Component Review, Part 4 of 4
Published on March 1, 2004
Toshiba Combo 27-inch Flat Color TV with VHS VCR &
DVD Video Player – MW27FN1 (-R) SRP: $699
Speakers: 2-way, 46mm & 99mm, 8 ohm, 2.5W amp
Power supply: AC 120V, 60Hz
Power consumption: 145w
Weight: 97 lbs.
Dimensions: 29 1/8 W x 25 3/8 H x 19 5/16 D
Tuner: 181 channel freq. synthesized
VHF 2-13; UHF 14-69; CATV 113 channels
Display: Digital comb filter
Video head: 4 rotary heads
Video audio: Hi-Fi 2 track format, response 20-20K, dynamic range over 90 dB
Fast winding speed: Appox. 1 min. 48 sec. with T-120 tape
DVD audio: 48K sampling 4Hz-22kHz; 96K sampling 4Hz-44kHz, S/N: 90 dB
Harmonic distortion .06%; Wow & flutter less than .01% Wrms; dynamic range over 90dB
Decodes Dolby Digital audio from TV, DVDs or VHS tapes, also DTS at digital out jack
Toshiba America Consumer Products
82 Totowa Road
Wayne, NJ 07470-3191
973-628-8000 ext. 4250
The well over 100 pound weight of the box was an indication that this wasn’t one of the those mostly plastic TVs that self-destruct after a couple years. Toshiba has maintained a reputation for excellent consumer electronics products at very reasonable prices, and after all they were one of the major names involved in the launch of the new DVD format. My old VHS deck is a Toshiba and has performed well over the years (while a Sony Beta deck not used as much just died on me). The so-called “combo TV” has become one of the leading consumer electronics items in the last couple of years. It seemed to have taken an inordinate amount of time for the industry to wake up to the attraction the general public would have for a unit that combined either a VCR or DVD player or both with a standard direct-view TV. I recall seeing a VCR/TV combo with a 14-inch screen made by a professional audiovisual supplier many years ago and thinking how appealing that would be to many homes. But that one was priced out of the general consumer market, being designed for portable video presentations of sales materials. And as I recall it was only a VHS player, not even a recorder. Now there is a long list of combo TVs from most of the major manufacturers. Most are two-way combos with either DVD or VHS, but the three-way combo is becoming more popular. (Only in my dreams would anyone offer a four-way combo so I could easily play my large collection of Beta video and audio tapes…)
Only a few of the combo units combine both formats with a 27-inch screen; 21 or 24-inch seem to be the most popular sizes. This Toshiba has it all plus a very handsome flat screen design which is sort of the poor man’s plasma screen. Once it was struggled onto a table (don’t try it without help), hookup was simple. There are the usual UHF/VHF 75 ohm In and Out jacks, both audio and video Line In jacks for making a VHS copy from another external video source, composite Line Out jacks for feeding the signals from any of the three sources to other components, and lastly a PCM/Bitstream, Coax Audio Out jack for feeding the set’s audio to a separate receiver, integrated or preamp for improved sound. The latter is always suggested for any video monitor, and one look at the 2.5 watts output of the audio amp on this set will convince any audiophile to get that old amp and speakers out of the closet to hook up to this otherwise superbly performing set. If you have a small AV receiver with DTS decoding you can even enjoy that highest quality surround sound for movies with a multi-speaker setup, since the coax output jack passes the DTS signal as well as the Dolby Digital.
The front of the set includes four more jacks: one for headphones (which you don’t find on many smaller sets anymore), and duplicates of the analog L & R and video jacks on the rear panel. These are for connecting a camcorder or game component.
Just about every feature one could think of, and several you probably haven’t thought of, are included in this combo unit. The front panel has a long row of small buttons with the TV and VHS buttons grouped toward the left and the DVD buttons on the right side. You can set up many operations just from these buttons without requiring the remote. They includes play/stop/fast speeds/eject and with the VHS buttons, recording. The volume and channel buttons are toward the center of the front panel.
More complex tasks require the remote, which proves (like many) somewhat frustrating in its layout. The usual “joystick” type of controls in which you have an Enter or Select button in the center with buttons above and below plus to left and right is hidden among other buttons and not centered on the remote. Some of the 49 buttons have two designations and it is unclear whether some of the titles are for the button just above them or just below them. The other difficult-to-access buttons are those for chapter selection. They are called Skip and are identified in tiny print up near the TV channel controls where you wouldn’t expect to find them. Have a flashlight handy (there is no backlit feature) when you are getting used to this remote.
