser presets or sound styles, optimised for music and speech, etc.  


The Dolby Pro-Logic processor has options for Ďphantomí or Dolby 3 channel, though why anyone would want to compromise surround sound output is unclear. Additionally thereís a 5-mode digital signal processor (DSP) facility, for creating a range of spatial and surround effects from non-Dolby and mono source material. They are: Ďhallí which simulates a concert hall, Ďtheatreí for approximating the acoustics of a cinema auditorium, Ďdiscoí which re-creates a smaller, more confined space, Ďstadiumí for lots of reverberation, and Ďpseudoí, which generates a synthetic surround effect from a mono source.


The remaining features are all fairly routine, they include a programmable on/off timer, fastext with four page-number memory, time display and a 16:9 display mode, that expands anamorphically compressed images to full screen width. The instruction book suggests that more films will be broadcast in this format in the future; realistically the only thing you can use it for in this country will be to watch foreign satellite broadcasts or DIY widescreen movies, made using camcorders that have a 16:9 compression facility.


Itís a fact of life that big screens magnify picture defects, and its predecessor, the 3339 received some mixed reviews in that respect. Happily the 3357 weíve been looking at was on top form. The image is bright and well focused, geometry and colour registration were both very good. Noise levels are commendably low, though it doesnít pay to get too close to large screens like this one as the line structure becomes apparent and the picture can start to look a little soft.  Unfortunately big screens also exaggerate the effects of flicker. Itís not too bad-- it tends to show up more in bright areas at the sides of the screen -- but if youíre troubled by this phenomenon make sure you have a look at sets with 100Hz displays. The tube has a good contrast range and with a little fiddling around itís normally possible to achieve a good colour balance in a range of lighting conditions.


The large cabinet helps create a substantial sound from the main stereo speakers, and for once itís quite well balanced, with a solid mid-range and adequate reserves of bass and treble. The Dolby Pro-Logic decoder works well too, resolution is fine and it manages to sort out quieter, more detailed effects and direct them to the correct channel without any problems. The rear channel speakers have to be pushed quite hard in order for them to make their presence felt, and loud bass-heavy effects from the back channel can sound a little muted.


Although not substantially different from its predecessor the 3357 is a much tidier-looking package, it works well, and the price remains competitive. 





Price     £1500  

Features           33-inch (80cm) screen, 100-channels, Dolby Pro-Logic, NICAM, fastext, 5-mode DSP, built-in sub-woofer, supplied stand with centre -front speaker, on/off timer       

Sockets            2 x SCART AV, line audio & composite video in/out (phono & S-Video), front, centre and rear speakers (spring terminals) front AV inputs (phono & S-Video), headphone (minijack)


Pros: itís big, bright and loud, a real home cinema performer

Cons: itís big...


HC Rating  88%

Toshiba UK Ltd,  telephone (01276) 62222




Philips are taking no chances with the 32W9631P widescreen 32-inch TV.  The extensive range of  picture and sound facilities includes a 100Hz flicker-free display, Dolby Pro-Logic, digital surround and NICAM. A set-top PAL Plus decoder is available as an optional extra. However, this set and itís slightly more compact stablemate, the 28W9361, can generate a correctly proportioned widescreen image from a PAL Plus broadcast using a system of their own devising,  called Widescreen Plus. Weíll look at how it works in a moment, first the guided tour.


The impressively dark Blackline tube is housed inside a neatly sculptured cabinet that manages somehow to make the set appear smaller than it is, seen from the front at least. By the way, this is the first cabinet weíve come across with a bonnet; a section of the back panel opens up, giving some access to the innards. The speaker grilles are set a little way behind the screen surround, and angled outwards, to help spread the stereo soundstage. Philips proudly boast this set has nine on-board speakers, thatís true, even allowing for the fact that some are used as tweeters, but that figure includes the narrowest speakers youíre ever likely to see, the cones on the four mid-range units used for the main right and left channels are barely an inch wide...


Around the back thereís three SCART AV sockets, plus stereo audio line out, and a set of spring terminals for the front stereo and rear surround speakers, but no separate centre channel output. The front panel has a hinged flap that conceals a set of AV connectors, including an S-Video socket, headphone jack, plus a set of basic channel change and menu controls, that would just about keep the TV up and running if anything happened to the remote handset. Talking of which; itís an unusual design, with an LCD panel showing which of the nine other Philips devices (VCRs, disc players etc. ) it can control, has been selected. A hinged flap covering the bottom third of the handset folds back, so it can stand upright.


The on-screen displays are very impressive; the main menu smoothly materialises on the left side of the picture and subsequent selections gracefully rise from the bottom of the screen; items are selected using a simple 4-way cursor button. Auto tuning is a little slow, but it gets there, and in most cases there should be no need to fiddle around with it afterwards. The numerous picture and sound adjustments cover a lot of ground, in fact itís sometimes difficult to find the ideal settings, but the display and control systems are exceptionally easy to use.


