Toshiba 42H81 Widescreen H/DTV --
For 2002, Toshiba’s widescreen line starts with the 42H81, the entry-level model in their line of high-
definition/digital-television-ready (H/DTV-ready) 16:9 (widescreen) RPTV’s. The 16:9 numbers, by the way, refer
to the ratio of the screen’s width to its height. The aspect ratio for standard analog broadcasts is an almost-
Screen Size, Set Dimensions
The overall screen size of the 42H81 is 42 inches, measured diagonally. The number sounds large but, because
of the widescreen, elongated-rectangle shape, the screen doesn’t come across as all that big. Personally, I find
this particular size to be a good tradeoff between overall set size and total square inches of screen area, a nice
size for apartment dwellers but, if you can spare the space in your A/V room (not to mention the hollow space in
the large-bill section of your wallet), you might consider one of the three larger sets in this line: the 50H81, the
57H81, or the 65H81. All these sets are built on identical chassis and all have seven-inch cathode-ray-tubes (CRT’
s). The CRT’s, by the way, are like scaled-down versions of the picture tube in your regular direct-view television.
However, in an RPTV, rather than a single CRT there are three, with one dedicated to each of the primary colors,
red, green, and blue. Through a system of lenses, these CRT’s combine to project the video image onto the
inside of the TV’s plexiglass viewing screen. With the identical seven-inch CRT’s in all models in the line, Toshiba’
s xxH81 sets have few differences other than screen size.
Viewed straight-on, the 42H81 appears to have the same rectangular-box shape as the other xxH81’s. However,
the set is actually tapered back from the top, left, and right edges, allowing it to keep weight down to 130 pounds,
which is light for a 42-inch widescreen RPTV. Overall HxWxD dimensions of the 42H81 are 46-1/2 inches by 39-
3/8 inches by 18-2/3 inches.
This TV will basically fit into the same space that a 32-inch direct-view (standard-tube) TV, plus its stand, would
occupy. Of course, your VCR, DVD player, and A/V receiver will all have to find somewhere else to live.
Toshiba calls this an “HD Compatible HDTV Monitor.” To translate into English, this means the set can display
images at the minimal HDTV level of 1080i but does not have an integral tuner which can pick up either over-the-
air (OTA, terrestrial broadcast) or satellite H/DTV signals. To watch digital H/DTV broadcasts with the 42H81, you
need to buy a separate digital tuner ($600 to $900 or more), also known as a set-top box or STB. Of course, the
42H81 also includes an NTSC-standard tuner capable receiving broadcast and cable channels via the TV’s radio-
frequency (RF) antenna input.
Currently, full-on HDTV’s, with integral high-def digital tuners, are relatively rare and, at a given screen size, quite
a bit more expensive than their H/DTV-ready brethren, although the price gap between the two types of sets has
finally begun to narrow. For background information on H/DTV technology, see my recent “Everything You Always
Wanted to Know about H/DTV” review.
Keep in mind that, while H/DTV-ready RPTV’s, such as the 42H81, are sometimes referred to as “digital” TV’s,
they actually only accept analog input. H/DTV signals are broadcast in digital form and the STB transforms the
digital signal to analog video, though usually at a higher resolution than that used with standard broadcast TV.
The standard TV signals, on the other hand, stay in the analog domain all the way from the transmitting antenna
to the CRT (screen) of your TV.
Understanding Interlaced vs. Progressive Scanning
To understand the display resolutions of the 42H81, you need to understand how interlaced and progressive
scanning technologies work. You will find an explanation of these two display methods in my recent review of
Toshiba’s 56H80 TV. This explanation also details the various levels of horizontal resolution in common use: 480-
interlaced (480i), 480-progressive (480p), and 1080-interlaced (1080i).
In terms of the number of horizontal lines on the screen at any given moment, the 1080i resolution has 540, not
many more than the 480 of 480p. Because of these confusing definitions, I use the abbreviation H/DTV (high-
definition/digital television), meaning digital television at a resolution of 480i or higher.