Setting Up Operation and Options
The Menu button is usually the starting point for setting up the various options of the set. You can select onscreen languages of English, Spanish or French. You set the Auto Clock once and it will set itself thereafter using a broadcast signal which at least one station in your area probably transmits, including changes for daylight savings time. When the TV/CATV button is on TV position, and channel can be selected instantly using two of the numbered buttons at the top of the remote. The Auto Ch Memory runs thru all the channels available with your antenna in your area; you can delete and add channels to this list manually. After that, using the Channels Up or Down buttons goes only to the channels on the list. There is the usual V-chip option to prevent access of children to certain programs, complete with password. Some other features are: Sleep, Mute, Channel Return (to the last channel watched), Closed captions, VHS Recording timer, Sound adjustment, Picture adjustment, Picture search (fast speed options), Digital tracking adjustment, Changing angles, Slow motion, Frame by Frame, CM (commercial) skip (fast forwards for 30 seconds, then back to play), Repeat playback, Realtime tape counter, Zero return, and One-touch timer recording (starting recording immediately and increased in increments of a half hour up to six hours).
To begin recording or to set the record timer you must press two side-by-side record buttons on the remote. If the clock is not properly set the unit will not record. The Sound control adjustment allows for adjusting the bass, treble and balance of the audio. In addition, in the TV Setup part of the onscreen Menu you can turn the Surround Sound feature on or off. There is no credit for a specific circuitry for this feature, such as SRS. There is also an audio limiter option called Stable Sound, which prevents extreme changes of volume when the signal source is changed. The SAP option also in the TV Setup allows switching to a second audio program if one is being transmitted, such as a soundtrack in a different language. Some other features are the ability to zoom in or out on DVDs, to repeat sections, to program a skip or jump to a specific point on the disc, to program repeat, random and specially-selected playback, to change the aspect ratio from full 4:3 to letterboxed 4:3, and to compress the dynamic range when viewing Dolby Digital recorded discs late at night, to restrict children viewing certain DVDs. You can watch a DVD while taping a telecast on the VHS – just as if you had a separate VCR, but you can’t watch a different channel on air than the one being taped at the time.
Viewing and Listening
The extremely speedy fast forward and reverse of the VHS deck was a pleasure, as was the fairly good image quality, considering this was not a S-VHS deck. Another feature were the many options for manual fast speeds, or what Toshiba calls Picture search. In Standard Play (the fastest speed) pressing the forward button once gives three times normal speed, but pressing it again gives five times normal speed. I notice most VHS VCRs today have given up on the middle 4-hour speed, having only the two-hour and six-hour options (with T120 tape). I guess nobody was using the middle speed anyway. The six-hour speed looks awful – what would you expect?
The tuner produced a much better picture from problem channels than either of the other two TVs that had previously been in the spare room in which it was reviewed. And this was using the same very basic Radio Shack rabbit ears. Ghosting was greatly reduced on the problem channels. After briefly looking at images from all three formats – over-the-air, VHS and DVD – I got out my Avia video test DVD and ran thru some of the basic picture adjustments. Sure enough, although the manual suggests leaving the unit at the factory settings, I found them set way too high in color, brightness and sharpness. Fortunately, Toshiba provides a similar range of picture adjustments to high end HDTV-ready sets, and that’s welcome because they’re needed! Nearly all sets except the highest-end videos are adjusted to give the brightest, most contrasty and seemingly sharpest image when displayed next to one another on the dealer’s floor. It’s similar to the rock radio stations all compressing the life out of the music to sound louder than the competition.
So I lowered the brightness and contrast a good deal and the color slightly. Images were entirely too red, and the scanning lines were strongly in evidence. The next adjustment helped the latter problem – it was reducing the sharpness control to about -20. Contrary to its name, this actually increases the sharpness, gets rid of those artificial white outlines around objects, and in the process blends together the scanning lines to better approximate the film viewing experience. I must say I was impressed by the accuracy with which the Toshiba 27-inch showed the detailed convergence and distortion patterns on the Avia DVD. On the pattern that looks like graph paper reversed out (white lines on black), the lines near the sides and top of the screen were much straighter than even on my highly-tweaked Pioneer Elite 53-inch RPTV. And everything was perfectly centered in the text patterns, which I have also never been able to achieve on my RPTV. It would seem that with a genuinely flat-front tube it would be even more difficult to achieve such accuracy than with a curved tube, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
The Surround Sound effect from normal stereo could be heard in a widening of the frontal soundstage but no simulation of sounds to the sides or rear. But with a Dolby Surround track on air or off a DVD or tape, the surround effect became considerably more enveloping, taking on a horseshoe-sort of pattern that was quite surprising considering the basic complement of amps and speakers built into the set. By the way, as with any DVD player, you can play standard CDs on this set – though if you do that frequently you might be even more moved to add an outboard amp and speakers.
Speaking of wide things, I had thought that although originally I was going to request for review the otherwise similar 20-inch or 24-inch versions of this same Toshiba combo, the 27-inch seemed a good choice for watching properly-formatted widescreen letterboxed films on DVD. (I am presuming anyone reading our video reviews wouldn’t be caught dead watching pan & scan film images.) I was right; this is definitely the minimum size on which anyone would want to watch a widescreen DVD, but they look just fine with the 4:3 letterboxed option selected from the screen ratio settings. I’m sure that that, together with proper decoding of the Bitstream 5.1 surround via at least five speakers, would make this mini home theater setup a thoroughly satisfying entertainment center for any small apartment, bedroom or spare room.
– John Sunier