Heading up the list of convenience features is multi-mode picture in picture and a super-quick fastext system with a 400-page memory. The TV has full multi-standard capability, multi-format display (16:9, 4:3, Superwide continuous zoom and that Widescreen Plus system we mentioned earlier. Thereís a couple of oddities, like picture tilt, which tips the picture one way or another, and a memo facility, that allows users to leave simple text messages for each another.


Widescreen Plus employs a technique known as line interpolation. Itís used when the screen is showing a 4:3 letterboxed picture and kicks in automatically during a PAL Plus broadcast. Most other widescreen TVs electronically enlarge a letter-box image to fill the screen, which has a noticeable effect on resolution, exaggerating the effects of line structure. Widescreen Plus works by inserting digitally generated lines, after every third TV line, and stretching the picture to return it to the correct proportions. This echoes the way PAL Plus works, except in that case additional lines containing extra picture information are transmitted along with the TV signal, theyíre hidden in the back borders at the top and bottom of the picture. This TV synthesises the extra lines, so thereís no more detail, but it looks a lot better than normal stretch or zoom modes.  


On-screen performance is generally very good but all of the widescreen modes show some evidence of digital processing, either as artefacts, or an unusual texture. Picture sharpness varies quite a lot, from near perfect in the 4:3 display mode, to a bit ragged around the edges on some of the zoom settings. Colour fidelity is fine all of the time. The tuner is very sensitive, noise levels and reception errors are well below average.


The titchy speakers do their best and the back-mounted sub-woofer helps beef up the sound. Itís actually better than a lot of stereo sets we could name and the big cabinet helps improve the dynamics. The Dolby Pro-Logic decoder is very good too, but centre front output is a bit feeble, and loud effects on the front stereo channels are not especially well focused. Rear channel output is okay though, and unlike a lot of DPL sets, it isnít drowned out through lack of power.


Despite the slightly heavy-handed digital processing this is a immensely likeable set. Widescreen Plus is a genuine improvement in the display of letterboxed 4:3 material, and provided youíre not expecting too much, surround sound performance is quite respectable, for a TV.



PHILIPS 32W9631P, £1850

Price     £1850  

Features           32-inch (78cm) 16:9 screen, 100Hz display, 4:3/Superwide/continuous zoom/16:9 & Widescreen Plus viewing modes, Dolby Pro-Logic, NICAM, fastext with 400-page memory,  picture-in-picture, 5-mode DSP, NTSC playback via SCART, auto installation, sleep timer, supplied with rear-surround speakers           

Sockets            3 x SCART AV, line audio output, front and rear speakers (spring terminals) front AV inputs (phono & S-Video), headphone (minijack)


Pros:  Widescreen Plus is a definite step forward, and the on-screen display system has to be worth a couple of extra brownie points

Cons: The picture has digital processing stamped all over it and a centre-front speaker output would have been welcome


HC Rating  90%

Philips Consumer Electronics,  telephone 0181-689 4444




Toshiba are one of only a handful of companies making sets with tubes larger than 32-inches. The cheapest to date is the Goodmans 3375, which is remarkable value for money at just £700, though it has to be said it is quite basic, and picture performance is nothing to write home about. Ferguson do three 33-inchers, (D78N, T78N and TD78DPL) costing between £1000 and £1800 but if thatís still not big enough for you then there are a few even larger sets on the market. Sony have a 34-inch model, the KV-S3432.  Picture quality is excellent and itís well worth considering, though at £2000 itís quite an investment. Ferguson, Grundig and Mitsubishi all have home cinema TVs with 37-inch screens, this is currently the largest size of picture tube built for the domestic TV market. Theyíre made in relatively small numbers, which explains why these monsters cost so much. Fergusonís T94N is the cheapest at just under £1800, Grundig have two, the ST95 is a relative bargain at £2200 and the M95 costs £2800.  Mitsubishiís CT37C2STX will set you back a cool £2900.




Should you buy the largest widescreen set you can afford, or get a smaller one and sit closer to it? Itís fair to say that letterboxed movies and programmes, blown up to fill the screen on a small 16:9 set, looks a lot sharper than they would on 28 to 32-inch models. The image is brighter with better contrast, TV lines that make up the picture are closer together, reducing the amount of grain in the image, but the downside is that geometric defects also show up a lot more clearly. This is especially true of any stretching or zooming that may be used to expand the picture. Furthermore 4:3 pictures floating around on small 16:9 screens look pathetically small. The sound systems on smaller sets tend to be less involving. The stereo speakers are set closer together and normally produce a fairly narrow soundstage. Most smaller widescreen sets are fitted with stereo-wide sound modes to compensate. Sub 28-inch wide-screens are okay if space and funds are really tight, but in answer to the original question, bigger is most definitely better!



R. Maybury 1996 2901


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