Adding to the confusing sea of definitions, some cable companies provide a service which they call “digital cable.”
This is not the same thing as H/DTV. Digital cable is standard broadcast and cable material sent over the cable
digitally instead of in analog form. Once it arrives at the special digital cable box, it is transformed back to analog
form for input to any NTSC-standard analog TV. There is no standard definition for “digital cable” but it is often
the same as the resolution of an interlaced-scan DVD player, meaning it is far lower than any H/DTV broadcast
resolution currently in use.
Common H/DTV Resolutions
Up to now, the vast majority of H/DTV-ready sets have only had the capability of projecting screen images at 480p
and 1080i. With these sets, NTSC-standard analog input (DVD at 480i, broadcast TV at 330i, VHS VCR at 240i)
was line-doubled and then displayed at, or near, the 480p resolution.
Toshiba Takes a New Approach to Line-Doubling
With its 2002 H/DTV-ready sets, such as the 42H81, Toshiba has taken a different approach. Using what the
company calls “Intelligent Digital Scan Conversion Pro,” or IDSC Pro, all video is projected at either 540p or 1080i.
In other words, in terms of the scanning frequency, or number of horizontal lines on the screen at any given
second, the two formats are identical, both using 540 lines at a time. The 1080i HDTV input to the set is displayed
at the 1080i resolution, 480p input (such as that from a progressive-scan DVD player or 480p broadcasts from
Fox) is displayed at 540p, and NTSC-standard input (standard broadcast, VHS VCR, standard DVD player) is
bumped up to a maximum of 540p.
The 42H81, like many progressive-scan DVD players now on the market, has 3:2 pulldown. This feature avoids
motion artifacts, and other visual distortions, which can result when movies, which begin as a 24 frame-per-
second (fps) medium are bumped up to the 30fps (or 60fps) frame rate of video.
According to Toshiba, the IDSC Pro feature, with its single scanning frequency for both the 540p and 1080i
display resolutions, lets you lock the aim of the CRT’s (one for each of the primary colors) at a single setting, for
the best convergence, and leave them there.
As far as the actual image quality, the 42H81 continues in the Toshiba H/DTV RPTV tradition of having a sharp,
pleasing picture. In fact, the set excels with not only HDTV and progressive-scan DVD input, but also does quite
well with bumped-up broadcast (including standard cable), VHS VCR, and standard (interlaced-scan) DVD signals.
Standard Broadcast Quality on H/DTV’s
Many H/DTV-ready RPTV’s fall short of the Toshiba’s quality when displaying line-doubled NTSC (standard
broadcast, VHS VCR, etc.) material. Since the bulk of broadcast television is still in the standard NTSC format, you’
ll want to make sure to check standard broadcast and/or cable performance with any H/DTV you’re thinking of
buying. You probably won’t be terribly happy with an H/DTV-ready set that does poorly with standard broadcast
With the Sony H/DTV’s in particular, there’s a distinct technological failure due to the company’s so-called DRC
approach which, instead of line-doubling standard broadcast, VCR, and DVD input to 480p or 540p instead keeps
this material in interlaced form, bringing it up to a 960i resolution with all the inherent problems of interlaced
scanning. With the 42H81, you can enjoy excellent performance with current NTSC programming while still having
the option of superb H/DTV performance as that format becomes more widespread (and, hopefully, the cost of
auxiliary digital STB H/DTV tuners and satellite receivers becomes more reasonable).
The 42H81 provides a decent amount of inputs and outputs. In order of ascending video quality, rear-panel inputs
include two composite, two S-Video, and two component. Each of the component inputs actually consists of three
jacks, each taking one of the three separate cables used to carry a component video signal (labeled “Y-Pb-Pr”).
Both of these component inputs are wideband, meaning they can accept a 480i, 480p, or 1080i signal. On some
RPTV’s, such as the Sony’s, only one of the component inputs is also a wideband input (though they might have
rectified this shortcoming on the 2002 models). In the not-unlikely event that you need to simultaneously connect,
say, a progressive-scan DVD player and an H/DTV tuner to the 42H81, you’ll be ready.
Naturally, there are corresponding L/R analog audio inputs for the rear-panel video inputs. A center-channel
speaker input lets you, if desired, use the TV’s speakers to carry the center channel in a surround-sound
configuration. If you’re a stickler for sonic fidelity, you’ll be better off using a dedicated speaker for your center
channel, a speaker which matches the timbre of the others in your surround-sound setup.
The rear-panel also has a pair of RF antenna/cable jacks, a composite-video “monitor” output, and a set of L/R
audio outputs that let you connect the TV’s audio to an A/V receiver. The front panel of the set has an S-Video
input, a composite video input, and L/R audio inputs, letting you quickly connect a camcorder or video game.
If you don’t want to invest in a surround-sound receiver right now, the 42H81’s integral audio system, with an MTS
stereo amplifier feeding 15 watts to each channel, provides excellent audio reproduction. While the fidelity is very
good, the so-called “SRS” simulated surround-sound feature doesn’t improve much on stereo.
The 42H81, of course, has a standard, 181-channel cable-ready NTSC-standard analog tuner, as mentioned
above. In fact, it has dual tuners, allowing the set to run two broadcast channels (or video sources) at once with
the side-by-side split-screen picture-in-picture (PIP) feature. Broadcast images are enhanced by the set’s digital
(4 Meg, 10-bit) comb filter which separates the luminance and chrominance (Y/C) portions of the signal, allowing
greater display accuracy.
The remote is backlit, acknowledging that most people who invest in high-quality TV’s are serious enough about
their movie viewing that they will almost always dim the room lights in order to maximize image quality. This remote
can be programmed to control other video gear such as VCR’s and DVD players. Toshiba chose a nice size for
the remote, making it small enough to handle easily, but large enough to make it easy to find between the couch
This TV has a light level sensor which will allow the TV to automatically set its brightness level to correspond to
the light level in your viewing room. There are several viewing modes which allow the set to display standard-sized
4:3 broadcast and VCR images on its 16:9 screen. In one mode, the set preserves the original dimensions of the
4:3 image and places vertical bands to the left and right of the image (a.k.a. windowboxing). Another mode keeps
the 4:3 image at its original size in the center of the screen and then stretches it out towards the edges to fill in the
entire 16:9 screen. You might think such an image would appear distorted, but it’s actually very difficult to notice
(even if you’ve been told it’s there) and most viewers become quickly accustomed to this mode.
The bulk of movies on DVD now are at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As the 16:9 aspect ratio, expressed as a single
number, is 1.78:1, the 1.85:1 DVD’s will pretty much fit perfectly into the set’s widescreen size. However, some
DVD’s are in the more extreme widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1. With a 2.35:1 DVD, the set can employ small
horizontal (letterbox) bands to make the image fit.
Purchasing a TV like the 42H81 is quite an undertaking. You will need to think carefully about where you buy the
set. You should be cautious about ordering a TV such as the 42H81 from an online merchant. First of all, or
course, you need to carefully research the reputation of the dealer. While onecall appears to enjoy a good
reputation, there are a number of Web merchants who employ sleazy tactics such as charging extra for included
accessories and vastly inflating shipping charges. Much to my distress, many of these less-than-scrupulous
merchants are located right here in NYC (with notable exceptions such as J&R Music World and B&H Photo/Video).
In any case, with a set such as the 42H81, which tips the scales at 130 pounds, shipping can become quite an
expense, even at reasonable rates. You can contact companies such as UPS and find out exactly what they
charge for a given weight. There are several online sources, including Epinions, where you can find customer
ratings of Web merchants.
One way many merchants make up for giving you a good price on a TV is by selling you an expensive extended
warranty. These warranties only make sense for people who could not afford to replace a piece of gear that
breaks down. It’s so common, in home-theater forums, to see posts where people say, “I got TV X, which lists for
$2,500, for only $2,200. And, oh yeah, they sold me an extended warranty for only $300.” That’s what retailers
refer to as preserving their gross income.
With a set like the 42H81, I would strongly recommend that you make your purchase from a local retailer with a 30-
day money-back guarantee. While you can get this set at a dealer such as onecall for $1,800, they include free
shipping on this set, and you’ll probably avoid paying sales tax, there are several advantages to buying locally. If
you have the misfortune of getting a defective TV, it should be feasible to personally return it to a local merchant
(with a little help from a couple of your friends).
However, Toshiba backs up the 42H81 with a decent one-year parts/labor warranty that includes in-home service.
Many credit card companies have offers where they will double the time period of the manufacturer’s warranty
If you do choose to purchase an extended warranty, research it carefully to make sure there aren’t all kinds of
exclusions lurking in the fine print. Also, remember that these warranties are a product just like any other product.
There’s no need to buy one at the same place where you purchase your TV. The aforementioned J&R Music
World has competitive prices on extended warranties.
Two other things to watch out for with your TV purchase are premium cables and power conditioners. There’s no
need to pay any more for cables than the least-expensive products available from Recoton, Radio Shack, RCA,
and other reputable companies. Of course, you have to make sure to get the proper type and/or gauge of cable
with the appropriate connectors at each end. As for power conditioners, the 42H81 includes a built-in, high-quality
circuit which will turn your wall current into highly-regulated, perfectly-conditioned DC: it’s called a power supply.
The 42H81 shows that Toshiba has more awareness of the needs of apartment dwellers than most RPTV makers.
In fact, they are one of the only companies making under-43-inch 16:9 H/DTV-ready RPTV’s (Hitachi also makes a
widescreen set around this size). This TV employs an excellent compromise between screen size and overall case
size. On the other hand, with Sony’s recent introduction of a direct-view TV with a 40-inch screen (albeit a 4:3
screen), it made sense for Toshiba to nudge their smallest H/DTV-ready widescreen RPTV from 40 inches up to
42 inches. Size does count.
With sets like the 42H81, Toshiba continues its heartening trend of dropping prices while increasing features
(albeit incrementally). While the 42H81 lists at $2,500, you can find it selling at authorized dealers (such as
onecall) for $1,800. Even at superstores that don’t discount deeply, it’s easy to find the set for around $2,000.
The model it replaces, 2001’s 40H80, came on the market at a street price of about $2,500. With the 2002 H/DTV-
ready RPTV’s, Toshiba continues to cut prices while maintaining overall quality.
The company offered one of the very first 16:9 RPTV’s (a non-H/DTV model) and was also a forerunner in the
introduction of H/DTV-ready RPTV’s in 1998. The 42H81 is not a radical departure from last year’s 40H80.
Instead, Toshiba has refined their already-successful approach, adding features such as the single-scanning rate
IDSC Pro (540p/1080i) for convergence accuracy.
With the economy as shaky as it is now, they say it’s a good idea to continue investing in goods and services. If
you’ve decided to buy a 42H81 with an eye on stimulating the economy, you’ll be pleased to know that the TV is
actually “assembled” in America. Okay, so “assembled” sounds a little legalistic, but it seems more beneficial to
our economy than a TV which is, say, assembled in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
By the time you get your 42H81, there might be some less disturbing things for Lou Reed, and the rest of the
denizens of New York City, to watch on TV. Happy New Year.
Amount Paid (US$): 1,800.00
BRAND NEW PRICE 1800.00
ASKING 750.00 or Best Offer
Call Thomas 781-718-0326
Buyer must pick up television. Television
located in Manchester, New Hampshire.